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Antique tractors pull in collectors, competitors for Cookport show

| Saturday, June 14, 2014, 11:50 p.m.
Bruce Siskawicz | The Dispatch
Brad Berkey and his 1955 Farmall 300 tractor that his father harry Berkey bought new. The engine has been rebuilt, tires replaced and repainted but otherwise original.
Bruce Siskawicz | The Dispatch
Levi Gibson of Cherry Tree and his dog, Simon, with a 1950 Minneapolis Moline UTU that Levi reassembled and painted. Levi got the tractor that was in pieces from Texas approx. 7 years ago.
Bruce Siskawicz | The Dispatch
Levi Gibson watches as Tanner Berringer, 13, of Cherry Tree operates his cousin Levi's 1959 Minneapolis Moline M5 Diesel. The engine has be rebuilt and the tractor painted but otherwise it is mostly original.
Submitted by Brad Berkey
2012 Cookport Antique Machinery Show sign.
Bruce Siskawicz | The Dispatch
Brad Berkey climbs into the seat of his 1955 Farmall 300 tractor that his father harry Berkey bought new. The engine has been rebuilt, tires replaced and repainted but otherwise original.
Submitted by Brad Berkey
Tractor pull at the 2012 Cookport Antique Machinery Show.

Agricultural equipment becomes more technologically advanced every day, with GPS guidance and automated tractors revolutionizing large-scale farming operations.

For 17 years, a group of antique tractor collectors has been convening in Cookport on the weekend after Father's Day to share their appreciation for a simpler time.

Brad Berkey, president of the Cookport Antique Machinery Show (C.A.M.S.), collects International Farmall tractors, including a 1946 model he still uses at his farm near Purchase Line. “You can go out on the coldest day of the year and that tractor will start just like that,” he said. “You buy something today and you'd have to plug it in and crank and crank and crank and hope it starts. Here's something that's 60-plus years old and it's reliable.”

For many collectors who bring their tractors to the show, which runs Friday through June 22 at the Green Township (Cookport) Fairgrounds, their preferred brand of tractor runs in the family.

“We farmed with Olivers right on through. My dad started with one and he just kept buying. As they improved and increased in horsepower, he would buy a couple,” Green Township resident Larry Allison said. “About 10 years ago, I decided it was time to start to collect them.”

“My great-grandfather bought his first one back in about 1958 or something like that. It was the first Minneapolis-Moline we had on our farm,” said Levi Gibson of Cherry Tree, who collects tractors manufactured by that company — a brand that will be highlighted at this year's C.A.M.S. event. “It's still there, I still have that tractor. We still use it ... from time to time.”

The show attracts collectors who have spent countless hours painstakingly restoring their antique tractors to pristine condition and farmers still putting tractors of retirement age through their paces daily in fields.

“I have four antiques now that are truly antiques,” Allison said. “The newest one is a 1951, the oldest one is a 1930. They're absolutely no good for anything on the farm at all now. There's no hydraulic systems to them or anything, they're just show pieces... I have been told by the national Oliver collectors' association... that this (1930) tractor that I have is the oldest known Oliver tractor to still be in existence. The serial number on it is 157, and I tell everybody it was made in the third week in March of 1930. I don't know how close I am to that, but with all the literature I can come up with, I'm not far off.”

But the Cookport show isn't just an opportunity to admire the antique machines as they sit idle; each day of the show gives collectors a chance to put their tractors to the test in weight-pulling competitions.

“We do have a few that bring them just to show; they don't take them out on the track,” Berkey said. “I would say probably about a third of the total (80 to 125) tractors actually just stay in the infield for display only.”

Divided into classes based on the weight of their tractor, competitors take turns trying to pull “dead sleds” of increasing weight until the load becomes too heavy for all but the winner to budge.

“Everybody pulls once, then they'll go and throw maybe a thousand or two thousand pounds on the sled and everybody pulls again,” said Allison, who started competing in tractor pulls at the age of 9 and won his first competition at 13. “It's a process of elimination, a round-robin type deal. One class can last upwards of three or four hours. At the C.A.M.S. show, we will do one weight class per night because it takes so long to do it.”

For the first time, organizers have scheduled an “Old Timers Pull” reserved for individuals who have been competing in tractor pulls since before 1985.

“It's going to be on the dead sled, so it's going to be an all-night marathon,” Allison said. “And I will qualify for that because I started to pull in 1961. Last year, at the Cookport Fair, I made my 52nd year pulling there.”

Another new feature at C.A.M.S. this year will be the Ag Olympics, organized by the Penns Manor High School FFA chapter. It will include an adult pedal tractor pull, a hay bale toss, hay bale relays, barrel racing using wheelbarrows, a milk-chugging competition and a sack race.

“We'll try to give them some interesting things, get some kids involved in that and bring them out to the show,” Penns Manor FFA adviser Gerald Hughes said. “We kind of do this usually at the high school during FFA Week as an assembly.”

Competitors in the tractor pull and collectors showing off their tractors travel from all over to attend the annual C.A.M.S. gathering, Berkey said.

“We had one gentleman come from Michigan. He has family in this area, but he makes it a point to come in for the show every year,” Berkey said. “Most people are from the local area. We have a few from the State College area that come in regularly. We do get a few in from distances.”

Gates open at the Green Township Fairgrounds at 5 p.m. Friday, and the show closes at 4 p.m. on June 22. In addition to the tractor pulls, the show features food and craft vendors, a Kids Korner, hay rides and music from the 7 Mile Run Band and BDR Roadshow.

Daily admission for the show costs $3, with children age 10 or younger admitted for free. A three-day pass for the festivities costs $7. Additional information, a schedule of events, directions and contact information are available on the show's website:

Greg Reinbold is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-459-6100, ext. 2913 or

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