Russ Hossbach, 92, and Kathryn “Kay” Kennedy, 100, will serve as the king and queen of the Will County Threshermen's Show, to be held July 18 to 21 at the Round Barn Farm in Manhattan. Kennedy is a former Wilmington resident who has been involved with the show since it was started on her family's farm outside New Lenox.
“Threshing days were always an exciting time and a wonderful reunion,” said Kathryn Kennedy, the queen of this year's show. The annual Threshing Show is a living history event featuring antique tractors and demonstrations of the steam-powered wheat threshing, saw milling, corn shelling, and plowing that were once common throughout Will County.
Ann Baskerville Special to The Free Press Newspapers
Kathryn "Kay" Kennedy, 100, and Russ Hossbach, 92, both now living in Joliet, have witnessed dramatic changes in Will County's agricultural landscape and community. Square miles now covered with suburban homes were once divided into 160-acre farms rather than quarter or half-acre lots. Will County farmers now harvest hundreds of acres of wheat in one day using modern combines instead of cutting the wheat and saving the bundles until the threshing man came to the farm and used the steam-powered thresher to separate the wheat from the chaff.
One thing that hasn't changed, however, as Kennedy said this spring while reflecting on memories of wheat threshing on her family's farm and at the Will County Threshermen Show, is that: "threshing days were always an exciting time and a wonderful reunion."
The annual Threshing Show is a living history event featuring antique tractors and demonstrations of the steam-powered wheat threshing, saw milling, corn shelling, and plowing that were once common throughout Will County.
Kennedy, a former Wilmington resident, and Hossbach will be honored as the Queen and King of the 2013 Will County Threshermen's Show in Manhattan. Club members want to celebrate the honorees' dedicated membership and involvement in the Will County Threshermen's Association, which got its start on Kennedy's family farm at Cedar and Delaney Road in New Lenox .
Kennedy's brother Ray Kestel ran a steam engine for many years and, as a child, he was fascinated with its mechanisms. Young Kestel would wake up early on threshing days and watch the man running the steam engine build the fire and get the steam engine going. Kestel's nephew remembers that once young Ray had to help the steam man out of the coal box as the man couldn't get out.
Kennedy remembers threshing days fondly.
"Those threshing days meant summer heat, lots of activity, and delicious food.
"I remember the sound of the whistle. At night on a threshing day when the steam had built up all day from the steam engine, there was still enough pressure to make the whistle blow. My sister Elsie and my brothers Ray, Larry, and Ed would make that whistle blow - we loved doing that!
"The women would always make their best food for threshing days. My mother, Louise Kestel, would get a roast beef from Archie Corp's in New Lenox. There would be mashed potatoes, lots of vegetables, homemade bread and lemon meringue pie for dessert. Coffee was served - I remember skimming the top off the milk for the cream that was served with the coffee."
The milk came from cows the Kestels raised on their farm.
The Kestel's wheat and oats were threshed during the threshing days. Some was stored in dry bins for feed, and some was sold. Kennedy remembered that her father Peter Kestel would haul the oats to sell in a horse-driven wagon to Brisbain elevator, which was a couple miles from their farm.
Peter would also take the milk from the dairy cows to the train several times a week for sale. In those days, the grain and milk could be sold to markets only a few miles from the family farm.
The farming community also kept it local in regards to finance. Peter made loans to several neighbors. He charged 5 percent to 6 percent interest and loans had to be paid back March 1.
As modern combines made wheat threshing unnecessary, Ray Kestel organized the first Steam Show to commemorate the heyday of wheat threshing. The show was held on the Kestel farm, and Ray organized demonstrations of agricultural machinery.
Through the years, Kennedy went to every show - she thought of it as her four-day vacation! She worked in the food trailer with Hossbach and loved to have a baked bean sandwich for her lunch.
Kennedy's husband Art would drive his 1931 Model A in the parade each day.
"It was a wonderful reunion each summer of all who loved the memory of threshing days and wanted to keep its history going," Kennedy said.
Hossbach has been involved with the club since 1970 and served as secretary for 34 years, during what he termed the "pre-computer time," writing all meeting notes and club correspondence by hand. Hossbach remembers it was a big job to keep track of all of the club's business and mail letters to members.
Hossbach got involved with the club both through his friend Fred Whilhelmi and through his wife who worked with and was friends with Jerry Kestel's wife. Although Hossbach lived in town, he worked on a farms in Manhattan from the time he was 9 years old.
He enjoys the history of the farm equipment and the wonderful friendships made through the Threshermen's Show.
Hossbach recently helped celebrate Kennedy's 100th birthday. He gave her a beautiful bouquet of 100 roses and baked several cakes for the celebration.
Hossbach and Kennedy worked in the Threshermen's food trailer serving baked beans, pork chops, chicken, and home-made cole slaw.
The trailer was "one of our fundraisers, but we did not make too much money," he said. "We couldn't charge outrageous prices because for a family of four, that could get expensive, so we priced food moderately to mostly just cover expenses."
The 2013 event will be the Threshermen's Steam Show's first show at the Manhattan Round Barn Farm. Hossbach believes the move to Manhattan will be "good for club" and "a lot of work to move back to Manhattan."
Hossbach is glad the show is "back in Will County where it all started."
The Will County Threshermen's Show will take place July 18 through 21, at the Round Barn Farm Park on Route 52 in Manhattan. Visitors can step back in time to experience Will County's agriculture past by viewing antique tractors and watching demonstrations of steam-powered wheat threshing, corn shelling and saw milling. The saw milling is a very impressive demonstration where huge logs are sawed down into boards with a giant, steam-powered sawmill.
Visitors can also watch antique tractors plow the fields using two-, three-, and even six-bottom plows.
For the antique enthusiast, there will be a flea market filled with a surprising mix of items from the past and a craft show with a variety of hand-made goods. For kids, there will be a petting zoo, farm playground, games and a magic show at noon on Friday, and at 11 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday.
The show also features antique cars and trucks and antique gas engines of all kinds.
There will be plenty of food available and the Round Barn Farm Park features an oak grove with a lot of shade, ball fields, and play equipment for the kids. For more information and a full schedule go to www.steamshow.org.