Beginning Sunday, hundreds of farmers rolled into Spencer for the WHO Radio Great Iowa Tractor Ride, bringing classic tractors of nearly every color and brand to the home of the "World's Greatest County Fair."
The tour took participants -- about 750 of them -- to Lost Island Lake, Laurens, Gillett Grove, Terril, Spirit Lake, Everly, Linn Grove, Peterson and Royal.
I had the opportunity to meet a portion of this group on two different occasions. By "meet," I mean exchange farmers' waves with them along a stretch of Clay County Road B24, also known in Spencer as West Fourth Street. (For those folks who may not know, a farmers' wave is when a driver raises the pointer and middle fingers of the top steering hand toward an oncoming driver in a friendly fashion.)
The first meeting happened around 6:30 p.m. Tuesday. I was leaving town to meet up with a friend as they were returning from a break in Everly. Rain was coming down as if sprayed from a Windex bottle, prompting the drivers to either take cover under a canopy or under a poncho.
Nonetheless, I decided to play the farmers' wave game. With actual farmers participating, I thought for sure I would have a success rate well in excess of 50 percent. Though I didn't get an exact count of the tractors -- they're kind of hypnotizing -- I figured there were at least 60 or 70 and yet only 17 waved back.
Despite my discouragement, I was encouraged when I met tractors Wednesday morning, as they started their final trek toward Linn Grove. Once again, the fingers went into the air to let these folks know they were appreciated and more than welcome to return.
This time, I got the "official" count: 24 responses to 65 farmers' waves. That still wasn't what I expected, but maybe they didn't expect a 24-year-old kid in a banged up Buick to be so friendly.
These guys inspired a lot of thoughts, some more random than others.
First, most of the guys who didn't wave were gawking at one thing or another, be it Thunder Bridge or the swelling river below it. They were taking in what they saw and obviously appreciate small town Iowa and county roads.
Right along with that, the slow pace is seemingly important to them. As a frequent road tripper -- I'll be driving to Toronto in a week -- I enjoy the American (and, sometimes, Canadian) landscape. Flying over doesn't do it justice, though it's a different perspective. Driving on the interstate isn't much better, but getting off the beaten path from time-to-time is definitely worth it.
Third, some of these guys had their wives along, or maybe vice versa. How encouraging is it to see a couple who has probably been together twice as long as I've been alive still want to spend that much time together?
Fourth, despite many of the participants' longevity, they still had a bit of an adventurous streak. Why else would someone want to drive a tractor across much of the state, especially considering some people aren't too great at sharing the road.
We "city folk" can definitely take a page or two out of our recent visitors' book. The headline on that page?
Slow your roll, enjoy the scenery.