Recently, Seth McFarland, director of the Santa Fe Trail Center in Larned, called to talk to me about some of the events and displays we have had at the library. In the course of the conversation, he told me that they would be hosting a Tired Iron Show on October 9 and 10. When I first came here, I enjoyed the Tired Iron Shows at the Edwards County Fair. It was both fun and interesting to see the antique tractors and equipment in action.
While we were talking, I thought about the Tractorcade exhibit the library mounted in 2013. The tractors that drove to Washington, D.C. in 1979 were modern compared to those in the Tired Iron parades, but they also represented another generation of farming history. McFarland asked to borrow that exhibit for their Tired Iron Show this weekend. This will give people an opportunity to learn some more agricultural history.
The local Tired Iron Club started thirty years ago, in 1991, when Joe Heinz and Raymond Wetzel, Sr. were talking about their growing collections of restored old tractors sitting in sheds. At the time, Joe had about 20 antique tractors, of which 6 or 7 had been completely restored.
The two men decided it would be fun to show them off at the Edwards County Fair, so they proposed the idea to five other men: Charles Schmitt, Dale Wetzel, Wayne Ploger, Curtis Kallaus, and Harold Schinstock. Soon Pete Heinz, Tom Stejskal, Paul Wetzel, Ray Wetzel Jr., Jimmy Wolfe, and Jack Wolfe joined in, and these 13 men formed the Tired Iron Club. Joe Heinz was elected the first president.
The first show was held as a one-day event during the Edwards County Fair in July, 1991. The twenty-eight tractors and twenty stationary engines displayed just west of the grandstand brought back memories of harvests and threshing machines.
By the second year, the Tired Iron Club had grown to fifty members from seven counties. Joe Heinz remarked in the Sentinel, that it was not uncommon to see fathers and sons working together, handing down the skills of the past, at this two-day show. Charlie Schmitt became the president.
The show kept getting bigger and it was moved to the area around the pink building and expanded east of there. One special attraction of the 1995 show was a 3/8 scale Case tractor that was completely built by hand by Dennis Franz of Newton. It took over 2,500 hours to make this remote controlled miniature, right down to a little man steering and nodding to the crowd.
Tractor pulls were popular features of all the shows. According to Ray Wetzel, Jr., the first tractor pulls used a step-on sled, where onlookers would just step on to add weight. “It was the most fun, but the insurance company did not want to cover the liability so it ended.” Later it made use of a sled with regulated weight. In 1997, the Kinsley Graphic reported that winners came from Kinsley, Mayfield, Hutchinson, Bucklin, Pratt, Olmitz, Macksville, Otis, Haviland, Larned and Johnson, Kansas.
By 1998, the club had grown to over 185 members. That year the club hosted the Regional Early-Day Gas Engine and Tractor Show shortly after the Edwards County Fair. This regional show drew people from and even greater area. Jack Wolfe’s 1890 sawmill and Homer Delaney’s thrashing machine were crowd pleasers.
After 1998 coverage of the Tired Iron Show in the local paper seems to be limited to the tractor pulls. Joe Heinz passed away in 2001, and surviving members said that the 2002 show was carried out in his memory. Over the years, club presidents also included Gerald Piepmeier, Barbara Delaney, Jeff Mead, Ray Wetzel, Jr. and finally Jack Kersting was the last president.
After 1998, Pete Heinz and Ray Wezel, Jr. both told me that it was hard to keep the club going. There were just not enough people for all the work involved. Members were getting older, and there were not younger people stepping up to take their place. The cost of event insurance also became prohibitive.
At the same time, a similar club had started in Larned. They approached the Kinsley club to combine the two clubs. According to Pete Heinz, “Larry Carr was instrumental in carrying on the Tired Iron Club in Larned.”
Antique tractors are history, but so is the story of the Tired Iron Club. The library would like to expand the information about this club in our archive. We will be digitizing four VHS tapes of shows in the 1990s to make them accessible in today’s technology. We’re asking people who have additional information, memories, and pictures about the club to share them with us. We especially would like to know more about the transition from here to the Larned club.
Seth McFarland invites all of us to attend the show at the Santa Fe Trail Center this weekend. “If you were part of the Tired Iron Club or the Tractocade,” McFarland said, “I would really like to meet and talk to you.”
You’ll find him among the old tractors and the myriad of activities which include demonstrations of wheat threshing, corn shelling, both horse and steam traction engine plowing, wood carving, blacksmithing, sawmilling, the amazing anvil shoot and more. Take the kids and grandkids for a fun day.