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Tractors travel southern Iowa

The hot, muggy weather on June 24 didn’t prevent the drivers of more than 450 tractors of all makes and models from rolling into Appanoose County in southern Iowa — the heart of the Rathbun Lake Watershed — as they prepared to participate in WHO Radio’s 16th annual Great Iowa Tractor Ride.

The popular multiday ride, which concluded on June 27, is organized each year by The Big Show, a daily farm program on WHO Radio. For three days, the flag-adorned tractors, representing 17 states, traveled selected routes around the Rathbun Lake Watershed.

The tractor ride lost one of its founders, Mark Pearson, who passed away just a few weeks prior to the start of the 2012 ride; however, his Big Show co-host, Bob Quinn, said Mark was there in spirit.

“Mark dearly loved the tractor ride; it was his baby. And he dearly loved Iowa agriculture,” said Quinn as he reflected upon the ride. “I saw him in the smiles of people along the way as they were wearing an ‘MP’ do-rag, or sporting a ’70 sticker.

“Mark’s tractor was a John Deere model 70. I feel he was personally with me as I ran out of gas one day and broke down at a church the next day where I spent a couple of hours talking with folks on the ride. What a joy watching the world go by at 12 miles per hour!”

Showcasing soil conservation

Traveling the Rathbun Lake Watershed at 12 miles per hour allowed riders to take a more in-depth look at the passing scenery, which on the rolling hills of southern Iowa, much of that scenery included conservation practices that were installed to protect Rathbun Lake.

The lake, one of Iowa’s largest, provides drinking water for a large number of people in southern Iowa and northern Missouri. It also provides recreation and economic activity for the region.

John Glenn, CEO of Rathbun Regional Water Association and president of Rathbun Land and Water Alliance, said both the association and the alliance were pleased to have the tractor ride come to the Rathbun Lake Watershed area.

“It was a great opportunity to showcase the conservation efforts being made through the alliance’s Protect Rathbun Lake Project,” said Glenn. “More than 550 landowners work with our RLWA staff to implement soil-saving structures on the land that is identified as most likely to deliver contaminants to the lake.”

Quinn said the evidence of soil conservation work being done in the watershed was obvious. “We saw miles of terraces in fields, many farm ponds and evidence of field tile. Grass waterways were planted in almost every field. It is very apparent that landowners and farmers are concerned about holding the soil in place and not letting it slip into Lake Rathbun,” he noted.

The majority of the tractor ride took place in the watershed, and one full day was spent driving around Rathbun Lake, an 11,000-acre lake that is the water source for RRWA. “The Rathbun Regional Water Association provides drinking water to 80,000 people on a daily basis, and during the tractor ride, we were happy to serve our water to riders, to give them a refreshing and healthy drink at all the scheduled break points,” said Glenn.

Lake is a valuable asset

Rathbun Lake is worth protecting for many reasons, including that the area is the destination for 1 million annual visitors each year and is home to Honey Creek Resort State Park.

“One of the most remarkable views of the lake was during our lunch from the Honey Creek Pavilion,” said Quinn. “We were looking past a grove of wild raspberries at the lake when a few deer wandered by, while out on the lake was a boat with a couple of people fishing. What a statement for recreation, conservation, wildlife preservation and agriculture working in harmony.”

Centerville, a progressive Iowa town that is the county seat of Appanoose County, was the host community during the ride, and tractors made stops in the surrounding towns of Seymour, Mystic, Corydon, Rathbun, Walnut City, Moulton/Udel and Moravia. The Rathbun Lake Watershed is located in the six southern Iowa counties of Appanoose, Clarke, Decatur, Monroe, Lucas and Wayne, and covers 364,000 acres.  

For more information about the Rathbun Land and Water Alliance, visit

Chester writes for RLWA.


ALL LINED UP: Tractor ride participants wait for the signal to enter the Rathbun Regional Water Association’s water treatment facility to take a break.


GOOD RIDE: “You see and appreciate more of the conservation practices and beauty of the countryside when your view is from a tractor seat,” says John Glenn (right). Bob Quinn adds, “It’s a joy to watch the world go by at 12 miles per hour.”


GOOD WATER: Participants in this year’s tractor ride filled up their water bottles provided by Rathbun Regional Water Association. RRWA supplies affordable, high-quality drinking water to a number of towns and rural residents in southern Iowa.

This article published in the August, 2012 edition of WALLACES FARMER.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2012.