Square Dancing Tractors at the Pennsylvania Farm Show

January 16, 2010

The guy at U.S. Customs burst into laughter when I told him we were on our way to see the square dancing tractors at the Pennsylvania Farm Show, but he promised to look them up on You-Tube and see for himself.

The morning’s drive south on Route 81 took us from sleet to radiant sunshine and temperatures in the low 50’s.  The first thing Tom did when we arrived in Reading was get out a hose and wash the grit off our car.

Next morning, dressed in light jackets and no long underwear, off we went for the drive to Harrisburg to share the air with over 6000 animals on display in a million square feet of indoor agricultural exhibit.

Groups being what they are, our first stop was the lineups of the food court, but then we toured some equipment displays.  Lots of people crowded the huge halls, ordinary folks with young kids in strollers, enjoying the day.

We made our way to the main hall well in advance of the noon show.  I spent the next twenty minutes trying to figure out how to operate the latest credit card-sized Canon my son had left with me.   Turns out the thing’s smarter than I am, and every adjustment I made to its programming made the pictures worse.  In desperation I switched to movie mode, and tried to hold it steady as the show began and the battery gradually grew hotter and hotter in my hand.  Charlie had warned me that if I wanted to avoid making my viewers sick I would have to avoid sudden movements with the camera, so I sat rigidly and framed the activity while to my left Bet and Kate dissolved into gales of laughter at the antics of the players in the drama below.  They certainly seemed to be amused.  I vowed to check the film later and see why.

The caller sang his instructions and the drivers did their moves in the large sand-covered arena.  Tractor square dancing pivots on the ability of a row crop tractor to turn in its own length with the help of one-wheel braking.  Someone undoubtedly discovered that a pair of these machines could do a fair approximation of many square dancing moves if the drivers knew their machines and had a fair bit of skill.

Leave it to an American to organize this into a sport.  This was the fourth annual tractor square dancing competition at the Farm Show, with three teams competing.

First up were the Middlecreek Swingers from Pleasant Creek PA.  They ran Farmall Bs for the girl’s parts and a John Deere M, an Oliver 70,  two Farmalls, a C and an H, for the boy parts.  The Bs mostly had two seats, which proved handy when they started to stall at various points during the show.  The mechanic would walk out, switch seats with the driver, and have at it while the caller and the other tractors waited.  Nobody seemed in much of a hurry.  If this didn’t work, a couple of crew-members would come out and push the tractor off and another from the bull pen would take its place.

I should mention that the “girls” in the first group did consist of two women, one teenaged boy in work boots, skirt, and pink rollers over a wig, and one bald headed guy in a t-shirt driving a pink B who didn’t put much effort into his costume.  The guys wore overalls, straw hats, and often sported large white beards.

The announcer segwayed into the next act by bringing another eight tractors, the Middle Creek Tractor Dancers, on to join the first group in a 16-tractor pinwheel.  He admitted that there had been no time to practice this complex step, but started four machines off in a tight circle, then had the others come on by twos to balance the wheel as it grew.  The outside tractors were moving quite quickly as the fourth ring took its place, and one John Deere needed to get to the other side of the circle to complete the dance.  This required a burst of speed around the perimeter, wowing the audience.

This bootleg turn set the tone for the rest of the show, which became progressively less dance and more stunt driving competition.  The Roof Garden Tractor Buddies didn’t bother with a caller singing instructions.  Their announcer called the moves and these eight tractors executed them with military skill.

The prettiest tractor of the show was a 1944 Massey Harris Orchard Model whose driver obviously enjoyed the fresh engine’s throttle response.  He did do-nuts when the announcer called for pirouettes, and while his turns left me gasping, they weren’t very dance-like.  His fellow drivers seemed to enjoy seeing how close they could come to each other without sharing paint in head-on collisions.  These guys drove very well, and the tractors were exquisite restorations which ran without a hitch, but they couldn’t capture the goofy charm of the first group.

So now I have to locate a row crop tractor light enough to tow behind my truck.


2 Responses to “Square Dancing Tractors at the Pennsylvania Farm Show”

  1. deb osborne Says:

    Sounds interesting! How would a person find out about this event (if it’s being repeated)? I happen to know of a group from Ohio that dances with four John Deere & four Farmalls that actually uses women on the “girl” tractors!

  2. Faith Says:

    Have you ever thought about including a little bit more than just your articles?
    I mean, what you say is valuable and all. But think of if you added
    some great images or video clips to give your posts more, “pop”!
    Your content is excellent but with images and video clips, this blog
    could definitely be one of the very best in its field.
    Terrific blog!

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