Clover Valley tractor show attracts heavy metal fans
Dennis Prestidge drove the 1961 tractor in a slow loop on an open lawn of the Corlis and Pam West farm in Duluth Township's Clover Valley area.
If the 75-year-old rural Two Harbors man looked comfortable on the metal seat of the old Allis-Chalmers the last weekend in June, there was good reason: He was among the first to drive it more than 50 years ago.
Prestidge worked for Dean Anderson in the Silver Bay area when Anderson bought that tractor in 1962. Prestidge unloaded the tractor from the truck when it was new and drove it for the first five or six years of its existence.
It still belongs in the family. Allen Anderson, who farms next to the Silver Bay airport, kept his father's tractor, and he brought it to this weekend's Clover Valley Tractor Show at the West farm, which is nestled in rolling countryside at the north end of Homestead Road.
After Prestidge finished his spin, he carefully descended from the tractor and picked up his cane. Anderson, standing close by, had asked his friend if he needed a hand, but Prestidge said no, he just needed to take his time.
"I can't hurry anymore," Prestidge said.
Anderson teased in response: "I noticed that on the farm 50 years ago."
Anderson, 63, was wearing a T-shirt with the words "Upper Midwest Allis-Chalmers Collectors' Club" on the back. The T-shirt was bright orange, as that 1961 tractor had once been. It's the Allis-Chalmers color.
But here's the anomaly: Prestidge was wearing green "John Deere" suspenders and a green John Deere baseball cap. Although he had driven an Allis-Chalmers for his boss, Prestidge's tractor allegiance was elsewhere.
"I was always a little partial to green," he said. "Since I was knee-high to a grasshopper, I liked the green ones."
Among the two dozen or so tractor aficionados who gathered at the West farm on Saturday, brand loyalty was an underlying theme.
"Some guys like Ford, some guys like Allis," said Corlis West, himself an International man. "It's just kind of fun."
Jerry Sundberg, 72, of Lakewood Township is with Corlis in the International camp.
"I do like Internationals," Sundberg said. "It was the first one I ever owned; not the first one I drove. The first tractors I ever drove were Allis-Chalmers, but I've got six (International or McCormick) Farmalls and no Allis-Chalmers."
About Prestidge, Anderson said, "Now he's a John Deere man, and, well, I tried to get him to park back there in the swamp."
The Wests are Twin Cities transplants who moved to the country in 1986. Corlis, 57, is a retired biologist from the Environmental Protection Agency lab in Duluth. After earlier iterations of the tractor show in the '90s -- they once called it "heavy metal in the country" -- they inaugurated the Clover Valley Tractor Show last year with seven tractors.
Since then, the North Shore Tractor and Equipment Club formed in Lake County. Anderson, the club's secretary-treasurer, explained how one qualifies for membership: "One of the deals there is you have to be able to drink coffee and talk about tractors," he said. "Whether you do anything doesn't make much difference."
By 12:30 p.m. 25 tractors were in place at this year's show, primed for a 1 p.m. parade of tractors. Among the last to arrive were two hauled by Don Olson of Grand Marais on a flatbed trailer. Olson's pickup truck became stuck in the rain-softened turf on the West farm, so he had to back both of his tractors off the trailer to lighten the load.
The second was a 1927 Fordson that looked to be made entirely of rust. It didn't seem likely to move on its own, but Olson turned the crank in front a couple of times, turned a switch, made some adjustments, allowed the Fordson a couple of minutes to warm up and then calmly backed it off the trailer.
The tractor, one of nine Olson owns, originally belonged to the Coast Guard, which used it to move boats on the beach.
The Fordson might have been the oldest at the show, but tractors of any size, make, model or era were welcome, West said.
"We're not at the point, right now, where we can discriminate against different tractors," he said.