Antique tractor enthusiasts share stories at winter get-together

Antique tractor enthusiasts start to fill up the shop of builder Dave Foster Saturday, Feb. 2, during an informal get-together. A video system in the upper right corner plays footage of antique tractors. DAVID PHILLIPS/SPRING VALLEY TRIBUNE
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A steady stream of antique tractor enthusiasts made their way through the fog Saturday, Feb. 2, to builder Dave Foster’s shop on County Road 12 east of Spring Valley.

The approximately 50 people who got together over the course of the day enjoyed conversation, food and information about antique tractors in the main room of the shop, which had been converted to a festive gathering place with rows of tables and chairs, a buffet line of food and a video system to show documentaries about antique tractors.

This was more than just a social gathering, though.

Organizers Foster and Kent Bezdicek said they see this as a way to help preserve the machinery, traditions, sense of community and knowledge of farming as it was done in the past.

“The engineering of these tractors is impressive. We’ve got people who don’t even know how to read an analog watch anymore. We want to make sure knowledge of these types of tractors doesn’t disappear,” Bezdicek said.

The midwinter gatherings, which Bezdicek described as “basically cabin fever relief for many of the antique tractor buddies,” started in the mid 1990s. The first one was held at the school in the shop of his father, Joe Bezdicek, who was a teacher.

A total of seven people attended that first one, which included snacks, VHS tapes of antique tractors and a lot of conversation.

When the elder Bezdicek retired, the gathering moved to the garages, on a rotating basis, of Bezdicek, Dennis Hillesland, Glen Van Grevenhof and Kenny Nelson. Van Grevenhof and Nelson are no longer alive and the planning and setup became more than the other two could handle, so it discontinued a couple years ago.

Foster and the younger Bezdicek got to talking during the antique tractor show at Ag Days last summer and decided they needed to revive this tradition.

They wanted to keep it informal — the event is word of mouth and there are no trappings of a club, such as dues or officers.

“Everyone chips in,” said Foster, who also noted people come from a wide area ranging from Fountain to LeRoy.

Although it is informal, there was quite a bit of setup, such as bringing in tables and chairs as well as getting the food prepared, something made more difficult this year with the string of subzero days that preceded the event. There was also the uncertainty of not knowing the numbers.

“Joe told me to be prepared for anywhere from three to 120 people,” said Foster.

“And he told me anything over three is a success, so we’re doing OK,” added Kent Bezdicek at 11 a.m. Saturday when several dozen people had already showed up.

Although anyone can attend the winter gathering, the Ag Days antique tractor show and parade is a key component as Foster and Kent Bezdicek also want to keep that tradition as well. The Ag Days events allow the general public to see and hear the machines from older generations.

“When the tractors go past Spring Valley Living in the parade, they (the residents) relate to that,” said Foster, who drives a tractor in the parade. “You see them perk up as you go by.”

Hillesland, who was enjoying the food and a cup of coffee that morning surrounded by friends, noted that the gathering is not only an extension of Ag Days, but also a way to break up the winter and continue learning.

“You can learn a lot here, even at my age,” he quipped. “I still have a two-cylinder in my shed, too.”

Foster noted that socialization was a big part of farming in the past, even while working, as the modern high tech methods today get away from that. He also hopes these events help pass on knowledge of that era to the generations coming up.

For the people attending, though, it was more about getting together, sharing stories and enjoying each other’s company for part of a day.

“There is a genuine sense of community here,” said Kent Bezdicek. “We want to make sure that doesn’t go away.”