One wild ride: Tractorcade sets record
The air buzzed.
Humming, rumbling, purring -- once the symphony of steel reached its crescendo, nothing could quiet it. Like a hive of bees at work, the mob of machines droned on as it waited for the word to go.
Bill Markus sat atop the metal version of a farmer's best friend, listening to his engine grumble and growl.
"Nice day for a ride, don't ya think?" he asked.
Then, with an eye on the tractor in front of him, Markus pushed the clutch and tapped the throttle.
"Here's where the fun begins," he said as the wheels rolled to life.
'Way of life'
Monday marked the 10th anniversary for the Great Eastern Iowa Tractorcade, and a record number of tractors gathered at the Dubuque County Fairgrounds with a common purpose -- to joyride from Dubuque to Dyersville, Iowa, and back again. The tractorcade continues today and Wednesday.
Tractorcade officials said 509 tractors registered, while previous years' participation peaked around 450.
Markus sat on tractor No. 508, the second-to-last in a parade that stretched for miles.
Tractors run in the Dubuque resident's blood just as diesel pumps through his 1468 Farmall. He retired from John Deere after a long career of heat-treating sprockets, and he handled machines while growing up on his family farm.
"It's a way of life," he said.
'Different sort of club'
Some sport denim overalls. Others wear button-up shirts snipped off at the shoulder. Almost everyone wears a hat, whether it be of the straw, cowboy or baseball variety. Some wear earplugs to block the noise, while others practically press their ears to the engine to hear it purr.
"We tractor people are a different sort of club," said Darold Sindt, of Keystone, Iowa. "For a lot of us, tractors are all we've ever done."
Retired Ainsworth, Iowa, farmer Pat Tobin said there's nowhere else he'd rather be.
With 12 years and 7,000 miles of tractorcading beneath his belt, Tobin admits he has a bit of a romance with the riding. In fact, his own love life has been improved by the events.
He and his wife, Betty, spent their 50th wedding anniversary on a tractorcade.
"Everybody's here to have a good time, to forget their troubles," she said.
Rivalries put aside
The wind whipped through Markus' tractor cab, and the machine's roar mingled with country music.
This was Markus' first time driving in the event, although he had served on a support team for at least seven years.
"I like driving," he said. "There's so much scenery."
Tire swings, tree houses and telephone poles pass by, as do banks and barns. Just as Markus views a colorful canvas, so do those who have settled in for the show.
Tractors come in orange, blue, yellow, red and green. Brands include such well-known names as International, John Deere, Oliver, Ford, Farmall and Allis-Chalmers.
Brands matter little, though.
"Those rivalries are put aside today," said John Saddler, of Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
Not everyone agrees.
Seven-year-old Nate Glandorf made it clear where his loyalties stood.
"John Deere's my favorite," he said.
'A family reunion'
Tom McClain traveled from his home in Phoenix for this.
"It's not so much the event as it is the people," he said. "It's like a family reunion."
McClain and Markus grew up next door to each other and could just about be brothers, if shared childhood stories mean anything. Together the two men embarked on Monday's 50-mile trek.
Cruising speed averaged 16 miles per hour, although a few bursts brought the speedometer as high as 26. It was a feat Markus' father would have celebrated.
LaVern Markus purchased the 1468 Farmall in 1972. It was the last piece of farm equipment he'd buy brand new.
The machine sat idle after LaVern passed away in 2002, but his son inherited passion along with possession of the tractor. By the end of 2003, Markus had restored the tractor.
"It's a way of remembering him," he said.
Each minute spent Monday on the tractor brought back memories of LaVern.
"He would have liked it," Markus said. "I'm glad I got to do this for him, both restoring the tractor and driving it today."