Putt — putt — cough — putt — putt — cough ...
The little John Deere engine, the workhorse of old farms for everything from running threshing machines to pumping water, chugged away at the entrance of the Payson Farmers Market on Saturday surrounded by vintage tractors.
Beautifully restored Kelly green and yellow John Deeres, bright red Farmall and IH (International Harvester), red-orange Allis-Chalmers and Massey-Harris antique brands of tractors stood in a line, polished to perfection.
Groups of onlookers gathered to admire the simplicity of the machines with their exposed parts — no air conditioned king cabs here, the farmers who used these machines worked outside in the elements.
Paul Beard, a tall white-haired and bearded man stood in front of the tractors in blue and white pinstriped overalls and an old engineer hat with the IH patch on the front.
Beard’s neighbors often see him exercising his tractors around the neighborhood. One of his neighbors, Lorian Roethlein from the Payson Farmers Market, invited Beard and his friends from the Rim Country Tractor Club to add depth to the National Farmers Market Week celebration.
For Beard, the tractors bring back memories.
He grew up on a small farm in South Carolina. His family raised beef cattle, hogs, chickens, turkeys, corn, oats and peanuts.
“Your life was different on the farm. You raised your own food. We had a garden. If you wanted fish, you fished for it,” said Beard.
Beard entered the Navy and left farming for 50 years. He missed it. The tractors help to bring back the memories of his childhood.
“You’ve got memories … There’s something about farming people — you’re not involved with city life,” said Beard.
Suddenly a lady gushed, “My grandpa had a tractor like that. I used to drive it all over!”
Beard smiled. “Lots of people come to buy at our shows. Most all have been around farming,” said Beard.
In the past, most Americans lived on farms; now, only 2 percent do. Between 1950 and 1997, the number of farms in the U.S. declined dramatically from 5.4 million to 1.9 million, according the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Those numbers created a lot of people with a lot of memories.
Beard owns six farm-sized tractors and two small tractors. Growing up on the farm he learned to repair his machines, but still appreciates help now and then, he said.
That’s one of the benefits of belonging to the Rim Country Tractor Club — helping hands.
“We meet every Thursday morning at the Early Bird Café in Pine for breakfast. We chat about who needs help and where we’re going next,” said Beard.
The club is part of the Northern Arizona Tractor and Engines Antique Association which belongs to the National Early Day Gas Engine and Tractor Association (http://edgeta.com/). The national organization started in 1957 to stimulate interest in collecting, restoring, preserving, and exhibiting gas and oil engines.
The Rim Country Tractor Club doesn’t have a formal board or elected officers, but the members of the club consider Randy Ahrens the most official of the bunch. He belongs to the Northern Arizona Tractor and Engines Antique Association as well as the Mile High Tractor Club from Flagstaff.
Ahrens didn’t grow up on a farm, but his dad and uncle had a garage in Missouri where he remembers spending time with farmers and their tractors. It’s those memories of the farmers that keep Ahrens involved.
For the last few years, Ahrens and the group have gone to the Gila County Fair. One year he remembers an old man in his 90s who slowly shuffled up to his tractor. He asked if Ahrens would do him a favor, “Would you please start it up for me?”
Ahrens happily complied and when he looked back at the old man, tears rolled down his cheeks.
“I’ll never forget that,” said Ahrens.