As a high school student, Dave Morrison was so shy he’d rather do almost anything than get up in front of a group of people and speak. Funny, though, the way things change. Today the West Concord, Minnesota, man is a sought-after announcer at antique tractor shows.
It’s a turn of events even Dave couldn’t have predicted. As a youth, he attended tractor shows with friend and mentor Curtis Starch. At one show Dave remembers seeing a wooden pole with two speakers, and nearby, a man grasping a microphone in one hand and trying to read from a bunch of papers in the other. He looked frustrated as he tried to inform show-goers about the owners and drivers of the passing tractors, some of which went by too quickly for comment. Dave looked on the scene and shook his head. “I thought, that’s not for me,” he says.
Announcing a change
Dave’s grandfather owned a few Farmall tractors. When Curtis bought three of them, Dave’s interest in the old machinery was piqued. “At 17,” he says, “I told myself, ‘somebody’s got to carry on this legacy.’”
That agenda became even more urgent when both Dave’s father and Curtis died in 1986. Dave bought back three of his grandfather’s Farmalls and began to study them. Meanwhile he continued going to tractor shows and threshing bees, where he scrutinized the old tractors, noting their details and differences. At that point, he was still a spectator, just enjoying the show.
Everything changed when he was faced with the prospect of cleaning out his grandmother’s house. “She had saved my uncle’s Country Gentleman and Capper’s Farmer magazines,” Dave recalls. “I looked at those and thought, ‘Wow! The ads with IHC tractors are so bright red and clear and sharp. I’ve got to find more of these.’ That’s when the bug really bit.”
Then the unexpected happened. In 1989, when the Root River Antique Power Assn. decided to hold a daily parade at its annual show, organizers asked for a volunteer to serve as announcer. Dave, once almost pathologically shy, found himself raising his hand. “I can do that,” he said.
And he did. “That first parade went well,” he says, “and afterward, someone said, ‘You’ve got that job for life.’” Twenty-six years later, he’s still the only announcer the show has ever had.
Doing his homework
Dave’s mastery at the mic has not gone unnoticed. Seven Minnesota clubs, impressed by the rich detail he shares, have invited him to announce their shows’ parades. The Farming of Yesteryear show, Kiester, Minnesota, is one of those.
“He’s the best announcer I’ve ever come across,” says Mike Linder, Easton, Minnesota. “He can talk about the cubic inches of an engine, variations in sheet metal and model changes, like if they added hydraulics or increased the engine size. He can also tell about the manufacturer, explaining how long something was produced and how many were made. Our show this year featured John Deere tractors, and he was able to tell people everything that changed between the company’s various tractor series.”
And if there’s a gap in the parade, Dave can fill it. “He spends most of his time between announcing sessions canvassing the show,” Mike adds. “He finds out what’s going on at the show so he can discuss our demonstrations.”
In preparation, Dave scours a wealth of material in search of unique content. Magazines (those from decades ago as well as those in publication today), books old and new, old iron calendars and videos all help him build a comprehensive body of knowledge.
“I enjoy those old magazines,” he says. “You’d be surprised how fast three or four hours go when you start looking at them. Each issue is a little chapter in history. I’ve gleaned a lot of little tidbits to add to the parade announcements.”
Listening to Dave narrate a parade can be like thumbing through one of his favorite resources, The Agricultural Tractor 1855-1950, by R.B. Gray. “That book has odd bits of information,” Dave says. “You study these things and realize how hard people were trying to make a tractor. It’s as if the author talked to people who designed the tractors or worked at the factory. There might only be a couple of sentences but they’re authoritative sentences. Sometimes there’s no more than patent drawings but it’s interesting to find out what the designers were thinking.”
Mind like a steel trap
A uniquely powerful memory is Dave’s secret weapon. Other than a list of tractor owners and operators, he uses no notes when he announces a parade. “I prefer to have the basic information on the side of the tractor as it goes by,” he says. “That way I don’t have to mess with papers that might blow away on a windy day, and by the time you try to read them, the next unit has come along.”
