Tractor Club descends on Pawnee for fun and food

by Jordan Green

Imagine being a Sonic carhop and seeing a convoy of farm tractors pull into your restaurant.

For a handful of carhops and cooks at the Sonic in Pawnee, such a dream – if they ever had one – became a reality over the weekend.

A group of friends and I rode our tractors to that drive-in restaurant in this tiny Oklahoma town on Friday and Saturday, and we sure caused a stir. I’m not even talking about our drinks.

We were in town for the 55th annual Oklahoma Steam Threshers & Gas Engine Association’s annual tractor show, one of the largest in this part of the country. It features countless vintage farm tractors and steam engines owned by people from all over the place.

It’s like a big family reunion for those of us in the tractor world. We get together to show off our cool rigs, eat some tasty food and catch up with our pals in the world of classic farm tractors. We have parades and various competitions between tractor operators and their rides.

This year, we did something even more fun – and a whole lot less common.

My good friend Roger Schmidt, a classic tractor collector from Cowley County, Kansas, is a member of the K&O Steam & Gas Engine Club just across the state line from Kay County. He and his club have done “Sonic runs” for several years, and he passed the idea onto some of us at the Pawnee show last year. About five of us took our tractors to the Sonic one afternoon. We left the Pawnee County fairgrounds and drove about a mile to the Sonic, ate some food and went back to the show.

That small run was fun, and it gave us a record to break this year.

We did.

Our Friday run this year was relatively small, but still bigger than last year’s. About six or seven of us. For a while on Saturday, I was concerned that day’s run wouldn’t be any bigger.

I was struggling to get folks fired up about the ride. That’s when I asked Brett Geary, a Pawnee native and an up-and-coming tractor expert, if he wanted to participate in the slow-speed race to get fast-food. I set the time for 7:15 p.m.

When I got to the east side of the fairgrounds about 7 p.m., I was reminded that life isn’t about what you know, but about whom you know. Brett knew just the right people to tell about the escapade. I was astonished to see 19 different vehicles – tractors, a four-wheeler and an old Willy Jeep – rip-roaring ready to run. In all, about 30 people were riding or driving.

I loaned my 1946 Case VAC tractor to a visiting mechanical buddy, so I was riding – and leading the pack – on my beat-up Sears & Roebuck garden tractor.

My garden tractor had seen better days. In fact, that day had been a tough one for it, as the starter overheated and locked up. Jim Denney, a friend from Newkirk, helped me take the belt off the starter and turn the engine over with a rope. With a little persuasion, we got the girl to run just fine.

As we paraded out of the show grounds, I looked back in astonishment at the line of tractors behind me. I can’t count how many times I said “Wow!” Nor could I wipe the smile off my face. Here were many of my best friends – and some of my new friends – steering our tractors down the city streets in the cool evening breeze on our way to get fresh vanilla ice cream and soda.

When we got to the Sonic, all of the tractor drivers pulled their rigs into a bay. Some stayed perched on their metal seats, while others hopped onto the ground to press the iconic red button. Passing drivers’ jaws dropped as they looked on.

The carhops were just as busy completing our orders as they were taking photos of us – and with us. They shared the photos just about everywhere, including with some media outlets. They’d never seen such a sight before, and they were elated that we were there. The service was great, and we all got free coupons for cherry limeades. Those almost paid for the gas we used to get there.

With much waving, we left the Sonic after about 30 minutes. On the way back to the show, we got stopped at a railroad crossing. The engineer gave us a friendly horn salute as he looked out the window of the engine. We got back to the show and wrapped up a fantastic day.

What was once an unimaginable sight to fast-food carhops and people all over social media will be a little more familiar going forward. Next year, we’re making the Sonic run a formal part of the tractor show. That’ll eliminate communication issues and guarantee an even bigger turnout.

I just hope the Sonic has enough bays for all of our tractors. Traffic jams aren’t fun, and tractor jams would be a heck of a sight in this one-horse town.