NORRIDGEWOCK — The field on Waterville Road might not look like much in mid-September, just a field of grass, a few unassuming buildings close to the road, and a barn-like structure without walls near the back tree line. Driving by, a person would hardly see a reason to stop.

“It used to be a golf course,” said Matt Hunter, standing in the field on a hot, sunny day.

One of the buildings, the smaller one, was for equipment. Now it’s a clubhouse. But the club that calls the house home, though some 500 members strong, isn’t a very well-known one.

“This club never had publicity,” Hunter said. Most people probably don’t even know it exists.

That’s because the club that occupies this particular field focuses on things of the past, artifacts that maybe most have forgotten. This club is the Maine Antique Tractor Club, and its members have not forgotten.

The nonprofit was founded in 1994 as the Northern and Central Maine Antique Tractor Club, but Hunter, the club’s vice president, said the Northern and the Central groups split because of the distance.

Bill Clark, a charter member, remembers he and a few others got together in another man’s living room with the goal of forming the club. He said they had to have one.

“All the history is lost if you don’t preserve it,” Clark said.

Hunter agreed, adding that as the “price of junk metal goes up, history goes to the dump.”

Clark himself has about 40 antique tractors, which the club defines as having been made in 1960 or earlier. Most of his were made by John Deere.

When asked what made him want to collect antique tractors, he said with a chuckle, “I don’t know, to be honest with you.”

He did grow up farming, and he remembers getting a tractor with the intent to fix it and sell it. But he kept getting more. “I got a hold of one, I was impressed.”

These days, Clark is done farming, so he keeps most of his tractors at his property in Skowhegan. He said he’d like to sell some of them, but the market for antique tractors isn’t great on the East Coast. He said he’d be better off going out West to auction them.

Members of the Maine Antique Tractor Club hang out Thursday at their clubhouse in Norridgewock. Staff photo by Michael G. Seamans

PRESERVING HISTORY

Owning antique tractors isn’t a necessity to be in the club. Club member John Hilton said you don’t necessarily even have to like antique tractors. Sometimes the tractors at the club’s events don’t even belong to club members, but to others who just want the public to enjoy them.”A lot of members grew up on a farm,” Hilton said. “They miss the tractors themselves and join to bring back the memories.”

The club goes to a number of fairs each year – such as the Common Ground Fair and Clinton Lions Agricultural Fair – and even host their own two-day fair in June. The club provides a number of activities, mainly tractor pulls, rides and parades.

Pam Vaillancourt, the club president, said these events are chances to educate people about the past and preserve their heritage.

“It gives people an opportunity to see how it used to be done,” she said.

The walls of the clubhouse on Waterville Road show that history. Pictures of past events and days gone by adorn the walls. Images of tractor brands hang over a table in the cabin-like space. John Deere and Allis Chalmers. Fordson and Cockshutt. Farmall and McCormick-Deering.

The aesthetics are simple, but the mission is obvious: Remember the past. But plan for the future.

Vaillancourt said the club has always had goals of growing, ever since the start. It moved out to the current location about three or four years ago and began fundraising, she said.

“The first major project was that structure,” she said, indicating the long, barn-like building toward the back of the property.

It’s a tall building, plain wood with some red siding near the top where the roof is. It’s a shelter for tractor pulling.

Like the clubhouse decor, it’s simple but effective, and as efficient as building it was. It went up three weeks ago, and was built in about six days.

Vaillancourt said club members worked on the design of the building. Then they took those plans to an Amish firm in the Aroostook County town of Hodgdon, the Truss Worthy Truss Co.

A FAMILY AFFAIR

There’s a family component to all this antique tractor business as well. Bill Clark grew up on a farm and remembers his father buying a John Deere tractor. He and his brother, Bob, got into tractors and began pulling, a competition in which the driver pulls a heavy sled with his tractor. The two brothers each think a different model of John Deere is the superior.

Bill Clark’s oldest grandson is also into tractor pulling, he said.

Bob Clark, the younger brother, is the father of Vaillancourt. He remembers when she first tried her hand at tractor pulling. At the time, the club used to rent land at the Farmington Fairgrounds for the festival they now put on at the land in Norridgewock.

“She saw it, took my tractor, and beat everybody the first time, ever,” he said.

“There are generations that pull,” Vaillancourt said.

Colin Ellis can be contacted at 861-9253 or at:

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Twitter: @colinoellis