Make no mistake about it. Tractor club people are a crazy and adventurous bunch. No matter what continent they come from. But then there is Australian crazy -- as in how about we drive our tractors across the continent? I mean adventurous as in now that we’ve already encircled Australia a couple of times -- how about we trek across the United States?
As in we will put our Chamberlain G9 tractors in shipping containers and send them to Baltimore. We’ll get on eBay and buy five or six motor home trailers to pull behind the tractors to camp in and serve as swag wagons. Then we’ll pick ‘em up in Baltimore and drive to Los Angeles. We can sell the rigs when we are done with them in 10 weeks.
You guessed it. Just such a group is rolling through Ohio this July 4th weekend. I hooked up with Transworld Tractor Treks as they pulled into Lake Park north of Coshocton. The group of five tractors -- two more will join as soon as the owners get done planting wheat -- began the day in Cumberland, Maryland, and passed through West Virginia. They rolled up Interstate 77 doing maybe a little more than the 30 mph triangles signified.
“They are not bad to travel in,” says Barbara Garnett, who is wearing the headset that keeps her touch with the rest of the trekers. Still she and the rest of the crew look like they are ready to relax as they pull into the campground.
I mention that I should have brought some beer and instantly I have a can of Coors in my hand. “Good move by you,” I’m told. “We’re pretty well stocked.”
We settle down at the picnic table to have a chat.
Beer in the U.S. costs nearly half what it does in Australia, I am surprised to hear. “Taxes and all,” I am told by Ron Bywaters who helped organize the trip.
“The most remarkable that has happened to me so far,” says Barbara “was I was talking with a woman about skin cancer and sunshine because I wasn’t wearing something on my arms and my shoulder was getting burned. She took the shirt off her back and gave it to me and insisted I cover my arms up. It was so nice of her.”
“How bad is your health care system?” I’m asked. “We here horror stories back home about health care in the U.S.”
One trekker has learned differently. Carolyn Faulkner suffered a detached retina during the early days of the trip. She was taken to the University of West Virginia Hospital for treatment and was back with the group the following day. “I was only charged $200,” she says. “I felt very comfortable being at a university hospital like that.”
Polled merino sheep are on list too. Turns out that Barbara's husband Dick Garnett is the first western Australian to win top prize for his ram at the national competition and one of the few to do it with a polled animal. He has about 5,000 merinos. He shakes his head when I mention that hair sheep are gaining ground in Ohio.
A group of youngsters from the campground gather to look the orange tractors. Ron explains the story behind them. In 1957 an automobile race around the coast of Australia was organized. The newest model of the Chamberlain tractor was chosen to follow the racers and help out with problems. Ron was one of the drivers who drove the tractor behind the race.
At one point in the race a large kangaroo steps into the road and refuses to be moved. With the race cars stopped to avoid a collision, the tractor is called on to move the “roo” out of road. However, the chap resisted the tractors nudges and eventually took some boxer-like swings at the Chamberlain. When a cartoonist covering the race heard about the incident, a drawing of the encounter became a famous caricature of the whole event.
The trekkers carry a flag depicting the event and as the evening came to an end gave me a lapel pin commemorating the trip. It shows a kangaroo standing up to one of the tractors. And I will wear it with pride remembering an enjoyable evening with some true adventurers.