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Tractor drive aids cancer fight

The Sibley Burr Oaks Tractor Drive leaves Cropsey Sunday morning / CIFN photo.

SIBLEY – Classic tractors lined the country roads between Sibley and Fairbury on Sunday to fight cancer.

We like to honor the memory of all the cancer victims,” explained Russ Tjarks who organizes the annual Sibley Burr Oaks Tractor Drive.

This year they also decided to honor veterans, stopping for lunch at the Fairbury VFW. Tjarks’ sister fought cancer for five years and he got the idea for this event while participating in a tractor drive along the I&M Canal years ago raising money for storm victims in Utica.

“I got the idea of taking my tractor and going around and taking a collection in my sister’s name.”

The Sibley Burr Oaks drive started in 2005 and later turned into an annual event that is still going strong today. Participants in last year’s drive got “cooked” by the sun, according to Tjarks, so they were relieved to have more cloud cover and cooler temperatures this year.

“It’s amazing what you see at 10-12 miles an hour going down the road,” Tjarks added.

Harvey Zehr and his family had their large collection of Olivers included in Sunday’s drive. Zehr’s father had Olivers ever since they came out with the tractor and when he passed away, Zehr bought four of his father’s tractors and decided to buy more. He now has 17.

“We bring as many as we can on the drive so we’ve got five family members in here that drive them,” Zehr said.

The oldest is a 1929 in the newest a 1974 model. The Zehrs take the Olivers to several shows throughout the area.

“You see how the Oliver progressed from the Hart Pars that he has all the way up to the 1974 (model),” said Zehr’s daughter, Rebekah Fehr.

Fehr’s particular favorite is the 550 Oliver from 1964 which was the first tractor her grandfather taught her how to drive. Fehr acknowledges the old tractors make quite the impression on residents of retirement facilities.

“They just think it’s the greatest thing and you can hear them saying I was on that or my dad farmed with that. It kind of makes us feel good that we can give them that memory back,” Fehr said.

Zehr admits it takes quite a bit of work to maintain an Oliver fleet. He would acquire more but believes he needs to cut back.

“Even if you had them running when you put them away in the shed, you get back out there and find out something happened so you’ve got to keep the repair work up,” Zehr notes.

In addition to the Fairbury VFW, other stops for this year’s Sibley Burr Oaks drive included the Cropsey Sportsman’s Club, Fairview Haven and Emancipation Brewing Company near Fairbury.

Anyone wishing to participate in next year’s drive or wanting more information should contact Tjarks at 217-249-2377. There is also information posted on Facebook.

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