They turn the corner, off Highway 6 and into West Liberty, Iowa. They come in waves of green, yellow, red and blue. Massey-Harris, Farmall, Ford, Cockshutt, Allis-Chalmers, Oliver, one ludicrous Lemuhzeene, and wave after wave of John Deeres. Most have one rider and average about 10 miles an hour. Most are flying one or more American flags.
This is Iowa’s Tractorcade, a parade of tractors across the state. But it’s also a multi-day road trip, a summer outing between planting and harvest for farmers young and old riding 366 of their favorite tractors.
Families sit in the grass alongside the roadway, bringing lawn chairs and fanning themselves, watching the tractors pass. As each one passes, the spectators wave. The kids jump up and down with excitement. Old men with sun-browned leathery skin wave back, reach into a feed bag, and hurl a handful of candy at the kids. The kids scramble in the grass for the treats, and the old men on the tractors grin and wave some more.
Most of these tractors are at least a half century old. There aren’t any new mega-agribusiness machines here. These are machines which worked the family farm and probably still do their share. They’re just strong enough to pull a plow, pull a truck out of the mud, and occasionally get stuck themselves. But there’s no mud on them now. They’ve been polished and
cleaned, and this is their parade.
I stand by the side of the road and wave, a big silly grin on my face. I remember our old John Deere, blue with white ‘racing’ stripes. I remember the first time I was allowed to drive it, my terror and excitement, and the incredible power of that small tractor.
We used to plant the corn fields by hand, walking up and down rows, seeding acre after acre of black soil with the hot-burning energy of our youth. It was slow work, and incredibly tedious. I vividly remember how much I hated that work, and I also realize that it made me the man I am today.
The next year we got our first automatic planter, powered and pulled by our John Deere. It was a miracle machine, and could plant an entire field in a day. Life was good. Or at least better.
Seeing these men and women reminds me of the work that’s involved in producing an ear of corn, or a loaf of bread. When I eat tonight, I’ll remember these folks, bouncing down the road, smiling and waving and throwing candy to the kids.