back on those early Railsplitter festivals
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[September 09, 2008]
The roots of the Railsplitter
Festival begin in 1970 at Jerry's Drive-In on Woodlawn Road in
Lincoln. Daris Knauer met with LeRoy Buckheit, the co-chairman of
tourism for the Lincoln Chamber of Commerce. LeRoy was "flipping
burgers" in his restaurant as they talked, because there was a
busload of people in the restaurant. Daris had an idea about having
an event that was related to Abraham Lincoln's days in Logan County. LeRoy mentioned that they should name it the "Railsplitter" because
Abe Lincoln was known for splitting rails. The Lincoln Chamber of
Commerce sponsored the first and second Railsplitter events.
During the first Railsplitter, a man from Petersburg named Johnny
Jones split rails for the state of Illinois and later became a judge
at the inaugural event. Soon after, Johnny established "rail rules"
for the competition. These rules have evolved over the years but
have stayed generally the same. Paul Harvey, the famous radio
personality, was heard to mention that the first Lincoln
Railsplitting Festival was held in Lincoln, Ill.
hosted the festival for the first two to three years; however, those
in charge thought it would be more appropriate for the event to be
on the grounds of Lincoln College, named for Lincoln before he
died. A parade starting in downtown Lincoln and ending at the
Lincoln College campus kicked off the festival.
However, in the 1970's an ice cream social was the starting event
for the weekend. The ice cream social had another purpose besides
quelling the desire for ice cream; the number of ice cream social
tickets she sold selected the Railsplitter queen.
The Railsplitter Festival was at Lincoln College for several
years, until it grew too big for that location and was moved back to
the Logan County Fairgrounds.
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Some of the events were a cow chip throwing contest, a cow and goat
milking contest, wooden shingle (shake) making contest done with a
wooden fo (tool), goose plucking, sheep shearing with hand-cranked
clippers, watermelon seed spitting contest, tobacco spitting contest
and much more.
It was with pride that Lincoln was the "Home of the Original
Railsplitting Festival" and should be known as "The Railsplitting
Capital of the World." It spurred other national
competitions. States represented in this festival were Missouri,
Kentucky, Indiana, Iowa and Michigan.
In 1976 President Gerald Ford came to Lincoln on the Amtrak
train. All the planning for his visit took place in congressman Ed
Madigan's office. Knauer shared the story of how they arranged to
have President Gerald Ford re-enact the christening of the city of
Lincoln from the platform of the train with a cup of watermelon
juice, in spite of his security guards discouraging this act. Daris
also tells the story of how he "told the president what to do" by
telling him how to "split a rail." And he did!
[Text from file received]