Rolling Thunder

| February 2004

Rain was scarce in the parched hills around Dedham, Iowa, this past September, but there was no shortage of 'thunder' when scores of vintage tractors descended upon the tiny town for the 3rd Annual Dedham Tractor Show and Drive.

A normally quiet hamlet of about 250 residents, Dedham bustled with tractors and tractor-hauling outfits by 8 a.m. on Sept. 7. Old-iron collectors -nearly doubling the town's population - came from hundreds of miles away to take part in this highly anticipated event.

For a few minutes, Dedham, a settlement that spans the entire length of Iowa's shortest highway (State Route 161 is less than a mile) had a traffic jam - a strange sight to most residents. Far from big city gridlock, the traffic didn't last, and more than 140 tractors and several other exhibits were neatly arranged around the city park by mid-morning for the show and drive.

Tractors on the terraces

The tractor drive event began promptly at 10 a.m. Jody Willenborg, of Dedham, led the tractor procession out of town on a nicely restored 1955 Allis-Chalmers Model WD-45. After a couple miles, the riders turned off the paved road and wound their way through the beautiful rolling hills of west-central Iowa. While a good deal of the land was farmed, forested ridges and valleys, as well as native prairie grasses, abounded along the route. The fertile terraces literally echoed with the thunder of petroleum-fueled horsepower as nearly 100 antique tractors made their way through the 12-mile course.

Dale and Art Willenborg, of Dedham, were a little worried that some of the old machines would have difficulty on the hills. 'We have a longer route this year, but there are some really steep hills which could cause some problems,' Dale says. 'The scenery is really nice though. Art points out that there was an alternative course, which is a shorter, flat 5-mile route for slower tractors. Judging by the broad smiles of each participant, the Willenborgs chose a perfect route for the tractor drive. With the exception of one tractor that had an ignition problem near the end of the course, everyone made it through the terraces and back to the park for the remainder of the show.

Testing their mettle

Once back in Dedham, everyone was invited to belt their tractors to Art Willenborg's M&W dynamometer, or dyno. The device tests a tractor's output by powering a large, variable-flow hydraulic pump with a flat belt.