A purple cow - maybe. But a brightly gleaming full-size purple vintage farm tractor? Never until Sunday.
“I saw it out there, and I thought, ‘Boy, that must have been some party,’” Orion Samuelson, longtime WGN farm radio personality, said of the 64-year-old International H tractor, resplendent in its magnificent coat of deep purple enamel, at the 10th annual Heritage Tractor Adventure at the Grundy County Fairgrounds.
“That tractor was a rust bucket when we got it,” owner Russ Tjarks of Sibley, Ill., noted of the eye-catcher, which he had on display for a cause — the Polk County Relay for Life Cancer Drive.
“Purple is a cancer color, so we made a purple tractor and named it Purple Cancer Eater. The color and name fit the drive.”
Tjarks bought two IH tractors two years ago, and donated one to the Prairie Central FFA Chapter, of which his granddaughter is a member. The chapter repainted their tractor in IH red, then raffled it off as a fundraising venture. Next they painted Tjarks’ tractor purple as a token of appreciation.
There’s a reason in Tjarks’ life for the purple tractor. He lost his sister to cancer seven years ago. She’d had the disease five years before succumbing.
“I promised my sister I would have a drive in her honor to collect for cancer, and I got connected with Relay for Life,” he said. “I thought the first drive would raise $500, and it brought in $1,200. Last year we turned in $11,200. Money is still tight this year, so I don’t know how the drive will turn out.”
Everett Bower of Greenwood, Ill., skidded to a stop on his heels when he spotted the purple tractor.
“I have a Farmall Super H, but its red,” he said. “This purple one is really cool. What a nice thing.”
A lifelong farmer like his father and his grandfather before him, Bower is participating in the HTA, which ends Wednesday. He’s riding in memory of his brother, whom he lost in a car accident in front of his parents’ home in 1974.
“My dad went through some depression over that,” Bower said. “All his brothers and sisters came to help on the farm, and got him through it. Then he died three years later on the same date as my brother, on July 2, 2007.
Bower is riding his father’s tractor in this year’s run in his memory, and that of his brother.
There were 218 vintage farm tractors registered for this year’s ride to Ottawa and Streator in La Salle County, and Carbon Hill in Grundy County.
The ride is based at the fairgrounds on Illinois 47, just north of Morris. The grounds are open each evening for the public to enjoy the tractors and chat with the drivers.
“It goes back to their roots,” Morris resident Ron Hibler, an HTA staff volunteer, noted of the many people who enjoy seeing and collecting vintage farm tractors.
“They remember when their grandpa or dad had one. And, it’s amazing the mix of people who we have here. It’s not farmers alone, but carpenters, lawyers, doctors — all kinds of people. Just amazing.”
As he has from when the first HTA got off the ground in 2001, ag publishing personality and broadcaster Max Armstrong, who partners with Samuelson in his regular Saturday WGN farm show, is leading this year’s run as the parade marshal.
The HTA trekked the highways and byways 80 miles on Monday to the La Salle County 4-H Fairgrounds in South Ottawa, before returning to home base. Today’s run was to Streator and return, a distance of about 100 miles. The run Wednesday is to take in the museum at Carbon Hill off Illinois 113 in Grundy County. The run will close with a luncheon and awards ceremony.
Armstrong celebrated his birthday on Monday’s run. He said it was a pleasure to see so many drivers from the previous runs taking part once again.
“It’s kind of a homecoming for many. I’m delighted to see so many folks coming along with us this year, given that fuel is so expensive, and that some folks are challenged with planting, and replanting, and replanting their crops because of the rain,” he said.
“Everything was late this year. Also, the economy on the whole is still tough with the high unemployment, and that affects some of the folks who come along with us. Everything put together, I’m just thrilled to see the real good turnout that we have.”
Don Phillips of Gardner, son of former Grundy County Sheriff Gary Phillips, grew up on an Allis-Chalmers farm just south of Morris. His father farmed the land before he became a deputy sheriff, then sheriff.
“I’d always wanted an Allis/Chalmers. I found one by Streator, and my wife kept telling me we weren’t getting it. Right after my birthday, she asked if the tractor was still there. She said, ‘Let’s take a ride.’ A friend went with us to check it over because I’d never gotten an antique tractor before. We bought it,” he said.
This is the third year for his tractor to be in the HTA. After Wednesday’s ride is finished, Phillips will take another tractor home with him, too.
“This guy came in the fairgrounds Sunday with an Allis/Chalmers that had a for sale sign,” Phillips said. “He had a nice price on it, and said it was firm. I said, ‘Then take the sign off the tractor and I’ll write you a check. I wrote him the check this morning.”
Phillips said his wife arrived to the fairgrounds Sunday evening, checked out the tractor, and said she wanted it.
“She wants to drive it,” he said. “So, after the HTA ride is over, it’s going home with us.”
During Sunday’s Noon at Night Show, Samuelson told the audience about flying from his home in Huntley to Morris and noticing the many lakes left in the fields by the recent rains.
“There’s a lot more lakes out here than there were two years ago,” he said. “A lot of farmers are wondering if they should replant their crops for the third time. One farmer waited 26 days after planting for his corn to come up.”
Morris Mayor Dick Kopczick briefly spoke of the weekend entertainments available in the city. He was twitted by Samuelson for all the standing water on the fairgrounds that made parking of vehicles difficult and probably cut into attendance at the show.
“Mayor, did you have a water skiing contest out here on the lakes?” Samuelson said.