I Love a Parade!
Sooner or later, nearly everyone who is involved in the antique farm machinery movement either has or takes the opportunity to show off their handiwork in a show or parade.
So it was with me. I got into the vintage machinery movement in the summer of 1987 with a 1952 John Deere “B,” which had been in our family since it was new. That fall, I decided to give the old tractor a going over and fix it up as much as limited time, money and facilities would allow.
I had one thing in mind. I would, for the first time in my life, participate in our local rodeo parade with an entry of my own. Had I known what was coming, I would probably have had my head examined instead.
After weeks of cleaning 35 years of grease, grime and dirt off the old “B,” sanding off the rust, pounding out dents, priming, painting and replacing worn parts, she was finally ready. So was I.
The morning of the parade dawned clear and hot. I knew that the temperature that day would be close to a hundred, so common sense dictated light colored clothing, a cap and a supply of water for the trip.
I faced a unique problem. Since I didn’t own a flatbed trailer to haul the tractor on, I would have to drive it the 12 miles or so into Windsor, through the parade route and back home. Heck, that didn’t seem that far. I set out. At half throttle in sixth gear, a John Deere “B” will travel at about eight miles per hour, so I had to allow for that in order to make it into town before the parade started.
Traveling at that speed and from my lofty perch up there on that square cushion seat, I could see a lot of things you just don’t notice in a car. The wildflowers, small animals, innumerable beer cans and assorted litter along the roadside. The young fellow atop a huge load of bales in the middle of a hayfield who waved his straw hat at me. The three children playing in the front yard of a farmhouse who didn’t. Even things as mundane as the cracks and breaks in the pavement. I especially remember the blond little boy in a passing car who really gave me and the old John Deere a good looking over before turning to chatter excitedly to his daddy behind the wheel.
I also noticed something else. Maybe it was just my tractor in particular, but it seems that old John Deeres are overly sensitive to hills. On pavement, she rode as smooth as if I were in somebody’s vintage Caddy. But going down even the slightest downgrade, the engine’s regular pap-pap-pap turned into a rapid chuck-chuck-chuck-chuck, compression braking all the way to the “bottom” of a seemingly level road. Then with a spit and pop and puff of black smoke from the exhaust, it would pick up the beat again. I later learned that this last feature was a minor carburetor problem but each time it happened, I wondered if the engine would quit. It didn’t, but it nearly drove me crazy.
Finally, I got to town. Even in a town as small as Windsor, weekend traffic is not where you would want to be driving a slow moving tractor, given the choice. With little other choice or an alternate route, I soon found myself piloting the “B” right down Main Street and turned to go to the high school parking lot where the parade was to assemble.
As I rolled into the parking lot running wide open in road gear to keep from getting run over, a young woman with a clipboard flagged me down.
“Antique, uh, vehicle?”
“You might call it that.”
“You’re not supposed to be here. This is where the Shriners will assemble. All antique cars and so forth assemble at the factory parking lot down the street,” she said.
Great. So it was back out on the road again, down the street and around the corner. I found the parking lot and pulled in to park between a model “A” Ford and a restored 1949 IHC pickup. Pretty nice company, I thought as I switched off and climbed down to go inside to register. After cooling off in the air conditioning for a few minutes, I went back out to look around at the other entries and shoot a few pictures. As I passed the “B,” I was horrified to find a puddle of oil underneath where it had leaked out in the heat. I grabbed a wrench and by tightening everything in sight where oil was likely to leak, the drip dried up. I was really thankful that I had just added a quart that morning before leaving the house.
Two o’clock rolled around and it was time to line up. Because of a mix-up in placement, I ended up in line behind the city ambulance and in front of a group of teenagers on ATVs. Things were beginning to go awry.
Now a new problem began to surface—one I hadn’t counted on. All day I had been drinking and dousing myself with water from my handy water jug to ward off the heat. The temperature on the pavement was 105 and even with a breeze blowing, it was hot. However, I didn’t seem to be sweating much, so all that water had to go to one place. Soon I knew how astronaut Alan Shepard must have felt as portrayed in the movie, The Right Stuff. Every little bump in the street was painful.
As the parade wound through a residential neighborhood on its way to Main Street, I managed to forget my problem long enough to (sort of) enjoy my new experience. As I slowly passed the crowd, what stood out was the reaction from the little kids and the old retired farmers. The kids would point and shout to their parents about that “neat old tractor“ going by and the older men would sit there with what seemed to be a faraway look in their eyes. Now and then, I saw someone point to my tractor and turn to the person next to them, doubtlessly saying, “I used to have one just like that” or “my dad used to farm with one of those.”
The parade slowly crept to Main Street and we turned to go through the business district. The dozen or so teenagers on their four-wheelers began to get impatient, shooting past me on both sides doing wheelies, then rapidly braking to let me catch up. I glanced down and back and saw one screech to a halt not a foot from the end of the drawbar. I shook my head and leaned on the throttle, thinking just how close he had come to those big 11-38s on either side of me.
While all this was going on, I hadn’t noticed that a new entry had slipped in behind the bikers. It was the city fire truck. Just as we reached the edge of the business district, he cut loose with the siren, raising me a good six inches off the seat and nearly solving my earlier problem at the same time. He didn’t stay long, fortunately. As soon as we had gone through the business district, he turned off and went back to the firehouse.
The rest of the parade was uneventful. I finished up next to last, but I didn’t care. I pulled into a gas station on the edge of town to get some oil, then set out for home. The return trip went well until I reached the bridge over a creek about a mile from my house. I was lucky on the way out and hadn’t met anybody on the bridge. This time it wasn’t to be. I had just started across when I heard the rumble of a big diesel engine and the whoosh of air brakes behind me. I glanced back and, holy mackerel, an 18-wheeler was bearing down on me! I slammed the throttle wide open, hoping the guy could stop in time or his truck would be wearing a John Deere hood ornament. I got through the bridge, pulled off on the shoulder as far as I could and he roared by, drowning the two cylinder’s clatter with noise of his own.
Old Johnnie Popper and I got home safe. A little sunburned (make that a lot sunburned), nerves some the worse for wear, but safe.
Would I do it again? Well—next summer’s quite a way off, but if I do, some things are going to be different. I now know where I can get my hands on a 16-foot flatbed trailer if I need it. Also, I won’t drink as much water. If the temperature is over a hundred, forget it. But in the meantime, I can walk out to the barn, admire the old Deere and think about the compliments it got from people as it rolled by, proudly wearing a sign on its front pedestal. The sign bore a John Deere logo and words “1952 model B.” It was the first restored vintage tractor ever to be in the annual Windsor, Missouri rodeo parade.
Paul S. Singer