A Vintage Tractor Ride in the Valley

First-ever vintage tractor Ride in the Valley gives new Idaho club a boost.

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Spectacular scenery provided an unparalleled backdrop for the first-ever “Ride in the Valley” in Idaho.

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Tractor rides have fast become a popular activity for vintage iron enthusiasts coast to coast. Whether it's a cross-state ride with hundreds of entrants, a one-day club outing or an event designed as a local charity fundraiser, the concept has won quick approval as a good way to have fun with antique tractors. Here, one Idaho enthusiast shares his experience.

Members of the Panhandle Antique Tractor and Engine Club in north Idaho held their first-ever "Ride in the Valley" on April 23. After nearly a month of daily spring rains, the clouds cleared and sunlight spread across the region as club members drove some 25 vintage farm tractors down rural roads in Bonner County.

Bonner County reaches across the entire width of Idaho's panhandle between the neighboring states of Montana and Washington. Today, forest-land, small farms with hayfields and pastures for horses and cattle, and numerous home sites dot the valley floor.

The area's geological landscape was formed during the ice age some 12,000 years ago, when giant floodwaters spilled out of mountain gorges to the east. The result is a bowl-shaped valley approximately 10 miles wide and 15 miles long.

Selle Valley, located just north of county seat Sandpoint, Idaho (population 6,000), is named for a pioneer settler. The valley is bordered by two towering, tree-covered mountain ranges with peaks extending as high as 7,000 feet. To the west are the Selkirk Mountains, home to a wide array of wildlife, including grizzly bears and one of the few remaining herds of woodland caribou in the continental U.S. The Cabinet Mountains surround the valley to the north and east. The dominant feature on the southern exposure is Lake Pend Oreille (pronounced Ponderay), Idaho's largest lake. At 1,200 feet deep, it is also one of the deepest lakes in the nation.

Accompanied by about 40 members and friends, some riding on hay wagons and others following the convoy in cars and trucks, the tractor drivers proudly paraded through Selle Valley. Lee Burnett, club president, drove a Farmall Model H he restored. He got the tractor from his father, who retired from farming at age 85. His father told him he could have the Farmall if he would rebuild it. An experienced restorer, Lee took him up on the offer. Driving the restored family tractor was like icing on the cake for Lee, who says the ride is sure to become an annual event. "Because our first ride was a great success," he says, "we'll probably have another one next year."

This year's ride included visitors from the Inland Empire Tractor and Engine Club in Spokane, Wash. Last fall, six members of the Panhandle club participated as guests in a ride sponsored by the Inland Empire club. Responding in kind, the Panhandle club extended an invitation to its ride, and six Inland Empire club members made the trip.

The ride also turned out to be a recruiting tool. "We had 40 members at the start of the Ride in the Valley," Lee says. "By the end of the ride, we had 42 members, as two new people showed up, rode along and joined our club." The club is enjoying rapid growth, Lee notes. "We started with only three people in 2001."

Driving a 1948 Ford Model 8N with front-mounted snow blade, Ken Lunn, one of the event organizers, was thrilled with the ride. "You just couldn't ask for a better day," he says. "Some club members wanted me to cancel because of the wet spring we've been having. I'm glad we didn't."

Ken's Ford was once the workhorse at his 10-acre place, used for snow plowing and other jobs. Then his wife surprised him with a new Kubota with all the comforts of home (enclosed cab, air conditioning, AM/FM and a compact disc player). That served as all the inspiration he needed. "Once I had the new tractor," he says, "I began restoring the Ford." He fixed the rear end and transmission, rebuilt the motor, did bodywork and painted. Today, the restored Ford is a regular in local parades and fairs.

On the appointed ride day, a group of 25 gathered at Ken's home, about 8 "air miles" from Sandpoint, for a scheduled departure time of 9 a.m. Two of those 25 tractors, having suffered debilitating mechanical problems, stayed in the driveway. Shortly after the ride got underway, a wheel came loose from a third tractor, sending that entrant back via the recovery trailer.

At midday, lunch was served to a group of 60 at the Oden Community Hall on the north shore of Lake Pend Oreille. Conversations there focused on old iron, with a decidedly light touch. "Does that Farmall Cub have any other gear but second?" "Yes," noted the young driver, "and my tractor went faster after I unlocked the brake." The driver of the John Deere pulling a wagon with a port-a-pot took some abuse. "Is that your RV you're pulling?" one wag asked. "Yes," he responded, "and I'll sublet it to you if you're interested."

The oldest tractor on the trip was a 1939 Minneapolis-Moline. Other manufacturers represented included Ford, John Deere, Allis-Chalmers and Farmall.

To cover expenses, the club held a poker run during the ride. For a $5 donation, each person was given a poker card at each scheduled stop. At the end of the ride, the driver with the best poker hand split the pot with the club.

As the tractors slowly paraded along country roads, more than a few motorists pulled to the shoulder to stop and watch. Residents along the route settled in lawn chairs and took photos; families walked to the end of their lanes to wave as the convoy drove past. For all who saw it, the first-ever Ride in the Valley brought back fond memories of a cherished farm tradition. FC 

For more information: 

- Lee Burnett, 621 French Road, Sandpoint, ID 83864; (208) 263-4079.

Freelance writer Cecil Hicks, Sandpoint, Idaho, grew up on an 84-acre farm near LaFayette, Ill. His first "tractor drives" were conducted on his dad's Farmall H and a neighbor's Ford.