Quirky & Meaningful: A 2020 Tractor Trek Photo Diary

I’ve written about the Tractor Trek before… but very weirdly. It took me a few years to figure out what to make of it. But one thing was for sure — I was into it. At first I was amused and confused. Then, shyly interested, watching from afar. Then, I admitted I wanted to take part!

THIS is the year! But, I wasn’t driving a tractor. Rather, I was the Navigator of this beautiful 1949 Chevy:

The 2020 Tractor Trek took place this past Saturday. Most people have never heard of this event, and their response is often rather bemused. It seems so… farmery. So agricultrey. So rural.

I’m here to tell you that yes, yes, and yes. It is all those things and that’s probably why I love it so much.

Farming’s a difficult career path. It’s the kind of work that takes a lot of heart and soul. I know, because I grew up on a dairy farm.

Tractors are a huge part of a farmer’s life. These days, modern tractors are huge. The tractors you tend to see on the Tractor Trek are the smaller, older variety — exactly like the kind of tractors my dad kept when I was a girl. It’s entirely possible that one of the Internationals, Allises, or Masseys on the Trek had once been driven by my father and had been purchased by a collector a long time ago at his Farm Auction. They all feel so familiar.

Bright and early on Saturday morning, the tractors assembled along village Main Street at the local museum, like a toy village come to life!

In my role as Navigator, I was going to assist Gary Martens by reading the map to him as we would drive 10 km/hr along gravel roads.

Gary found me enjoying breakfast at the Livery Barn Restaurant, then took me on a bit of a tour, introducing me to various Trekkers.

Gary introduced me to Herm Martens. He drives a John Deere!

Every Tractor Trek participant receives a swag bag. This year’s includes a pandemic face mask made from MHV flour bags.

Al Hamm rests before the Trek begins.

To kick off the event, we heard from Sheila Suderman representing the Eden Foundation. Eden is a mental health care organization, and the Tractor Trek is a joint fundraiser for both the Mennonite Heritage Village and Eden.

I have to be honest, the whole “fundraiser” aspect went over my head other years. Mennonites are rather understated when it comes to asking for money. You kind of just have to know that you’re expected to give. Very tricky stuff for people like me who need to be told point-blank.

It’s taken me several years to finally realize and pay attention to the fact that YES this is a fundraiser in support of mental health care. And YES you should be paying money if you participate.

“Ohhhhhhh,” I remarked to my friend who finally spelled it out for me. “The money comes from the people who drive the tractors!”

This means that the folks you see slowly driving through the countryside on Tractor Trek day are supporting this very worthy cause.

People come to Eden with a wide range of mental health issues, so Eden has developed many different facets so as to really help people and meet them where they’re at. I think it’s fantastic that the MHV partners with Eden for this fundraiser every year.

The time came and we rolled outta there, crossed at the Hwy 12 lights, and made our way to Henry Doerksen’s place for mid-morning coffee.

The tractor drivers disembarked and began milling about, looking at the tractors, comparing notes and good-naturedly teasing each other about their various driving styles. I wandered about taking pictures before Henry found me and welcomed me kindly.

Henry is evidently a John Deere collector!

Here we enjoyed homemade cinnamon buns. I devoured mine before I could take a picture. And of course, coffee.

Throughout the day, I learned that every person on the Trek had a story to tell, associated with their tractor.

The owner of this tractor passed away earlier this year. Some gents got together to drive his tractors in honour of their friend.

Then we hit the road again!

Gary drives over the Manning Canal bridge on the 206. In the distance, tractors approach.
I figured maybe I should include a selfie!

Then we arrived in New Bothwell for lunch. I asked if Bothwell Cheese was on the menu. The answer: “It better be!” (It was.)

New Bothwell mural at the community centre.
At each destination, the judges assess each tractor and touch base with each driver.
Careful around this sign!
The ’49 Chevy has the best little mirrors.

The super-slow speed (or lack thereof) allowed me to spy MANY ladyslippers in the ditches between New Bothwell and Kleefeld!

Gary suggested I take a picture of the speedometer: 10 kilometres an hour, steady all day!

When we reached Kleefeld, we had to stop and collect ourselves before crossing the 216.

Andrew was on the other side, waiting with our nieces and nephew to wave to the Trekkers!

Andrew also took this picture of the Trekkers as they passed him by:

Our next stop was Unger Meats, just south of Mitchell.

Gary and Rolly discuss the Trek.

It almost felt like a social distancing festival at this stop, with many folks stopping in to say hi to their favourite Tractor Trekkers.

I caught Henry Doerksen mid-laugh, this certainly captures the spirit of the day!

A highlight of my day was meeting Peter Martens, who was driving this 1950 Ferguson. He had been in line behind me at lunch, and I had asked him how many years he’d been driving in the Tractor Trek. “This is my first year!” he declared, and quickly told me that he planned to always drive in the Tractor Trek from now on. His only regret is not joining sooner.

I asked Peter which tractor he was driving. He answered, “The ugliest one!” (To be honest, it’s actually my favourite.)

He told me that when he was seven years old, he and his brother would drive a little tractor three miles to school each day. So, when he was older, he set out to find a tractor similar to the one he had driven when he was a small boy. I asked him if driving this tractor makes him feel like he’s seven years old again. His eyes lit up and he was quick to answer, “yes!”

Peter said that he hadn’t had time to make his tractor all shiny and fancy this year, but he still figured he’d drive it anyway. He plans to have it restored in time for the 2021 Tractor Trek!

The Trekkers gathered to hear MHV Director Gary Dyck’s closing words, explaining that this year there will be no awards banquet following the Tractor Trek, because of the pandemic. Hopefully it will happen later this year.

Here at our Unger Meats faspa stop, we enjoyed fresh-baked schnetje with tangy rhubarb jam. And more coffee!

And then we were off for the final leg of our journey. At this point I was getting a little tired and was not as chatty with Gary anymore. He was probably relieved.

Crossing Hwy 52 is a little nerve-wracking.

As we turned off Twin Creek Road, I turned to take one final picture of the Tractor Trek. At this point many of the Trekkers went straight home to Blumenort. I expect to see them next year, when I join their ranks.

Thanks for letting me tag along, Gary, Robert, and everyone at the MHV!

To learn more about Eden by visiting their website, please click here.