Tom Brand is all smiles as he sits atop his 1949 John Deere tractor, leading a colorful parade of 379 antique tractors on a round-trip, 55-mile benefit ride from Savannah, Mo. (pop. 4,860), to his hometown of St. Joseph, Mo. (pop. 73,148), and back.
Known as the Show-Me Tractor Cruise, the annual procession brings together hundreds of antique tractor owners from around the "Show-Me" state who withstand 90-degree temperatures to raise money for Camp Quality of Northwest Missouri, a summer camp for children with cancer.
"What this whole thing is about is charity," says Brand, 35, who created the first Show-Me Tractor Cruise in 2003. "We are riding for a purpose."
The route takes participants—ranging from ages 16 to 88—along Missouri River bluffs, through town parks and into urban landscapes with spectators lining city streets and standing in farm fields to admire the roaring tractors with brand names such as Farmall, Case and Massey adorning their front grills.
"People set up lawn chairs to watch," Brand says of supporters along the route, which changes annually. "They wave and holler, cheering us on."
Tammy Vandivert, of Maryville, Mo. (pop. 10,565), watches the tractors roll by with tears in her eyes. Vandivert's daughter, Amanda, had liver cancer and attended Camp Quality. "It's so moving," Vandivert says. "I don't often see that many people taking part to support something that has meant so much to our family."
The idea for the all-day tractor cruise began when Brand, a father of four and the farm director at KFEQ Radio in St. Joseph, wanted to start a family-oriented event. After meeting participants of the Great Iowa Tractor Ride, Brand organized a committee to help host a similar event locally. He then learned about Camp Quality from a committee member whose daughter had cancer and attended the Stewartsville, Mo. (pop. 749), camp, which annually hosts 100 children at a cost of $1,100 per child. The cruise has since become the largest single fund-raiser for the camp, donating $55,000 last year.
"I can't praise them enough," says Rex Malson, fund-raising chairman for the camp's board of directors. "They have touched the hearts of so many people. Tom is the key man. If he says something, he will stand behind it."
Tom's wife, Beth, says their whole family gets involved in the event. "Starting in January, we work five days a week, two to three hours each evening," she says. "By June, it's up to four to five hours a day. Tom does the majority of the work, but the whole committee does their part."
Participation in the Show-Me Tractor Cruise has increased from 87 tractors in 2003 to 207 tractors in 2004 to 379 tractors last year. Money is raised through a $30 registration fee and a challenge to bring in an additional $100, plus a fund-raising barbecue when the ride ends.
John Murphy, of Maysville, Mo. (pop. 1,170), has participated in each tractor cruise. "I feel really good about helping someone who really needs help," says Murphy, who's visited Camp Quality to offer horse and cart rides to the children. "After you see some of these kids, it makes you think how fortunate you are that you don't have to face those battles. It's one of the best causes I've been involved in."
Brand says his favorite moment came during the first year of the Show-Me Tractor Cruise, which started and ended in the town of Guilford, Mo. (pop. 87), and toured the rolling countryside of six northwest Missouri towns. He recalls being almost through the 76-mile ride and feeling hot and tired.
"Then I saw a sign in the yard," Brand says. "It said: 'Thank you, Tractor Cruisers! A Camp Quality camper lives here.' It was an emotional day."
Visit www.showmetractorcruise.com for more information.