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Tractors & Art

Published: Tuesday, July 15, 2014 11:28 a.m. CST • Updated: Wednesday, July 16, 2014 11:25 a.m. CST

The corn was a sight to behold, standing thick, proud and tall, reaching for the sky, tassels sticking up like priests carrying crosses, ready to pollinate the girlish silk below. The fields of green were like a living, breathing entity next to the line of colorful tractors popping and banging by, red, green, orange. At break stops, the drivers talked in hushed tones, as if saying it too loud would bring a jinx. “There’ll be pockets that bring 300 bushels to the acre.” Heads nod, eyes under the bills of seed-corn and tractor caps, search the sky.

This was my third antique tractor ride, all on borrowed tractors. I was with the Three Rivers Tractor Club from Lee County. The tractor I was driving was a 1959 Farmall W400, the “W” indicating it had a wide front end, rather than narrow. This big red machine belonged to Leon Dobson of Donnellson. It had been his father’s first new tractor. Before his father passed away, Leon had restored it as a gift for his father.  It still runs proud and true. Leon followed behind in a W4.

In addition to corn, we passed by fields of weedless soybeans and lush alfalfa. In one large field, farmers were combining wheat, and baling straw. In a flashback to my youth, I envisioned stopping and helping bale. But it was a fleeting thought, under the crystal blue sky, dotted with white puffy clouds — a perfect day for an Iowa tractor ride, the temperatures in the low 80s.                 

I looked forward to the farm-style lunch that was waiting, and the dinner that night at the Donnellson Community Center, where I would be the speaker (by default, the planned speaker had to cancel).  What would I talk about? I got it — art. After all, wasn’t this art? — beautifully contoured fields of green, rolling hills, endless sky — a picture-perfect Grant Wood.  

And writing. Think of the farm stories this group could tell — growing up on the farm, work, sweat, love, loss. But to get the stories out of them. One old boy told me he could rebuild a tractor, but couldn’t write a story. Talk about how to draw the reader in, use of metaphor, the elements of a story. How to get a newspaper interested in your writing.

And photography. In this digital age, they all had the capabilities of taking beautiful pictures. Go out on a weekend and take a thousand pictures on their own farm — there’s bound to be a couple of award winners in there.

And how to make sculptures out of farm junk. They all know how to weld and cut. They all have piles of rusty farm junk lying around. Give it life — a way to preserve the equipment of old, miniature museums of history, instead of scrap.

Invite them to my art reception in Ft. Madison the following night. Talk about the Singer-Sewing-Machine tractor, the barbwire bird’s nest, the hay-hook spider. Poetry in motion. Life is art. Make a fool of myself. I’ve done it before, I’ll do it again.

At the end of the day, the 45 (give or take) tractors returned to Donnellson, and the Lee County Fair grounds. It was county fair time. We had been through Lake Geode State Park, West Point, Denmark, Sawyer, Franklin and Lowell, all of those arms waving from fields and farms, caps lifted off of white heads over sunburned jaws.  

The bright lights of the fair’s midway welcomed us. But before entering, we traveled a final loop through the nursing-home parking lot. More arms waving, many from wheelchairs. Some of these folks had been on these very tractors, and watched the same fields of green meld with the same blue sky. Good dreams for all. I love you, beautiful Iowa.      

Have a good story? Call or text Curt Swarm in Mt. Pleasant at (319) 217-0526, email him curtswarm@yahoo.com or visit his website at www.empty-nest-words-photos-and-frames.com. Curt also records his stories on www.lostlakeradio.com.

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