Tractor generations

Thursday, June 27, 2002

Great Tractor Ride come to SL

As the complacent peacefulness of the family acreage quickly evolves into the industrial din of massive corporate farms throughout the Midwest, one Iowa family is chugging across Iowa to keep the spirit of family farming alive.

Representing three generations of family farmers, Marion, John and Andy Van Zee of Prairie City were among the 450 riders participating in the sixth Annual WHO Radio Great Iowa Tractor Ride as it passed through Storm Lake Monday. Though the father, son and grandson each professed their love for tractors, all admitted that there was more to their trip than simply an attraction to the vintage machinery.

"Farming is very dear to my heart, and this is a great way to promote it," said son John, who, aside from farming 300 acres of his own land, is also employed as Vice President, Ag Loan Officer and Farm Manager at U.S. Bank in Newton. "All three of us were raised on farms, and the love for farming has passed on throughout each generation. What better place to raise a family?"

It was John and Andy who first participated in the ride in 1997. Although Andy, now 18, was only 14 when his father embarked on the first ride, he rode his bicycle through the route until he was old enough to drive his own tractor.

"I'm proud to say, after a little mishap we had while towing another tractor, that I'm partly responsible for the current 'no bikes' rule on the ride," Andy said with a grin.

The two later convinced Marion, a retired farmer, to join the ride with them. Marion's wife, Alma, now serves as a support driver for the family of enthusiasts, replenishing the weary riders' appetites and spirits.

"This is a good way to bond with the family, especially with Grandma, who is always along for laughs," Andy said.

When asked about their tractors, each Van Zee beams with pride, particularly Marion over his 1952 8-End Ford Tractor he purchased last Fall, the last ever made. Aside from scaling the state, Marion also uses the 8-End to mow he and Alma's lawn.

"He loves that tractor, he just bubbles over it like a little kid." Alma said.

Andy also reflects the hard work and love put into his 1956 John Deere 70 Diesel he bought and restored himself at the tender age of 13. John displayed his 1958 John Deere 830 he purchased and hauled home from Kansas 10 years ago, one of four that he owns.

With his experience as a tractor ride alumnus and his position at U.S. Bank, John convinced the corporation to to co-sponsor the ride. As well as participating, John also promotes U.S. Bank to riders and caters to numerous customers on the ride.

"I believed in the ride enough to convince U.S. Bank to become a sponsor," John said. "This ride is especially great for the state because, it's something to be said for Iowa that people from all over the country come to ride in this event."

Although Andy, who will attend South Dakota State University this fall, is opting for a career in aviation over that of taking over the family farm, he still professed his love for farming, and doesn't mind being one of very few young riders among the numerous aging farmers.

"These are great people," Andy said. "The best part is not necessarily the towns, but the people on the way who put their tractors out and wave, or set up lemonade stands for us," Andy said.

John said that, although a few youth are involved with the ride with tractors they may have restored through FFA and 4-H, the lack of youth involved in the ride may reflect an even bigger, slightly disturbing trend.

"As family farms are shrinking, less youth are interested in anything like this," he said. "All of these tractors are antiques, and geared toward small family farms. Unfortunately, there are less small farms as they are being replaced by large, corporate farms. All of these nostalgic tractors are sort of a way to keep the farm alive."

While each of the Van Zee men adamantly claimed they will continue to participate in the ride for years to come, the growing popularity and success of what John calls "The RAGBRAI of tractors" makes them increasingly more anxious to make the cut of riders allowed to enter when registration time comes.

"When we get the applications, we physically hand-deliver them to WHO Radio the next day," John said. "That or we overnight them, if we can trust that."

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