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Barry Schrader
Columnist

 

I currently write a column each Tuesday for the DeKalb Daily Chronicle. The column will also appear on this website each week and be added to the archives.

The Articles started December 2007.

 

If you've missed any please follow the links on the dates to catch up.

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Living legend Orion Samuelson still going strong

By Barry Schrader.................................September 14, 2010

Wandering outside the confines of DeKalb County, I headed up north Sept. 4 to see the Poplar Grove Vintage Wings & Wheels Show.
I had the good fortune to find WGN broadcasting legend Orion Samuelson there, being honored for his 50 years in radio.
Decked out in his cowboy boots and 10-gallon Stetson, Orion sat atop his old family tractor, a restored Farmall F-20 vintage 1939, as people greeted him and had their photo taken next to the tractor.
The $64 question everyone had for him was: “Are you retiring after 50 years?” He quickly answered with a

WGN broadcasting legend Orion Samuelson recently was honored for his 50 years in radio.


“No.” He said that rumor has been circulating for 20 years and that on Sept. 26, he begins his second 50 years on the air.
“I’m Norwegian, so I’m only half done,” he quipped. Mentioning that his good friend, the late Paul Harvey, went until the age of 90, Orion noted that he is only 76 and said that he has no intention of hanging up his microphone.
He is still working a hectic schedule, leaving at 3:30 a.m. each day from his Huntley home, getting on the toll road with all the 18-wheelers, and arriving at the WGN studio only 54 minutes later. His work day covers 16 on-air reports beginning at 4:50 a.m. and ending with the 6:30 p.m. broadcast. Then he and his longtime partner, Max Armstrong, have their own TV network called RFD and do four shows a weekend called “This Week in Agribusiness.”
Of course, Orion has another means of transportation for getting around the Midwest – his Cessna 210 single engine turbo-charged plane that cruises at a cool 175 miles per hour. He keeps it at the Aurora Airport and has two pilots on call who take him to farm shows and special appearances as far west as Denver and Bismark, then all the way east to Virginia. He had the plane on display with the tractor at the Poplar Grove show.
Looking over the pristine 1939 Farmall, I asked how it was saved. He credits the IH Collectors Club No. 10 with restoring it. “I was 5 years old in 1939 when the dealer drove up to my dad’s Wisconsin dairy farm and unloaded this tractor – then running on steel wheels as rubber tires were not added until after the war.”
He said he learned to drive the F20 “when my left leg was long enough and strong enough to push the clutch.” His folks sold the farm and the tractor at auction in 1964. His father paid $720 for it and 25 years later, it sold for $720, he explained. Over time it had been left outside, abandoned in a field where it was a “bushel-basket full of junk.”
Orion’s friend Max arranged to have it transported to Illinois, where it was auctioned off at a benefit event; spirited bidding raised the price to $6,000 for the rusted carcass. That’s when the collectors club stepped in and undertook a complete restoration that cost an astronomical figure – one Orion doesn’t even know now. He did learn that the race car red paint alone cost $14,000, plus labor to have it applied.
The interview ended then, as he had to dismount the tractor and do a live interview with Ron Hightower, the new president of the Experimental Aircraft Association who had flown in from his St. Louis home for the show. Their discussion centered on the annual Oshkosh Airshow, which Ron’s group organizes each year.
Then Orion spent the rest of the day meeting and greeting folks who consider him a living legend among radio personalities and the No. 1 agricultural broadcaster in America. Not much of a day’s work for a 76-year-old Norwegian who, as he put it, doesn’t plan to quit until he’s worked another 50 years

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The columnist can be reached via email at :

barry815sbcglobal.net

or by snailmail at:

Barry Schrader
PO Box 851
DeKalb, Ill 60115