Looking Back: Antique Tractors and the Good Ol’ Days

Plowfest, an old-fashioned field plowing event, focuses on antique tractors and the game of ‘Do You Remember When.’

Antique Tractors

The Plowfest started about 10 years ago when the Baergs, a father and son duo, thought it would be interesting to take one of the old antique tractors and see how it would do on a field adjacent to his farmstead.

Illustration by Wayne Stroot

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“Do you remember when … .” People just love that game, don’t they? You know the one — when folks reminisce about things like the clicks that party liners used to hear as they listened to others’ telephone conversations on rural lines, taking trips in cars without air conditioning, or walking to school three miles in five feet of snow. We’re fascinated with those stories of the “good ol’ days.”

Once a year, similar memories come alive as Allen Baerg and his son Arlyn host a day of old-fashioned field plowing. The 2012 Plowfest took place on Labor Day, September 3, at one of Allen’s wheat fields near Delft in southwestern Minnesota.

The dull, tan stubble of the field came alive with green John Deere, red IH, yellow Minneapolis Moline, orange Allis Chalmers, dark green Olivers, gray Ford, and Black Hawk tractors and plows as the Baergs, their friends, neighbors, and even strangers converged on the field for a day to watch and remember how farmers used to turn the soil. Nothing larger than a three-bottom plow was permitted. As if in a country line dance, tractor drivers put-putted nose-to-furrow-wheel down the expanse of a field Baerg had left unplowed just for the occasion.

Looking out on the field, one witnessed a diversity of history — John Deere models A, B, D and Gs worked side-by-side with Farmall Hs and Ms, as well as Minneapolis Moline Rs and Zs.

Appreciative folks, who remember the days during which these tractors and plows were used, looked on. And, there were those of us — the children and grandchildren, and even great-grandchildren — who are blessed with the opportunity to discover realities of days gone by. We learned from the stories told during Plowfest, and by watching the carefully preserved relics parading down a field as if taking a victory lap.

It all started about 10 years ago. The Baergs, father and son, had been avid antique tractor collectors for years. One fall, Allen thought it would be interesting to take one of the old plows and see how it would do on a field adjacent to his farmstead. So, on that first pass, Allen and friend Arnie Quiring turned soil in the “old way.” Allen’s son Arlyn joined them later that afternoon. Surprisingly, the old plow dug in as if time had nothing on it; the soil was turned, and deeper than expected. More importantly, though, it was fun.

Those present decided to “do it again next year.” Other farmers arrived with their antique tractors and plows. As the number of drivers, tractors and spectators increased in subsequent years, a local crop insurance salesman offered to provide hamburgers for attendees. Each year, the numbers grew. For 2012, more than 30 tractors, plows and drivers turned soil in Baerg’s field. Many others simply came to watch, eat and commune. Word of mouth was all the advertisement needed. People just show up, “even people I don’t know,” Arlyn says. An antique tractor and plow are the only price for participation; spectating is free.

Due to its increasing popularity, the Baergs named their gathering “Plowfest,” and printed T-shirts with their expanding group’s name, “Delft Furrowmakers.” Many of the shirts are customized to boast names or nicknames of the regulars — a plowing team of sorts. On the backs of the Baergs’ T-shirts were printed, respectively, “The Father” and “The Boy.”

All sorts of folks came along for the ride at Plowfest 2012 — farmers in their overalls talked about the old days as well as current corn prices. Some of the less spry trudged through newly plowed fields using walkers, while others used four-wheelers. Youngsters without drivers’ licenses tried their hands at metal steering wheels and their feet at clutches and brakes. Babies in hats, covered with sunscreen, bounced along in strollers as their mothers pushed them through the grassy ditches surrounding the field.

Even the press showed up. A reporter asked the father-son duo if they wanted to be famous. Allen responded, “No. We just like plowin’.” And so they do, and so did everyone else driving tractors, riding on tractors, and watching tractors that day. Why else would Minnesotans forego watching the Vikings on Labor Day to, literally, labor in a dusty field? For the fun of it, that’s why, and maybe for the inherent importance of remembering.

There’s an old saying that farming gets in your blood. My own father left a promising career as a university professor to return to his family farm not far from the Baergs. Many of my classmates have remained in the area making a living on local farms. Others like me, who have left, return and reminisce when together. Even our memories, not old enough to include the equipment carefully preserved for days like Baergs’ Plowfest, hold enough nostalgia to keep us coming back and retelling our stories.

These memories, this lifestyle, and the bloodlines of farmers past and present run deep in rural Minnesota — as deep as the furrows left by two- and three-bottom plows on Allen Baerg’s field in Delft.  

Read more: Check out Horse Progress Days throughout the Midwest.

Marie Dick was raised on her family’s farm in southwest Minnesota. Currently she is a professor of Mass Communications at St. Cloud (Minnesota) State University, and she continues to farm organic and heirloom vegetables on her family’s farmstead.