DRUMMER FEATURE JULY 26, 2015
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Garden tractors galore at Wright Co. Fair
Story and photos by Doug Voerding
For 148 years, the Wright County Fair has strongly promoted the agricultural roots of Wright County, while providing fun and interesting sights, sounds, and entertainment.
This year, Machinery Hill is featuring lawn and garden tractors. In the midst of the full-sized farm machinery, fairgoers will see a great collection of pre-2000-era antique and vintage lawn and garden tractors, every model and brand and many with the attachments and equipment.
Not only will there be the display, but there will also be two garden tractor pulls, one on Thursday, July 30, at 5:00 p.m., and the second on Saturday, August 1, at 4:00 p.m.
During the fair, fairgoers will have the chance to see a lawn and garden tractor parade and view memorabilia and restored tractors in a special tent.
While everyone is invited to display their pre-2000 lawn and garden tractors, a local group of enthusiasts can hardly wait for this year's fair.
Informal hobby group
Bob Haften of Montrose, Nate Bodin of Waverly, George Althoff of Buffalo, and Ron Becker of Plymouth are the core of a group of area collectors of lawn and garden tractors. Haften has been the primary organizer of the tractor pulls at the fair.
All are serious collectors. Some specialize in a brand like White, Oliver, Cub Cadet, General Electric, John Deere, or Bolan. Others collect any brand, focusing on machines more than fifteen years old.
Restoring old machines
Garden tractor collecting is getting more popular.
At one time, the men found old tractors for free or for maybe $50. Now the old machines can cost $200 and up and even beyond $2000.
How popular? Haften thinks he has maybe 40. Althoff has more than 50.
"If you know exactly how many you've got, you don't have enough," said Bodin, the youngest of the group, who has more than a dozen.
They all find possible tractors for their collections through word-of-mouth and the Internet.
Becker has traveled as far as Indiana to buy a Minneapolis Moline tractor with a scythe mower. After he got home with it, he said he took it all apart and totally restored it.
Why all the way to Indiana? "Attachments are hard to find, and the old stuff is fifty times stronger. And now I have one of only two of that tractor still around."
For the men, collecting and restoring garden tractors is a hobby, and they meet fellow collectors from all over the country.
"As with most hobbies," said Becker, "you never get your money back. It's a hobby. You don't keep track, and you don't want to keep track, of how much you spend in restoration.'
Restored machines are usually not used in tractor pulls, but modified machines are.
Part of the fun of tractor pulls is being able to modify the engines, from boring cylinders to adding turbo for diesel. Standard tires are ground down to create deeper tread.
"One person I know," said Bodin, "even put a motorcycle engine on his tractor."
Added Haften, "It all depends on how thick your wallet is."
Haften said that the early days of lawn and garden tractor pulls around Wright County began several years ago in Al Jordan's driveway in Montrose at a somewhat-annual friends and family event during Montrose Days. Haften said that cement blocks were pulled on an old car hood. Sometimes, people provided the extra weight by standing on that old car hood.
Now a more efficient weight mechanism is used.
When the local Oliver Tractor Club, organizers of the antique tractor pull at the fair, asked the group if they would help fill the time between each of the antique pulls, they jumped at the chance to "show off" their equipment and their skills.
Those lawn and garden tractors pulls have now become a popular feature of the fair. Thirty-five to forty pullers will be there.
Said Bodin, "The audience can relate to garden tractors. Many probably have their own."
In the lawn and garden tractor pulls, there is no charge to enter and no charge to watch, and there are no prizes, no trophies, and no ribbons.
"The winners get a big smile from me!" said Haften. "And, of course, bragging rights for the next year."
The popularity of the pulls has brought Haften and his friends to organize pulls not only at the fair, but also at Waverly Days and at Forest City.
Near to Haften's home, east of Montrose, the group hosts a Plow Day in the fall at a neighboring farm. Plow Day has been going on for several years, and last year brought about 150 owners with trailers loaded with lawn and garden tractors for display or to be used in the plowing event. By the time the day was over, the small tractors with single plow attachments had plowed more than forty acres.
At the fair
With the fair only a week away, the men are busy getting their restored tractors ready for the display and their modified tractors for the tractor pull.
While enjoying the Wright County Fair, be sure to see the lawn and garden tractor display and find time to cheer on the tractor pullers.
Everyone is welcome to display their own lawn and garden tractor and participate in the pull.
For more information, contact Fair Board Member Troy Beise by phone at 763-972-1086 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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