The first time I realised old tractors don’t have to end up on the scrapheap when they break down, get too old or become obsolete was in North Dakota. It was out in the countryside there that I saw a row of polished old green and gold John Deere tractors sitting beside the road.
Typically American I thought: here everything is bigger, and when it comes to motors, the Americans love it even bigger.
Shortly afterwards I moved back to Switzerland, to Möriken in canton Aargau where I grew up and which used to be a farming community. One of the first events to be held there after I returned was an old tractors meet. Something I had considered typically American was in fact nothing out of the ordinary back home either.
I supposed that country folk weren’t a bunch of hicks and that a vintage tractor show was more than just a curiosity. The tractors had just been sitting in barns and garages, wasting away. But somehow the simplicity of their engines, the ease with which they could be repaired and restored by anyone with a little talent and patience, saw them take their place in the sun.
But I am the only one who sees any deeper meaning in these old machines - perhaps the yearning for a simpler life. Today, farmers are not much interested in how things used to be; their lives are overshadowed by worries about political directives, complicated rules and regulations and often incomprehensible subsidy policies. Tractor collectors, with their rumpled shirts and greasy hands, seem to be the only ones wanting the good ol’ times to roll.
Text and pictures: Thomas Kern