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Tractors gear up for nostalgic caravan

SOUTH RANGE, Wis. -- There's something about seeing an old tractor that resonates with area farmers. "It brings back memories of dad and grandpa," said Paul Abrahamzon of South Range. "It turns you into a kid again." Nostalgia takes to the road n...

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Submitted photo Great Douglas County Tractor Ride participants line up their tractors during the annual event. A total of 36 tractors caravanned through Douglas County last year. To celebrate the ride’s 10th anniversary, cab tractors will be included in this year’s event.

SOUTH RANGE, Wis. -- There’s something about seeing an old tractor that resonates with area farmers.

“It brings back memories of dad and grandpa,” said Paul Abrahamzon of South Range. “It turns you into a kid again.”

Nostalgia takes to the road next Saturday during the 10th annual Great Douglas County Tractor Ride. For collector Don Johnstad of South Range, the yearly events are a chance to showcase his field of Farmall tractors. He has 23.

“They all run,” said Johnstad, a beef farmer and mechanic for J & B Trucking. “They’re all painted up and look real nice.”

He has won about 10 awards over the years, including a number of best-in-show titles, but last year’s event holds a special place in his heart.

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“My wife’s uncle gave me a tractor, then he passed away,” Johnstad said.

The Farmall B had been sitting behind a garage for decades and needed a lot of work.

“I redid the whole tractor and had his daughter drive it last year,” Johnstad said. “She won first place. She was really happy.”

She called her mother in tears, letting her know the tractor won. It’s moments like those, Abrahamzon said, when “you know what it’s all about.”

The Great Douglas County Tractor Ride offers awards for oldest and most unique tractor as well as tractor of the year, runner-up and best-dressed driver. The first year’s ride featured 16 tractors. Last year, 36 tractors participated. During this 10th anniversary ride, cab tractors will be allowed, and drivers can pull a trailer if they choose.

One of the highlights of the ride is a stop at Middle River Health and Rehabilitation Center. Residents line up outside to get a look at the sweet rides.

“All the older folks remember them,” said Greg Wicklund of Hawthorne, who has participated in the past five rides. “Quite a few people recognize them.”

The caravan of tractors attracts attention, and people line up along county roads to watch them pass. Some even join in.

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“We have a huge following on motorcycles and cars,” Abrahamzon said.

The tractors make pit stops at area establishments, including lunch at Poplar Golf Course and a barbecue dinner at Middle River Tavern.

“It’s just a fun event, no pressure, everything is pretty leisurely,” said Johnstad. “We stop a few places and talk.” His son and daughter have also driven in the event, earning awards for tractors from their Farmall stable.

“I’ve been running old tractors all my life,” Johnstad said. The ones he drove as a kid are keepsakes, and he’s got the first new tractor his father ever had - a 1969 Farmall.

There’s an interesting story behind every tractor, Abrahamzon said. Some have been in the family for generations; others were saved from the scrap heap. The ride gives owners incentive to revitalize these vintage vehicles.

“A lot of people will doll up their tractors, put flags on them,” Abrahamzon said.

Not everyone who rides has a family history in farming. Scott Pichetti of Duluth always wanted a tractor, and decided to purchase one a neighbor was selling. It didn’t run when he bought it, but he put in the time to bring it back to life.

“We go to the local bar once in awhile with it,” Pichetti said, or pull a wagon around the neighborhood. But the tractor ride is its chance to shine. During last year’s event, Pichetti won another John Deere B, a newer model with an electric start. His wife plans to drive it in this year’s ride.

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Wicklund’s favorite tractor ride memory comes from the first year he participated, using a restored tractor that belonged to his father. The 1941-era Farmall A won best in show. He’s been taking part in the ride ever since.

“I just like to go show the tractor off,” Wicklund said. He’s been working on a second tractor, but it’s still in pieces and won’t be ready in time for Saturday’s ride.

Registration starts at 7 a.m. Saturday at Middle River Tavern, 5674 S. County Road E. A driver’s meeting begins at 8:30 a.m. and the ride starts at 8:45 a.m. The tractors travel to Middle River Health and Rehabilitation Center, then to the Gravel Pit Tavern on County Highway P before trekking to the Poplar Golf Course for lunch. The riders make a stop at the Riverside Bar and Grill and return to Middle River Tavern for dinner.

The $40 entry fee for the ride includes breakfast, lunch and dinner and a chance to win the tractor giveaway. This year’s prize, a 1945 Allis-Chalmers Model B is on display at Middle River Tavern. Proceeds from the ride are earmarked for the Henry and Pat Abrahamzon Scholarship Fund for agriculture students graduating from Northwestern High School. Participants can register at any of the establishments along the route, or for $10 extra, the day of the event.

 

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