JOHNSON COUNTY– Fourteen years and still rolling.
WMT Radio sponsored the 14th annual Great Eastern Iowa Tractorcade June 9-11, with approximately 530 tractors motoring their way across the highways and byways of southeast Iowa.
The event began as an idea from local radio personalities at WHO Radio, who worked with WMT Radio– A Clear Channel station and one of the area’s leading agricultural reporting entities– to bring vintage and contemporary tractor owners together in a central location, said Clear Channel’s Renee Uthoff, who organizes WMT’s event.
“Since then, we have had many drivers who like to drive in both rides, so the decision was made to hold two separate rides at different dates,” said Uthoff. “WHO now follows the WMT ride, usually one week later.”
Both radio stations continue to sponsor an annual group tractor ride, with separate dates, routes and in different parts of the state. Organizing the affair for over 500 participants is a large undertaking, and planning for next year’s event begins barely a week after the last one concludes, said Clear Channel’s Joni Sojka. The route is kept secret until many of the details are confirmed, and is announced at WMT’s Ag Expo in January.
To kick off the event, participants typically gather on a Sunday at a home site to register, visit with other participants and enjoy a meal, and the ride commences from the home site on the following two days.
“Hotels and camping are hot commodities,” said Sojka. “We have to make sure staff has hotel rooms, and we book multiple hotels across the state.” Locations for pit stops, bathroom breaks and meals have to be arranged in advance as well, often with local organizations like 4-H groups, Scout troops or churches hosting briefer stops, with larger venues holding lunches.
“We like the nonprofit organizations to get involved because it’s a nice win-win for everyone,” Sojka said. “The tractor drivers get wonderful food, often the specialties of each individual organization, and it’s a nice activity for groups to learn to work together or earn their services badges. It brings a lot of business into the communities we go through, too. If the drivers don’t eat at the host facility, they are usually eating somewhere in the host communities.”
This year, the tractor drivers and their entourages– they often bring a second driver along, or have family members who follow the route in cars in case of a break down or driver fatigue– met at Hawkeye Downs in Cedar Rapids. Tuesday’s ride took them through the Johnson County communities of Ely, Solon and North Liberty, with a luncheon held at South Slope Cooperative Communications in North Liberty.
“This year the route was a little bit of a challenge because of flooding along the way,” said Sojka. “But we made it work.”
WMT organizes drivers into groups, each with a lead driver who is given turn-by-turn directions for the route and is apprised of any traffic conditions or concerns, as well as a tail driver who serves as a “sag wagon” in case of mechanical failures or driver illness. The lead and tail drivers stay in communication with cell phones and make sure the group stays somewhat together and on track.
“Safety comes first,” Sojka said. “The tail driver may stay back and just make sure, if someone breaks down, he gets them help before he goes on. Both the lead and tail drivers are pretty vital.”
With 530 tractors, drivers and friends and family members, the event continues to grow each year, Uthoff said.
“We have reached our limit, however, and have now started turning drivers away,” she added.