Vintage tractor at the 2011 thresheree
Earl Pierce on his Farmall tractor, 1920's
I've lived in Rock County since I started teaching in 1973, but I had never gotten myself out to the Rock River Thresheree. Part of the problem is that I am always more compelled to go to the Walworth County Fair, which is held at the same time, and is much more familiar. But this year my dear husband expressed a wish to see all the old tractors and farm equipment so we decided that Saturday was the day. Although showers were forecast for the afternoon, our thought was that we'd browse around a couple hours, get some brats for lunch and then head home before rain turned the place into a giant mud volleyball pit.
God laughs at our plans.
We drove out at around 9 AM, parked easily in a big field of cut alfalfa, rode the tractor powered shuttle wagon to the grounds and were enchanted by the rows and rows of old tractors. I had rolled my eyes before at mature men fascinated by vintage equipment, but was unprepared for the visceral reaction I had when I saw a perfectly restored little 1950 Ford tractor, gray, with red trim. This piece of equipment was more evocative of my childhood than either old Barbies or the smell of baked bread. I was transported by the shifting lever, the foot pedals, the metal seat. I could just imagine my father, me standing next to him, hanging on the fenders. I experienced some serious nostalgia, so much so that some elderly farmer came up to chat. That little Ford was the first vehicle I ever drove by myself. My reaction to the midsize red International Harvester was similar, though for some reason the John Deere tractors I saw while the skies were still clear didn't move me as much. We see more of them around, perhaps. Dick was feeling it too; he made a point of showing me the tractor his dad owned when they lived in Greenfield, with a similar look on his face.
Dad, plowing out our quarter mile driveway, about 1951
The event features lots more than tractors. There's all sorts of old equipment, much of it steam powered. There are old mills of various sorts, pile drivers, threshing equipment. There is a Civil War Encampment. People demonstrate all sorts of things, woodcarving, blacksmithing. Not that we saw all of it, because a half hour after we arrived, it started to sprinkle. We shrugged our shoulders and looked inside the log cabin, the saw mill, the pole barns with giant generators. The rain increased. We still thought it would let up, so we lit into a couple Johnsonville brats with a helping of kraut. Still the gray skies wept. We rode the narrow gage railroad around the park, stalling for time. More rain.
Grandpa, with some sort of harvesting equipment in the 1920's
So I dragged my dear husband to the place where volunteers were grinding corn and buckwheat, since I had a yen for buckwheat pancakes. The inside of the barn was plastered with old seed company signs - from the days when there were many local hybrid seed companies. Our farm raised hybrid seed for Simons for years, though the small family business was swallowed up years ago. It continued to rain.
Grandpa Pierce with Sicy Simons, maybe 1930.
So we decided to get back to our car and get out while we still could. Trouble was, we waited too long. Neither of us wore raincoats or carried an umbrella, so soon we were soaked through to the skin. The temperature started dropping and I was getting pretty darned cold, but the worst was still ahead.
I should have known we were in for trouble when the smaller tractors quit shuttling people out to the field because they were getting stuck. After twenty or so minutes of rocking, spinning up mud, and trying to push our car up rises slick with wet mud and clay we admitted defeat and caught another shuttle back to the park where we threw ourselves on the mercy of a friend parked in a better place. We left our car where it was, rode home with our friend, and worried about it all evening.
Today was dry, breezy and sunny, the perfect thing for drying out mud. The organizers of the thresheree started a shuttle from Milton High School, so we took that back to the park today, and drove out with no problems.
I'll have to check out the Parade of Power and flea market some other year, preferably a nice dry day.