Rural and proud

Tractor Day at North Harford High celebrates the county's farm heritage

April 22, 2007|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,Sun Reporter

Merri Leonard is learning to drive a sky-blue '67 Ford.

But this is no Mustang or Galaxie 500 that the 15-year-old is cruising around in - it's a tractor.

And the brightly colored model clearly stood out at North Harford High School's annual Tractor Day.

"Even if you don't have your license yet, you can drive a tractor," the sophomore said at the Friday event. "They are way funner to drive than a car because you can do more with them."

Merri's four-cylinder tractor, the lone blue one and only Ford among dozens of vintage and new John Deere, Farmall, McCormick and foreign models on exhibit at the athletic field, took part in a nearly 40-year-old tradition of showing off tractors on the Pylesville campus.

"These days, with all the growth in the county, a lot of our students don't know about agriculture," said Aimee Densmore, the school's animal science teacher. "This event is a chance for our farming students to teach others about agriculture and tractors."

During the event, which drew 27 tractors and three racing lawn mowers, ag students demonstrated their skills and plugged one of Harford's leading industries.

"We live in Harford and see tractors in the fields all the time," said senior Liz Huber, who accompanied a preschool class to the exhibit. "This is a real experience for kids who don't live on farms."

In the past 40 years, Harford has lost about half its farmland to development, officials said. In 1960, farms accounted for 165,000 acres throughout the county. Today, there are about 81,000 acres in agriculture, with about half of those in permanent land preservation.

Huber could not readily extricate 5-year-old twins Adam and Sam Valis from the cab of one of the largest models - a 15-foot-high, eight-wheel John Deere 8330, on loan from a dealership in Whiteford.

"I can see all the way to everywhere from up here," said Adam, dressed in a John Deere sweat shirt. "This is what I am driving, when I get older."

To demonstrate the utilitarian nature of farm machinery, most of the exhibitors drove their tractors to school in the early morning - 18 of them had parked overnight at a nearby farm to give themselves a head start. None reported any problems with commuter traffic.

"Maybe they recognize people who actually do the plowing," said senior Sabrina Schwind.

Sisters Shelby and Elyse Hladky arrived on "a big boy," a bright-orange Kubota M8200.

"This day is a time-honored tradition for us, and we love it," said Shelby, a sophomore. "We drove our tractor to school. Who else does that?"

About 30 others, including freshman Angelo D'Anna, who made the trip from Forest Hill on a 40-year-old International and junior Jon Griffith, who drove a 1952 McCormick Farmall - one of his grandfather's collection -15 miles from his Darlington home.

"It took about an hour, with about 15 minutes of that in the dark," Jon said, adding that schoolmate John Poole rode shotgun to keep an eye on traffic.

While most students were in the first class of the day, senior Alex Bhadurihauck raced a 1949 Farmall down Route 165 to demonstrate the vehicle's top speed - 20 mph.

"It feels more like 100, and you can do wheelies," he said.

Bhadurihauck and a few other student mechanics pulled several late nights last week getting that 1949 model in working order for the show.

"It's a real work in progress, but I knew they could do it," said junior Melissa Hankey, who posed for a class picture on the vehicle's bouncing seat. "These kids grew up around tractors."

Melissa doesn't own a tractor, but the school has fostered a real interest in agriculture for her.

"Farming and this show are about the heart of Harford County," she said.

Bhadurihauck's wasn't the only race of the day. On the school track, customized Huffys, former lawn tractors, competed at speeds of more than 25 mph.

"On the road, they can do about 45," said junior Evan Rutledge.

Forget speed. Senior Drew Hoopes stressed durability. His 1952 Farmall boasted its original paint and engine.

"You can plow, disk and cultivate with it," he said.

Age means nothing to a well-maintained tractor, said senior Jeff Yarrington, who helps run his parents' 120-acre dairy farm in Street.

"As long as you take care of them, they will work for you," he said. "If you let 'em go, they will rust."

While many of the exhibits had years on them, junior Nate Bentley said he prefers the 2006 Deutz Fahr Agrotron, a German import he called the Cadillac of tractors. The climate-controlled cab with a sun roof came outfitted with a stereo and cell phone.

"I work it every day, and I keep the music on loud," he said.

The tractors, which ranged in age from the late 1940s to this year's high-tech models, lined the athletic fields along the highway. Motorists frequently slowed to get a look. Yarrington said he hoped they noticed the sign he tacked to the front of on his circa 1970 John Deere: "Keep Us Rural."

mary.gail.hare@baltsun.com

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