Whatcom Magazine

Antique tractor group keeps Whatcom farm history on the move

Video: Threshing with a 1913 steam tractor

Owner George Hoffman talks about his 1913 steam tractor during a threshing demonstration at the annual Puget Sound Antique Tractor and Machinery Assn., show at Berthusen Park in Lynden, Thursday, July 30, 2015.
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Owner George Hoffman talks about his 1913 steam tractor during a threshing demonstration at the annual Puget Sound Antique Tractor and Machinery Assn., show at Berthusen Park in Lynden, Thursday, July 30, 2015.

Howard Nunnikhoven’s eyes light up when he talks about his childhood on an Iowa farm, his passion for vintage farm equipment, and the local club that celebrates the heritage of American farming.

As president of Puget Sound Antique Tractor and Machinery Association, he helps to plan the group’s popular threshing bee and tractor show each summer at Berthusen Park, near Lynden. The 2016 event, its 45th show, will feature Case tractors.

“I’ve been around antique tractors and equipment all my life,” Nunnikhoven says. “After early years of raising family and working, we moved to Lynden in 1984, and this club rekindled my love of collecting the machinery that makes farms work.”

It’s amazing how many people have never seen this important part of our food creation.

Howard Nunnikhoven, president, Puget Sound Antique Tractor and Machinery Association

By the mid-1990s, he and his family had purchased over 40 acres to, as he puts it, “own some dirt and play with my toys.” He focuses on his favorite, International Harvesters. Now, with more than 50 tractors, plus other farming implements and riding mowers, he collects original sales literature and other memorabilia associated with the brand.

“Most people in the club have one particular brand that holds meaning for them,” he says. “Some have an interest in steam engines. Some collect threshing and grain processing equipment. They have a passion for restoring and saving them.”

Threshing is the process of separating grain from straw and chaff during harvest. The advent of machinery to do the task changed farming, and threshing bees became a festival of farms and foods.

“In the old days, people moved equipment from farm to farm threshing as a group,” Nunnikhoven says. “Now we show the equipment, do threshing, and have other active displays at the show. It’s amazing how many people have never seen this important part of our food creation. We attract up to 4,000 visitors.”

The association, a nonprofit volunteer group, strives to make the show educational and entertaining for everyone, including families.

It’s important that the event is supported. It’s the history of America.

Howard Nunnikhoven, president, Puget Sound Antique Tractor and Machinery Association

“Children can ride in a tractor-pulled cart,” Nunnikhoven says. “We make a straw pile and kids dive in for candy and tokens. We serve homemade ice cream, grind corn, and pass out recipes. People can watch the running of an old sawmill, shingle mill, or see a blacksmith at work.”

Berthusen Park, an old farmstead donated to the city of Lynden, is a fitting site for the event. Along with the threshing bee and tractor show, quilts will be displayed, and there’s room for camping, picnics, and a food court.

Visitors to the show range from newcomers to people who used such farm machinery long ago.

“An elderly man in a wheelchair came one year asking to see his old restored tractor,” Nunnikhoven says. “We got him up on it and he actually drove it around. He came back, tears rolling down. His son said, ‘This is the best day Dad’s had in five years.’”

Such moments help to keep the association going, despite the high cost of restoring tractors, and the advancing years of many members. Volunteers and donations are, of course, appreciated.

“It’s important that the event is supported,” Nunnikhoven says. “It’s the history of America.”

Threshing bee and tractor show

Sponsor: Puget Sound Antique Tractor and Machinery Association

When: 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Aug. 3-5 and 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. Aug. 6.

Where: Berthusen Park, 8837 Berthusen Road

Online: psatma.com

Admission: Adults, $7; youths 8 to 12, $3; seniors 60 and older, $5; season pass, $20.

Details: psatandma@gmail.com

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