Steve Grimes narrated a hayride during the Sky Valley Stock and Antique Tractor Club Show.
Steve Grimes narrated a hayride during the Sky Valley Stock and Antique Tractor Club Show.

Editor’s Note: This year’s Sky Valley Antique and Tractor Club Show was cut short by a barn fire on Saturday, Aug. 11. Find out more about the fire incident here. The Monitor covered the first day of the event, and wants to share this story about why these tractor enthusiasts do what they do.

Denny Middlesworth manned the annual barrel races on a Frohning Farm field of sun-dried grass Friday.

The old homestead off Tualco Loop Road has been the site of the annual Sky Valley Antique and Tractor Club Show for 30 years, he said. In 1875, President Ulysses S. Grant signed over the property deed to Robert Smallman, whose descendants still own the operation. 

Middlesworth walked tractor drivers — mostly newcomers — through the motions. Slowly release the clutch, tap the middle of the barrel with the left wheel, and don’t worry about that — it’s just the brake. 

The Kirkland resident was also emceeing the event. Other club members would wander over in the bright afternoon and ask him to announce demonstrations or activities, such as the threshing bee, one of the main attractions.

A 1949 Red River Special  — Middlesworth lights up when he explains this — was set up along the hayride route. The tractor club bought the massive machinery three decades ago. It’s outdated, but an exciting piece from the past.

“That’s what the club is about: to present history and get the information to the public about agriculture,” he said. “Very few kids know where their food comes from.”

Middlesworth says the group is made up of mostly former farm boys and their wives. Many members grew up on farm themselves, then left and went another way. He recalls his childhood in Indiana. He has worked for Boeing for much of his career, testing engines.

Redmond resident Dale Ranz was raised on a farm in Missouri. He worked with Middlesworth at Boeing, and just bought an old tractor he’d fixed up a year ago. He said he joined the club on Friday to be part of a new social group, with people who speak his same “farm language.”

“I just like tractors, is all,” he said.

Ranz said he missed living on a farm. Playing around with equipment from his past provides a connection to that time in his life, he said.

The industry has changed since he was a kid, Middlesworth said. An exhibit at the show showed a small replica farm in four seasons, which illustrates what an operation looked like in the 1950s and 1960s. He built it by hand, as well as the mini tractors on display.

Middlesworth said equipment has become more sophisticated, eliminating a lot of physical labor from the work. Farms aren’t as lucrative as they used to be, and farmers need to have a huge operation to make money, he said.

Tractors played a significant role in the evolution of the industry, Middlesworth said. There is so much that happens to a food product before it gets to the grocery store, he said.

The thresher is just one part of the sequence. 

Hay is lifted with a pitchfork and dumped into the thresher, where the edible part of grain is loosened from the stalk. Up until the 1800s, the labor was done by hand. Modern combine harvesters are named so because they combine multiple parts of the process.

Steve Grimes said the tractor club is working instill that same passion for tractors in the younger generations. He said tractors are now more of a hobby for him. He uses his to mow his lawn and connect with his grandchildren.

The group has a free display each year at the Evergreen State Fair, Grimes said. Some kids get involved and really get excited about tractors, but it is only a few, he said, and not yet enough to keep the history and heritage alive.

Middlesworth said the tractor club mentors youth groups, including a local 4H club that works with tractors. Grimes said he hopes to see more kids put down their cellphones and learn about the skills it takes to build that kind of equipment. It’s also a great way for fathers and sons to get to know one another, and work on something enjoyable, like he did with his dad.

“I grew up with it, and it’s just part of me,” he said.