For the rest of the information on any given tractor – which can be substantial – Dave relies on memory. His comments include the obvious (year, make and model), as well as snippets of information as simple as engine size to more detailed information on the manufacturer, rarity and original use.
Dave makes a point of viewing parade tractors in advance. “I compare the tractors at the show with those I’ve seen in professionally filmed videos and reference materials,” he says. “I’ve been doing this for so long that it just comes naturally.”
The once shy man particularly enjoys the camaraderie he experiences at shows. “It’s a nice hobby for me,” he says. “I’ve done the announcing so much now that these clubs count on me. People like to be entertained and the parade is the highlight. At some shows, especially when it’s hot, people will come a little early, see what they want to see, eat breakfast, watch the parade, and then they’re ready to go home.”
The dynamics of aging, little-used sound systems occasionally present a challenge. Once when Dave’s wireless microphone failed, show volunteers scrambled to hook up a corded mic. The downside? It only allowed Dave to view tractors from a distance of 100 feet. “It took a couple of minutes to hook up that mic and I talked about the tractors like normal,” he says. “Afterward people said they could hear me but couldn’t see me, but you just have to take that in stride.”
“People ask which is my favorite show,” he says, “and I tell them it’s one with a good sound system so people can really hear me.” When everything works right, Dave knows. “At a recent show, one man told me, ‘I’ve been farming for 56 years, and listening to you today I learned stuff I never knew.’” That’s a common theme for Dave. “People will say, ‘I didn’t know there was so much to know about tractors. I really appreciate your comments. I learned a lot listening to you.’”
Hobby within a hobby
Dave collects Farmall tractors with open bolsters at the front, like the F-12, F-14, F-20, F-30 and Regular. He has 32 in his collection and is building a reference library out of them (he’s also collecting serial numbers).
“They’re almost like modular tractors,” he says. “I look to see where things have changed.” For instance, the Regular and F-20 are similar enough, he says, that parts are interchangeable. The F-12 and F-14 have holes in the same place, he notes, and a 10-20 engine will work in an F-30 because it uses the same bore and stroke and bolts to the flywheel and timing cover in a similar manner.
That design philosophy helped cash-strapped farmers keep tractors going past their prime, he says. “The block might have frozen during the winter, or it might have thrown a rod, with all the parts coming out of the side,” Dave muses, “so then they’d make these changes to keep their tractor going.”
The best surprise? No surprise!
Because of Dave’s study, memory and attention to detail, little about antique tractors surprises him. “A few years ago Bob Radoush, Chaska, Minnesota, came up with something a little different, a Swedish-built Bolinder-Munktell tractor,” he says. “I had to study one of my books to find out that Bolinder-Munktell tried making tractors for a while.”
A tractor show in Kiester, Minnesota, also presented a challenge or two. “Several exhibitors brought in some German tractors, so I looked things over,” he says. “I’m not the world’s greatest mechanic, but I could see details, so when they went through the parade I did my best to embellish on the information I had. Like the Porsche, which was a German tractor but its tags were in French. I decided if that’s what they want to collect, I could study up on them, so I can tell the crowd what kind of diesel, for example, because I have enough mechanical ability to see the number of fuel lines going into the engine.”
When it comes to announcing parades, Dave’s knowledge base ends in about 1975. “That’s the point where I was ready to graduate from high school,” he says. “By then all the tractors at county fairs had cabs and they locked the cab doors so you couldn’t get up and really study them.” But he’s basically at ease with parades of vintage equipment.
“Nothing surprises me anymore,” he admits. “Everyone looks, and there’s the announcer. They’re depending on me. I start talking into the mic and I’m not nervous in front of a crowd anymore.” FC
For more information
– Dave Morrison, 11406 575 St., West Concord, MN 55985-6098; phone: (507) 390-1215.
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: email@example.com.