Want to boost attendance at your farm show? Get young people involved? Engage visitors in new ways? Help a new generation learn about traditional farming? Take a tip from clubs that are thinking outside the box.
The Albert City, Iowa, Threshermen and Collector (ACTAC) show has a long history as a working event, explains Connie Reinert, a director on the ACTAC board. In 2013, the club used that strength as a springboard, when two volunteers came up with the idea of using old iron to demonstrate one year of farm work in 60 minutes.
Each year since, the show’s featured machinery is used in a 60-minute exhibition. In 2013, International Harvester was featured, followed by John Deere in 2014 and Oliver/Hart-Parr/White in 2015 (coinciding with the national Oliver/Hart-Parr show held in Albert City). In 2016, the presentation will feature horses and horse-drawn equipment.
In a typical demonstration, the audience listens closely as an announcer explains activity in the field. The field is divided into three sections; one section is used each day of the show. “Each demonstration follows the order of work done in a year of farming, so some activities are going on at the same time,” Connie says. “Once each activity ends, those volunteers leave their area, as there is still a lot of other action going on.”
If an end-gate seeder is available, wheat seed will be thrown out; if a working planter is on-site, corn will be planted. Harvest activities are always shown on the wheat field.
“The old-timers like to watch and reminisce,” Connie says. “The demonstration is also popular with families, because grandparents and parents have a chance to show the younger ones how farming used to be done. Those who didn’t grow up on a farm really get a chance to see all the work and all the steps that went into one year of farming. It’s fun to see the broad range of ages represented in the people on the field and in the stands.”
Each year’s presentation takes extensive planning, and a lot of volunteer labor. But it’s well worth the effort, Connie says. “Probably the neatest thing I saw was when a boy picked up a kernel of corn and asked why it was red and not yellow,” she says. “That was a chance to explain the difference between seed corn and sweet corn: some real hands-on learning!”
Visitors are very appreciative of the event. “In our annual follow-up survey, this event attracts nearly 95 percent of the visitors to our show,” she says. “It earns some of the highest ratings for what people like to see.”
For more information: Connie Reinert, email; (712) 843-2076 (leave a message).
After 15 years, the Living History presentation at the Orange Spectacular Show, Hutchinson, Minnesota, still draws a crowd. The presentation is held at noon each day of the show. A narrator with a microphone acts as a tour guide, leading a group from demonstration area to demonstration area. The narrator explains how each machine operated, giving basic background information and describing engine sizes, cutting width, advantages and disadvantages.
Starting at the Allis-Chalmers Roto-Baler prototype, the group eventually reaches the modern Vermeer baler. “We store these machines on the grounds and take them out to show the developments that happened along the way,” says Field Demonstration Coordinator Gary Agrimson. “When we take the group to the threshing machine, we’re actually harvesting grain, combining, raking and baling it. We do 3 or 4 acres a day.
“Arlen Lepper started the Living History by talking about the Allis-Chalmers All-Crop Harvester,” Gary says. The Allis-Chalmers All-Crop Harvester was developed in the 1930s. In 1947, Allis-Chalmers purchased the Baldwin-Gleaner line. Arlen, who had hands-on experience with every model in the line, is well equipped to speak on the topic. He also helps tell the story of the self-propelled baler.
The round baler concept was the next chapter added to the Living History lineup. Gary and Gilbert Vust give that presentation, tracing development highlights. Ummo F. Luebben, Sutton, Nebraska, invented a round baler in 1903 and won a patent for it in 1910. “He and his father and brothers made something of it,” Gary says. “Ummo basically devoted his whole life to it.”
A question-and-answer period follows each presentation. “People in the group ask important questions,” Gary says. “Maybe I missed something in my talk, or they give me tidbits of information from some of their experiences and so forth. I get more out of it than anybody else. We just don’t want this information and history to get lost. That’s why we do it.”
For more information: Gary Agrimson, email; (763) 566-3446.
The Almelund Threshing Show, Taylors Falls, Minnesota, has a unique approach to a raffle tractor: Young people are recruited to assist with restoration of each year’s tractor.
Since 1998, volunteers Al Deiss and Bruce Nelson have handled cosmetic restoration of the show’s raffle tractors. Over time, though, the raffle tractors needed increasing amounts of mechanical restoration, which meant extra work for the two men. In 2011, the two volunteers came up with the idea of recruiting youngsters.
“We had no idea how well it would be taken,” Bruce says. “We didn’t know if anyone would sign up.” In the first year, six signed up. This year, there were 14 young volunteers, including two girls. “Some of these kids had never held a wrench,” Al says.
A detailed work plan was ready when the 2015 class met for the first time on a Saturday in February. Work sessions are typically held from 9 a.m. to noon on Saturdays. If parts are delayed or a deadline looms, work may continue into the afternoon.
