You don't need a time machine to travel back in time: Just take in one of hundreds of tractor, engine and farm shows held nationwide each year. Old-time farming methods, machinery and ways of life can be seen at as many as 600 shows and events held coast to coast from early spring to late fall (and during the winter in the Deep South). Activities and displays are as realistic as possible, thanks to the hard work and planning of an army of club members and volunteers.
In a fair-like atmosphere, watching and learning is fun and easy. Popular demonstrations range from sawing wood and doing other chores using small engine power, to field work powered by horses or antique tractors, steam threshing, and more.
Homemade meals, ice cream and the like are typical treats, along with a variety of events and contests. In the "Slow Race," for instance, the last tractor to cross the finish line wins. Such events are not only fun to watch, but illustrate how skillfully old tractors can be tuned and operated.
"You can see it all, from mules to steam traction engines, all doing something," says David Palmer, director of the Tennessee-Kentucky Thresherman's Show. The show features everything from an antique tractor pull to a mule pull. Also on tap: The Model T peddler's coupe used in the movie "The Green Mile," starring Tom Hanks.
Everyone, whether country bred or from the city, old to young, is welcome. "It's for anyone interested in historical agriculture production," David says. Les Friesen, a member of the Sky Valley Stock and Antique Tractor Club of Monroe, Wash., says his club particularly enjoys seeing city folk and youngsters at their annual threshing bee, set for Aug. 14-15.
"Our show provides displays of how the early pioneers lived and worked," he explains. "People from both the city and the farm can learn by watching and talking with the demonstrators. We also provide free rides for the kids on small trains pulled by riding lawn mowers. Hopefully, through these efforts, the kids will grow up to be antique tractor owners."
Other activities for kids at the Monroe threshing bee include a pedal tractor pull, corn grinding, a farm toy display, and a petting zoo. Some demonstrations have appeal to all ages.
"The blacksmith shop," Les says, "attracts young and old alike." Mary Erickson, president of the Tri-County Threshermen's Association, Plainfield, Wis., says her group strives to make theirs a family show.
"One mother was overheard saying 'I sure appreciate the barrel train. We know where the kids are'," Mary says. "Our club built the train cars from barrels, with each car sponsored by a local business. It's never empty."
Other features on the line-up at Plainfield (the show is held in June) include a sawmill, wheat threshing, corn shelling, bean threshing, large steamers, and a micro-mini (model tractor) pull. Rides in a covered wagon are also popular.
The keys to a popular show? Planning and publicity. "We always strive to have something new for display," Mary says. "The members and other supporters working together form strong bonds. Everyone helps in the planning and publicity. We distribute wallet cards at the show (and through the year) announcing the next show. We send postcard announcements out after the first of the year, before the posters are out. We also distribute (free of charge) placemats to area restaurants, showing the grounds and activities."
Promotion is a big part of the mix as well. The high quality buttons, plaques and T-shirts used at the Plainfield show have become popular and sought-after premiums. A fish fry (complete with homemade pies) is available all weekend. Last year, a miniature steamer was used for a sweet corn feast, a popular attraction.
Working closely with exhibitors and participants is very important, Mary adds.
"We have them come to the show grounds as early as Tuesday," she says. "By Friday night, we have quite a show going. We also set up a breakfast for Saturday morning, as we've had many requests for it. We try to accommodate the exhibitors and volunteers, of which we have so many."
For more information on a farm, tractor or engine show near you, check the Line-Up, a regular monthly feature of Farm Collector. FC
Gary Van Hoozer is a Missouri writer specializing in vintage agriculture and farm history.