Fred Petsch barely had time to finish restoring his yellow, 1967 M670 Minneapolis Moline before taking off on the sixth annual Tractor Relay Across Nebraska.
“We rolled it out of the building at 6 p.m. Friday evening, ran to the filling station and filled it up with fuel, put everything in a semi-truck and we headed for Holyoke, Colorado, and at 7 a.m. the next morning we were on the drive,” he said.
The 65-year-old Milford man and his Minneapolis Moline were among 52 tractors and 64 people to participate Wednesday in the fifth day of the tractor relay.
Petsch only started the restoration in April. His tractor still doesn’t have most of its decals displayed yet.
The drivers arrived Tuesday evening at Orschlen Farm and Home in Hastings and stopped for breakfast Wednesday morning at Good Samaritan Village to eat breakfast at the village diner before continuing east to Sutton for the night. There the tractors will be on display at Fox Hollow Motel.
The relay is a benefit for the American Legion’s Operation Comfort Warriors program. Money can be donated beyond the registration cost to the program.
Operation Comfort Warriors is a program dedicated to meeting the needs of wounded, injured or ill military personnel by providing them with comfort items not usually supplied by the government. OCW ensures that patients at U.S. military hospitals and warrior transition units are given items like sweat suits, DVDs, puzzles, electronic devices, books and calling cards.
OCW also provides larger items such as ping pong tables, entertainment centers, computers, kayaks and other recreational goods for use by wounded warriors in common areas.
Donations for Operation Comfort Warriors will be accepted along the route.
The relay began Saturday in Holyoke and is going east, ending June 11 in Plattsmouth.
Donna Wilton of Hastings who, along with her husband, Rich, is a segment captain on Wednesday, said so far the weather has cooperated.
“We thought we were going to run into some rain showers (Tuesday) but just a few sprinkles,” she said. “We were behind the rain, so that was a good thing.”
This year, the tractor relay is celebrating the Nebraska sesquicentennial.
In Lincoln, the group will parade around the Capitol in a celebration of the state’s 150th anniversary.
Following the trip around the Capitol, the relay participants will drive to Pinnacle Bank Arena where two state senators, including Steve Halloran of Hastings, will greet them.
On Wednesday, Gov. Pete Ricketts will sign a proclamation declaring June 9, 2017, as Nebraska Antique Farming Day.
“What is scary is I remember it like yesterday, the 100-year anniversary when I was in high school,” Petsch said.
Having retired recently from his job as an administrator for Southeast Community College he decided about a year ago to do the drive. Previously, he worked as a product service trainer for John Deere.
“So tractors have been a big part of my life,” he said.
Petsch grew up near Milford.
“I chose this (Minneapolis Moline) for the simple fact that I grew up with Minneapolis Moline over the years, always a favorite,” he said.
His father, also named Fred, died about a year and a half ago. The M670 was the last Minneapolis Moline he purchased.
The freshly restored tractor has drawn a lot of attention.
“I think it’s a pretty neat tractor,” Donna Wilton said.
The relay draws tractor enthusiasts from across Nebraska as well as across the country.
Ken Wild and John Meier of Waterloo, Illinois, are participating in their second one. The two friends learned about the event a few years ago after Meier’s daughter saw a flier for it while she was in Grand Island to show cattle at the Nebraska State Fair.
“It’s just for fun,” Wild said. “Meet people, that’s all you do.”
The Wiltons said they consider other relay participants like a second family and joked that they even prefer the company of TRAN participants to their real family.
Petsch is experiencing a similar friendship.
“I totally enjoy it,” he said. “The people are great. It’s just one of those situations where, ‘Hey, I want to go across Nebraska.’ The camaraderie and the people have made this event what it is.”