Rolling Thunder

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John Deere Model A
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Slow race
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International Harvester
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International Harvester
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John Deere Model B
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John Deere Model A
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Bryant Gehling
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Oliver Hart-Parr Model
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John Deere Model A
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Randy Irlbeck
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Allen Willenborg

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.

‘It was really designed to measure horsepower at the PTO,’ Art explains. ‘But with the antiques, it made more sense to measure it at the belt pulley, so we had it modified.’ Randy Irlbeck made the modification. ‘It was really pretty easy to do,’ Randy says. ‘I had this old Farmall belt pulley, which made me think, ‘why not just connect it to the input shaft on the dyno?” The idea worked, and so did the dyno device.

Tractors of all colors were joined pulley to pulley with the tester, where engines again thundered, sometimes until the flat belt smoked or the engine stalled from the strain. Not all of the old machines lived up to their rated horsepower, but many handily surpassed it.

Horsepower wasn’t a factor in the slow race, however, where operators competed to finish the short uphill course in last place. While competitors held friendly discussions on just what constituted a legal run, only two rules prevailed: Tractors couldn’t stop, and they had to move under their own power.

Some contestants used unique strategies to win the race. Dave Baumhover of Carroll, Iowa, boldly dropped his Cub Cadet’s dozer blade to the pavement to slow the tractor to a crawl. Pat Irlbeck, of Dedham, ran his brother’s Farmall Model 300 with the choke out to bring the engine rpm down. Others feathered hydrostatic transmissions, engaged creeper gears, slipped clutches and even tried to stop and start the flow of fuel on two-cylinder diesel models.

In the end, 12-year-old Tyler Grossman took first-place honors with his dad’s IH Model 806. As with the dyno testing, every participant received the same prize … smiles all around.

Small show, big variety

Visitors and participants alike were treated to a fine variety of machinery and implements at the Dedham park. Dean Klocke, of Dedham, brought a 1950 John Deere Model A with a loader, along with other John Deere-made machines, including a 1946 Model B, a 1950 Model G and a 1959 Model 630.

‘We were up ’til late last night trying to get them all to run, and they all do run, just not real well,’ Dean says with a smile. ‘I’m glad they made it through the drive, though.’

Leo and Betty Danner, of Dedham, rolled out their fine collection of John Deere 20 Series tractors, including a stunning Model 820. Russ Draves, of Carroll, brought his beautifully restored 1945 John Deere Model LA and even let his grandson, Bryant Gehling of Willey, Iowa, drive it in the slow race.

Randy and Kris Irlbeck’s 1928 John Deere Model GP stood out among the many notable Deere & Co. tractors at the show. According to Randy’s brother, Pat, their father once owned the GP.

‘Back in the ’60s, it sat down by our well and was used to run the pump jack with the belt pulley,’ Pat recalls. ‘It never looked that good, either, until Randy restored it.’

The Dedham show drew a nice collection of IH-made tractors, as well. Scores of row-crop models from the venerable Farmall Regular of the late 1920s through the 1960s vintage Model 806 were well represented. The Willenborg family brought a nearly complete collection of Farmall Model F-series tractors, including one original-condition 1936 Model F-12, owned by Dale and Lori.

Jim Baumhover, of Carroll, brought his 1958 Farmall Model 450 for the cross-country ride. ‘I bought the 450 a number of years ago to farm with,’ Jim says, yet admits that he doesn’t work it too hard these days. Allen Brincks drove his original-condition 1947 Farmall Model M the entire 12 miles from Carroll to Dedham. Allen says he really likes the M and uses it now and then to plant and pick corn with vintage two-row equipment.

Other tractor brands were present for the show. Cory Venteicher and Gary Giester accompanied their friend Allen to the show. Cory brought his 1946 Oliver Model 77 that belonged to his grandfather, while Gary drove a 1946 John Deere Model A that he found as a wreck, but restored during the last 11 years.

