old tractor
(Photo: B. MacDougall / Shutterstock.com)
Audrey Hill
Audrey Hill, Feature Contributor, Valley Ag Voice

By Audrey Hill, Contributor, Valley Ag Voice

Every year in April, Tulare’s International Agri-Center hosts the California Antique Equipment Show, featuring antique motors and farm equipment of all shapes and sizes. Held on April 23rd and 24th, this was the show’s second year back since the COVID shutdown in 2020. The Antique Show was paired with the Agri-Center’s Big Tulare Swap-O-Rama for classic cars and motorcycle parts, which made for a bigger turnout than usual. All generations, young and old, came to the Agri-Center to experience the show. Attendees got a slice of the old ways of farming and a chance to meet those who work hard to preserve it.

At the show, I met Marg Risi, a spunky woman who has worked for the Agri-Center since 1970, more than 50 years total. She mainly works at the World Ag Expo, which the center puts on every February. The Antique Equipment Show is considered the older cousin of the World Ag Expo as it is smaller, slower-paced, and centers around the preserved machinery of an older era. Ms. Risi sped around the grounds on her golf cart answering questions and “helping people with their problems.” She and the rest of the staff at the show were very helpful and kind. Golf carts and mules could be reserved by guests for the event and proved to be a big hit due to the size of the grounds. However, all were claimed very early into the event and the carts I saw driving around were piled in with families. If you plan to attend the Antique Equipment Show next year and would like to rent a cart, call early!

The wonderful and helpful Ms. Risi led me to “S” street near the parade route where tractors and trucks were being started up for the parade. Antique tons of metal roared to life making a series of loud rumblings and exhaust as they drove down the street. The oldest vehicle I saw at the show was a 1914 wooden flatbed truck that had been commissioned by the army and was being driven by a young teenage boy. I never got the chance to speak with him because of how fast and diligently he worked moving and tinkering with the machines. However, I was able to speak with the boy’s father and younger brother. Brice Brown, the younger son who is about 6 years old, expertly pointed out the names and models of the tractors and trucks his family and friends had at the show. It was obvious he had been around these machines his whole life and was very comfortable with them. His father, Andy Brown said that they rebuild a project vehicle about every other year and emphasized that they do it to keep the history of the machines alive in the minds of the next generations.

The Antique Equipment Show is of course not just for showcasing the past, as some still use these machines on their farms today. On the northeast side of the grounds, there was a hay bucking competition, as well as a youth pedal pull competition that showed the kids a bit of the working life in farming. Easy as it may sound, the rusty little tractor pulling a water bottle gave some kids a harder time. Across the way on the Swap-O-Rama side, collectors and vendors lined up to sell the rare, the not-so-rare, the old, and the not-so-old. The Horseless Carriage Club of Tulare was set up in the Brass Era section where pieces and parts from the late 1800s to early 1900s were sold and bartered for.

Food vendors also lined up selling street tacos, burritos, and hamburgers to fuel visitors for an eventful day. Also sold at the show was ice cream from the famous Rosa Brothers Milk Company whose headquarters are just down the road from the Agri-Center. Many will say that the Central Valley is only made up of empty little towns full of dust and miles of fields, farms, and mountains to look at while on a drive. However, being handed an ice cream cone that was processed down the street, while standing in the International Agri-Center grounds where the world meets on agriculture every February, the notion that nothing is going on in these little towns disappears. I truly got the sense that, although it doesn’t look like much, this is the agricultural capital of the world.

On my way out of the show, I passed by a tractor that looked like many others I saw that day, only this one was completely consumed by a tree that had sprouted out from underneath it. This tractor was a beautiful testament to age and strength as it has undoubtedly spent decades, possibly a century, under that tree. This display also serves as a symbol of what it means to be a farmer, to work with and against nature, to be ceaselessly resilient and strong, and to withstand the test of time. Although the Antique Equipment Show is a market that also serves as a place to make connections, it is also a place to instill tradition, history, and knowledge for those willing to look for it.