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Along side I-70, about 20 miles west of Effingham is Altamont……and some folks there need to let off a little steam.  On July 23rd, 24th and 25th, the Mill Road Threshermans Association will be holding their 29th annual show. What is threshing? Threshing is a farming term from days gone by for ‘separating the wheat from the chaff’. Before the age of modern, diesel powered machinery, farmers used to use a steam powered engines and a series of drive belts to run machines to remove the edible part of cereal grains (like wheat) from the inedible parts (chaff). These steam engines were huge iron giants, billowing out wood smoke and belching hot steam, with an assortment of gears and levers that would put a railroad locomotive to shame. Every year the Mill Road Association gets together at the Effingham County Fairgrounds in Altamont for a demonstration of farming as it was in the early days. There are horse drawn plows, an antique tractor show, flea markets, a tractor pull and of course…..threshing demonstrations. You’ve got to stand next to these monsters as they operate to really get a feel for the power they contain, the hard work that when into making them run, and the everyday dangers the early field workers faced.
Take a trip to Altamont on the weekend of the 24th and take a trip back in time……

I just spent a great day in Ottawa, Illinois.  A lovely river town with great restaurants, nearby wineries and of course the famous Starved Rock Lodge.  The neat thing I learned is that Illinois is positioned to make a great Sparkling Wine.  According to Mark Wenzel, at August Hill Winery, AugustHillwinery.com, our grapes and the low acidity are perfect for wines with “bubbles” as he puts it!  He already has a great brut.   We enjoyed a quick tasting of his raspberry infused sparkling wine. Fantastic!  The highlight of the day was that I finally got to ride on the Volunteer, the I & M Canal’s 19th century replica of a canal boat powered by a mule,  www.lasallecanalboat.org. Yes, that is right, a mule! The crew (in authentic canal costume) were great story tellers about how the canal was built (by hand and mostly by Irishmen).  It was the “superhighway” of its time.   To plan a get-away, enjoyillinois.com has some other great ideas for the area.  Cheers!  Jan Kostner

Coronado Performing Arts Center

Remember talking about the Seven Ancient Wonders of the World in your grade school social studies class – you know, that list of exotic, far-off places like the Great Pyramid of Giza or the Hanging Gardens of Bablyon? Well, AOL Travel and the U.S. Travel Association have partnered to put their own list together – this one featuring the Seven Wonders of the United States – and the Coronado Performing Arts Center in Rockford, Ill., is in the running!

The contest features several categories, including historical, natural, water, wildlife and unusual wonders, and the Coronado is in the running for the architectural wonders category. The theater was chosen by AOL Travel’s editorial staff from among more than 100 submissions because of its unique, one-of-kind atmospheric style. Some of its top competitors in the architectural category are the St. Louis Gateway Arch and the Biltmore in North Carolina.

Voting ends June 30, so be sure to vote for the Coronado Performing Arts Center as the top architectural wonder, as well as your top picks for the other categories. Vote today!

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Rows of strawberries Photo courtesy of Mr. T in DC

Summer has officially arrived, bringing with it warmer temperatures, fun outdoor activities, and some of the tastiest fruit of any season (think: watermelon, peaches, nectarines!).  Cities across the country celebrate the return of such delicious and healthy treats.  Strawberries, high in Vitamin C and flavanoids, serve as the inspiration for the Long Grove Strawberry Festival on June 25-27.  The three-day event showcases these little fruits in almost all of the culinary offerings.  What better way to usher in the official beginning of summer than by snacking on chocolate-covered strawberries, strawberry ice cream, strawberry doughnuts?

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Old Caboose

Looking for a fun family excursion just outside Chicago? You won’t even need your car for this trip to the Homewood Railroad Park on the Metra Electric Line out of Millennium Station in downtown Chicago at Randolph and Michigan (schedules at www.metrarail.com).

The Homewood Railroad Park offers visitors a safe, raised train-viewing platform for watching train operations near the working Canadian National Railroad switching yard. The platform includes a live audio feed to the switchyard, and is wheelchair accessible. Across the tracks (via an underground walkway), visitors can get up close to a retired and restored Illinois Central locomotive and caboose.

Visitors can also walk through the architecturally significant Homewood Train Station (built 1923), probably the only Spanish Revival train station in the Midwest. The Homewood Station is modeled after the clubhouse of a nearby public country club, Ravisloe, founded in 1901.

The Homewood Railroad Park is unique because visitors can view three distinct train types operating along the tracks: freight, regional commuter rail (Metra) and intercity rail (Amtrak). Works by noted muralist Richard Haas are also located on the rear of buildings along the south side of Ridge Road, just steps from the park, and a host of restaurants and shops are within walking distance of the park.

Homewood Trains

The next stop south on the Metra Electric Line is Flossmoor, home of Flossmoor Station Restaurant & Brewery, located in the village’s original Illinois Central station, which was later converted into a restaurant and brewpub. Flossmoor Station, known across the U.S. as one of America’s finest brewpubs, offers a great selection of handcrafted brews and food. Photographs of the region’s railroad past adorn the walls of the brewpub, and trains roll by as guests enjoy lunch, dinner or a cold beverage. On the south side of the property, the brewpub operates an ice cream shop in a completely restored IC caboose (1035 Sterling Ave., 708-957-2739, www.flossmoorstation.com).

Learn more about the Chicago area’s rich railroad past on this fun day trip!

– Bob Lukens

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