Why Didn’t I Drive a Tractor?

Written quickly on the evening of Saturday June 8th:

I titled this “2024 Tractor Drive Reflections” and yikes I am not loving that. Will need to re-title. But first, I must write about my day as quick as I can. Well, maybe first I should tell you what the Tractor Drive is. It has taken me many years to piece this together because honestly at first it was the quirkiness that drew my curiosity: a bunch of antique tractor enthusiasts driving their tractors very slowly across the region. So weird! So unusual! And so… meditative? Community building? Yes and yes.

Drivers head to their tractors at 9:30am on the village main street!

I was amused, and intrigued. Around this time I learned that a co-worker knew all about this Tractor Trek thing because his grandpa had a tractor and needed someone to drive it. So he drove his grandpa’s tractor, every year. The year in which I realized this was a Thing, he told me that it rained the whole time. What an adventure!

What Rachel and I saw, looking out of the windshield, right before we started driving.

I still didn’t understand the point, though. But I do now. The point is to raise money for the Mennonite Heritage Village and Eden Mental Health. Up until now, the Tractor Trek has been a joint venture with both organizations splitting the funds raised. This year Eden has changed gears and the MHV has forged ahead solo, however 15% of funds raised still went to Eden because mental health is so important.

We just met! And knew we would spend the day together and have a great time. I was going to take another pic at the end of the day of us looking all disheveled (for comparison’s sake) but totally forgot!

The drive takes all day. Depending on your tractor, it could be a difficult journey. But even those who have trouble with their antique find it is well worth the effort of showing up, because people will always help you out, and it just adds to the sense of adventure and community. One young chap we spoke with was doing the drive with his grandpa and father. Last year he had only joined them for half of the day, and wanted to go the full day this year. He loved it!

Tractor Drive leaving the MHV via the back road.

I also noticed for the first time this year, a woman was driving a tractor. Which once again raises the question: why can’t I? Another woman echoed this query, stating that she did most of the tractor-driving on their farm so why wasn’t she the one behind the wheel? She determined that next year she would do it. And I realized the reason I haven’t done it is because I haven’t taken the initiative. I guess I am expecting the tractor to come to me, but that is not how this works. Also, there is a fundraising component, with the goal to raise $1000 per tractor. I have never raised money before. I think this would be a worthy way in which to try. Thing is, this requires advance planning and commitment. I should put this in my calendar for next year, already.

Between golf course, airport, and fields, the tractors drive around the bend. I tried to take pictures but knew I was failing to capture it.

So what was my involvement this year, then? Navigator in the lead vehicle once again. I do enjoy this task quite a lot, though I’m not sure how much value I actually bring. I am typically assured that my nattering at the driver for six hours brings plenty of value. I suspect not all would agree.

First stop, and the judges are judging.

Why do I daydream of driving a tractor myself? Because it reminds me of where I come from: a small family owned and operated dairy farm near Hochstadt, East Reserve. We were not rich. The tractors my dad had collected to help him undertake his farm and fieldwork were the kinds that I now see being driven at the MHV Tractor Drive: Massey, International, Allis. Being around these tractors as they make this drive together fills me with nostalgia, yet at the same time, it grounds me. I do wish to drive one in next year’s drive. Will I make my own wish come true?

In Ste. Anne: tractors and cemeteries. What a combo!

So today. There was a breakfast buffet at the Livery Barn Restaurant at the Mennonite Heritage Village. Those involved in the drive had a ticket for every meal, and people from the public were invited to enjoy the breakfast buffet too, for only $10, which I don’t think you could get a deal like anywhere else. After breakfast there were opening remarks from interim Executive Director Robert Goertzen, who reminded us that museums are a place to remember and connect — and I liked that, because that’s what happens every time I visit the MHV.

And then at 9:30 I climbed into the passenger seat of the Loewen Body Shop courtesy vehicle (they were a sponsor) with Communications Assistant Rachel who was the driver, and we were off, with I think it was 29 tractors behind us.

Every year the route is different.  This year we went out the south gate onto Golfair Road and west onto a private road behind the golf course that brought us to Park Road East, and from there we were on our way to Giroux via a delightful route.

I really wish I could have shown you what it looked like when I turned around to see the shiny antique tractors all puttering along behind the golf course on the tiny not-quite-a-road. It felt so novel, it looked so picturesque, I tried to lock the image into my memory. We see extraordinary moments every day but don’t always acknowledge them.

Tractors, cemeteries, and LILACS!

We made our way to Ste. Anne’s Redemptoriste Park which is so picturesque, the way the tractors naturally encircle the picnic shelter while we have lunch and locals interact with the tractor drivers. (The kids at the park and the residents from Villa Youville love seeing the tractors!)

This year the White tractor was my favourite. I have never seen one like that before! And I guess I like the 80s vibe.

Our faspa stop was Greenland. First we circled through the churchyard while the Church of God in Christ (Holdeman) had a picnic and they all came over to watch the tractors drive by. That was such a cool moment but once again I failed to capture it. There were so many church members on the grounds, and they were flocking to the parking lot to see the tractors drive through. And on such a beautiful windblown day. This Tractor Drive provides many beautiful moments that are difficult to capture.

In Greenland. As far as pictures go, this was the best I could do. I had stuck my hand out of the car window and could not see what I was taking pictures of. I wish I had been in the crowd to see the tractor parade from their perspective!

We then went to the La Cocina chip factor. Do you know these corn chips? They are the greatest. Since discovering them decades ago, no other chip comes close for me. And then to discover it’s a local product, and that sealed the deal for me. My favourite! They fed us incredibly well, and took us on a tour of their factory! They are so kind, the factory is so clean, and the food they served was so delicious — and included lots of La Cocina chips and salsa! A highlight was tasting chips directly off the line — still warm! So, so good.

Inside the factory at La Cocina!

After that we headed back towards Steinbach, steadily losing tractors as we went. Many were near their homes and wanted to get ready to return to the museum for the dinner at 6pm. There was a jolly band of us that puttered back to the MHV around 4:30, where I hopped into my own car and hurried home to reset and fetch Andrew as my dinner date. Back at the museum, we were lucky enough to be treated to a buffet of Mennonite food.

These lemon cookies were the ultimate!
I sent this picture to Andrew to make him jealous.

Listen. The cottage cheese verenki and schmauntfatt the Livery Barn Restaurant makes is the best. Yeah, I said it. It’s a fact. The best. I was so delighted by this buffet. It was also fun to see pictures of our day on the big screen, to see awards handed out, and reflect on what we had done (driven tractors… and a lead vehicle) and why we had done it (to support the MHV and Eden Mental Health).

Leaving La Cocina. Picturesque International!

There is more I could say but I am so tired now! I just wanted to get this all down before I forget.

Drivers get on their tractors, start their engines, and prepare for the last leg of the journey. Please enjoy this chaotic picture I took out of the window as Rachel and I peeled out of there.

I am grateful to the MHV for including me in this very special event, and feel grateful to all the wonderful people who participate and bring their families along for the fun.

I cannot believe that I failed to take pictures of the food at the dinner. It was so, so good.
Amazing sponsors of the Tractor Drive! Rolly Built, NPI (Natural Proteins Inc.), La Cocina, Loewen Body Shop, Unger Meats, Keystone Agri-Motive, Sobeys, and Nature’s Farm. Grateful for our community!