Flywheelers share passion for antique tractors

By M. Scott Morris/NEMS Daily Journal

IUKA – Work from long ago has turned into play for members of the Tri-State Flywheelers.
In early 2007, a group of guys started talking about how much they like old tractors.
“It was two or three or four of us, and we got together,” said Jimmy Whitfield, 66, of Iuka. “We called a meeting and all these others pitched in, too.”
There are 40 to 45 members now, and the connection to antique tractors is personal for many of them.
“That one,” Whitfield said, pointing to a 1953 John Deere tractor in his front yard. “It was bought just across the street over that hill. I plowed on it for the man who owned it when I was a boy. There was a guy in Tishomingo who bought it from him. I bought it from the guy in Tishomingo. That was ‘01 or 2000.”
“I’m glad you clarified that,” said S.L. Umfress, 64, of Burnsville. “We might have thought it was bought in 1901.”
The Flywheelers meet on the fourth Tuesday of each month at Holds Spur Volunteer Fire Department. For those not familiar with Northeast Mississippi geography, that’s between Burnsville and Cairo.
The group also gets together for tractor rides that can range from 20 to 35 miles. The antique machines need to be able to sustain 10 mph in order to keep up with everyone else.
“If anybody’s ride breaks down, we don’t leave them stranded,” Whitfield said. “We have a tow rope to pull them out.”
“I drive an Allis-Chalmers,” Umfress said. “I’ve never been stranded.”
“Ha,” said 71-year-old Johnnie Woodruff of Corinth. “I’ve pulled you in twice.”
Umfress didn’t dispute Woodruff, and the assembled Flywheelers got a good laugh.
What’s in a name?
The group’s name contains a bit of truth and a bit of fiction. All of their machines have flywheels.
“Otherwise it would shake you to death,” Umfress said. “You probably wouldn’t be able to pull anything, either.”
“No,” Woodruff said, “not without a flywheel.”
“That keeps your momentum going,” Whitfield.
The fiction comes from the “Tri-State” part. There are members from Mississippi and Tennessee, but none from Alabama as one would expect from a group calling itself the Tri-State Flywheelers.
“I’m originally from Alabama,” said Donald Berryman, 63, now of Iuka.
“I’m originally from Belgreen, Alabama,” added Bernice Woodruff, 68, of Corinth. “Maybe that counts.”
The club takes rides in Alabama and Tennessee, as well as Mississippi. A ride in Beaver Dam, Ky., is in the planning stages, but they won’t be traveling by tractor to get there.
“We haul them to all our rides,” said Johnnie Woodruff, who has a 1948 Ford.
Maybe 10 will show up for a ride, or it could be 40, depending on people’s schedules. Police often provide escorts to help them cross busy highways.
“Most of the time, you’ll take a picnic lunch with sandwiches and drinks,” said Mike Hardin, 68, of Tishomingo.
Kids and wives are welcome, and some of the tractors pull converted wagons with seats in them.
Donald Berryman, 63, of Iuka looked after his own comfort and installed a new cover over his seat.
“I just put it on there,” he said. “It keeps you about 15 degrees cooler than without a top.”
Tractor games
Each October, they gather at Whitfield’s place for tractor games. They have an egg race, where a driver goes over a pair of railroad ties and tries not to drop the egg.
“We have blind races, too,” Bernice Woodruff said.
“They blindfold you and someone tells you where to go,” Whitfield said.
“You have to drive through cones,” Bernice Woodruff added.
On the last Sunday of June, Johnnie and Bernice Woodruff host a fish fry, and there’s usually a party around Thanksgiving. They also decorate their tractors for Christmas parades during the season.
“We don’t allow any drinking. It is strictly family entertainment. We’re very strict about that,” Whitfield said. “We have a lot of fun.”
Old days
In addition to fun, time travel is involved. Most of the tractors are from 1960 or before, and the old machines put their owners in direct contact with the old days.
For instance, Mike Hardin’s rear end is well acquainted with his ride.
“My dad bought it new in 1956,” he said. “I broke it in.”
He restored it to its early glory, right down to the paint job. He insisted on official John Deere green and John Deere yellow direct from the dealer.
Umfress’ daddy bought his Allis-Chalmers tractor in 1954, and he feels the connection.
“I think about him. I certainly do,” Umfress said. “We all kind of long for the old days, I guess you could say.”
“It’s a nostalgia thing,” Berryman said, “probably for all of us.”
The other Tri-State Flywheelers nodded their heads, no doubt remembering what used to be.
scott.morris@journalinc.com

Join the Club
THE TRI-STATE FLYWHEELERS antique tractor club is open to new members. Call (662) 279-9683, or email jbwhitfield@e1w.com.

What’s your story?
IF YOU HAVE A STORY IDEA, call M. Scott Morris at (662) 678-1589 or email scott.morris@journalinc.com