It’s February and my favorite holiday is rapidly approaching. No, it’s not Ground Hog’s Day or President’s Day or even Valentine’s Day. It’s Farm Machinery Show Week and in my family, that is a bigger holiday than Christmas!
Every year since I was 14, I make the yearly trek to Louisville, KY. While the attraction was admittedly tractors, it wasn’t just the new ones being introduced by the multitude of manufacturers in attendance. I lived and breathed for the tractor pull. To watch a machine that was designed to plow, hook onto a heavy object just to demonstrate its horsepower, was something I lived for. Factor in that by February cabin fever had set in, we couldn’t wait to get to Louisville.
I had the rare opportunity to experience Louisville in a different way than most. For nearly 20 years, my family provided one of the weight transfer machines, or sleds, that were dragged back and forth on the track every night.
My father bought his first sled in the late ‘60s. By 1970, he was building his own and we built one every year for 7 years. I grew up around it and to say it’s in my blood is an understatement. Little did I know what an impact that sport would have on my life. The words of the announcers that I listened to over those many years, stuck in my head. I didn’t even know I was listening but somehow I absorbed it.
We grew up Oliver. Grandpa was an Oliver dealer and Dad’s name is Oliver. The only time I was even exposed to another brand was on the track. So the model numbers that I can rattle off the top of my head are all compliments of tractor pulling.
A lot of things have changed in since the days when we had our first sled. Tractors that once hooked to a plow in the morning and a sled in the evening, are not the same machines you see at Louisville on the track. The pulling tractors are mostly component-built machines that barely resemble a tractor. But if you’re a red man and there’s a red tractor hooked to the sled, your brand loyalty kicks in and you cheer.
Sleds have changed too. The days of the step-on sled are long gone. Pull-back tractors are obsolete on the track and sled operators who sit out in the heat and dust are a rarity on the newer sleds. Before our sleds were self-propelled, we would spend all day jumping on and off the sled to hook up to the pull-back tractor. We would eat the dust for hours and sit in the sun all day. If we complained we got the lecture from Dad, "you’re supposed to eat 7 lbs of dirt a year!" Where he came up with that number I’ll never know.
To experience riding a sled was like the experience you got sitting on an open station tractor all day in the sun plowing a 40-acre field with a moldboard plow. You could feel the power, smell the power and most times taste the power. It was the true experience of being a farmer.
It’s an experience that every young boy or girl should have in their lifetime.
The experience of Louisville contains a little of everything. You can see the new innovations, find products to keep the old ones alive and at the end of the day, experience the power as the building erupts with raw horsepower and cheers.
If you’re out wandering the show, stop by and visit Heritage Iron in the West Hall and celebrate what should be a national holiday - Farm Show Week! And also, check out Heritage Iron on Facebook.