By CHRIS BURROWS
SYCAMORE – Even in its 57th year, the Sycamore Steam Show & Threshing Bee hasn’t changed much, and that’s how Les Petersen and Milan Duchaj like it.
It has grown by leaps and bounds over the decades, but Petersen and Duchaj, who have been around since the first show in 1956, will tell you that it’s still a reunion of friends and a celebration of steam engines and how they work.
“The only show I missed was in 1966 when I was in the army,” Petersen said. “It’s a lot bigger than it was originally.”
The Northern Illinois Steam Power Club’s 57th Annual Sycamore Steam Show & Threshing Bee was Aug. 8-11 at the Taylor Marshall Farm in Sycamore. It included a variety of steam-powered demonstrations, from live wheat threshing and log cutting to digging, hay baling and corn shelling.
The club grows its own wheat on site before the show so that it can separate the grains in front of an audience.
“Threshing is where we take small grains, like oats or wheat or barley, and when the grain is ripe, it’s cut in the field and shocked up into bundles,” Petersen explained. “The threshing machine takes the bundles and cuts the individual bands around the bundles. It runs it through a cylinder and the cylinder knocks the grain out of the head, and then it goes through a cleaning process.”
There were also daily parades of steam-powered machines, a flea market, barrel train rides for the kids, live bluegrass music, food vendors and hundreds of machines on display.
Local farmers started the shows in Hampshire in the 1950s, and the shows moved to the current location in the early 1970s.
“A lot of the the old timers have fond memories of this area, so they started having reunions in the 1940s and ‘50s, and that kind of grew into these shows,” Jon Gould, a member of the club’s board of directors, said. “We try not to change too much. There’s a lot of tradition, and we try to hold on to that.”