Nemaha bids farewell to Farmall promenade
Lynn Smith and Russ Davis, two "lovely ladies" with the Nemaha Farmall Promenade, have hung up their gingham dresses and bid farewell to their dancing partners for good. After 10 years and more than 150 shows, the Farmall Promenade held its final performance Saturday in Nemaha, on the same spot where they started.
While the showmen say they'll miss the friendships and the memories they created as they square danced on their tractors to the music and the voice of caller Laurie Mason-Schmid - they say they probably won't miss those dresses.
Sad? "Oh yeah a little bit," says Smith. He says it might take a little while to sink in that it's over for good. "We've been pretty busy at it and it's our normal time to quit for the summer. Ask me again next year." Smith says it's been a lot of fun to be part of the group but it's taken a lot of time away from families, and the eight drivers aren't as young as they used to be. Smith was known as Mrs. Pioneer.
"I had a little twinge of depression on Sunday after it was all over. It was the highest of all highs on Saturday," Davis says. "But I'm over that now." Now he's too busy to think about it as he continues farming and livestock production. Smith says now that's done he'll have more time for other important thing - like golf.
Schmidt is particularly emotional about the final show. With all the time spent in performances and practices, friendships became like family. Her fellow performers has a surprise for their caller on Saturday.
A borrowed John Deere is often employed to "cut in" on the dancing Farmalls as part of the shows. But in the last performance, a special Deere appeared - a tractor that had been owned by Schmidt's late father had been snuck out of it shed and lovingly restored by the Promenade team without her knowledge.
She says she remembers looking over at one of the guys and asking 'Whose tractor did we borrow today?' "They gave me a funny look," she says.
It wasn't until later she discovered it was her father's tractor. "I don't remember the last two dances because the only thing in my head was the picture of the tractor all redone," she says. "It just means a lot, the effort they went to (to restore it)," she says. Schmidt had lost her father to cancer, and husband Roly also fell to cancer four years ago, after serving as a substitute performer in the Promenade.
Laurie said the Promenade guys where there for her then - again, like a family.
One driver estimated that nearly 3,000 people saw "the last dance" held in Nemaha. Some always ask, Smith and Davis how they got roped into dressing up like women? "It was kind of a short straw deal," says Smith. It was decided the women would drive Farmall Model C Tractors and the men would drive model H tractors, Smith says some of the men went right out and bought their tractors. "It all came down to what is left," he says. The guys got some grief for dressing up like women.
Each woman in the group had their own quirks, their own personality, and Davis who was Mrs. Dekalb was known for being quite a character and went off and did her own thing without Mr. Dekalb. "Everyone kind of developed a persona. Everyone had their own special humor," says Davis. "We tried to come up with something new for each show."
However, he says those who regularly came to watch could expect some crowd pleasing favorites like one of the ladies waxing her leg with duct tape, Mrs. Dekalb losing her skirt and Mrs. Pioneer's loud horn. "Those who wore the dresses, they turned out to be perfect for the role," he says. Davis said as the eight men got ready for a performance they'd throw out possible ideas, which would sometimes work and sometimes not so much, but would help get everyone chuckling and loosen them up as they got on their "garb" in the two semi trailers that housed the traveling show.
The group originally began practicing at Lynn Smith's yard after practicing the moves with some matchbox size toy tractors on a kitchen table to see if the moves would work. The group was originally formed by fellow member Damon Mooney who played Mr. Garst. The group also visited a square dancing club in Omaha to learn more of the moves and found it was quite a challenging yet creative art. "We ended up with quite a deal of respect for serious square dancers," Smith says.
The group practiced twice a week about three hours a night for the first summer. Their debut performance was in the summer of 1999 for the centennial in Nemaha. The group has been in demand to play the Iowa State Fair and other venues ever since, has sold thusands of videos all around the country, and appeared on TV shows, in magazines and national newspapers.
The group still consists of the original members except for their substitute Schmidt, who is fondly remembered.
Smith says the decision to call it quits was made on a hot day back in July 2006 in Staceyville. Smith said they decided to have a meeting. "We decided then and there in the shade that 2008 would be the last year," Smith says. He says they had originally looked at quitting in 2007, however, they didn't want to disappoint people with shows already booked for 2008. The group performed about 12-15 shows across Iowa and Nebraska each summer and this summer was no exception.
Gone forever? Maybe not. Smith said his father Bill was a member of a group in the 1950's. "What I'd like to see is someone take it over in 20 years, maybe some of our offspring," he says. "I don't know if that'll happen," he says. "I'd like to be alive to watch that," he says with a chuckle.