One of the highlights of my younger days in Indiana, were the yearly antique tractor shows. Held in nearly every state, they are especially popular throughout Mid-America. Places like Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Illinois, and Missouri, among others.
If you’ve never been to one, they are a sight. Hundreds of vintage tractors, depending on the show, no newer than twenty-five or thirty years old. The array of color is brilliant; brightly painted green, yellow, orange, and red all around. Names past and present abound, as well. John Deere and International Harvester (including Farmall and McCormick-Deering machines) are generally most popular. But you’ll also see Massey-Ferguson (and Massey-Harris), Allis-Chalmers, and Oliver, among others. Steam engines are a big part of many shows, as well, plus combines are becoming more numerous, too.
So, what is the appeal of these shows? I don’t believe there is one simple answer to that question. For me, I love
history, especially in subjects that I have passion for, such as farming, radio, and music. Plus, these old machines are cool. For others, though, it’s a reminder of what they remember as a simpler time. A time when farming was on a much smaller scale and often truly was a family affair. Others may find a different reminiscing, seeing the machines that their daddies, granddaddies, even neighbors once used. Perhaps that Farmall 460 was like the one that they got their first ride on. Or that beautifully restored Minneapolis-Moline M670 is the same as the one they first drove. By the way, for me, the first riding experience was on a John Deere 3010 and first driving experience was an Allis-Chalmers CA.
Another thing that some people miss, that they like to remember at these shows, is the simplicity. Today’s machines are complicated beasts. One practically needs computer AND engineering degrees to work on them. In fact, manufacturers, today, are increasingly against the owner being able to work on his own equipment. Old machines were much simpler by comparison. Today’s machines are virtual offices, with computer-controlled mechanisms, places in the cab to dock an IPhone and hook up a lap top, and using GPS while traversing through the fields. Old tractors didn’t have that; heck, until the 1960’s, you were lucky to have an AM radio on one! Cabs didn’t even become a fairly normal sight until the early 1970’s.
I don’t remember the first antique tractor show I attended, but it was the yearly show hosted by the Pioneer Engineer’s Club in my hometown of Rushville, Indiana, sometime in the mid-1980’s. Per their website, this show has been going on since 1948. The images in this post, were taken during the 1987 edition of their show.
My interest in farm equipment, especially older equipment, goes back to my youth. Of course, the new models of my youth (70’s and 80’s), are now appearing at these shows!
And rarely have I gone to a show, that I didn’t have a camera in hand, along with an ample supply of 35mm print and slide film. And more recently, digital. After all, you can never have too many images of an unstyled John Deere A or a Minneapolis-Moline U, right?
Unfortunately, I don’t get too much opportunity to go, these days, because there isn’t too many around this part of North Carolina. I’ve been to two antique tractor shows held at the state fairgrounds in Raleigh, and one held at the fairgrounds, in Asheville. I’m hoping, though, to get more opportunities, in the coming years.
If you’ve never been to a antique tractor show, I highly recommend you go, at least once, even if your interest in agriculture is minimal. It’s a great way to show your children or grandchildren, the methods used over the past one-hundred plus years, to produce our food.
Often, you’ll also find flea markets are part of the shows, as well. In fact, a few of pieces of my record album collection have come from the large gathering in Portland, Indiana. Many times, these shows will have working demonstrations. Some groups gather for yearly plow days, or harvest days. They bring their vintage machines to the fields for them to perform once again, the jobs they were built to do. Finding a show in your area shouldn’t be too difficult. A Google search will generally turn up a comprehensive list from various websites. One site I look through is the Yesterday’s Tractors website.
Look for an antique tractor show in your area, this year, spend a day taking in an important piece of American history, agriculture. You’ll have a blast, meeting some great folk, and learning something new.
Some great shows to check out, if you’re within driving distance to Indiana:
Pioneer Engineer’s Club of Rushville, Indiana– Always a great lineup of antique equipment. Every show I’ve attended, always had dozens of vintage steam engines, as well.
Tri-State Gas Engine and Tractor Association, Portland, Indiana– Billed as the world’s largest show. I don’t know if it is, or not, but it’s BIG! Definitely a day-long activity to see everything.
Indiana State Fair– The Indiana State Fair always has a good amount of antique equipment on display.
About Thy Author
Mike the Country Musicologist is a lifelong music and radio fanatic, lover of vintage agriculture, and big sports fan, including the Colts, Reds, Hurricanes, Pacers, Purdue & Butler Universities. He has collected records since childhood, focusing on classic country and top 40 oldies music. He convinced Vincennes University to give him an Associate’s Degree in broadcasting. He’s worked for several stations in Indiana and North Carolina, including his current gig. He hosts the weekly World Famous Ultimate Twang Radio Show. You can listen Thursdays, 4-7p ET on WSFM-LPFM/AshevilleFM, at 103.3 FM in Asheville, North Carolina, and online at ashevillefm.org. Be sure to follow him on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest.