EAST CHARLOTTE, Vt. — Dale and Alice Hyerstay can thank their 1940 Farmall A for keeping them warm and cozy this winter.
Dale still uses the 79-year-old machine to haul firewood.
It was among 144 such vehicles, some dating to the 1930s, taking part in the 19th annual East Charlotte Tractor Parade on Sunday, Oct. 13, with more than 1,000 spectators on hand.
“The neat thing about this parade is that the town’s location is such that it draws tractors from a wide range including New York and New Hampshire, not just Vermont,” Dale Hyerstay said. “Most of the things you see here are really still working tractors because of how well they were made, how fundamental they are and how easy they are to operate.”
Hyerstay bought his Farmall A about 30 years ago and keeps it running smoothly with “money and lots of tender loving care.”
“Originally it would have been used for cultivating because the driver could see past the engine to see the row they were cultivating; also, some light plowing,” he said. “I use it for going into our 10 acres of woods with a splitter to harvest firewood. I’m able to split the wood right in place, pop it in the trailer and haul it in to stack to keep us warm in winter.”
The parade, founded by local grocery store owner Carrie Spear, has grown exponentially from 20 tractors the first year to this year’s total just shy of 150.
“I’m not surprised,” Spear said. “I think this event allows us a day to relax and enjoy all of our hard work.”
Plans call for an especially big 20th annual celebration next fall.
Located in Chittenden County, about 15 miles south of Burlington, Vermont’s largest city, East Charlotte is a small, rural four-corners hamlet not far from the eastern shore of Lake Champlain. In colonial times, the intersection of Spear Street and Hinesburgh Road was a major crossroads.
As settlements grew, local businesses included farms, butter creameries, a tannery and shoe shop, all anchored by the long-standing corner store established in 1797. Interpretive signage shows a historic photo of farmer George Prindle hauling butter to Burlington Market.
In no small way, the tractor parade keeps the region’s agricultural and farming heritage alive by helping new, young generations of residents enjoy the equipment used for such operations.
John Keith, 79, came from more than an hour away from Warren to drive his 1935 Case Model C in the procession.
“This tractor was the first tractor in the Mad River Valley,” he said. “This was a basket case when I got it.”
But he’s devoted countless time and energy to its restoration.
“You can’t find any parts,” Keith said. “If I need one I go to (a) machine shop and make one.”
Almost every make and model of tractor under the sun took part in the parade with well-known names such as John Deere, Allis-Chalmers, Massey-Ferguson, Ford, Oliver and Massey-Harris. The event also showed how machinery has grown in size through the years, from a small old McCormick Farmall Cub to modern large-wheeled tractors with enclosed, air-conditioned cabs.
Resident Robin Reid said the parade is increasingly important to preserving the area’s rural roots because of how quickly farms are disappearing from the local landscape.
“My husband Robert Mack’s family owned and operated the Mack Farm on Greenbush Road in Charlotte for 100 years,” she said. “Last year they dissolved their dairy herd and stopped shipping milk. ‘You can’t make money making milk’ seems to be a mantra one hears quite often among the hardworking dairymen. There are still quite a few cows and calves around the Mack Farm, but milk production has not resumed.”
“I think when the parade started there were 15 to 18 decent sized dairies,” Reid said. “Now I believe there are only two left — one premium milk producer, the Bean Farm, and an organic herd seasonally managed by Joe Donegan. In any event, the attrition of traditional dairy farms in this town is significant.”
But at the same time, new types of agriculture ventures are popping up.
“There are several sizable beef herds and probably several small herds of sheep and goats about and people who ‘pretend’ to be homesteading,” Reid said. “There are also some viable vegetable growers in the area offering CSAs and participating in farmers markets which seem to be thriving in many locations; plus a few berry farms and there are orchards in neighboring towns.”
So the tractor parade inspires this new generation of farmers by encouraging them to continue the legacy left by their forebears.
“The parade is popular because of many things, but I think people feel like they’re supporting agriculture by enjoying the parade,” Reid said. “It’s a big party for people to enjoy and have fun at. Kids love it and it’s great that so many tractors go to village the green after the parade where kids of all ages can sit on them. It’s a true social opportunity for many people who appreciate tractors on any level. They can gather and chat about tractor-related subjects, like agriculture, or just have fun with friends and family.”