At the first work session, the tractor was inspected and disassembly began. Sheet metal, wheel weights, loader brackets, fuel tank and seat were removed. Then the kids evaluated parts and repairs needed.
“They learn the basics,” Al says, “how to use tools properly, which ones to use, problems to look for and how to fix them, like replacing gaskets properly or adjusting brakes.”
Every step is a teachable moment. “They’ll split the tractor and say, ‘Wow! The thing comes in half,’” Al says. “They are quite surprised at how tractors come apart into big pieces and smaller pieces.”
The young restorers are mastering techniques at 12 that Al says he didn’t learn until much later. “They’ll struggle to remove a cotter pin, and then I can show them what I’ve learned over the years,” he says. “When they see it work, it’s fun. They also enjoy working with each other.”
In later sessions, the youths removed axle sleeves, the front timing gear cover and valve cover to repair leaks. Front wheel bearings, races and seals were also replaced, and the manifold was removed for machining. Eventually the tractor was ready for the raffle. The youngsters were eager to show off their project. “They’re proud as heck,” Al says.
For more information: Al Deiss, (715) 646-9393: Bruce Nelson, (715) 825-4237.
Education is a top priority at the Antique Gas & Steam Engine Museum, Inc., Vista, California. “We teach the lost arts,” says Mary Cortmyer, instructional coordinator at the museum. Among the topics offered are blacksmithing, weaving, gas engine repair, steam traction engine operation, spinning, basket making, clock repair and furniture restoration.
“The impetus for our education program developed in a very logical way,” she says. “We found that a lot of lost arts were not being supported in any other school or venue, so we really just started to concentrate on those.
“We also wanted to bring something to the community,” she adds, “so people would think of this as more than just a tractor club.” With time, the community has come to see the museum as a venue for education.
Classes are offered during annual the antique engine and tractor shows each October. “One of the considerations for our educational programs is that the farming population is aging, and we need new blood,” Mary says. “But there is a real resurgence going on. We find that kids are gravitating to the museum. They can learn how to run a tractor or operate gas engines.
“There’s no way to describe the museum,” she says. “You really have to visit it to understand just how many things we have to offer. It really is an incredible place.”
For more information: Mary Cortmyer, email; (760) 941-1791.
The Mid-Michigan Old Gas Tractor Assn. show is unusual in several respects. Not only is it the only tractor show in the state with a licensed bar on the grounds, the club also places uncommon emphasis on safety.
“We’re like no other show, period,” says Bill Koski, former long-time president of the association and chairman of the gate. “Our show starts Thursday night and goes until 1 or 2 in the morning, ending Sunday night at midnight, wide open and full bore.”
The club has always placed a high priority on safety at its shows. Exhibitors are given a list of rules at registration. “There are too many people who don’t know how to run tractors,” Bill says. “We have a lot of young people, and you want to keep the young people involved, because if you don’t get the youth involved, it’s not going to last. But it’s like everything in society. A few are going to wreck it for the majority, and we try to prevent that.”
Every club member shares the responsibility for safety. “If your kids or whoever cause an issue, somebody could get hurt or we could get sued, so we’ve got to nip it in the bud,” Bill says. “Even if the kids are mature enough at 12 or 13 to drive tractors, they have to have a driver’s license to drive golf carts here. You hate to step on people’s toes, because if you yell at the kids, you impress that on their mind, and down the road you chase the kids out.” Club members are often among the worst offenders. “That’s human nature,” he says. “We try to run it as tight as we can.”
Each club member who sees an infraction is empowered to resolve it, and each knows that the board will support him or her. “There are people who have been caught doing the same thing two or three times, so we send them home,” Bill says. “There are other shows they can attend that weekend. If it’s a safety problem, it’s everybody’s issue.” Saginaw County Police and a private security company also patrol the grounds during shows.
After a tornado dipped in on the show grounds during a show a couple of years ago, the club’s safety program expanded to include a severe weather siren on the grounds. “It was terrible, 5 inches of rain in a half hour and 80-mph winds,” Bill says. “Everything was sucked up off the ground, flags were straight up in the air and there was lots of lightning. We didn’t have any paper to pick up afterwards. Luckily, nobody was hurt.”
For more information: Bill Koski, (989) 723-2369.
Is your club doing something new and different to improve your show? Tell us about it! We’ll share details in an upcoming issue of Farm Collector. Please mail information (and photos if you have them) to Farm Collector, 1503 SW 42nd St., Topeka, KS 66609, or email. FC
Bill Vossler is a freelance writer and author of several books on antique farm tractors and toys. Contact him at Box 372, 400 Caroline Ln., Rockville, MN 56369; email.