At Antique Power magazine, in addition to great photos and articles, we wish we could offer readers the pleasure of actually driving antique tractors. Group “tractor drives” make that activity even more fun. They can involve small or large numbers of tractors traveling along country roads for long or short distances. Essentially a rolling tractor show, tractor drives are enjoyed greatly by both participants and the public.
You might think tractor drives happen regularly all over the country, but there are more in the eastern half of the United States than the western. Northwest Vintage Iron and Tractor Club (Early Days Gas Engine & Tractor Association Branch 36) based in Carnation, Washington, first hosted its 35-miles drive in 2016 and is about to host another, only because a member named Mike Hurt spearheaded the effort, and the whole club jumped in to help. I wanted to learn more about how they planned this event and how other drives have been conducted elsewhere.
“One of my earliest memories was riding on my Papaw’s lap on his 1950 IH Farmall M on his farm in Owensville, Indiana,” Hurt told me. “I loved him, the farm, and his tractors so much. Fast forward 40 years. When my boy Dylan was born, all I could think about was my Papaw and became obsessed again with the Farmall M.”
Even though Hurt lives in the Seattle area, he wanted his son to have those same kinds of memories. He bought a restored 1950 M and then began looking around for a chance to participate in a tractor drive. He considered traveling all the way to the Midwest to do so, but then had a more practical idea.
“After more thought, I believed that I could organize one here in the Seattle area myself,” Hurt said. “So after about four months of planning last year, my tractor club and I started the annual Snoqualmie Valley Tractor Drive, about 30 minutes outside of Seattle.”
2013 Whiteside County Farm Bureau, Morrison, Illinois
Some clubs in very rural areas are quite casual about these events. They can happen on short notice, with the knowledge, blessing, and cooperation of local law enforcement but without any “red tape.” Hurt knew more would be required in his area. He held monthly planning meetings and worked with the Washington Department of Transportation, because the route included state highways.
“We started with a big long list and every month just kind of chipped away at all the stuff,” he said. “By the time May came around, we kind of finished everything for that first year, and the drive was a great success.
Because of weather, only about 18 drivers participated in 2016. The club expects around 30 participants this year and 40–50 in 2018. Membership chairman Phil Scott explained other details.
“Local small-town police should be notified, and most likely are very supportive,” Scott said. “We hired our off-duty deputy sheriff [King County Sheriff’s Office] and cruiser through the police officers guild.”
According to Scott, the police officer who escorted the tractors enjoyed the experience so much that he asked if he could do it again.
“We adopted the entire EDGE&TA safety standards and included them on our registration form, which each driver must sign,” Scott added. “We left enough gap between tractors to allow passing and pulled over at pre-identified spots to allow traffic to clear.”
“When you’ve got even 25–30 tractors, 50–100 feet apart, going 10 miles per hour, it can be an inconvenience,” Hurt said. “But people love it. We get thousands of honks and waves.”
The Randolph County Antique Club in Winchester, Indiana, involves more antiques than just tractors, but drives are a favorite activity of its members. Usually 20–30 people participate.
Slow Boys Tractor Club, Gilman, Illinois
“We do it all strictly for fun, just to have something to do with our tractors,” club president Joel Taylor said. “Most of our members are no longer involved in farming, but we all enjoy driving tractors and getting to see the countryside. There’s no place better for doing that than from the seat of a tractor.”
According to Taylor, when the club traveled through Amish country, everybody came out to the edge of the road, looking at the tractor drivers in awe and waving. He noted how it appeals to people of all types and ages. He loves seeing people’s faces light up and the big smiles. Sometimes the drives become lunch dates.
“We’ll take off through the countryside and have a meal someplace, and sometimes we go a pretty good distance,” Taylor said. “We have a lot of fun together.”
Central Illinois Green Club
Other tractor clubs combine fun with fundraising for good causes. I spoke with Stan Dietz, past president of the Central Illinois Green Club, which was founded by John Deere collectors but now welcomes all makes. This club hosts an annual event called “Ride the River,” raising money to help eight local FAA [Future Farmers of America] chapters. FAA members volunteer to help with traffic, parking, food, water, and more.
“Once in a while, we have to cross public highways,” Dietz said. “When we do, we have the county sheriff’s department at the intersections. Most are either township roads or county blacktop roads.”
His club requires all tractors to follow safety guidelines, such as being marked as slow-moving vehicles and having any “buddy seats” securely attached.
“A lot of times the community will help support us in this event by donating food or snacks, lots of water, and soft drinks,” Dietz said.
While a local tractor club’s drive might involve only a couple of dozen tractors and no or low fees, others organized by civic groups, charities, churches, or even businesses can involve hundreds of participants and more complicated logistics. The Platte Valley Antique Machinery Association’s 2nd Annual All Nebraska Two-day Tractor Drive took place over June 16–17, 2017, as a major event.
Large or small, tractor drives are one of the most enjoyable aspects of this hobby.
Randolph County Antique Club
“We had so much fun that we all wanted to do it again, including the deputy,” Scott said. "It was like you remember as a kid on the farm after a long day in the field, when you unhooked the plow, put the old tractor in road gear, and headed home for supper with the wind blowing in your face!"
For Hurt, it’s all about each generation passing along meaningful experiences.
“My son is now five years old, and I plan on taking him with me this year to seed future memories with him,” he said. “And the cycle goes on.”