Photo: KCFB Information Director Ryan Klassy points out details in the carving to KCFB members Erwin Panzer, Bernice Maness and Leonard Panzer of Maple Park. The sculpture, at the corner of Randall Road and Oak Street in St. Charles, tops out at 11 feet tall and sports a Kane County Farm Bureau 100th Anniversary logo. Courtesy Photo
KANE COUNTY—The seventh annual Touch-A-Tractor at the Kane County Farm Bureau attracted a steady crowd thanks to the efforts of dozens of member/volunteers. Several events at the April farm-city event helped highlight the Farm Bureau’s centennial celebration.
A tree carving on the corner of the KCFB property, facing Randall Road, made a one-of-a-kind Touch-A-Tractor experience. Professional carver Michael Bihlmaier of Marengo, Ill., turned the base of a trunk of a 120-year-old ash tree, taken down due to disease, into a towering ear of corn.
Bihlmaier used half a dozen chainsaws of varying sizes to chip away at the carving over the course of the three-day event, creating a tribute to Illinois’ number-one commodity crop.
“Ash is a very hard, dry wood so it takes a lot of time,” said Bihlmaier.
His chainsaws hummed away as onlookers waited to see what the sculpture would be. What remained when Bihlmaier hit the off switch on his chainsaw was an 8-foot-tall ear of corn, complete with curling husks that cradle over 350 individually carved kernels of corn. Good weather allowed him to finish the ear of corn before the last Touch-A-Tractor visitor left.
A Kane County Farm Bureau 100th Anniversary logo was all that was left to be added when showers came late in the day on Sunday. The sculpture measures 11 feet tall, from the ground to the tallest point.
“It’s definitely the biggest ear of corn I’ve ever carved,” said Bihlmaier, who has completed hundreds of carvings.
Bihlmaier has award-winning talent, has competed in national carving competitions and is a member of the Echo chainsaw carving team. He used a grinder, dremel and other woodworking tools to add detail to the sculpture.
“We’re really impressed with the job Mike did,” said PR Chair Beth Engel of Hampshire. “The detail is so impressive. It should catch the attention of drivers on Randall Road and give them a reason to stop and see what we’re doing to promote a bright future for agriculture here in Kane County.”
KCFB also kicked off the Centennial Grove tribute program, and visitors were able to get a first-hand look at the trees available for purchase to dedicate to individuals or events.
Another first-time attraction was a 1913 Port Huron steam engine brought in by KCFB member Tom Runty. It was a huge hit with kids and adults.
“The littlest kids seem to have the best understanding of it,” Runty said. “They know it looks like a train, and of course that’s exactly the way it works, like a steam-operated locomotive.”
Runty’s first appearance at Touch-A-Tractor was perfectly timed, as the association is celebrating its centennial. The steam engine, which he bought in 1999 and spent five years restoring, is almost the same age as the Kane County Farm Bureau, which has a date of Dec. 31, 1912, on its charter. Almost every kid, and many adults, took a turn standing on the platform of the 20,000-pound behemoth.
“Because we are celebrating our 100th year, we wanted to make this Touch-A-Tractor one to remember,” said Director and PR committee member Bill Collins. “Thanks to moderate weather conditions and some exceptional equipment and displays, I think we provided a really good experience for the kids—which is what it’s all about.”
The event featured 17 antique tractors, modern farm equipment, farm animals and lots of agricultural activities for children. The weekend wrapped up with the announcement of 21 college-bound recipients of nearly $22,000 in Kane County Farm Bureau Foundation scholarships, followed by the drawing of the winners in the not-for-profit’s annual Winner’s Choice Tractor Raffle fundraiser.
Attendance at the annual farm-city event was estimated at 1,500 people for the three-day event.