Editor’s Note: This story by John Lippman first appeared in the Valley News on Sept. 11.
RANDOLPH — Erica Daniels was driving to the town transfer station on Saturday morning when her 3½-year-old son saw something outside the car window that got him very excited.
“Oh, tractors!” Daniels recounted her son, Leland, exclaiming as they drove past the Randolph Farmers Market on Route 12A, where a half-dozen shiny antique farm tractors were evenly lined up like racehorses at the starting gate.
Daniels immediately pulled into the parking lot next to Gifford Medical Center so Leland could get out and have an up-close look at the mechanical beasts.
“We have a lawn mower at home we call a ‘tractor,’ and he has a lot of replica toy tractors that we get at Tractor Supply in Montpelier,” said Daniels, of Randolph. “He loves tractors.”
Leland wasn’t alone in his excitement. While phones, video games and virtual reality goggles may be the preferred form of entertainment for many these days, plain mechanical machinery can still hold allure, at least if the kids at the farmers market are any indication.
Hannah Zajac, of Roxbury, and her sons, Everett, 8, and Ellison, 10, were at the antique tractor display along with their friends, Seth and Heather McCoy and their 4-year old daughter, Eliza, as a reward for their kids for helping out with chores earlier that morning.
“We told them if they stacked hay fast enough, we can go look at the tractors,” said Seth McCoy, calling the motivational technique “tractors on a stick,” while Eliza said she admired the “bright colors” of the antique tractors and their ability to “pull stuff.”
Everett, who aspires to be a farmer, said he likes tractors because of “how powerful they are,” although looking at the equipment he wasn’t hopeful he would be able to drive one — at least for a while.
“My legs aren’t long enough” to reach the pedals, he acknowledged, before volunteering that once when he was trying to drive the tractor at home with his grandfather he lost control and “we nearly went into the stream.”
“I’m better at driving them,” pointed out Everett’s big brother, Ellison.
Saturday’s antique tractor display was organized by the Central Vermont Tractor Club, a group of about 30 antique tractor owners who have been meeting monthly since the club’s founding in 1998 and twice a year gather their antique tractors together for a “plowing day,” said Gordon Conant, a retired dairy farmer.
With the sole exception of a slightly rusty and faded 1946 Farmall model “A” tractor, the antique tractors on display were refurbished and gleaming: a barn-red 1944 Farmall model A, an orange 1964 Allis-Chalmers model D12, an orange 1947 Case VAC, a pea-green 1949 John Deere and a two-tone, gray and orange 1948 Ford model 8N.
Conant, 85, drove his Allis-Chalmers tractor — which he bought in 1964 and is one of 12 antique tractors he owns and keeps “in a shed” — the eight miles from his home in Randolph Center to the Gifford Farmers Market early Saturday morning.
“I got into a spell there,” Conant said of his tractor-collecting habit, adding how he had “purchased three off one guy in Middlebury.”
“Buy one, fix them up, get them going,” Conant said, explaining that he admired antique tractors because “they are simple.”
“You don’t have to plug a computer into them,” he said.
Conant has been working on tractors his entire life — his father, also a dairy farmer, bought the family farm known as Pineville Farm in 1937, two months before Conant was born — but for others, the pull to own an antique tractor is rooted in their youth, said Ronald Schoolcraft, a longtime member of the Central Vermont Tractor Club.
Schoolcraft, 82, owner of the Ford 8N, attaches a bush hog onto it and cuts around the edge of his field. Retired from the Vermont National Guard, Schoolcraft said the gasoline-powered engine of his antique tractor reminds him of the 1930s tractor his grandfather used.
“It’s the sound,” he said.