Iowa Public Television

 

Square Dancing Tractors

posted on August 1, 2008


Ford Motor Co. this week celebrated the 100th anniversary of the Model T, the first low-priced car that introduced motoring to the masses. About 750 "Tin Lizzies" were on display Monday in Richmond, Indiana in what was called the largest gathering of Model Ts since they left the factory.

Small towns in rural America also are commemorating their heritage this summer as they have for generations. But it's doubtful any of the communities will mark the occasion with quite the same "flair" that Nemaha, Iowa did for its centennial in 1998.

Using antique Farmall tractors from the 1950s, eight tractor drivers -- four dressed as women -- do-si-do'ed their way through a square dancing routine that was an instant hit.

After 10 years though, the guys have decided to hang up their brassieres and the Farmall Promenade will perform for the final time this month. Morgan Halgren caught the act some years back and filed this report.

Caller: "There's your partner, she likes to swing, back to the circle, listen to her sing."

It's Friday evening in Nemaha, Iowa and they've cleared the cars off Main Street for the big dance.

Caller: "Head back home to your pretty little thing."

It's called tractor square dancing and all you need is a dosey-do, eight Farmall tractors and a bit of courage.

Caller: "Promenade this girl please do, she's the one who came with you, she's with you, have no fear, she won't go home with that John Deere."

It's the latest dance craze to sweep the nation. Thanks to ten farmers, one carpenter and a physical education teacher named Lori Schmidt, Nemaha is now recognized as the tractor square dancing capitol of the world.

Lori Schmidt, Farmall Promenade: USA Today, a picture of me on the front with my finger pointing this way, I have no idea why I was doing that but one of the other reporters said, it's perfect because you're the director and that's exactly what you were doing. And it must have been either that or me saying I'm out of here, I can't remember. But yeah, it's been in lots of newspapers, lots of radio stations have called and interviewed us but nobody has given us a day job yet.

Caller: "Wheel meets wheel, hood past hood, move those tractors, looking good."

Located in northwest Iowa the small town of Nemaha has, depending on whom you ask, a population of somewhere between 80 and 100 people. And while the actual size of Nemaha might be in doubt there's no question that it's a mighty small town. It even says so on the sign that is right outside of town. There are a few certainties that exist in Nemaha. One is that every day at four o'clock there is a uker game at Hazel's. Hazel's is a restaurant that isn't a restaurant. You can get something to drink at Hazel's but you have to get it yourself. And you can get something to eat but you can't get something to eat. Confused? So were we. But even if you aren't thirsty or interested in cards you'll want to stop at Hazel's. That's because there is a wall in Hazel's that honors the teams that made the town proud back when Nemaha had a high school.

On the opposite wall there are newer pictures that pay tribute to Nemaha's newest team, the Farmall Promenade Team, put together thanks to an idea Damon Mooney had for Nemaha's centennial celebration.

Damon Mooney, Farmall Promenade: Back in the early 50's I saw a group perform a act similar to this, and they did it for a celebration for a town over here just southwest of us at Early. And, I always remembered it and when we had our centennial why I thought it would be kind of neat to re-create this. And, I brought it up at the meeting and contacted some of the fellows around and they all kind of consented to it, and here we are.

Caller: "Promenade three-quarters round, keep those tires on the ground, Ladies spin out, circle to the right. Gents go on, keep your line in sight."

 

Damon has offered the abridged version of what transpired. After realizing that none of them knew how to allemande or to do-si-do, they turned to Lori who teaches, among other things, square dancing at Schaller-Crestland grade school.

Lori Schmidt, Farmall Promenade: I'm going to give you a number, you have to remember your number.

Lori's first step was to figure out the routines using toy tractors. The next step was to have everyone walk through the routines.

Lori Schmidt, Farmall Promenade: It took a lot of planning. You know, once we got started we could do it because they kind of walked through it and had seen it with the little tractors and they could pull it off. We've never really done whole dances, I don't think, all the way through on their feet. They want to keep doing it on the tractors.

After months of practice the tractors were sent to Dave Cook's carpentry shop where eight tractors were painted with two and a half gallons of paint to get them gussied up for the centennial. Four of the tractors are Farmall C's and the other are Farmall H's.

Dave Cook, Farmall Promenade: I hurried out and bought my tractor before anybody else so I got the right one.

The difference in the tractors is important because those with the larger H's get to be the misters and those with the smaller C's are the misses. Since all the drivers are men, well lately things haven't been the same in Nemaha. For Lynn Smith, one of the misses, the attention that the Farmall Promenade has received has been a mixed blessing.

Lynn Smith, Farmall Promenade: I've been waiting 30 years to get into Successful Farming, it's too bad I had to do it dressed as a woman.

Once the Nemaha centennial performance was over the requests for other performances started coming in. Two semis make taking the tractors to other cities possible. And in just three months the Farmall Promenade traveled to thirteen different cities. It's a tough schedule, especially for someone who farms. But the performances are so much fun that when Russ Davis regained consciousness after falling 14 feet in a farm accident, his second thought was that he would have to miss that next performance.

 

Russ Davis, Farmall Promenade: My first thought was, this could be bad. And so I grabbed my legs and I could feel my hands clutching them and I wiggled my feet and I thought, good, I'm okay in that respect. And then the next thing I thought was, darn, I'm probably going to miss the promenade dance tonight. And I did.

Caller: "Schmidt (SOY): Do-si-do! This is one of our new moves. It's a square dance move, whoa, whoa, whoa… Mister and Misses Pioneer, whoa, whoa, whoa!" The Farmall Promenade performance is a mixture of precision driving and hokey humor. But it is built on a foundation of community pride. A few years after the Nemaha High School was torn down about half the town showed up to help build a new community center. It stands where the high school used to be and on the corner is a sign that lets everyone know that Nemaha is proud to be the home of the Farmall Promenade.

If you would like to see a Farmall Promenade performance you better shake a leg. After ten years of do-si-dos, the group will be parking their tractors at the end of August. In the meantime, you can find their schedule at farmallpromenade.com.

Caller: "Pick your honey right off the floor, that's all there is, there ain't no more. That's about all we got. Looking nice."

For Market to Market, I'm Morgan Halgren.


Tags: agriculture dance farmers Iowa Nemaha news tractors