The Last Farmall Promenade

Curtain falls on the square dancing tractor troupe

| March 2009

  • Russ Davis on his Farmall
    Eight farmers from Nemaha, Iowa, developed dances using Farmall tractors for their community’s centennial celebration in 1999. The production developed into a 10-year stint of paid performances at events across the Midwest.
  • Russ Davis and Neil Wedeking on their Farmalls
    Russ Davis (left) and Neil Wedeking made up one of the four Farmall Promenade “couples.” They portrayed Mr. and Mrs. DeKalb and “danced” as a couple in square dance numbers performed with Farmall tractors dating to the 1940s and ’50s.
  • Damon Mooney and Jeff Smith square dancing
    The dance routines presented by the Farmall Promenade often brought tractor wheels within a hair’s breadth of one another, as Mr. and Mrs. Garst (played by Damon Mooney, left, and Jeff Smith) demonstrate here.

  • Russ Davis on his Farmall
  • Russ Davis and Neil Wedeking on their Farmalls
  • Damon Mooney and Jeff Smith square dancing

Looking for a way to use your historic tractor other than in a parade or tractor ride?

You might consider square dancing: That’s what eight Nemaha, Iowa, farmers did when they put their vintage Farmalls to work with the Farmall Promenade. The group’s final performance last August closed a 10-year run.

“We always said we’d stop when it wasn’t fun anymore,” says Damon Mooney, who organized the group in 1998. “It’s still a lot of fun, but we’ve all decided it’s time to move on. A lot of people are saying they hope we change our mind, but 2008 was our last year.”

The promenade group made its debut in 1999 at the Nemaha centennial celebration. Since then, the group has traveled as far as St. Louis to perform. Members hauled their tractors on semi-trailers and chartered a bus so they could travel together to performances, including several at the Iowa State Fair. Their story has been featured on “The Today Show,” “Good Morning America” and “CBS Sunday Morning.”

The precision required to “dance” with antique tractors, bringing tires as close as 2 inches apart, demanded hours of practice. Once the eight drivers gained experience with the dances and the driving, regular performances (generally, 12 to 15 per year) kept the edge on “dancing” skills.

“We never had any serious mishaps on the tractors,” says group member Dave Cook. “A couple times someone bounced off or slid off, but no one was ever hurt. After a while you learn how everyone else drives and that helps too.”

Damon had seen a similar group perform at the Early, Iowa, 75th anniversary. In 1999, he thought reviving the idea might be a real hook for his community’s celebration. “I didn’t know exactly how to go about it,” Damon says. “I knew one of the guys who was in the first one so I went to see him. We talked quite awhile and I got some ideas and started putting it all together.”

Laurie Mason-Schmidt was the group’s caller and her expertise contributed to the group’s success. Choreography on a small scale added polish: Toy tractors were used to develop dance routines, all of which were adapted from actual square dances.