Will Edwinson

Author & Storyteller

Good Old Tractor Days

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Photo taken at Good Old Days Tractor Show–Grace Idaho

In this modern world of high technology we marvel at the latest new item that comes on the scene, and think we are in hog heaven.  But every era of history has its so-called “high technology, ”

A few years ago, I had the pleasure to attend the “Good Ol’ Days” tractor show at Grace, Idaho, the hometown of my early youth. While there, I was taken back in time to more nostalgia.  To some of you “city folk,” the tractors I’m going to mention, will be unfamiliar, but those who were raised on a farm, or around farm tractors, will be able to relate.  John Deere dominated the show with five tractors from vintage 1921 up into the 1960s, with models ranging from A to R. There were International models ranging from a McCormick Deering F14 Farmall, up into the 1960s with models from A to M, and a 403. There were Minneapolis Moline, and Case tractors represented as well.  These old tractors brought back memories, because I cut my tractor driving teeth on a McCormick-Deering Farmall Model H at age twelve.

Also on display were a Holt stationary combine engine, and a John Deere stationary engine that was operating a shingle maker.  The fascinating thing about these engines, to me, was, that at high idle, they operated in a range of 650-1500 rpms; but boy, did they have the torque.  The low idle speeds of modern tractor engines are faster than the high idle speeds of many of these older engines.

The shingle cutter was also fascinating.  It reminded me of the meat slicers the butchers use to slice meat.    This shingle maker operated in much the same manner.  The guy operating it would place a log, about two feet in length, on a rack and push it into a rotating saw blade that cut the shingles.  The blade was set on an angle to the block, which gave the shingle its wedge shape.

The star of the tractor show was an interesting model, circa early 1920s, manufactured by the Bates Machinery Co. located in Illinois. (Probably no relation to  the psycho Norman Bates of the Bates Motel, however. :))  It was called the Steel Mule.  I don’t know how they came up with that name, except to say that since the railroad steam locomotive had already been dubbed the “iron horse,” they had to come up with another name for the workhorse’s replacement—hence the steel mule.

This “mule” featured an interesting design.  I suspect the army half-track trucks of World War II may have spawned from this tractor design.  The rear half of the tractor was mounted on steel tracks, but the front had wheels which actually did the steering.  The owner of this Steel Mule had a sign posted on it stating that the original owner who bought it new, didn’t like the way it drove, so he parked it and went back to farming with horses.

Hard to steer or not, this tractor ran away with all the prizes in the tractor games, which featured the slowest tractor race and a barrel race.  The last tractor to reach the finish line in the slowest tractor race was declared the winner(they had to do this without killing the engine in the process.  Killing the engine disqualified them).  This steel mule’s engine had such a high torque, that the owner could slow the idle down to around 100 rpms, and the tractor still had enough power at that slow idle to pull itself.  The race proceeded a certain distance forward, and then back again, in reverse.  The barrel race required the tractor operators to roll a barrel against a front wheel of the tractor the length of the run, and back again.  The old Steel Mule won both of those races.

1949 Packard sedanThere was a vintage one-horse buggy on display that I envisioned being used by the old country doctor of yesteryear to make his rounds.  For the old car buffs, there were several restored cars on display—circa early 1930s up through the ‘60s.  Two Ford Model A coups and a Ford Model A pickup in particular were spectacularly restored.  They looked as though they had just been picked up at the factory.  There was a sheep camp on display; and it looked as though it just came out of the factory, as well.  As a teen-ager, I spent a summer in one of these camps the year Dad broke his dry farm out of sagebrush, but I had forgotten how efficient and compact these camps were.  The wagon box itself is not much more that twelve feet long—if that—and about four feet wide, but the amenities they managed to put into that little space is amazing.

The event also featured different acts of live entertainment performing all day long, and in addition to the vintage tractors, cars, and other vintage farm machinery on display, there were quilts. Several vendors were selling their wares as well. This was the third year for the show, and it’s growing every year.  Certainly worth one’s time to attend.  It’s going to be an annual June event, so I’d suggest to those living in the area to reserve a place for this show on your calendar this coming June,  of places to go, and things to see.  For those who live outside the area, but are planning a June vacation out West and happen to be in Southeast Idaho, I recommend checking out this event.  I think you’ll find it well worth your time.   I’d bet you can find more about it online.  I would suggest Googling “Good Old Tractor Days Grace, Idaho.  I’ll wager something will come up telling you all about it.

But in the meantime, if you’d like to read a little nostalgia, you can do so by clicking on the “free download” button at upper right of this page and receive a free copy of Buddy…His Trials and Treasures,  and read about the exploits of a young boy growing up during the 1940s in rural America.  A print copy is also available for purchase at www.amazon.com.  

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