RANTOUL, Ill. — It took 2,000 workers and 200 teams of horses just two months to complete construction of what was then-Chanute Field in 1917.
A century later, horses still can be seen at the former Chanute Air Force Base, now Rantoul National Aviation Center, during this year’s Half Century of Progress Aug. 22-25.
The original farming horsepower will be used in field demonstrations during the show.
“We usually do some plowing, some hay-mowing and raking and using a horse-drawn hay loader to put up loose hay. We put it on an original horse-drawn hay rack with steel wheels. More or less we’ll do summer farm activities like the Amish would be doing now — putting up hay,” said Jeff Glazik, horse farming coordinator at the show.
“There’s usually a group of plowers that will come up and plow one or two days, if the conditions are right. If it’s too hot and dry and it’s hard to plow, they probably won’t show up. If conditions are right, they’ll come up. It’s every two years, so you don’t know who’s got into horses and who’s out.”
He won’t know how many horses will be at the show until registration.
“It just all depends on who shows up. I really don’t have an idea of that yet. It’s kind of an informal group. If it works for them, they load up and show up. If it’s rainy or too hot or something else going on, they don’t show up,” Glazik said.
There is no set-in-concrete schedule for the horse farming demonstrations, but Glazik noted in the past they started about 8 or 9 a.m. when it’s cooler and then go back to the horse area to visit with spectators.
There also may be some light horse work in the afternoon. Horse-plowing demonstrations typically are held on Saturday during the show.
“The horse plowers are kind of a loose-knit group, and they really get into it. That’s like their bass boat or their Harley-Davidson. They get the plows tuned up and ready to go and their horses are just perfect and ready to go. There’s no messing around. They want to get out there and plow,” Glazik said.
“There are four or five teams that kind of band together and go to different farm shows around the state. They like to come up here, spend a day and tear up the ground and head to another show somewhere else.”
Glazik has had draft horses for about 40 years.
“I just use them to pull a wagon or play around on the farm. I’m from Paxton, only 14 miles away from Rantoul, so I kind of got drafted into helping them out with the show,” he said.
“I’ve mostly had Percherons. That’s all I have now. I have had some Belgians in the past. This is how my grandfather farmed and even my dad who’s 86 still remembers helping grandpa hitch up the horses to go plant corn or whatever.
“My grandfather sold his last team of horses in March of 1957 and I was born in April of 1957, so that’s how close I came to missing horse farming on our farm.”