Joliet festival celebrates farm heritage
Photo courtesy of the Heritage Tractor Adventure
Antique tractors rev up for the start of the Heritage Tractor Adventure.
They'll start their engines on June 7. Then, at a blistering pace of 6 miles per hour, more than 300 antique tractors will roll down the towpath of the Illinois & Michigan canal from Joliet to Ottawa. The 120-mile journey will take this armada two days. The tractors are part of the second annual Heritage Tractor Adventure, an event devised for kids and tractor buffs by the Heritage Corridor Convention and Visitors Bureau to promote tourism in the far south suburban area. "Any boy loves tractors," says Max Armstrong, WGN Radio's agriculture correspondent, who will lead the parade. He was quick to add that girls love tractors, too. "The roar, the wheels turning and smoke belching--there will be 318 in all, and all kinds of colors--red, green, yellow."
Though safety is paramount, Armstrong said it is not difficult to talk the tractor owners into letting kids get in the driver's seat. "People are anxious to show off," he says.
For the event, Armstrong will ride a 1953 International Harvester. He started driving his family's tractor on the farm in Indiana when he was 9 years old. Eight years ago, when his father decided to sell the machine, Armstrong bought it. "These are the tractors that shaped agriculture over the last 55 years," he adds.
Dave Galbreath, a tractor owner who lives near Paris, Ill., agrees. "People have this in their blood," he says.
Galbreath and his wife Beckie own six pre-1940 tractors. Both will take part in the ride, driving tractors that date from 1936 and 1937. Galbreath says he has been collecting antique tractors and farm equipment since he was in high school.
The tractor ride will take place between June 7 and June 11. The first day will include registration for the tractors and a picnic dinner. For children, there will be hay rides, train rides and a petting zoo. Everything is free except for dinner. On Sunday, the tractors will parade through downtown Joliet. On Monday they will begin their journey to Ottawa.
Though Galbreath grew up on a farm, he stresses the event is also for the urbane. "Last year there was one guy who got his tractor just two weeks before the ride," Galbreath says. "He was a city boy who had never been on a farm, but he's coming back this year."
--Ian Salisbury, Medill News Service