MONROE, N.C. - You would be surprised to know how many people love old tractors.
A stream of old-timers and young folks stopped by the Union County Tractor and Power Club's third annual farm show Saturday. Farmall, Allis-Chalmers, Fordsons and Massey Ferguson were brand names familiar to farmers a century ago. But antique tractors are collectors items now, with a large following of men and women who keep these pieces of agricultural history alive.
There are not many people who collect and restore antique farm machinery, but those who do are passionate about their hobby, club member Marvin Snead said.
"It's like classic cars or anything else, really," Snead said. "We're just enthusiasts. This is part of a bygone era that you don't see anymore."
Before modern farm machinery was designed to be three stories tall and use cutting edge technology for planting and harvesting, tractors were simpler and smaller. A family farm was lucky to have a gas-powered tractor and most were oiled and cleaned like some prized sports cars are today.
Roughly 100 tractors, new and old, were on display, Snead said. Collectors carefully tear down and rebuild tractors. They add only original parts and restore the appearance to the way the tractors looked when they rolled off the assembly line. Some collectors spend years restoring a tractor. And they love the chance to put their works of art up against what other collectors can do.
But some tractors were left just how their owners found them, rusty and abandoned after decades of hard use. Kind of like the 1938 John Deere tractor Jasper Winslow pulled out of the woods a few years ago. He dubbed it "The Rat", perhaps for the plastic rat sitting where part of the transmission cover should be. The tractor runs, but makes noises like a dying animal. If it was ever painted a color, it is a distant memory now. The huge rear tires look to be ancient. Its seat is a burlap sack and bits of barbed wire connect spark plugs to the engine.
Winslow could not be more proud of it.
"Did you see the gas gauge on the other side?" he asked.
He points to a red plastic gas can with a hole cut out of the bottom. A clear plastic tube dribbled fuel from the can to the motor.
"It's eco-friendly," he said with a grin. "I recycled that."
Winslow takes his other restored tractors to shows several times a year. Another John Deere - pristine and a bright, glossy green - served as an example of his handywork.
The Rat, however, would make only one public appearance this year.
"This one I like to keep in Union County, since this is where it's from," Winslow said with a grin. "I took it to a show in Stanly County a year or two ago. Nobody said much about it. I guess they were just too impressed with the looks of it."
Tractors were not the only stars of the show. Ernie and Jo Ann Jones sat in lawn chairs, watching the curious lean in to observe the machine they brought. On an antique railway baggage cart, Ernie placed a 1919 three-horse power Fairbanks Morris engine. It powered a 1921 model Myers Self-Oiling Bulldozer Pump. That pumped water up the framework of a six-foot tall wooden water wheel. At the very top was a soap bubble machine.
"We had one young man, about eight or ten years old, ask what this was," Jo Ann said. She explained how the engine generates electricity that then is converted in an alternator which powers both the pump and the bubble machine.
"This is what we used before everybody had electricity," she said. "Some of the older folks at these shows love to hear it run because they have such good memories of it."
Jo Ann can see why. Her family home had no electricity until she was 15. Then her father bought the Fairbanks Morris engine they had there today. It was eventually relegated to storage when power lines were strung down their street, but Jo Ann's father kept the engine. He gave it to Ernie years later, who then repaired it.
"He was about 90 years old when he got to see it run again," Ernie said. "He looked at it, back at me and then back at it. He said, 'Boy, I never thought you had it in you to get that thing working again.'"
Read more: The Enquirer Journal - Tractor show stirs memories of earlier times