Indiana’s Antique Tractor Shows

The Tri-State Gas Engine and Tractor Show, held each year in Jay County, is the world’s largest.

By Cathy Shouse

If the difference between men and boys is the size of their toys, the enthusiastic promoters of the tractor shows across Indiana are ahead of the pack. As we head into the season for all things tractor shows, their blood is running as high as the engines they love.

Chris Englehardt is president of the Tri-State Gas Engine and Tractor Association, Inc. which will host the 54th annual show of the same name, slated for August 20-24 at the Jay County Fairgrounds in Portland. Just $5 for a one-day ticket gets you a front-row view. Plus, if you arrange to join, bring your own tractor, engine or related thingamajig to register and display, you can join the action on the ground. Spring for 10 bucks to camp on-site. “We’re the largest in the world and are world-renowned,” Englehardt said. “People have come from all over, including the Netherlands, England, and Canada. Also Australia, France and Belgium. We own over one hundred acres that are wooded so we have trees sprinkled throughout and it’s scenic. We’re always updating our facilities, like our Expo Hall most recently.”

Mark and Sharon Polk, from Hadley, Michigan, have been coming to the Jay County event for 25 years.

The massive event typically attracts from 2,500 to 3,000 gas engine entries to explore—known as “hit and miss engines”—in addition to 400 to 600 antique tractors of all makes.

Al Confer is a former association president for the Jay County event for nine years and has been involved since 1990. Tractor mania is in his veins and he attended a Florida flywheel engine show in February.

He continues to volunteer for all the work that needs done, and has made lifelong friendships with visitors and fellow workers.

The Tri-State Gas Engine and Tractor show features 150 antique and crafts dealers.

“At one time, we figured there were about 96,000 go through the gates,” Confer said. “We open the gates three weeks before and some people spend two weeks with us helping us put it together. I had a guy come from Australia. He told me at that time it cost him $6,000. He invited me to go to their shows in Australia and he would take us around. He told me once ‘I owe you an apology. To come here I had to know somebody in the (United) States and I gave ’em your name.’”

The event draws fans of all ages, and also features 150 antique dealers and craft dealers, nightly entertainment, and food vendors. For more information: www.tristategasenginetractor.com

Of about fifty tractor shows offered annually throughout the state, the Franklin County Antique Machinery Club hosts another favorite. The 25th anniversary show will be held from September 26th through the 29th in Brookville at the county fairgrounds.

The Historical Power Show in Fulton County features Tractor Olympics, parade, vendors, food, toy show, museum, and more.

President Dale Hertel, 73, is an avid collector and also rebuilds tractors. Like many others who grew up in farming communities, tractors represent good memories for him. Looking through family scrapbooks often turns up photos with a man with his tractor. And many a farm boy had a cut-up, decorated tractor cake on his birthday.

“I have ten Oliver tractors that I restored myself,” Hertel said. “I restore antique tractors for other people … What I like to restore for myself are Olivers because that’s what my dad had. Restoring a tractor’s a sentimental value for a lot of people.”

Power from the Past Antique Engine & Tractor show, in Winamac, is one of the area’s largest power shows.

Last year’s Franklin County event showcased International brands and this year’s spotlight will be on Allis Chalmers Tractors plus Stover Engines.

“About ten to fifteen thousand people come through in four days,” Hertel said. “Last year we had almost 700 tractors on display.” For more information: www.fcamc.org

Over in the town of Elnora, with a population of approximately 650, the White River Valley Antique Association Show is spread over 60+ acres and attendance numbers are a significant achievement. Their 35th event is September 5-8.

An entire village setting adds to visitor enjoyment, including a custom built, covered bridge for golf carts to travel through, a row of buildings that looks like a boardwalk, a train depot and a hardware that was built new last year. Like all tractor shows, there are demonstrations of the engines as they were used in the past. One unique item is a Fairbanks Morse, 10-cylinder engine brought from Cape Canaveral.

The Winimac event brings collectors and farmers from all over the Midwest.

Bill Bayes, 76, is president of the Elnora event. “On Saturdays, we have ten or twelve thousand people there. It’s amazing,” Bayes said.

“I think it’s the desire that people have to see how things were done in the old days. When they hear any of those big engines fire up, they run to see them.” For more information: www.wrvaa.org

At the Power from the Past Antique Engine & Tractor show, collectors and farmers alike from all over the Midwest come together in Winamac for one of the area’s largest power shows. Collectors bring in steam-power tractors, old gas-powered tractors, and many now obsolete brands that contributed a vital piece of our farming history. Hear the remarkable sounds of hit-and-miss engines, fall in love with the smell of a chugging steam engine, and even witness square- dancing tractors!

Also featured during the four- day event include a 130-vendor flea market, garden tractors, threshing displays, saw, shingle, and grist mills, children’s games, old craft and artisan demonstrations, a quilt show, a collectible motorcycles exhibit, live entertainment, games, food and more. The show runs July 18-21. For more information: www.winamacpowershow.com

In Fulton County, their annual Historical Power Show features Tractor Olympics, parade, flea, swap & craft vendors, food vendors, toy show, museum, and more. Since 2003, the Historical Power Show showcases hundreds of antique tractors, hit–n-miss engines, vintage garden tractors, antique equipment and trucks, tractor games, demonstrations of many old-time machines, and steam engines to power a 1910 sawmill while sawing logs. This year’s event takes place June 14- 16 at the Fulton County Historic Society Grounds in Rochester.

Admission is just $3 and kids under 12 are free. For more information: www.fultoncountyhistory.org

The 37th Annual Leota Country Frolic Festival, August 23 and 24 in Scott County, has an Antique Tractor and Garden Tractor Show showcasing 130 antique and garden tractors including 80-85 full-sized antique tractors. Most are from the 1940s and 1950s. You’ll also find antique farm trucks, cars, farm implements, and a small selection of horse-drawn implements. The entire festival is free. For more information: www.greatscottindiana.com

Confer of Jay County said his interest has not waned through his many decades of involvement. “It’s still fun. I still have a good time. I spent a month last August there.”

If you go to a tractor show, better beware of getting hooked. The excitement rolling off the owners of these big boy toys might just be contagious.

If you love antique tractors, you’ll love this too!

From a farm field to one of the largest operating collections of steam-powered equipment in the Midwest, the Hesston Steam Museum will host their 63rd Annual Labor Day Weekend Steam and Power Show. It’s an educational event, but packed with fun for the whole family as you experience steam train rides in addition to the many different turn-of-the-century demonstrations of steam power.

Attractions at the show include riding behind their 67-ton 1929 Shay logging locomotive, a replica 1900’s train depot, a steam-powered sawmill the LaPorte County Courthouse’s first electric generator plant, three sizes of trains on three different track routes that you can ride, and more. There are also food vendors, arts and crafts, flea market and other culinary options including Doc’s Soda Fountain at the museum. For more information: www.hesston.org