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Thursday, June 2, 2005 06:05 pm

Back to Earth

At the end of July, the American Farm Heritage Museum plans a “tractorcade,”with tractors arriving in Greenville from Hillsboro, Vandalia, Carlyle, and Highland

Until the last decade or so, most of us had a relative who lived on a farm. Many of our genealogical roots are sunk deep into the land. This connection to the soil has become a little more tenuous as farms have dwindled in number and fewer workers turn the soil for a living. If you are looking for a chance to learn a little about the equipment that tilled the land, to see billowing steam engines, or to learn more about the history of agriculture in central Illinois, the opportunity is ripe.

Several agricultural museums offer a peek at the past and host tractor shows and farm-heritage days. Get ready to hear the hiss of steam, the pop of a two-cylinder engine, and the rumble of tractors in motion. Make these events part of your summer plans.

American Farm Heritage Museum
This museum, located in Greenville, is the new kid on the block, still in its beginning stages. The purpose is educational, and the museum should hold special appeal for aficionados of old agricultural equipment. “This is for collectors of all types,” says Sherry Schaefer, a member of the museum’s board and editor of Oliver Heritage magazine.

The museum is a haven for all makes and models of tractors and farm equipment, as well as fire trucks and other historical vehicles. One unique display that is being planned: a re-creation of a fort that once stood in the Greenville area.

Right now the museum comprises one large building and a covered pavilion, but other structures — a village with a re-created homestead, a general store, a blacksmith shop, and a one-room school — are in the planning and construction phases. Wheat and hay crops, which have been planted as an income-building prospect, allow visitors to experience old-time farming. Plans to add a railroad and steam engines are also in motion.

Last July, the museum held its first tractor show; this year, in addition to the show, a “tractorcade” is planned — like a motorcade but featuring tractors instead of automobiles. “At our first show, we had over 120 tractors. This year the show will again be the last weekend in July,” Schaefer says. “We are putting together a four-corners tractorcade. Tractors will come from Hillsboro, Vandalia, Carlyle, and Highland.”

The show is scheduled for July 29 and 30, and the tractorcade will be held July 29. The tractors will leave from their four corner destinations and arrive at approximately the same time. “We are trying to get 100 tractors from each direction,” Schaefer says.

For questions about the museum or the upcoming show, contact AFHM president Ollie Schaefer at 618-664-3050 or visit www.americanfarmheritagemuseum.org.

Anderson Mansion/Macoupin County Museum
Along with the former private residence that houses the Macoupin County Historical Society, the Anderson Mansion/Macoupin County Museum features a one-room schoolhouse, a blacksmith shop, and agricultural equipment.

The mansion, a beautiful Italian-style home built in the late 1850s, houses the Macoupin County Museum and is home to displays depicting life in mid-America during the 1800s, as well as military memorabilia and information on medical practices of the time.

The museum is open 10 a.m.-2 p.m. each Wednesday or by appointment, as well as during festivals. The summer show was held Memorial Day weekend; the fall festival, always the third weekend in September, is Sept. 16-18 this year. The chicken noodles and strawberry shortcake are legendary. The museum is located at 920 W. Breckenridge St. in Carlinville; call 217-854-2850 or 217-854-8916. Donations are accepted for tours.

Carlinville has other historic sites worth exploring, including the “Million Dollar courthouse,” a jail, and what is billed as the nation’s largest collection of Sears-catalog houses. The Carlinville Chamber of Commerce offers package deals for groups traveling to the area. For more information, visit www.carlinvillechamber.com/vacation.html.

Paublo Agricultural Museum
Located in rural Stonington, the Paublo Agricultural Museum features antique tractors, an old house, a barn, an old church, and a trading post. The all-volunteer museum is devoted to promoting agriculture by preserving and teaching the history of farm life. The group has a membership of about 4,500, with members from all 50 states and even a few foreign countries. Part of the purpose of the museum and its yearly Farm Expo is to show today’s kids what life was life before the advent of TV and video games.

The museum began as the dream of Paul and Valera Sckowsk, who donated 4.25 acres in 1978. The Farm Expo, held at the site, features down-home entertainment, tractor pulls, corn-shelling, and sawmilling, among other activities. The museum is located midway between Taylorville and Decatur on Illinois Highway 48. The annual Tractor and Steam Show is scheduled for July 16 and 17. For more information, call 217-824-3829.

Prairie Land Heritage Museum
This museum is easy to find, thanks to the Eli Ferris wheel on the grounds. Located in Jacksonville, off Highway 36, the Prairie Land Heritage Museum has been around for more than 30 years. The land, which originally belonged to the nearby state hospital, was used as a working farm for hospital patients.

Although buildings have been added to the museum over the years to hold tractors, gas and steam engines, farm wagons, horse-drawn farming equipment, and other agriculture-related items, the beautiful old barn on the grounds has been there for ages.

Each year, the museum hosts a steam show and flea market that draw people from across the country. This year’s steam show and fall festival are scheduled for Sept. 23-25. For more information, visit www.jacksonvilleil.org/prairieland/ or call 217-997-2102.

Penfield Agricultural Museum
The Penfield Agricultural Museum is housed on the upper story of an old school, located on grounds owned by the Illinois and Indiana Antique Tractor and Gas Engine club.

The club began collecting items for the museum around 1997. Two rooms of the schoolhouse contain a variety of plows that were once pulled by horses. An ox yoke reveals just how large these animals were. A farmer might have used a broadcast seeder to sow corn by hand.

Once the corn had been harvested, the farmer might have used such devices as the metal grid corn dryer and seed-corn-germinating tester, both on view at the museum, to get the crop ready for market. Livestock items are on display as well, including a nose clamp used to lead cattle and a neck yoke designed to keep the wearer, a cow, from climbing fences. The two rooms are chock-full of items that everyone under 90 should see to learn a little about our agricultural history.

In addition to the items housed in the museum, look for the Hart-Parr No. 3, the oldest operating gas-powered tractor, which is on loan from the Smithsonian Institution along with a one-of-a-kind experimental International Harvester gas-turbine-powered HT-340 hydrostatic-drive tractor. Agriculture broadcaster Orion Samuelson’s restored 1939 Farmall F20 is also on display.

July 7-10, the Penfield grounds will come alive for Historic Farm Days. This year, the club is hosting the Massey Collectors of Illinois summer show and displaying Leader tractors. For more information, visit www.antiquefarm.org.

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