Editor's Note: This article is part of a regular monthly series on the history of Webster City, written by local historian, Nancy Kayser. In researching this article, she drew upon accounts printed in many Iowa newspapers from 1962, ag columnist Herb Plambeck's columns and information from the Farm Progress company.
BLAIRSBURG?- Fifty years ago, the Everett Smith Family of rural Blairsburg invited Midwest farm families and international visitors to come visit their 480 acre Hamilton County farm. An estimated 300,000 people accepted the invitation on September 18, 19 and 20, 1962 as they attended the 10th annual Farm Progress Show hosted by the Smiths and Wallace's Farmer magazine.
The Everett Smith farm, located two miles north of US Highway 20 and one-half mile west of US Highway 69 in section 23 of Blairsburg township, was chosen as the host site due to its convenient location to major highways and because the family farm consisted of 480 contingent acres.
It was quite an undertaking to host the show requiring the cooperation of the family as its normal farm routine was disrupted, and event coordination with its home county. Preparation with the host farm began a full year or more prior to the event and was directed by the show's manager, Maynard Bertsch of Wheaton, Illinois.
The event was presented at no cost to visitors with no entry or parking charges.
For the Hamilton County show, 200 acres of corn were planted to be harvested during the event. Some of the plots utilized the experimental at that time technique of 19 and 28 inch row widths with plant populations of 36,000 and 26,400 kernels per acre respectively, which would require newly developed narrow-row corn pickers for harvesting. Also demonstrated that year was a combine which could harvest the grain and grind the cob at the same time. Who could imagine in 1962 that the popular tractor-pulled corn picker would be replaced by the self-propelled combine in such a short time span?
Twenty seed companies planted 250 varieties of hybrid corn in a single field for side by side comparisons. There were 66 plots of legumes and legume and grass mixes to view along with 21 varieties of grain and forage sorghum to evaluate. There were even weed control plots using seven different chemicals at varying strengths to demonstrate effectiveness levels.
More than 40 acres of the Smith farm became a tent city for the three days requiring water and electric lines and a new well. A few buildings were erected including pre-fabricated rest room facilities. The tent city housed displays from 270 vendors including vacuum corn planters, the combines, hay stacking and moving equipment, grain storage "bags" and the pilot model of a stalk shredder. Iowa State University's "Pigney Land" display showcased current and future trends in swine production.
A model ranch style farm home was also erected on site to demonstrate the newest features available to farm families. The home, constructed, furnished and landscaped especially for the show, was built for Pete and Marie Klaver of Kamrar who moved the home after the show to their farmstead a few miles south of the site. Their granddaughter and family currently occupy the three-bedroom home which has undergone several remodels.
Twice a day "home shows" were presented in a theatre-type tent with stage and chairs. The show introduced turquoise colored kitchen appliances of dishwashers, double built-in ovens, table-top burners along with washers, dryers and refrigerators. There were also fabric and sewing displays and a style revue with Hamilton County residents as models.
Another Smith field was utilized as a parking lot for the 30,000 vehicles each day. The Iowa State Patrol, assisted by local law enforcement and the Webster City Iowa National Guard unit, were in charge of patrolling, security and directing traffic. Men on horseback helped park cars and assisted in keeping the traffic flowing smoothly.
Feeding the immense crowds was the duty of eight local church organizations. One can only imagine the number of pies the groups baked to feed the mass of people. 4-H groups sold cold drinks. Some of the county schools held a three-day vacation period so that students could assist at the show.
Arrive by planes
Nearly 500 planes landed at the Webster City Airport in the three days of the show. It was the most traffic the airport had handled in such a short amount of time with 200 of the planes landing on Sept. 19. Pilots and passengers were shuttled to and from the show site at no cost to them.
Kraft Foods' agricultural division of Chicago brought their helicopter to the show. The company held drawings at their display to give away free rides. The helicopter made about 350 flights during the show, carrying two or three passengers each time. The pilot and staff commuted every day from their motel in Ames, using the motel's parking lot as their evening base.
Making national headlines was the visit by an eight member Soviet delegation led by Soviet minister of agriculture K. G. Pysin. A photo of Pysin and his group enjoying a hot dog, pie and coffee at the Kamrar Presbyterian Church lunchroom was on the front page of many newspapers across the nation. The accompanying United Press International news report detailed the conversation between the Soviet group and several Hamilton County 4-H girls assisting in the food tent.
The weather was mild with temperatures in the 60 to 70 degree range. But the first frost of the season arrived on the last day of the show with an overnight low of 31 degrees greeting visitors on Wednesday morning.
This year is the 60th year for the Farm Progress Show, but the Farm Progress group, publisher of 22 agricultural and ranching magazines, says there have been only 59 shows. The 1986 Alleman show was completely rained out and was unable to be held as scheduled.
The uncertainty of the weather, the need for close proximity to interstate highways and for expanded housing of exhibitors and visitors pushed the group to build permanent show sites in Illinois and Iowa beginning in 2005, choosing Decatur, Illinois and an area along Highway 17 near Boone, Iowa as the prime locations.
Iowa is host to the 2012 show on August 28, 29 and 30 at their weather-resistant Central Iowa Expo site near Boone. Visitors can expect to see the most extensive state-of-the-art information and technology available for agricultural producers from more than 600 exhibitors.