PONTIAC - Route 66 drivers were treated to a rare sight Saturday when more than 80 drivers hit the Mother Road to show off their restored antique tractors and meet new friends.
The third annual Route 66 Antique Tractor Roadshow, which began at Normal Community High School, will conclude today in Dwight.
"It's a hobby and fun, but it's also an opportunity to show ag history to the general public," said participant Mark Frels. "If you look at our state's economy and our history, it's all based on agriculture, which touches jobs throughout the state. We need to understand and promote this history and show it to the kids."
Frels believes this interest in agriculture history has made antique tractor roadshows more popular, since more shows have developed recently. Frels owns three antique tractors and drives a 1956 Minneapolis Moline UTS that his dad and grandpa restored after it was idle for 20 years.
Participation in the roadshow, sponsored by Livingston County Farm Bureau and Pontiac tourism, is down slightly from last year, but Livingston County Farm Bureau manager Teresa Grant-Quick was pleased with the turnout and community support.
"I'm sure the gas prices were a factor, but Evergreen FS (one of the sponsors) will be filling them up for free at Thresherman's Park (in Pontiac)," Grant-Quick said. "Besides, they enjoy coming because it gives them a chance to get together with others and talk about farming and their favorite toys."
Grant-Quick said the show brings communities along Route 66 together and is an excellent opportunity for people to see farmers having fun.
"The most popular part of the roadshow is when we travel to the nursing homes along the route (ASTA Care and Livingston Manor in Pontiac and the Heritage Manor in Dwight)," Grant-Quick said. "The residents look forward to it all year long because many of them are retired farmers or come from a farm area, so it gives them a chance to reminisce."
Another highlight for drivers was touring the O.E.M. plant in Chenoa, which makes parts for Farmall tractors made from 1939 to 1958. Owner Dale Smith, a regular roadshow participant, joined the show in his 1970 International Harvester 2856 at Chenoa after opening the plant for display.
"This (the roadshow) is the only fun I get once a year," Smith said. "I look forward to seeing everyone because they are more than customers - they are my friends."
After completing the tour, the roadshow continued to Pontiac, where the tractors paraded to the nursing homes before parking at Thresherman's Park.
The event resumes at 9 a.m. today when the tractors leave for Odell to tour the old Route 66 Standard Oil gas station and an underground bypass. The tractors will head north to Heritage Manor in Dwight before the event concludes with an awards banquet.