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Tractors converge on rural church

Tractor Run used as a way to honor fallen farmers.


Tractors begin heading west down County Highway 102 at the start of the 15th annual Nordland Area Lutheran Church hosted by “Guys in the Basement.” Photo by Scott Thoma

One by one, tractors of all sizes, models, and colors could be seen motoring down County Highway 102 from the east and west until they congregated at Nordland Lutheran Church 12 miles southwest of Paynesville on a sunny Saturday morning.

They all gathered here for the purpose of participating in the annual Nordland Area Tractor Run on July 9.

The Tractor Run, now in its 15th year, was originated by a group of men who drank coffee and shared a story or two in the basement of the church after services were over each Sunday.

“We are called ‘Guys in the Basement,’ and one day we were sitting around having coffee and we were talking about tractor runs that we heard about,” explained Rick Thompson about the origin of the Nordland Tractor Run. “So, we decided we should do that, too. At first, we were just going to have antique tractors involved, but we’ve expanded it to anyone who has a tractor and wants to go on the run.”

Around 40 tractors were in the inaugural run that traveled to nearby Lake Koronis. As word has spread over the years, that number has now doubled in size.

There was a myriad of models and colors of tractors included in the run. The tractors were old, new, clean, dirty or rusty. Some puffed white smoke and some spewed darker smoke. But as long as they ran, they were welcome in the convoy that traveled 15 miles to Lake Calhoun and back this year. Several of the tractors were pulling hay racks and trailer that were filled with people of all ages.

As they passed people watching outside their home, or those vehicles passing by, nearly everyone waved.

Tractors arrived at the Nordland Lutheran Church and socialized while enjoying coffee and doughnuts before the tractor run. Photo by Scott Thoma

“We usually do this in honor of an area farmer who has passed away each year,” said Thompson. “It might be someone who joined us in this tractor run in the past, or a friend or neighbor. That’s one reason why the number has grown. People not only want to come and have fun by being in the tractor run, but they also want to honor and remember someone they might have known.”

The “Guys in the Basement” held the tractor run in memory of Vic Topp this year. Topp passed away shortly before this year’s tractor run was held.

This tractor run isn’t used as a fundraiser for the church or any other organization. There is no registration fee for any of the participants. The food and beverages are paid for through a freewill donation.

Although the Tractor Run is hosted by Nordland Lutheran Church, the majority of the owners of the tractors and riders aren’t even members of that church. They come from all over the area and beyond to take part. There have even been tractors brought from the Twin Cities area one year because there were many relatives of the person that was being honored that year.

“I drove a tractor in the run every year except this year because I recently had a stroke,” said Russell Schmidt, 87. “But I still wanted to be here to show my support. It’s a chance to get out and talk to people.”

The oldest tractor in the event was a 1936 Model JT Minneapolis Moline owned by Byron Fuchs.

The oldest tractor in the run was a vintage 1936 Model JT Twin City/Minneapolis Moline owned by Byron Fuchs.

“It still runs pretty well,” said Fuchs. “I thought about restoring it, but I decided to leave it as it is.”

An hour before the run begins, the tractors lined up in the church parking as over 200 people visited or walked around to view them while enjoying coffee and doughnuts.

“It’s been a great thing to have,” said Gail Thompson, Rick’s wife. “The camaraderie we have here is important and fun. You see a lot of the same faces each year, but you also see a lot of new faces.”

Just before the tractor run begins, the church bells chimed loudly, signaling the run was about to begin. Rick Thompson welcomed all those in attendance before Nordland Lutheran Church pastor Mark Kopka gave a blessing.

The drivers then started up the tractors and began their journey down the road.

Following the run, everyone was invited to a lunch of burgers, brats, liver and onions, beans, chips, and beverages.

“Someone had a bunch of liver and were willing to donate it for us to use,” Gail Thompson explained with a laugh. “I was surprised to hear a lot of people like liver and onions.”

There were smiles all around as a trailer filled with supporters waited to participate in the Nordland Tractor Run.

Despite Minnesota being known for its severe summer weather, this event has gone on for 15 years without any inclement weather.

“Come to think of it, I don’t remember anything except sunny weather,” said Schmitz.

A wry smile then crossed the veteran farmer’s face as he explained why the event has never had to be postponed.

“It never rains in July,” he said, matter-of-factly. But there certainly was a downpour of tractors that showed up for this year’s run.

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