Successful antique farm equipment clubs are usually started by a few collectors with great enthusiasm to get things going. The next challenge is to spread that enthusiasm to new members, and encourage them to become involved in club activities. Good communication – both internal and external – is a critical part of those goals.
In Texas, the Rio Grande Valley Old Farm Equipment Club has grown to more than 200 families in 11 years, reports Marvin Baker, one of the club's organizers.
"We started our first show with the help of ads," he says, "but now a major tool is our club newsletter."
The club newsletter has been very important in keeping members from a wide area informed and interested in club activities, he says. Members living as far away as North Dakota, Oregon, Alaska and a few foreign countries spend their winters in the Rio Grande Valley. When they get the club newsletters, they often share them with interested friends.
"The monthly 14-page newsletter, mailed first class, has a pass-along readership that heightens its effect," Marvin says.
"Clubs are made of several factions, including those who are mainly interested in tractors, small engines or other things," he adds. "So, in the newsletter, we attempt to appeal to all the various interests we can. Besides club news, I draw from old farm journals and papers to supplement it, and make it more interesting.
"We try to bring members together to make a big family, including younger ones," he adds. "We know they are busy trying to make a living, but we encourage them to become involved so they can take over as older members turn over their leadership roles."
The Oklahoma John Deere Two-Cylinder Club also publishes a newsletter to aid member communication, says Vernon Schmidt of Fairview.
"We publish meeting minutes and other news, such as coming events," Vernon says. "This especially keeps farther away members informed. Committee and financial reports are included. A recent special item in the newsletter was a tractor the club owned and listed for sale to raise funds."
A growing number of clubs are taking advantage of the Internet to keep members informed. A well-designed and frequently updated website can be an effective, affordable and timely way to get the word out on meetings, work days and shows. Postage costs can rise quickly: e-mail is another quick, inexpensive way to reach members.
Richard Martin was one of the organizers of the Two Top Ruritan Club, which held its 13th annual show last September in Mercersburg, Pa. Richard says a key to that club's success is that the members consider their club to be a community organization with activities intended for the public's benefit.
"After you have the first show, it builds on itself if you keep working on it, and keep new members involved," he says. "We've added several features and events, and have contacted national clubs, asking them to announce our events."
That kind of promotion has increased the number of exhibits from a wide area, and in turn, has converted exhibitors into club members.
Richard says efficient advertising is very important in attracting both spectators and participants. That includes posting fliers in a wide area, and buying newspaper and shopper space as well as radio spots.
"Last year we had four live radio remotes at our show," he says. "That doesn't cost too much because they sell most of that air time ahead."
Promotional efforts also include premiums for exhibitors. Such items increase a show's visibility, and are a way of recognizing the exhibitors for their efforts.
"We give plaques, buttons and 'best of show' awards," he says.
Sometimes, the best promotional effort is a personal contact.
"About six years ago, I'd attended some tractor and power shows, and got the idea to start an area club," says Russell Counce, president of the Crossroads of Dixie Antique Tractor and Engine Club at Lawrenceburg, Tenn.
He and several collector friends did the legwork to produce a local show. The timing was right: They hoped for 40 to 50 tractors to be exhibited, but more than 200 came. The next year, they added a tractor pull and other contests, plus a fish fry.
"Last year we had 650 tractors, so we feel our show's been successful," Russell says. "We now have over 100 club members, with many signing up after the first show. A good show, and word of mouth, are vital to signing up new members for your club."
Strong lines of communication also establish a solid and lasting foundation for a new group. Willie Matthews is treasurer of the Cooke County Antique Tractor and Farm Machinery Club at Gainesville, Texas. He stresses the importance of formal organizational documents and structure.
"We are a 501-C3 non-profit, educational Texas corporation," he says, "which helps us spend all the money back, and helps us grow faster. And people can donate equipment and the like so they can write off the tax deductions."
Advertising, he says, has been a good investment for his club.
"We also do a lot of advertising, spending around $3,000 per year," he says. "But we feel that, and hard work by our 90 members, has paid off, since show attendance this past year was over 2,000 and there were over 300 tractor, machinery and other exhibitors." FC
Gary Van Hoozer is a Missouri writer specializing in vintage agriculture and farm history.