Tractor square dancing in Peppermint City

CW-MR-4-Tractor Square4cby Al Dorantes

The fabric of America is held together by our small towns. Some towns have violet festivals and some celebrate strawberries and some jump frogs. Lyons, NY, once upon a time, was the peppermint capitol of America and to celebrate their heritage and affinity with peppermint Lyons holds Peppermint Days including a tractor show. The 13th annual tractor show is also home to what is believed to be the only tractor square dance in New York State.

The 13th annual tractor show is only a small part of the festivities and the 70 tractors took both sides of two blocks with the dynamometer off on a side street. Rich Wunder, organizer of the tractor show, explained that most tractor shows have the tractors separated into groups by make and model. “We blend them all in; it’s more colorful that way.” Also, most tractor shows have exhibitors bring their tractors and then the machines are parked for the duration of the show. At the Peppermint Days tractor show there are many activities going on; barrel pushing, slow race, a dyno, and the tractor square dance. Wunder said, “There’s always something to do. The tractors are always in motion.”

Carl Palone, from Clyde, NY, was at the tractor show displaying his 1957 John Deere “620.” Carl got  actively involved in tractor clubs around 1990 after retiring from the plastics industry. He said, “Small farms can’t exist anymore. Tractor clubs help promote the heritage of agricultural methods and stimulate interest in farming.”

The International Harvester Club of Bellona, NY, has attended the Peppermint Days tractor show for over 10 years. The club boasts 104 members (not including spouses) and puts on a 40-mile tractor ride. Club president, Howard Hemminger, said, “Showing and restoring tractors is not expensive but moving them is not cheap. It’s not like collecting stamps. You need something to move our toys around. That means a truck and a trailer.”

Red Mead, attending the show, knows tractors like the back of his hand. He said, “The big expense today is tires and batteries.” Red is the ‘go-to’ guy in the Lyons area; he knows how to put the tractors back together after the guys break them. He should; Red has over 40 tractors. Most of his collection is International Harvesters but one John Deere snuck into the herd. His oldest tractor is a 1929 IH 1020 and the newest is a 1968 Case. Red said with a sad look on his face, “It’s bad news when tractors sit and die.”

Rich Wunder, tractor show organizer, and his right hand man, Joe Sapp, spoke proudly about the Peppermint Days tractor show square dance. They hired a professional square dance caller, Ron Brown, out of Cicero, NY, to call the dance. Half the drivers would dress as women because according to Wunder, “We just can’t find enough women who want to drive tractors.” The group practiced twice and was ready to allemande left, promenade, circle right, or whatever was called out. One square was all Farmall tractors. The other square was whatever they wanted to drive. Joe Sapp said, “We call ourselves, ‘Heavy metal dancers.’”

The square dance took place in the street in front of the First Lutheran Church. The festivities kicked off with Paul Harvey’s “So God made a farmer” speech and the National Anthem. The 16 tractors were called onto the street in a grand promenade. Next the drivers squared up into 2 squares of 8 tractors each. Each male driver was accompanied by a pretty ‘lady’ complete with bonnets. The caller started calling off and the tractors whirled and turned in an oddly beautiful ballet of quietly rumbling engines and the sweet smell of tractor exhaust. The tractors danced so well that one would think that the farmers of the Lyons area practiced more than twice.

The tractor show at Lyons Peppermint Days is one of the things that make small town America great. Mark your calendar for next year and come down to the tractor hoe down. Or better yet, get yourself a tractor and get on the dance card.

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