When I lived in Russia, my mother sent me a black and white postcard of the East Charlotte Tractor Parade. “See what you’re missing!” she wrote on it. Well, this year, at the 15th annual parade on October 11, I found out.
I volunteered my brother Craig to drive my father’s early 1980s Kubota 1720, which he assured me was in fighting-fit shape. She likely hadn’t done much more than 800 RPM under my father’s direction—he’d take her slow and steady from the woodpile to the house or occasionally drag a befallen log out of the woods—but she was ready, Craig said. Ahyut.
In preparation for the trip, and to make it the first official participatory delegation from The Charlotte News, Craig and I strapped The Charlotte News banner to the bucket, ready to make a triumphant entrance into Baptist Corners as the one true “Voice of the Town.” I had also commandeered a smattering of Charlotte News swag—hats and magnets—to be shared with our adoring fans. It was all starting to take shape in my head. It was going to be great.
Craig, never one for the public eye, fashioned a Bunten-size pumpkin helmet to take on the persona of the infamous Pumpkin Man. (Background: At the traditional CCS Halloween parade, Pumpkin Man comes out of the woods for a spooky moment before going back to his ancestral home on Pease Mountain.)
So off we went with Pumpkin Man at the wheel. My girlfriend, Marissa, and I stood on a brush hog on the back, bumbling through Quinlan Bridge, up the S-curve, past Robert Marble bucking up his logs. Fuller Mountain and Philo popped from the horizon like brush fires with a mackerel sky smoldering above them. Camel’s Hump made an occasional appearance over the layers of mountainous understory. Marissa and I practiced our “queen’s wave” on a few runners who kindly reciprocated. We were ready as we’d ever be.
At about 11:50 a.m. we turned up Morningside Drive at the Nichols Farm and took our place on the staging ground. We caught some lunch, thankfully provided by the Grange, and then took to looking around.
Lindsay Longe and Chris Mack of Charlotte were busy setting up a hay wagon for passengers young and old. Dale Knowles, owner of Mow! Mow! Mow!, was hanging around a John Deere 8400 he said he’d borrowed from the Mack Farm. His wife was in the cabin soaking up the scene with her dog.
A few young bucks standing around a hard-ridden 1972 Farmall 656 (gas) in beat-up Carhartt suits reminded me of a time gone by. If it wasn’t for the fancy new tractor in the background or the baseball hats and sunglasses, the picture could have been from the 1940s. Jared Hubbell (New Haven), Josh Parks (New Haven), Colby Trudeau (Essex), and Jon Birkett (Ferrisburgh) said they’d been coming for about four to five years. What brings them back? They get to see people they don’t usually see.
Bill Schubart added a local celebrity flair to the occasion. He had his whole family there, including a steadfast 1972 John Deere 2240 diesel. “What I love is that there’s no money in this,” Schubart said. “It’s just people and community.”
Scott Wilson from Heavenly Honey Apiaries had a display of beekeeping set up behind his lawn mower at the front of the staging area. He mused on how the occasion wouldn’t be possible without bees but also how the large-scale production of honey in Vermont wouldn’t be possible without farm crops.
Walter Welch of Shoreham and Dennis Benoit of Addison shot the breeze next to their 1956 Allis Chalmers D-14 with a modified Buick engine in it. They’d been coming for four years now. “It’s just a great community,” Benoit said.
Nicoli Pughe, an 8th grader at CCS, and his dad, Charlie Pughe, were ready at the wheel of a stout, red, Italian Antonio Carraro tractor. They’d been coming for four years and always looked forward to seeing the community out in the town.
As I finished speaking with Nicoli, an excited bluster of diesel and gas fumes started to build in the field. There wasn’t much of a call to arms (maybe next year they should start the occasion with some bagpipes?), but everyone knew it was time to start the parade.
As we rolled back across Morningside Drive, every tractor made a different sputtering sound, cranking over the best it could for its age. A breeze was up to move the fumes and shake the wild autumn leaves. The Charlotte News banner was waving out on the bucket, and we were ready to shovel in some community fun.
Just in case, Marissa and I put our queen’s wave to the test again, and Matt Krasnow reassured us it was working. It was all coming together. Now for that entrance into Baptist Corners.
As we pulled over the last little incline onto Spear Street, a few spotty crowds cheered and waved and took pictures. We smiled like fools and tried to act natural. Postcard perfect, right?
Just then, a wild squeal started from the engine. I jumped off and saw fluid dripping from under the radiator. It looked suspiciously like coolant. The squeal was a scream now and folks were staring. Pumpkin Man pulled the Kubota over and shut it down.
“It’s not a parade unless someone breaks down!” yelled Jon Birkett as he passed.
Disheartened but not distraught, we opened her up and confirmed the fan belt bearing or water pump was toast. Perfect timing. This wasn’t in the postcard. But like hell were we going to give up now. Pumpkin Man had connections with Matt from Twin Oaks Farm, and he let us all hitch a ride on his hay wagon.
For better or worse, it just goes to show that pictures (and postcards) are worth a thousand words. And, of course, that grandiose entrances often don’t go as planned. We tried. And we’ll surely be back next year.
A big thank you to Carrie and all who put this event together. What a wonderful community gathering.
Note: Most folks mentioned in this editorial appear in our Tractor Parade spread on pages 10-11.