BY ETHAN LILLARD
HAMILTON – Getting stuck behind a tractor is a regular occurrence around the farming areas in the tri-states. This week and possibly over the weekend, some may find themselves stuck behind not just one tractor, but an entire fleet of tractors, as people from around the tri-state area and beyond bring their classic tractors to Hamilton, Illinois for this year’s 52nd annual Western Illinois Threshers.
For those that aren’t sure what Threshers is all about, tractors is just the beginning. When you pull up the the Thresher grounds, you will see antique tractors, farm animals, antique farm equipment, a grandstand for fans, food vendor trucks and the list goes on.
“Western Illinois Threshers is kind of like a fair,” Joy Swearingen, who has been involved with Threshers since the late 70s, said. “But it’s all focused on farming and life in the past.”
Along with tractor pulls, there are also replica villages with blacksmiths, a sawmill, log cabins, a school house, churches, a post office and much more to demonstrate what a typically community may look like dating back to the late 1800’s and early 1900s. While taking a walk through the community, spectators can interact with and will hear from those volunteers who are playing the role of community commoner during the late 1800s-early 1900s-era.
“You’ll see everything and how it was done around 100 years ago,” Swearingen said. “Some of it older than that and some of it newer than that. It’s just a record of what farming has been like over the past.”
Trains will be provided for transportation and kids entertainment on certain parts of the grounds, as flee markets, events and numerous food options will be enjoyed throughout the course of the day.
For a complete list of all activities and events that will take place at this year’s Threshers, please visit: www.westernillinoisthreshers.org. The fee to get in is a $5 button that you are required to purchase upon entree, the rest of the event is cost free.
The event is actually named after an old piece of farm equipment invented in 1786 named the Thresher.
“One person would have a threshing machine and he would drive around to all the different farms and the neighbors would all collect at each person’s farm,” Swearingen explained. “They would have cut the wheat, stalk and all, and have it tied into the bundles, and they would throw those bundles into the threshing machine. Threshing is separating the grain from the straw if anyone wonders what threshing is all about, that’s it.”
The event began 52 years ago after a group of local farmers decided they had enough people and machinery to host an event of there own after having gone to similar events in other communities. The first Threshers events were held on Fred Buckert’s farm and then rotated to other people’s grounds as the years progressed.
“They rotated around to varies farms and over the ten years it grew and became a lot to set up from scratch,” Swearingen said. “The crowds were getting so large that it was hard to manage on someone’s farm. They began to look for land to buy and that’s when they bought the first 40 acres and started building here on the Western Illinois Threshers grounds.”
Swearingen is like many from around the Hancock County community and grew up around the event for much of her life and raised her children going to the event over the years as well. As her roots grew deeper with the community event, so did her involvement.
Swearingen takes care of much of the promotions for the event, public relations, advertising, press releases, radio shows and much more. She also manages the food on the grounds for dinner in the evenings and more, with a ribeye dinner to take place Friday nights and a pork chop dinner to follow Saturday.
While the food alone is always a good reason to come back year in and year out, Swearingen says the reason many like herself return every year for the celebration is because of the relationships built that may now have span over multiple generations of family, much like it was in the threshing days.
“It’s a lot of work, but it’s the people that are involved here,” Swearingen said is the reason she keeps coming back for more every year. “You see people maybe once a year, just working together with folks and seeing families come and enjoy the show and realizing they are learning. It provides a real fun place for the whole family to come.
“We have a number of children’s events too. My kids grew up coming here and it’s just kind of a nostalgic thing. Sometimes I wonder why I keep doing it, but it’s a good thing for the community, it pulls a lot of people into Hancock County and I think it’s worth the effort.”
With the event getting bigger and bigger each year, more and more volunteers will be required to help staff the event. This year you will see West Hancock Titan students helping to raise money for their after prom and will also see numerous organizations there to help serve dinners, tear down and much more.
“That’s just a chore of the people that make things happen,” Swearingen said. “We couldn’t do it without all the volunteers in the county.”
For Swearingen it has all come full circle from attending the event with her parents to now going and seeing grandchildren running around, carrying on the generational tradition.
When she first came to Threshers there was a saw mill on the far end of the property. She wondered why in the world part of the threshers facility would be so far dislocated from the rest of the events and buildings, but now knows it was part of a bigger plan that she is now a part of.
“When we first started coming, the saw mill was at the way far end and there was only one or two buildings here close to where the food stand is and the grandstand,” Swearingen said. “I could not understand why they built that sawmill way down there where nobody is. Now there is several roads that fill in that space, it’s all full between here and the sawmill. Somebody has a vision and a plan … It’s just grown and grown.”