7/20/2013 7:00 AM
By Miles Jackson N.J. Correspondent
COLUMBUS, N.J. — More than 50 vintage tractors took part in the Central Jersey Tractor Pullers Association’s 3rd Annual Tractor Run last Sunday.
Some were restored to showroom perfection while others wore the dirt and dents from active duty in the fields of Burlington County’s still vibrant farming community.
The parade, featured as the kick-off of the county’s weeklong fair, drew small crowds along the route, which took the tractors through a number of small communities along the Delaware River.
And each tractor had a story, mostly about once-young farmers and their first object of affection, whether it be an Allis Chambers, Farmall or John Deere.
Karen Hardy drove a 1964 John Deere 3020 Diesel, complete with dents and dings from hard service but sporting a fresh coat of John Deere Green with yellow lettering hand-painted over the original factory decals.
“I told my father I was painting it for this and he cried,” Hardy said. “But when we’re done here, it’ll be back in the field tomorrow.”
Although the tractor technically belongs to her father, Burlington County dairyman Wayne Shontz, Hardy said the 3020 is “my tractor.”
“I’ve been driving it since I was 9,” Hardy said. “I’m 45 now and I still love it. Because it’s a diesel, it doesn’t hesitate when we’re filling silo like a gas engine does.”
“It may look rough, but it still runs strong,” Hardy said. “And it’s still my baby.”
Roger Armstrong is a few years older and his tractor, a 1954 Farmall M-TA, is no longer in service as a workhorse on his family’s farm.
“My dad bought it just when I was getting out of school,” Armstrong said of the nearly 60-year-old machine, which was as spotless as the day it was delivered. “He gave it to me and I’ve taken care of it ever since.”
“She doesn’t do any field work anymore, but she still runs strong,” Armstrong said, imbuing the tractor with a feminine identity.
Some connections between tractors and farm youth were still forming.
Chase Kniesoer, 13, sat before the run on a John Deere B many decades older than him, lacking one prerequisite for participation in the run — a valid New Jersey driver’s license.
“My uncle owns it, but I’m already looking for a tractor to fix up,” Kniesoer said. “I get my farm permit in three years and I’ll be ready.”
The association is opening the fair with its tractor run for the third year, according to its president, Brian Pearson.
The first year, the route took the run from the new fairgrounds just outside Columbus to the old fairgrounds a little farther east. Last year’s run was in honor of the nation’s armed serves, with the route going through the county’s military installation, McQuire Air Force Base.
This year, the run went through the small, working-class neighborhoods along the Delaware River and the mostly rural communities in between.
“It’s a nice way to start off the fair,” Pearson said. “And it’s just something we want to do, something to see a different part of the county each year.”
This year’s event saw sunny skies, something Pearson said had been in short supply this year.
“It’s been a tough year for us to just get in the fields,” Pearson said. “The past three weeks have been especially bad. We need something like this to lift our spirits.”
Along the route, Bob and Laura Engling watched the parade in front of their small farm with a stand where tomatoes and beans are sold on the honor system.
Son-in-law Tom Bruce and daughter Valerie Bruce, who were visiting for the day, said not much had changed in the small community of Springfield Township where they both were raised.
“We like it the way it is,” said Tom Bruce. “We don’t want it to change any more.”
Bob Engling said the changes may have been small, but he noted that the area isn’t the small farming community it had been years ago.
“I’d like it to stay the way it was 50 years ago,” he said. “It may not have changed much, but it has changed.”
“There’s still a quite a few farms left here, but not as many as there were years ago,” Engling said. “And seeing these old tractors, well, it brings back many a fond memory.”
Which is exactly what the Central Jersey Tractor Pullers Association intended.