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Generations of antique tractor enthusiasts gather in Cookstown (7 photos)

Georgian Bay Steam Show continues all weekend

One thing about collecting antique tractors and old farm equipment. It seems to become a lifelong passion, for a lot of people. 

In fact, if it was a disease, it would probably be contagious – which is why the Georgian Bay Steam Show, taking place at the Steam Show grounds in Cookstown this long weekend, always attracts generations of collectors and enthusiasts.

In addition to retired farmers who remembered the old days, there were plenty of teens, and even children, helping their parents and grandparents set up for the 53rd annual show. 

From the massive steam-powered engines produced by the Waterloo and Sawyer-Massey companies early in the 20th century, to antique tractors, model engines and classic cars, owners brought their collections, to show and share.

Charlie Wilcox brought his 1940 Allis Chalmers, in the company’s signature “Persian orange” color – reportedly inspired by a field of flowers in California. “My dad bought that tractor new,” Wilcox said. “I was eleven when my dad bought it. I used to drive it on the farm.”

It was his brother who was the collector, though, and who kept the Allis-Chalmers along with several other “retired” tractors – until he decided to sell. That’s when Wilcox bought it and brought it back to Beeton.

“The grandsons think it’s pretty nice,” said wife Barbara. It was a grandson who drove the tractor from Beeton to the Cookstown show, early in the morning on Friday, before traffic got too heavy.

Rows of green John Deeres, red Massey-Harris, grey Rumely Oil-Pulls, ‘Persian orange’ Allis Chalmers, pumpkin-yellow Minneapolis Molines – “I just love walking up and down these rows,” said Charlie. 

Minneapolis Moline, produced between 1929 and 1974, is the featured tractor this year, along with equipment made by the Waterloo Manufacturing Co. that sold the Minnie Moline brand in Ontario, and various “oddball and orphan” brands – like the made-in-Ontario Case tractor on display in the Bob Hickson Building. 

Steam Show member Ted Brown would rather collect models and toys, than full-size tractors. He brought several examples from his huge collection of pedal-tractors - “I have well over 100” – including a miniature Minneapolis Moline, and two Cockshutt riding toys.   

One is a limited edition, built by Joseph L. Ertl in honour of Canada’s sesquicentennial last year. Cockshutt was a Canadian company, and Ertl built only 25 of the pedal tractors, all signed and numbered. “I got the last one,” said Brown, pointing to the display. “My grandson, who’s only 7 or 8 years old, made the flag.”

Brown admitted that collecting is a passion. He has two 40’ by 60’ (12.2 metres by 18.3 metres) buildings filled with garden tractors, but insisted that it’s all under control. “I’m cutting down,” he said. “I’ve got a little room in it – I can get my car back in there.”

The Georgian Bay Steam Show continues all weekend. Each day starts with a pancake breakfast, from 8 to 10 a.m., followed by displays, demonstrations of farming the way it used to be done – with threshing machines, and tractor power take-offs driving a shingling mill, rock crusher and sawmill.  

There are garden tractor and antique tractor pulls, Slow Tractor Races, live entertainment on the main stage, a Steam Whistle Symphony at noon, horse-drawn wagon rides and a vendors’ market. On Sunday, the big attraction will be the Ontario Truck & Tractor Pullers Association (OTTPA) pull at 6 p.m. – weather permitting.

But on Friday, most of the focus was on setting up the displays, and ensuring that the tractors and steam engines were in working order, able to take part in the daily Vehicle and Machinery Parades.

A big, fully-restored Minneapolis Farm Motor Threshing machine owned by the Hume family of Milton, Ontario was stuck in gear with “clutch trouble,” and attracted a crowd eager to suggest solutions.

Noting that the machine’s steering reflected “the cross period between gas and steam,” Brett Petch of Gilford was among the onlookers. Collecting is part of his family tradition, he said, although he doesn’t collect tractors himself. “We have about 30, between my grandfather and my father. I’ve been exposed to it since I was born.”

Petch admitted the “disease” is contagious. 

The Georgian Bay Steam Show opened Friday, and continues from 7:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Sat. – followed by a Jr. Talent Show, and a Square Dance at 9 p.m.; 7:30 to 8 p.m. on Sun. with an Adult Talent Show and Jam Session in the evening; and 7:30 to 3 p.m. on Mon. 

Admission is $8 per person on Fri. and Mon., $12 on Sat. and Sun. Accompanied children under 12 are free at any time. Please, no dogs or bicycles in the show area. Parking is free. 

For more information, see

Miriam King

About the Author: Miriam King

Miriam King is a journalist and photographer with Bradford Today, covering news and events in Bradford West Gwillimbury and Innisfil.
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