The county fair is about time-honored traditions, when rural practices like raising beef, growing vegetables, preserving food or stitching a quilt are honored and put on display for others to see.
It’s also customary to determine the county’s best tractor operator. Thursday kicked off the annual Cherokee County Fair, and contestants in two age divisions tested their skills at pulling a seeder with a tractor diagonally through a course line with orange-street cones.
The fair runs through Saturday at the Cherokee County Fairgrounds, just across from the Cherokee Casino on U.S. Highway 62.
Contest supervisor and Keys School vo-ag teacher Darrell Hood said the contestants have seven minutes to drive the tractor and seeder attachment through an S-shaped course of cones. Deductions are made for mistakes like hitting a cone, jackknifing the tractor and equipment, and grinding the gears.
“We make sure they know how to start the tractor, put it in drive, and all that stuff, and operate it safely through the course,” Hood said. “Every time they change directions or get out of line with the cones, it’s a deduction. And it’s timed. Back when I did it, they’d find a gate and you’d just kind of back in between it or something. This is actually how they do it at the Tulsa State Fair. The only thing is we don’t have a four-wheel wagon, and if you can’t back up a four-wheel wagon, there’s no sense in going. I can’t even back up a four-wheel wagon. It’s like putting a little red wagon on your lawnmower and trying to back it up.”
There are two age divisions: a junior division for ages 12-13, and a senior division for ages 14-19.
Keys junior Maegen Wallace, who competed in the senior division, stressed that driving a tractor isn’t as easy as riding a bike.
“Everybody thinks it’s easy to drive a tractor, but it’s really a lot more difficult than you think,” she said. “You have to drive it through here at angle and then you have to back it back through the same way. I can do a truck and trailer, but a tractor’s a lot different. You’ve got to weave it around, and you have to pay attention to where the [seeder’s] going. You get once chance, and you’ve got to do it without hitting any cones.”
Peggs seventh-grader Denton Halpain competed in the junior division, and came in with a lot of experience driving tractors.
“I drive a tractor every summer,” he said, noting the process of backing equipment as the hardest skill to learn.
Halpain’s example is a rare one for today’s generation, as most learn how to drive on something other than a tractor, said County Extension 4-H Educator Carl Wallace.
“Back in the day per say, every kid, when he was 6, 7 or 8 years old, was on the back of a tractor, trying to drive it. Nowadays, it’s a lot different,” Wallace said. “For a lot of kids, the first time they ever get behind something to drive it may be a four-wheeler or something along that line. But to drive a tractor is not what it once was for kids. It’ll be a challenge for some. You don’t really see someone just jump in there and whiz in and whiz out. It takes some practice to do that.”
Keys freshman Adison Hood agreed with Wallace that driving a tractor is a real test of ability.
“All of it [is a challenge], but backing up mostly,” she said. “It’s the hand-eye coordination. You have to really watch what you’re doing.”
The contest was Trevor Bailey’s first county fair outing, and he said the biggest difference in pulling a trailer in a contest like Thursday’s is the in the action the equipment makes.
“I don’t think it’s like a normal trailer,” he said. “It’s got like a swivel in it and it makes it harder to turn. When you turn with a normal trailer, it’s a different direction than this one.”
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