Preserving the Lost Art of Tractor Plowing

Tractor plowing match keeps horse-drawn tradition alive.

| April 2006

With so much no-till taking place in the Midwest, one might think plowing is becoming a lost art. But not in the town of Big Rock, Ill., population 651. For 111 years, farmers from miles around have converged there every September to pit their tractor plowing skills against each other in judged competition at the annual Big Rock Plowing Match.

At one time, plowing matches were commonplace in Illinois, but Big Rock has been the lone survivor since 1976, when the Wheatland Plow Match in Naperville ended. The site of that event has since been developed with homes and businesses.

Big Rock, however, is not about to go away. The plow match association owns the fairgrounds where numerous events similar to the offering at a county fair take place during the competition weekend. And Marvel Davis, owner of the field plowed each year, has promised it will always be available to the event.

If there's a concern the plowmen might follow the path of the horse-drawn plow, never fear. This match has categories for youngsters to keep them interested in the art once practiced by their great-great-grandparents.

At the Big Rock contest, pre-teen youths operate antique tractors from their grandfathers' era, competing years before they'll even have driver's licenses. Tommy Lambert, 9, hopped on his father's 1946 Case for the first time in 2004, and last fall plowed in the Novelty (not judged) class to gain some experience. "I think he did better than some of the people who were judged," says his father, Brian. Tommy's brother, Paul, placed fourth in the Boys and Girls 15-and-Under class.

Trent Pierson, 13, Kaneville, Ill., placed second in the Antique Steel class, competing against two veteran contenders with his dad's 1929 McCormick-Deering Model 10-20. This was his second year in competition. "I made it harder for him," says his father, Dale. "I set up one stake at each end of his lot and none in the middle, and told him to see how straight he could plow. It was good enough to place second."