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Farm-town centennial -- floats, fun, togetherness

Main steet here -- two blocks of scattered shops near the grain elevators -- was clean by early the next morning. Volunteers from the various social and civic clubs in town had picked up the trash before 8 a.m.

So Byron's centennial ended the way it began -- with the kind of neighborly, "everybody pitch in" spirit that makes this community of 170 tick.

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And Byron is not so different from hundreds of other small farming towns spread across the country. In spite of the trend toward corporate farming and increasingly sophisticated machinery, much of the old spirit of farming communities survives.

Byron's centennials is a good example.

There is only one cafe in town. It is run cooperatively. On the day of the centennial, volunteers from local clubs worked as waiters; family members provided pies.

Members of another club dished up the barbecue beef dinner -- and the line was a block long. (There was plenty of grumbling.)

At church the next day everyone was invited to a meal at the Town Hall (an enlarged quonset hut which serves as basketball court for the high school and as a dance floor).

During the centennial Saturday, a local pilot rented a plane and took up anyone who wanted to go. The charge: donate if you like. Suggested rate: 2 cents for every pound you weighed. (Werner Hoops recalled a pilot charging $10 a ride in the 1920s here. Few farmers had that much, so they pooled their $10, drew numbers, and one farmer got to fly.)

The parade that afternoon took 1 1/2 hours. There were 100 entries. Folks entered from other towns, too: antique cars, an old threshing machine, tractors, bicycles -- even two women pushing lawn mowers.

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One women almost run out of film during the parade: She took a picture of everyone she was related to or the float of every club she belonged to.

A highlight of the day was the play. And the highlight of the play was the villian -- Harvey Hoops, a farmer who offstage does a lot of complaining about President Carter's grain embargo.

All the kids in the front rows were ready when he came on. They peppered him with popcorn and boos.

The play took place on an improvised stage set up on the edge of main street. The audience filled folding chairs set up in the street. Later, old-time movies were shown free outside, on a screen on brick wall.

By late evening, most farmers and wives had gone home, leaving the teenagers and young couples at the dance.

One farmer's young son told the standing joke that life here is so boring the young people have to go to another town to get bored.

But there is one encouraging trend some farmers here note: More young people are coming back to the area to farm after attending college than in the past.

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