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Nearly 200 tractors rode a 125-mile route over two days during the 11th annual WNAX/Tri-State Old Iron Association Tractor Ride. (Michelle Rook/Special to Agweek)

Nearly 200 at Tri-State Old Iron Association Tractor Ride

YANKTON, S.D. — What can be better on a beautiful summer day than a ride in the countryside? For participants in the 11th annual WNAX/Tri-State Old Iron Association Tractor Ride, it's traveling that same route on an antique tractor at 12 mph.

Nearly 200 tractors rode the 125-mile route over two days through southeast South Dakota and northeast Nebraska.

Rodger and Donna Harts helped start the ride and still organize the event along with the members of the Tri-State Old Iron Association.

"Each year we pick a different route in South Dakota and Nebraska and we usually do it in October and November," says Rodger Harts. "And out of the 11 years, we've never driven the same route twice."

Harts says riding in the country on a tractor gives you a whole different perspective.

"When you're driving 12 miles an hour you see a lot of things in road ditches and off in the countryside that you never see driving 55 miles an hour down the road," he says.

Participants ranged in age from 17 to 89 and came from six states, including New York and Oklahoma. Jim and Brenda Fouts traveled the 1,200 miles from their farm in New York for their seventh ride.

So, what keeps them coming back? "Well the comradery for one thing — that's a big thing," says Jim. "And to see how other farmers are doing things differently than we do. You can't beat the fresh air and all the country smells of new mown hay, drying hay, feedlots and just plain good earth. If you're a good old country boy, you can't beat it."

Brenda likes to keep Jim company on the rides, plus she loves the people. "There is a separate kind of people that you meet, and your friendship starts immediately and carries over. You look forward to renewing it each year and that's why we keep coming back," she says.

For other riders, their love of old tractors keeps them returning. Plus, the owners have a great deal of pride in their tractor. Each one has a story.

"A lot of these tractors are from their Grandpa or their Dad and they've pulled them out of the trees, restored them and painted them," says Hart. "Some of them aren't even painted — they're in their everyday clothes."

Many of the tractors are heirlooms, and the restoration can be a long and involved process.

"It could take you a year or more to restore one, but once you get it done you can see your pride and joy," Hart says.

Fouts, like many farmers or tractor enthusiasts, has more than one tractor; however, he tells about the tractor he brought to the ride.

"It's a 1951 Fleetline Oliver, 88 Standard. It's one I bought for rides back about 10 years ago," he says.

Nearly every make of tractor was represented, but this year's ride was again dominated by International models.

"We have, I think, 87 Internationals and around 60 John Deeres, and the rest are Minneapolis Molines, Whites, Olivers, Fords and Alice Chalmers," Hart says. The oldest tractor dated back to 1939.

The other common thread that pulls the group together is their passion for agriculture and the recognition of the importance of the tractor in revolutionizing the industry and helping farmers feed the world.

"A lot of these tractors that are here did just that — fed the world," Harts says. Now they are being retired in nostalgic fashion in museums and tractor rides — and Harts says he can't think of a better way to retire.