Quick. Pop quiz: what’s free, fun for all ages, and brings neighbors and friends together for a half-day of loud, smoky excitement? Answer? The East Charlotte Tractor Parade!
After an invitation to ride from Carrie Spear its founder and principle organizer, who owns Spear’s Store on Spear Street, I fired up my 41-year-old John Deere 2240 diesel. My stepdaughter, Phoebe, lettered a sign with the tractor’s year and model. And I wrestled the beast into 8th gear to wobble off at its top-speed of 9MPH towards East Charlotte.
As I chugged into Dave Nichols’ Fodder Farm from Spear Street, I entered a long line of tractors gathering in a back field to be lined up by size and age.
On arrival, I could smell food and hear music coming from a steel barn. Inside, I encountered two antique light planes, a combine the size of a two-storey house, and a buffet of hotdogs, beans, lasagna, cider, coffee and milk. Music pulsed from a local band with several familiar faces. The lead singer, a woman of a certain age, belted out the opening lines of “Ghost Riders in the Sky,” as she played lead guitar and vamped with the audience.
After listening for a bit, I grabbed a free hotdog and greeted neighbors as they lined up. Liv, my 2-year-old granddaughter and her parents had hiked into the back field and were already chatting up Jessica, the driver ahead of me. To Liv’s excitement, Jessica, fifteen and wearing a diamond tiara, was driving a 65-year-old International Cub tractor with a cutting bar – an unheard-of sight in Liv’s current hometown of Brooklyn. Liv asked us if she could drive a tractor in the parade someday and was assured she could.
Then 135 drivers fired up gas and diesel engines ranging from 8 to 270 horsepower and the tractors lurched forward in their driver’s chosen gear. They ranged in size from a massive New Holland with a cab that looked more like a studio apartment and tires taller than me to venerable ride-on lawnmowers driven by kids and geezers preferring tractors to bicycles or wheelchairs.
The image of 135 tractors winding slowly through a two-track dirt farm road on a clear, warm fall day resplendent with color is unforgettable.
Before hundreds of cheering fans of all ages, the parade advanced several hundred yards through downtown East Charlotte. Kids signaled drivers to sound their horns. Several tractors pulled wagons or gussied-up manure spreaders where families perched on hay bales or rockers.
We rendezvoused at theDentonfarm where families wandered among the collection of Deeres, Olivers, Fords, New Hollands, Internationals, Kubotas or the rare Cockshutt or Gravely, some taking pictures of their kids astride the machines.
Driving home, listening to a radio program in which members of Congress were compared to spoiled children, I thought to myself, “what a terrible disservice to the children I’d seen at the East Charlotte Tractor Parade.”