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Everyone has a few things in life that are very precious to them. Most would say family, photos or a special object. For many farmers, tractors are on this list. With 239 registered tractor manufacturers in the world and nearly 10,000 models of farm tractors available, farmers have a vast assortment of options when it comes to what they use in their fields today. The tractors that farmers choose to keep for decades and restore, however, are what spurred the introduction of the WHO Great Tractor Ride.
Last month, the 20th Annual WHO Radio Tractor Ride made its way back to Grinnell, where it all began so many years ago. What started as Mark & Gary’s Great Iowa Tractor Ride in 1996 with just 135 tractors has now traveled hundreds of Iowa miles and grown to include more than 500 tractors.
For ride participants Terry and Erlene Leonard of Colfax, the first ride started as just “something different to do.” Today, they reminisce over ride booklets, photos and memorabilia—they have never missed a ride! They are now part of something greater than just an annual Iowa event; they are part of another little family. “For years, the ride included staying at a different hotel or campground each night,” said Terry. “At times, we even stayed in others’ homes.”
Each year came with a different theme, new route and another pin for your hat. The ride became the summer vacation for many and an opportunity to experience a new view of Iowa’s countryside. Over the years, many tractor rides have been coordinated throughout the state, but the WHO Tractor Ride owns the title as the first in the state. “We have seen everything from proposals to famous people on the ride,” said Terry. “One time, we even had a driver’s tractor seat stolen only to be put up for auction that night!”
For some, the ride is about spending time with family and celebrating a rich farming history. Key Cooperative employee Dennis Hostetler has only been on the ride a couple years, but he has enjoyed every minute. “My dad turned 91 the first day of this year’s WHO Tractor Ride,” said Dennis. “He loves it, and it’s a way I can spend quality time with him as he ages.”
The ride is not just for the drivers though. It’s an experience for each and every community along the route. Iowans flock to the streets to watch the parade of historic machines pass by, anticipating the oldest, most unique tractors they’ve ever seen.
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