Tractors cruise Missouri heartland as part of steam engine show

Friday, September 10, 2010 | 6:31 p.m. CDT

PRAIRIE HOME — At 9:30 a.m. on a rainy Friday, an unusual caravan crawls through the farmland on Highway J. Here it comes — a parade of candy-apple red, kelly green, a speck of pumpkin orange, plugging down the road at an impressive 12 mph.

It’s the second annual tractor cruise, part of the Missouri River Valley Steam Engine Association’s 47th annual Back to the Farm Reunion in Boonville. Events run through Sunday and include rock-crushing, lumber-sawing and historical life skills presentations.

If you go

What: The 47th Annual “Back to the Farm” Reunion of the Missouri River Valley Steam Engine Association

When: Through Sunday. Gates open at 8 a.m.

Where: Brady Show grounds, Boonville

Cost: $8 per day, free for children younger than 10

Saturday: Events include blacksmithing presentations, a small tractor pull at 9 a.m., molasses making, live music at 2 p.m. and a watermelon sawing at 5 p.m.

Sunday: Events include a church service at 9 a.m., log skidding at 10 a.m. and a "parade of power" at 3 p.m.

Both days: Events include straw baling, field demonstrations, tractor games, quilting and historic life skills demonstrations, a petting zoo, lumber sawing and food concessions.

But tractors are what the festival is really about. 

Friday’s cruise featured 38 restored tractors making a 45-mile trek around the Boonville area. Cruise organizer Marty James said the parade would take about six hours to return to the Brady Show Grounds after an 8:30 a.m. start.

“It’s a social event. People enjoy it. They like talking to each other," James said. "And also, we like showing off the tractors to the public. We went by the (Prairie Home) school. Even the kids like to see the tractors.”

What had made the cruise a success so far this year even with the dreary weather? The calculated breaks for breakfast and lunch.

“Of the cruises I’ve been on we have the best food,” James said. “The cinnamon rolls are a hit — that’s the key.” His wife, Paula James, was behind the food.

But that’s not the only allure. Friday's riders came to talk tractors and take in the scenery.

Remembering Dad

Wayne Holder’s pumpkin-colored 1947 Minneapolis-Moline tractor is more than just a tractor. It’s part of his family’s story.

“This tractor that I’m driving now was my father’s,” Holder said. “We got that for him when he was in the hospital and he was down. So my brother and I went and got this tractor for him, and, of course, we helped him restore it. And that got him going again. He has since passed away, but then I got the tractor. So I take it out in his honor. It is part of the memories from my dad.”

Holder thinks his father would have liked to see the tractor in such a public spectacle because he always wanted to take it out of their farm.

“My family and I still have the farm, our family farm,” Holder said. “We are still continuing our tradition. I am happy and proud about that.”

Appreciating the farming life

Bud Class lives five miles up the road from where the tractor cruise stopped for breakfast. After seeing the tractors stop in the fields next to Prairie Home's Civic Center, he came over to inspect them.

“I live on the farm, so I’m used to dealing with old tractors,” Class said. “I’ve seen several here today that are quite interesting.”

Class appreciates the fact the cruise travels to several areas around Boonville, because he thinks the event sparks interest in the public about farming life.

“A lot of these younger people don’t have a farming background,” Class said. “They’ve probably never even seen a tractor. Smaller kids just think they’re things to ride on. They don’t realize the work these machines do.”

Judgment day for rookie driver

Teresa Spires of Franklin was relieved when the caravan halted for breakfast. "It was kind of a long ride for a bathroom break," she said.

Spires rode with her husband, Dean, but drove a separate tractor. She learned how to drive one two weeks ago, just for this event.

"It wasn't hard," Spires said. "But there were eight gears that I had to learn. I was just hoping I could remember this morning, but everything went well. You just have to keep the distance from the tractor in front of you."

Even after a rainy first hour at the cruise, Spires is sure she will do it again.

"It's excellent that they've got snacks and everything," she said. "I want to go on all the cruises now."

Cruisin' under the fringe

Karen Carter of Warrensburg sat bundled up peacefully with her Janet Evanovich novel, in a homemade buggy with the fringe on top. It was made to ride behind a blue Farmall tractor; the 1951 machine is embellished with the words "Carter Cruisin’ Team."

“My husband, J.C., built this to go on the back, so we could be a cruisin’ couple,” Carter said. “He does the work, I get to enjoy the ride and take in the scenery. There are some beautiful scenes to be seen on these rides.”

The Carters have been on eight to 10 of these cruises over the past two years but have been coming to the steam engine festival for many years more. They’ve experienced a wide range of weather, weird stares from passers-by and the occasional breakdown.

“Events like these are important — they get us sharing stories with one another,” Carter said. “I’ve learned over the years, you just have to be prepared for about anything on these rides.”

A family project

Rebecca and Steve Van Drimmelen bought a 1949 John Deere tractor for just $600 six years ago.

“It was in pretty bad shape," Steve said. "It really needed to be restored.”

But that was exactly what the Ashland couple was looking for.

“There is no sense in buying an expensive tractor and then putting even more money into it when we're pulling things,” Steve said. “My wife and I worked in grease up to our elbows to restore it.”

They enjoyed working on repairing the engine together, as they both compete in tractor pulling, one of the events featured at the steam engine festival in which tractors pull seemingly impossible items.

“It was a family project,” Steve said.

As for how the tractor cruise went, Rebecca said it this way: “A rainy day on a tractor is much better than a day at work.”

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