Among the most unusual tractors at the show were a 1956 Fordson Major diesel tractor, owned by Denny Ludwig of Carroll, and a 1933 Oliver Hart-Parr Model 18-27, owned by Art and Shirley Willenborg. Other machinery brands, including Allis-Chalmers, Massey-Harris and J.I. Case, also delighted the crowd.

Trucks, shelters and more

The Dedham show wasn’t just about big farm tractors. Jim Baumhover and his son, Dave, also of Carroll, showed a pair of restored International trucks, along with a couple Cub Cadet tractors and even two pedal tractors.

Fritz Schroeder of Breda, Iowa, brought a working hay press model and a miniature John Deere Model L tractor that he built. ‘I’ve made a few of the mini-balers and other tractors too,’ Fritz says. ‘The big equipment is fun, but making working models is a challenge.’

Bob Overmohle demonstrated a two-hole Sandwich Mfg. Co. corn sheller in the park, which he powered with an IH-made Model LB stationary gasoline engine. ‘I’m fascinated by corn shellers and old gas engines,’ Bob says excitedly. ‘Here I get to play with them both!’

Perhaps the most unusual implement was an IH-made plow modified by Servis Mfg. Co., called the ‘Whirlwind’ terrace plow, owned by Art and Shirley Willenborg. The plow consists of a PTO-driven auger mounted to an IH single-bottom trailing plow. As the moldboard turned the soil, the auger threw dirt to the terrace-side of the plow. In fact, the old plow was right at home at the Dedham show – it was owned by the Soil Conservation Service and used around Dedham in years past to make many of the surrounding farm terraces. Servis modified other plow makers’ products, and even produced a tractor-mounted dozer blade to further aid farmers with terrace construction.

As the last tractor left town, there was little doubt that everyone had fun and learned a bit about the old days of farming with old iron. With the help of family and community, the Willenborgs and other old-iron volunteers ensured that thunder will likely echo in the Dedham hills every September – no matter what the weather forecast. The 2004 show will be held the first Sunday after Labor Day.

The drive behind the tractor drive

The Dedham Tractor Show and Drive is grassroots at its core, with a foundation firmly grounded in family fun. It all started when Art Willenborg and his sons, Dale, Allen and jody, and friends Randy and Brad Irlbeck, Dave Danner and Ted Koester got together now and then to talk about and work on tractors. They often kicked around the idea of holding a tractor show in Dedham. Yet, according to Randy, ‘It was Art who really made it happen that first year.’

‘It had to be for all kinds of tractors to include my sons and grandsons who have several different brands,’ Art explains. He also wanted the show to be a place for all old-iron enthusiasts in the area to participate. ‘Not all of my tractors are red either,’ Art says with a wink, admitting that John Deere, Minneapolis-Moline and Oliver-made machines mingle in his shed alongside his many International Harvester tractors.

The show founders credit their wives with helping get the shows organized and advertised. ‘Pretty much the whole town helps out in some way,’ Art says. In 2003, they received many unsolicited donations to help cover expenses, which is significant because there’s no charge for participants or visitors for a fun-packed day in the Iowa sun.

Jim Baumhover, a Carroll, Iowa, resident and president of the recently chartered Midwest Iowa Old Iron Club, says the Dedham event is one of the high points for his group. Jim is proud that his club makes a good showing at Dedham, but he adds that most of the Dedham participants are also club members.

– For more information about the Dedham Tractor Show and Drive, write Art Willenborg at Box 45, Dedham, IA 51440; or contact him by phone at (712) 683-5583.

For information about the Midwest Iowa Old Iron Club, contact Jim Baumhover by mail at 21864 140th St., Carroll, IA 51401.

Oscar ‘Hank’ Will III is an old-iron collector and restorer who retired from farming in 1999 and from academia in 1996. He splits his time between his home in Whittier, Calif, and his farm in East Andover, N.H., and writes about the people and machines he sees in between. Write him at 13952 Summit Drive, Whittier, CA 90602; or call (562) 696-4024; e-mail:

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