Smithfield Herald

Benson tractor show passes on heritage

Scotty Collier wheels his 1953 John Deere 40 into position for the Tractor Olympic Games.
Scotty Collier wheels his 1953 John Deere 40 into position for the Tractor Olympic Games.

Yesterday’s tools became today’s toys at the sixth annual Classic Antique Power & Tractor Show, held last weekend at Benson’s Chamber Park.

Attendees admired rows upon rows of vintage tractors, sifted for collectables in piles of rusted equipment and watched demonstrations of decades-old machinery.

The antiques triggered many-a-memory among the older generation, who swapped stories of hot days in the field and passed on pieces of farm and family history to children and grandchildren.

Paying homage to a bygone lifestyle while promoting agriculture is the mission of Classic Antique Power Inc., said Steven Stanley, president of the nonprofit, which stages the annual show with support from the Benson Area Chamber of Commerce.

“We preserve the past,” Stanley said. “It’s heritage; it’s where we grew up from, and it’s faded.”

In addition to educating, this year’s show also sought to entertain, with events such as the Tractor Olympic Games.

Competitors entered classic tractors of all shapes and sizes in the games, which included racing to collect rings on a pole and pushing a barrel as fast as possible between a series of cones. The winners walked away with Steiner Tractor Parts hats.

The most unusual event, the slow race, pitted drivers against each other in a contest to see who could take the most time to cover a set distance. Some tractors were disqualified for stalling out, and others had minimum speeds that were too fast to compete. Eventually, the race came down to Billy Thomas on a 1947 Leader Model B and Gary McLeod riding a mid-1960s Cub Cadet Model 70. The two crept along, barely moving until McLeod finally mashed the gas pedal and conceded the race with a burst of speed.

Virgil Murphy competed in the games on his Allis-Chalmers tractors, a couple of which he has ridden since his father bought them for the family farm in 1940s and 1950s. The orange Allis-Chalmers branding does not get recognized as often as the green John Deere and red International Harvester tractors, but Murphy said he prefers the machines he grew up working on.

“It’s the only real tractor at the show, and then we’ve got some knock-off stuff,” he quipped, referring to the better-known brands.

Over at the swap meet, Jerry Wooten’s rusty old animal traps and wooden farm tools drew a crowd of pickers and collectors. He valued one piece, a century-or-so-old bear trap, at around $1,000.

Jerry’s brother, Mitchell Wooten, pointed to some tobacco sticks similar to the ones they had used as boys to carry cured tobacco to market from the family farm. Mitchell explained how the stems of leaves were wrapped around the wood by hand, and he added that the sticks doubled as “attitude adjusters” if any kids got careless in handling the valuable crop.

“Used to, when I was a youngin’, if you stepped on a leaf of tobacco, Daddy said, ‘You bruised it,’ and that would decrease the value of it,” Mitchell said. “And he’d take one of these sticks and get your attention and remind you.”

For $2, attendees could milk a half-Holstein, half-Brown Swiss cow named Burnt Palm. Charles Ward Jr. brought the cow from his dairy in Lexington, and he said he uses the business venture to educate people who have never milked a cow.

“It’s good for people to know where the milk comes from and know what it’s like to do it,” Ward said, then added a joke. “And like a fella said the other day, it will be a good skill to have for the zombie apocalypse.”

As a nonprofit, Classic Antique Power raises money for the SECU Hospice House of Johnston County and Ronald McDonald House Charities. New this year, the group also awarded a $500 scholarship to a member of the South Johnston High School Future Farmers of America.

FFA member Travis Anderson, 15, brought some goats out to the show on Friday and said he planned to give demonstrations Saturday of how to show the animals. Anderson would like to get a job after college as a Cooperative Extension livestock agent, preferably in Johnston. He said FFA and 4-H have taught him valuable skills.

“It teaches you the basic math and finance skills, and you learn leadership and about agriculture,” he said.

“It just helps you be better prepared for life.”

Hamlin: 919-836-5768