‘If the Tractor Could Talk …’ — Vintage Ride Drives Home Will County’s Agricultural History

Kally Marsee and her daughter, Mariella, check out a tractor during the Vintage Tractor Drive’s lunch stop. (Photos by Stephanie Irvine)
Kally Marsee and her daughter, Mariella, check out a tractor during the Vintage Tractor Drive’s lunch stop. (Photos by Stephanie Irvine)

By Stephanie Irvine

Brad Eike grew up on a dairy farm and has a deep appreciation for the agricultural community, having recently retired from a 44-year career in FS (farm fuel services).

A big part of his Ag experience was driving his dad’s old tractor while growing up, and doing it again during the Will County Threshermen’s Association’s Vintage Tractor Drive earlier this month.

“You’re going down the highway at 10 miles an hour, and you can see everything around you. I love that,” said Eike, association president of the event.

The ride featured 24 vintage tractors of various ages, makes and models, driven by members in a 35-mile procession with stops throughout Will County.

“There’s a lot of people who don’t see these old tractors anymore,” said Jim LaMore, who farms in Manteno. “Nice to see the FFA kids get involved to keep it going.”

Organized by association Vice President Lane Heatherwick, this year’s Vintage Tractor Drive had a $65 participation fee that covered food and drink, a commemorative hat and magnet, and a safety escort from the Will County Sheriff.

Brian Kestel hosted lunch where his grandfather held the first show in 1963. His personal connection is how he got involved with the Threshermen’s Association.

“It’s very important to me,” Kestel said of his involvement.

The lunch stop was busy with family members and association members not driving a tractor meeting the group at the stop. Little ones got a chance to climb up on the different tractors.

“By keeping tractors out in front of people — and I know we block traffic and all that — but they start asking, ‘What are these things doing out here?’ So, we can answer that this is the history of how farming got started,” Heatherwick said.

“These are old tractors, and a lot of these tractors have lineage. The tractors might have a dent in the hood or something, and a family member put it there through a driving incident. It just makes it so unique. And if the tractor could talk, it would tell lots of stories.”

The camaraderie among members was evident, as was the hard work the members had put into their tractors with paint shining and engines operating smoothly. Members talked about how they got their tractors, as well as improvements they’d made.

“These tractors just don’t look like they are when we get them. They have to be completely torn down, rebuilt, and sometimes it takes a couple years and quite a bit of funding to get them back to original,” Heatherwick said, noting that sponsor Steiner Industries makes a lot of the parts they need.

“It’s exciting. It’s amazing to see the equipment and how they keep it up so well,” said Rep. Anthony DeLuca D-Chicago Heights who met participants at one of the stops.

The Vintage Tractor Drive kicks off the association’s summer events, with its upcoming annual Antique Tractor and Steam Engine show to be held July 18-21 at the Spiess Farm at 13831 W. Joliet Road in Manhattan.

“The show is all about keeping old history alive. It’s a slice of the past that we want to keep in people’s minds. We got something for everybody. Petting zoo for the kids with farm animals. For the whole family to come out and have some fun. Stuff for the kids to be able to come up and touch and learn about. So, it’s education, too,” explained Eike.

“I’ve been coming to the show my whole life, and the only way this club can have a future is to get young blood involved,” said Andy Rousonelos, undoubtedly one of the youngest members at just 22 years old. He first got involved with the tractor drive events when he first started driving tractors.

Rousonelos farms with his family in Mazon, but his family has farming roots in Joliet and Plainfield.

The upcoming Threshermen’s show features tractors and other equipment, steam engines, plus corn shelling, tractor pulls, food, and more.

Daily admission to the Threshermen’s show is available on-site: $8 for adults and $4 for children. A flea market and crafts, and farming demonstrations are held daily. A free shuttle helps visitors get around the grounds.

“Farming is coming back. It’s kind of cool. You’re getting a lot of smaller farms, families that are starting up stuff around here. I think farming is being appreciated — it always has been — but it’s kind of at a high point right now as far as appreciating the older stuff. It’s a great family friendly event,” Kestel said of the upcoming show.

“Farming has come a long way, and (these events are) a good way for people to get a respect for all the advances and technology that we have now. You can see what hard labor it used to be.”

“We’d love to see more people come out and get involved,” said Rousonelos. Members include ag industry retirees, those who have family connections, and those who simply want to help preserve the agricultural legacy.

“I think the biggest thing people get out of (being in the association) is friendships. Everybody’s got a tractor story, even if they’re not driving it. So many nice people. It’s my favorite part,” said Eike.

“It’s a great ride and a great group. The people in this group love what they do,” said Eike.

Anyone interested in learning more about the Threshermen’s Association and its events can visit www.steamshow.org.

Stephanie Irvine is a freelance reporter.

Jim LaMore poses with his tractor.

Clyde Brandau gets comfortable in the driver’s seat.

The American Flag Barn on Dave Kestel’s farm was the perfect photo-op stop.

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