Published On: Thu, Jul 20th, 2017

Area residents value their time with annual tractor drive

LAUREL — When entering Bill Heitman’s home in Laurel, the first thing noticed are the aerial pictures of tractors on his wall. He has the entire collection of aerial pictures taken at the annual Tri-State Old Iron Association Tractor Drive in Yankton, S.D.
Every year since 2006, Tri-State Old Iron Association Tractor Club co-sponsors a Tractor Drive with WNAX Radio Station.
The night before the two-day tractor drive, tractors are lined up in a specific formation for an aerial picture. This year, on July 6, 200 tractors lined up to spell out Graham Tires and their logo. In the past, they have formed a picture of a tractor, WNAX and other creative pictures.
Each year, Jerome and Deb Mueller create an image on their computer. They use the dimensions and line up flags where each tractor should park to create the intended image. The tractors start taking their spot by a flag on the Thursday before the ride. All tractors are lined up by early evening in time for Dave Tunge, Yankton, to fly over and take the aerial picture.
In January 2005, Tri-State Old Iron Association Tractor Club was formed to preserve the history and agricultural heritage of the farming community.
In fall 2005, Tri-State Old Iron Association Tractor Club was approached by WNAX to see if they would be interested in co-sponsoring a two-day tractor drive. WNAX’s sister station in Spencer, Iowa, had been sponsoring a drive for years.
President of the association, Rodger Harts and his wife, Donna, along with another couple went to Jackson, Minn., to learn how to run a Tractor Drive.
“My wife and I continue to organize the tractor drive along with Leon and Marlene Becker,” said Rodger.
In 2006, the association launched their first tractor drive in Yankton. There were 185 tractors participating.
This year there were 200 tractors driving the roads of South Dakota and Nebraska at 12 miles an hour on the two-day adventure.
“We had people come from New York, Oklahoma, Nebraska, South Dakota, Iowa and Minnesota,” said Rodger. “It is so neat to see four to five tractors coming in on semis.”
Each year the number of entries is limited to 200 tractors. There may be 240-250 participating in the tractor ride.
“We limit the number of tractors because we provide a good ride. We take care of the people and treat them right,” said Rodger.
Safety is very important to the association. Graham Tire is one of the Tractor Drives sponsors. They assist in checking in the tractors, weighing them, checking air pressures, provide a service truck for flat tires, and give away a couple set of tractor tires at the Friday night meal.
Safety measures include a police escort, no alcohol, wearing of seat-belts, mandatory following the rules of the road and specific procedures to take care of the people involved. All drivers are assigned a group.
“Each group starts in ten-minute intervals to keep them safe. We always have a person that follows behind each group of tractors in case someone needs something,” said Rodger.
This year’s drive covered 123 miles over two days. The tractors drove 75 miles Friday in South Dakota and 48 miles Saturday in Nebraska. The drive always starts in Yankton at the Paddle Wheel Point and never takes the same route.
Dick Carlson from Laurel who has rode in the Tractor Drive for six years took his grandson Joab Carlson with him this year. Joab will be a senior in high school this year.
Dick said the first year he drove his father’s International 1066 that his father used to farm with. “Driving my father’s tractor that year brought back memories,” said Dick. He now drives a 1948 International tractor. “I love the tractor drives so much, one year I forgot my wife’s birthday,” said Dick.
Dick’s favorite route this year was the Nebraska trip, he said it was beautiful. His favorite part in the drive is the fellowship he has with other men. He says it’s not just a tractor drive, it’s a blessing to get to know the other drivers. This year he met other men who served in Vietnam just like him.
Bill Heitman belongs to the Tri-State Old Iron Association Tractor Club and has driven in many tractor drives. Bill said on the Friday night drive there is a parade of all the tractors in the drive. The announcer states who the drivers are, where they are from and information about their tractor.
This year, Bill was unable to drive his tractor. His favorite part of the tractor drives is meeting people and riding on the tractor Bill said with a huge smile.
The 2018 tractor drive is scheduled for July 12-14. Registration starts in February. The association meets in Yankton on the second Monday of every month for a meal and meeting.