Walk under the arch, and you might reasonably expect to find yourself in St. Louis, visiting one of the Midwest's prime attractions. But tread under this arch, and you'll actually be travelling back in time, at the Country Days Antique Tractor and Stationary Engine Show in Godfrey, Ill.
The entry to the Country Days show in June was easy to find, situated as it is beneath a scale model replica of the St. Louis Gateway Arch. The portable arch was built 10 years ago by club member Jim Weiman. Almost all show visitors walked through the arch, flanked on both sides by John Deere Lindeman crawlers. The visitors stopped to gawk and check out the arch from all angles. Even under close inspection, the arch's weld seams remained invisible.
Made of stainless steel, the arch was built in a horizontal wood stanchion originally used to hold cattle. The 1/30th scale model consumed 304 feet of stainless steel, and weighs about 450 pounds. Unbelievably, the arch can be dismantled in less than an hour, and fits easily in the back of a pickup. An endless project to construct? Not really.
"It took six weeks to make it," says Jim, who lives in nearby rural Brighton, Ill., where he raises registered Hereford cattle on what he calls his "hobby farm."
"I work for an aviation company, and we were going to an air convention in Atlanta," he said. "We wanted something no one else had, and we wanted them to identify us with our East Alton, Ill., location."
Since Jim was part of the Country Days Antique Association, his employer – Premier Air – allowed him to use the arch at the show. This year's show had a theme of plows. In addition to the arch, Jim brought a 110-year-old plow to the show. The plow, which was purchased new by his grandfather, Philip Weiman, was used on Jim's grandfather's farm, and later, his father's farm. It is a family heirloom, one that Jim has lovingly restored.
Other plows in Jim's collection may have less sentimental appeal, but they remain favorites: an early-1900s John Deere plow (model 418), and a Deere push plow.
Jim also displayed a 1967 JD 3020 wide front diesel tractor that he bought from a neighbor, and a 1953 Ford Golden Jubilee, Model NAA. The Ford was restored in 1980, 10 years after Jim purchased it. The tractor is always displayed with the American flag.
"This tractor has led many parades," Jim says. "Having the flag on it is my way of showing pride in my country."
The Ford was a big hit with younger folks, too. John Kolesa was visiting the show with his grandson, whose day would have been incomplete without a "dry run" on Jim's Ford tractor. (John's day got an early start when he received a phone call from his grandson first thing, reminding him of his promise to take the young man to the show.)
That kind of family connection is the hallmark of tractor shows, as family members come together to marvel over vintage equipment. Reminiscences and sentiment often play into much of what the collector deems "valuable," regardless of the item's actual value. Jim's Ford Jubilee tractor is both a rare and beautiful collector's piece, and, like his 110-year-old plow, a family heirloom. Purchased for $760 at an uncle's auction, the tractor is a working collectible.
"I restored it, and now run the elevator with it to dig potatoes," Jim says.
Tractor show visitors routinely see the unexpected alongside the classics. Jim's display is an example of that. Mixed in with the vintage tractors are samples of his hand-crafted bluebird houses, and a locomotive-shaped grill he's tagged "The Orange Blossom Special." For someone who's a regular on the show circuit, it's a novelty and a convenience.
"I get some brats or something and we cook it ourselves," he says. "I always said I had it in mind that I'd make a small locomotive into a BBQ." FC
Cindy Ladage is a freelance writer based in Virden, Ill.