By Cora Van Olson
ne of the people who helped found Yankton’s annual tractor ride will be missed this year, but though Rodger Harts cannot be there to organize and visit with participants, he will be remembered.
This year will be the 13th WNAX/Tri-State Old Iron Tractor Ride, and will include a memorial ride for Harts, the Tri-State Old Iron’s president since 2006, who passed away earlier this year.
“We are ready,” said Donna Harts, Rodger’s wife. “We have 192 tractors registered. We allow 200, but we didn’t quite get there this year. Many years we have a waiting list.”
The event is set for July 11-13 in Yankton. The drivers will arrive with their tractors Thursday to get their packets. Registrations are done ahead of time and closed in time to order T-shirts and ball caps for participants. This year’s colors will be maroon and silver.
“Each year, we have a T-shirt designed for the drivers,” Donna said. “This year, we are going to have the same T-shirt format as last year, but our club is also making a magnet. It is going to be oval and it will stick on your tractor. It will have Rodger’s picture on it in memory of him and the year he was born and the year he passed away.”
People often save the magnets, she noted.
On Thursday, Graham Tire will again be weighing tractors and adjusting air pressure in anticipation of the long rides.
“Graham Tire is a big promoter of our tractor ride,” Donna said. “If you weigh your tractor and get the right pressure in your tires, then you are entered into a drawing that Graham Tire does Friday night after the parade for a couple of sets of free tractor tires. Also, it’s kind of a surprise; Graham Tire usually gives a set of tires to someone in the ride that really needs them.
“Last year, they got caught. They went down on Friday night to put the tires on this guy’s tractor so he’d be surprised, but before he went home, he went to check his tractor and caught them.”
Friday, tractor drivers will set out for the South Dakota ride at 7 a.m. from Paddlewheel Point in Yankton. They will travel a total of 66 miles that day through Volin to Wakonda and back. Saturday’s Nebraska ride will be 75 miles long through St. Helena, Nebraska, to Maskell, Nebraska, and back to Yankton via the bridge at Vermillion.
“This year, on Friday we end up in Wakonda where Girard Auction & Land Brokers, Inc., is going to provide us the meal,” Harts said. “Then, Friday night, in downtown (Yankton), we have our tractor parade.”
The parade will begin at Paddlewheel Point with a police escort and will go from there to Second Street, Cedar St, Third St. and then turn back east. Tractor fans are not permitted to drive along with the tractors on the rides, but the parade is a good way to see all the tractors, Donna said.
“On the corner of Douglas and Third, Michelle Rook of WNAX Radio will be announcing the names of all the drivers, the town they are from and the tractor they are riding,” Harts said.
The tractor ride is 50-50 collaboration between WNAX and Tri-State Old Iron, she said.
“We do one day in Nebraska and one day in South Dakota because WNAX has listeners in both states.
“Back in 2005 or 2006, WNAX came to our club and said, ‘Do you think we could get this ride in Yankton?’ Their sister station KICD had (a tractor ride) in Spencer, Iowa. They said, ‘We’ll send two couples out to Jackson, Minnesota’ — where the ride was that year — ‘We’ll pay all the expense and we’ll see if you guys can run a ride like this.’”
Rodger and Donna went to observe the tractor ride in Spencer with another couple.
“We went up there and we said, ‘Well, we can do this. This is easy.’ So, the next year we did it and this is our 13th year,” Donna said.
The other couple has since moved to Florida and been replaced by club member Leon and Marlene Becker. Leon Becker is the treasurer, and together, the Beckers and the Harts planned this year’s itinerary back in November, Harts said. Donna will serve as the interim president until Rodger’s term is up in January.
“They asked me to fill in because Rodger and I did everything together,” she said. “I helped him with the meetings and the write-ups and I do a 10-page newsletter every month for our club. So, everything that transpired I know about.”
The transition wasn’t too hard because much of the planning for this summer’s ride was already done by the time Rogder passed away unexpectedly at his home on April 19 at age 76.
Though Rodger Harts was dedicated to the tractor club, Donna, too, has a love of tractors and says she will continue to be involved with the club.
“I grew up on a farm; we both did.
This weekend, Rodger’s absence will be felt, Donna said.
“We are really going to miss him because he was really involved,” she said. “He was there all the time, directing the volunteers, visiting with people. He was a very caring individual. I don’t’ think he had an enemy in the world.”
Rodger Harts worked for the City of Yankton as utilities director for 39 years, and also worked his father’s farm until 2006 when his father died and Harts had the opportunity to buy it. Harts continued to farm the 550 acres even after his father’s death, Donna said.
“There were so many people at the funeral and the prayer service. So many people came and showed their respect for him,” she said. “I had someone yesterday tell me, ‘I think that’s the biggest funeral (Opsahl-Kostel Funeral Home) ever had.’”
Friday night’s parade through Yankton’s Meridian District starts at 6 p.m.
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