COLUMBIA — These guys love their tractors — their Ferguson tractors.
Clad mostly in flannel, plaid, overalls and farming caps, a group of about 30 gathered Saturday for a Ferguson Enthusiasts of North America meeting at George's Restaurant in Columbia. Members use, collect and restore Ferguson tractors, both for farming and for fun.
Many have been fans of the tractors since they were just old enough to appreciate them.
"It was the first tractor they put me on when I was 8 years old," Henry Graham said. "And I just attached."
Over lunch, the group shared stories, displayed memorabilia, brainstormed locations for a show in the area and exchanged offers of parts to sell and buy. Brothers Doc and Marty Wulff, both of Columbia, also brought one of their Ferguson tractors, a TO35, to display.
Columbia member George Montgomery planned the gathering, which was the group's first in Columbia, in order to bring local members together and try to plan a show in the area, he said. They discussed making the meeting in Columbia an annual event.
"We're people who have the same interests," President Mike Etzel, of Marion, Iowa, said. "We share ideas, thoughts, stories and history."
The group members came from all over the state of Missouri and two came from out-of-state.
"The last four years in Kansas we've had a gathering like this, and it's been so dang much fun," Vice President Phil Wiederholt of Osage City, Kan., said. "The main thing is talking and getting people to know each other."
FENA has put on shows in Nebraska, Iowa, Illinois, Ohio, Indiana and Minnesota. Members hope to promote the group in the state of Missouri and put on a show locally in the near future. A national expo show is also in the works, and Wiederholt said he wants to promote Missouri as a potential location.
The club began in 2001, through a chat room, and now has almost 800 members worldwide, including some in the United Kingdom, Europe and Australia, Etzel said. Still, the Midwest has the highest concentration of Ferguson fans, Etzel said.
One attendant, Fred Seaman, of Centralia, joined the group after buying a Ferguson tractor, nicknamed "The Ugly Duckling," in 2006. He said that he understands the loyalty FENA members feel to their tractors.
"I bought this hunk of junk and took it apart, and I've never had more fun in my life," Seaman said. "People grew up with Fergusons and like Fergusons. These tractors are different from any other kind."
Harry Ferguson was an English tractor salesman who saw the limits of tractors during the early 1900s, Seaman said. Ferguson invented more than 1,800 parts of farming equipment like the 3-point hitch, which increased tractor mobility, and draft control, which allowed level plowing of fields.
After moving to the U.S., Ferguson partnered with Henry Ford, who was close to going out of the tractor business. The two met and Ferguson showed Ford his inventions. They then engaged in a notable "handshake agreement" and worked together until Ford's son broke off the agreement.
"He revolutionized farming all over the world," Seaman said. "That's why these people are interested in him."
Etzel emphasized the value of the history held by members of the club, and encouraged individuals to submit their stories to the FENA newsletter, "Ferguson Furrows," which comes out five times a year.
"Everybody's got a story here — what your dad passed on to you or where you got the tractor," he said. "Anything we can do to help preserve that ... helps what we're doing and what we're interested in."