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Monday, August 13, 2012

Breakfast Out…in the Valley

tractor show promoIt’s again the season of old tractors in the Valley. The Tualco Valley Antique Tractor Show got underway last Friday. Sent out on assignment by The Ripple and chaperoned by Gladys, I wheeled up in front of  Elmer’s Kitchen and Bert Frohning, cup of coffee in hand, surveying the lay of old tractor land. I knew Bert retired last spring. “How’s retirement going?” I asked. Bert beamed a broad smile. Question answered.We chatted for a bit before I told Bert I hadn’t had breakfast yet. “I’ve already had mine,” I’m informed. I left Bert sipping his coffee and headed for the pancake line.Antique tractor extravaganza

Five dollars later I was served up my plate of pancakes, sausage, (two of each) and scrambled farm fresh eggs (two at least). My plate in one hand, a cup of steaming coffee in the other, I looked around the dining area for a place to settle and give my plate the attention it deserved. One table, except for a stocky fellow about my age, was empty. “Mind if I join you?” I asked, pointing to the chair opposite him. “Not at all,”he said, and down I sat.

The gentleman introduced himself as Max. Max wore a broad brimmed hat, the variety my dermatologist suggested I wear to shield my ears from the sun. He had a twinkle in his eye, a ruddy complexion-- the picture of good health- and a friendly smile. After we exchanged a few general comments (“great weather for looking at antique tractors”), Max pointed to three newcomers rolling by on a trailer. “Three nice Fords,” he notes, “like the one I have,” and launched into a lengthy treatise on that model’s gearbox (“It’s a Howard… made in England…very difficult to find a replacement”). I soon realized I was in the presence of someone who knew his tractors; I was definitely out of my league where these old workhorses were concerned. My limited experience with them, I shared with Max, didn’t go much beyond the tractor I learned to drive on the ranch where I grew up, a little, gray Ferguson four speed. Ferguson nostalgia “I’ve seen a couple this morning,” Max said. “Had a hard time getting the knack of backing up an orchard trailer with it,” I laughed and told him about the time I’d backed the left rear tire up on the trailer’s tongue and had to be rescued by an experienced tractor hand.

I told Max I was on assignment for The Ripple and would he mind posing for the next edition? He agreed. “How about including one of the old Fords just like yours?” Max thought that would be fine. As we strolled through the rows of shining relics, I learned more about my companion.Every kind imaginable He had come to the Valley from Camano Island. Max has been a pilot for years, he tells me. When I asked him what kind of planes he flew, he replied, “Just about everything.” Flying is a family thing, he said. His son is a commercial airline pilot. His daughter just graduated from the Air Force Academy. I told him about my uncle, a career Air Force man, who among other assorted military aircraft, flew C-124 Globemasters. Max smiled, nodded and said: “Old Shakey!” Apparently he knew his aircraft as well as his tractors. I’m surprised to learn he owns and maintains the Camano Island Air Park, a property he purchased from the travel agent Doug Foxx. “Yeah," he laughed, “I’m always checking the end of the runway for skid marks; it’s a short runway and if you overshoot it, you end up in the drink.” Max pulls up short by a shiny Ford. “Almost like mine,” he said, “except the gearbox is on the other side on my model.” I take their picture, thank Max for his time and conversation, and head out to gather more news.Max and friend

These old tractors, it’s obvious, hold an amazing appeal for many. Since The Ripple’s inception the post about Tualco Valley’s annual antique tractor extravaganza has received the most page views, twice as many as the second most viewed. As of this post “Got Old Tractor” (8/13/2010) has tallied 553 page views. Perhaps the key word “tractor” is the reason; internet search engines readily call up the word. But first the appeal has to exist. Take the audience that flocks to see these old workhorses. (Max shared that Tualco Valley’s show is just one of others he attends.) I come upon an elderly gentleman musing over a rusty antique. He is wearing navy blue cotton slacks, a long sleeved dress shirt and a ballcap. For a good while I stand and observe these two old timers. I would have given a couple of Elmer’s breakfasts to know just what was on his mind, back to what youth, what farm, what connection he had with that similar machine and am tempted to ask. Instead I defer to his reverie, leave him alone with whatever nostalgia he was awash in, just the two of them together, and move on.tractor show humor

The Tualco Valley Antique Tractor show is still evolving. Each year more participants come, vendors selling everything from barbeque to jams and jellies (every kind under the sun—except quince) and hooked rugs. There’s a blacksmith’s booth, hayrides (Max rode the circuit: “I thought I’d look things over from a little more height.” Just what you’d expect a pilot to say).  And events, of course. A gal named Cindy, astride an old tractor, pushed a plastic barrel around the course—a grudge match to best her friend Laura’s time.

(She did by three--tenths of a minute. “I saw you slip the judge that five dollar bill,” I tease.) Also, duck races for the kiddos, tunnels of pvc for the ducklings to float their way to the finish line. No wageringI’m attracted to the “pop, kapow” from a row of one cylinder engines, spinning wheels, turning gears, winch drums, pumping water and wander toward the noise. Among four or five men fussing over these antique powerhouses I find Dale Reiner standing next to a small donkey engine (pure coincidence, I’m sure). As we watch the handlers tend their machines, Dale embarked on what he does best: tell stories.
noisy pump
A recent Reiner family reunion was occasion to bring the old Reiner farm dinner bell out of mothballs (a thirteen incher, Dale tells me and adds: “Do you know a bell like that sells for fifteen hundred dollars these days!”Somehow I’m not surprised he knows this). This prompts a reminiscence from his boyhood when he used to hike to the top of High Rock, sit there, look out over the Valley and daydream. “About the day when all that would be yours?” I teased. “Yes, that’s right,” Dale replied. And you know, I think he was serious.

When the old bell tolled, Dale put his dreams on hold and rushed downhill to the dinner table. You could stand with Dale for hours and the stories would flow on and on, but this venue was a tractor show, and The Ripple needed to maintain its editorial focus. When the Reiner farm converted from equine to machine, the purchase was a diminutive Farmall Cub. “I was ten when Dad bought the Farmall,” Dale reflected. Reiner's relic“That’s the tractor I learned to drive.” He pointed down the way toward a trio of tractors, two of them spit-polished and gleaming, the third tractor, a very un-reddish brown and forlorn-looking machine, stood off a pace from the restored twins. “Which one is yours?” I asked. “The one on the right,” Dale said, and then explains the old relic’s provenance. During one of the Valley floods the tractor was submerged in six feet of water when the barn where it was stored was flooded. “I had just paid five hundred dollars to replace the rear tires,” he continued. “We had to tear the entire machine apart to repair the flood damage.” “Does it run?” I wondered. It does—and one of Dale’s grandsons will learn to drive it. Cub tractor

Before the Valley storyteller can sail into another, I leave him next to the coughing, popping donkey engine and stroll back through the aisles of oldtimers gleaming in their new paint and waxy sheen. Gladys is where I had parked her—unceremoniously by a pair of Sani-Cans not too far from two elderly ladies who were taking in the scene from their wheelchairs. To one of them I joked, “Thanks for not taking my bike.” Her response: “I never learned to ride a bike.” “That makes two of us,” I grinned as I steadied Gladys and we wobbled our way across the pasture….Tractor show inflation

As we teetered past the parking lot reader board, I noticed attendance fees had increased by a dollar this year. But no matter: the two lot attendants smiled and nodded at the official Ripple press card I flashed as I passed by. And Gladys? Well, she’s a vintage senior citizen, after all, isn’t she?Gray memories

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