Readers of Antique Power magazine not only love old iron, but also history, tradition, family, friends, and fun. All of those things come together beautifully at an antique tractor “plow day.” A favorite activity of tractor clubs, plow days can range from large, public events to simple, small gatherings of local friends. In any case, they give newbies a chance to learn, participate, socialize, and have a great time.
So what, exactly is a plow day? Obviously, it involves plowing with vintage tractors, but there is more to it. I wanted to learn more. On YouTube, I looked for the best videos I could find to share, so you could see what goes on at these events. Then, I attempted to contact people involved with the tractors clubs shown in the videos.
I was very happy to reach Paul Trowbridge, president of the Western New York Two Cylinder Club and Archie Tanner, treasurer of the Scantic Valley Antique Engine & Tractor Club, which includes members from Connecticut and Massachusetts. Both men spoke enthusiastically about their club’s plow days. In addition to plowing, these events involve plenty of socializing, education, and good food.
“We’ve had one every year for the last 25 years,” Trowbridge said. “The biggest thing is finding a farmer who is willing to let you plow his field, one without too many cornstalks, or somebody that would disk the cornstalks.”
Trowbridge likes a field with wheat stubble, old stubble, or vegetable crops. Once the club finds a farmer who is agreeable to the idea, participants go at it. They “strike out” the field, putting in a back furrow, to get things off to a good start. That is important for newbies. They might not understand how it all works, at first, but they have fun learning and feel welcome.
“We have three or four guys who will help people set plows if they’ve never plowed before,” Trowbridge said. “It’s no fun to go someplace to plow if you don’t know how to set your plow. You go out in the middle of the field and you don’t look right. We help them set their plow up, set them in the right direction, so it’s fun.”
Trowbridge says once people find out how much fun it is, they come back twice a year, spring and fall. Some people who show up to plow have a little experience. Some have none. Participants usually have fond memories of watching older family members plow. Maybe they just bought their first tractor. Maybe they know quite a bit about the machine, but not about plowing.
The Western New York Two Cylinder Club advertises in the local newspaper and tries to set up the plow day in a field next to a main road. People going by often stop. Families with children come for the day.
Although spectators pay nothing and no fee is charged to plow, non-members who want to participate are required to join the club ($10 annual dues) because of the requirements of the club’s insurance providers. Any moving machinery can be dangerous, so no sensible farmer would let a club plow his land without seeing written proof of insurance covering all participants.
Every club has its own approach to planning a plow day. Some like to make a public event of it, like the Western New York group does. Others, like the Scantic Valley Antique Engine & Tractor Club take a more cautious approach when it comes to mixingtractors with folks less familiar with farm equipment than the club members.
“We don’t really promote it as a spectator thing, because it’s kind of dangerous with people running around in the field and tractors and plows going,” Tanner said. “But we do get quite a few people watching anyway. The place where we have it now, there’s a road that goes right in front of it, so they can sit on the road and watch us. It works fairly well.”
While some plow days feature a certain make of tractor, many include all makes and sizes. At some plow days, a certain area is set aside for garden tractors. Trowbridge respects what the small tractors can do and has seen them plow 30 acres. Other times, the tractors are categorized in other ways, as Tanner, from the Scantic Valley club explained.
“We usually do a separate section for people with two-way plows, because they can go back and forth on the same side,” Tanner said. “The longer the field, the easier it is to stage it. You start the guys, and one guy goes. You wait a little bit and the next guy goes behind him, then the next guy. They get down to the end, and they turn around and come back on the other side.”
If the club gets too many tractors, another strip is opened and the process starts over. I asked Tanner about videos I’ve seen of the tractors all perfectly spaced in diagonal lines parallel to each other. In reality, with a mix of tractors, that situation does not last long.
“They get kind of jumbled up together. One guy has to stop, another guy gets ahead, and one guy passes another guy, but it all works out,” Tanner said. “It doesn’t take a whole lot of organization. I call it ‘a bunch of old guys playing in the dirt.’”
He mentioned how sometimes a plow day is nothing more than six or eight friends who get together. These might be people who collect the same make of tractor, or not. The events can be planned far ahead or spontaneously, but they all require organizers to have insurance, portable toilets, handwashing facilities, and plenty of good food. Tanner’s club goes all out on the grub.
“What we do that is unique is that we have a steak cookout,” he said. “It’s a pretty good deal. If you belong to the club and you come to plow day, you get a free steak dinner. We cook it outside on a charcoal grill.”
Trowbridge’s club offers hot dogs that are just as well received. He said, “Plow days are just a lot of fun. We take a couple bags of charcoal and maybe 20 pounds of hot dogs and take a cow tank and throw some pop and ice in it. That’s it.”
Tanner agreed that putting on a plow day is a pretty simple thing. As long as you have a big field and start the day with coffee and donuts, it is all bound to be fun.
“We kind of line out the field, and the guys just go back and forth and plow,” he said. “It’s kind of a social event. People say to me, ‘You’re not plowing all morning.’ I tell them, ‘If I plow all day, it’s work. If I plow for half an hour and shoot the bull the rest of the day, then it’s a party.’”
Do you want to attend a plow day? To find one near you, check the Ertel Publishing Show Guide, which subscribers receive for free. You can obtain a show guide, back issues, and merchandise through our Gift Shop by clicking here.
If you can't find Antique Power on a newsstand near you, call 800-767-5828 or visit our Gift Shop to order current or back issues. To subscribe, call 888-760-8108 or click here.Have a great season of fun with tractors!