RANTOUL, Ill. — Touted as the largest vintage farm show, the Half Century of Progress roots date back to its early connection with the Farm Progress Show.
It was the old meeting the new at the 2003 Farm Progress Show held at Henning, the last show before it moved permanently to Decatur to be held biennially there.
“The weekend before the show, the I&I Antique Tractor and Gas Engine Club was asked to put on some demonstrations at Henning. The demonstrations were on the same farm as the 2003 Farm Progress Show, but across the road from the show itself,” said John Fredrickson, past president of the I&I Antique Tractor and Gas Engine Club and Half Century of Progress co-chair.
“So, there was corn picking, combining soybeans, plowing and those things at that Farm Progress Show and that was the start of the first Half Century of Progress.”
The “half century” in the name coincides with the Henning show that marked the 50th anniversary of the first Farm Progress Show, and Fredrickson was there in 1953.
The first Farm Progress Show was Oct. 2, 1953, in Armstrong, 15 miles east of Rantoul.
“I was a freshman in high school, and we got out of school that day. The crowd was larger than expected. I’m not sure of the numbers, but they expected about 20,000 and the crowd was much larger than that,” Fredrickson said.
“It was a hot, hot day. Of course, this was the days before bottled water and before the day was over you couldn’t get a drink of water out there.”
When the Farm Progress Show moved permanently to Decatur, Half Century of Progress went to the former Chanute Air Base at Rantoul for its shows in 2005. It’s now held the week prior to Farm Progress, and many plan their trips to central Illinois to take in both shows.
“The village of Rantoul would have loved to have had the Farm Progress Show to go there, but they chose to go to Decatur. Rantoul welcomed us to see what we could do there on the air base. Since then it’s grown every year and we expect an even bigger and better show this year,” Fredrickson said.
The biennial vintage equipment show breaks its own attendance records each year it’s held.
“For the 2017 show, we had over 1,400 registered exhibitors, over 2,000 pieces of vintage agriculture equipment and that came from 26 different states. It blows my mind how far a person will haul a tractor to go on a tractor ride or make two or three rounds with a plow,” Fredrickson said.
“It’s a great show and we’ve had people from almost every state in the union, but there is also usually people from other countries. There’s a gentleman from Australia that comes, there’s a couple from Belgium that comes every year. It’s just a great bunch of people.”
Fredrickson attended the 2003 Farm Progress Show and was involved in that first Half Century of Progress Show.
“By about 2005 I started to work on my retirement, so I’ve been involved with the show ever since it moved to Rantoul. And about that time I was serving as president of the I&I club which I served for eight years. Darius Harms, one of our club members, was the one that was very instrumental in putting this together. He devoted a lot of time and effort to make this thing work. He passed away about three years ago and somehow myself and Russell Buhr became co-chairman,” he said.
Ask any member of the Half Century planning committees and they’ll tell you the show isn’t just about the iron of yesterday.
“Yes, we have our vintage equipment and there’s also the fellowship and camaraderie with all of the people that you know and you get to know is what makes the thing work. We have a tremendous amount of participation from volunteers that help make this thing work and it’s just a great event,” Fredrickson said.
The Kentland, Indiana, resident has been a long-time classic enthusiasts and primarily collects International Harvester tractors plus a few John Deeres and a couple of Fords. Fredrickson also collects vintage implement, seed corn and other agricultural signs.
The I&I show grounds at Penfield, where the Historic Farm Days is held annually, are two miles east of where Fredrickson grew up, and the old school and gymnasium on the grounds were there when he graduated from grade school.