LAGRANGE — It’s the year of the doodlebug at the Northeast Indiana Steam and Gas Association annual show now going on at the LaGrange County 4-H Fairgrounds.
Doodlebugs are homemade, hand-built farm tractors that started appearing across the United States in the 1940s when World War II limited the production of conventional farm tractors. Doodlebugs typically use a 1920 or 1930 Ford chassis heavily modified to make a vehicle capable of doing fieldwork.
Several companies sold tractor conversion kits to make the home-built tractors, but almost all doodlebugs featured at this year’s show were home-engineered by farmers using whatever materials they had on hand. Builders usually replaced the car’s rear axle with an axle from a large truck and then changed the machine’s gear ratio to give the doodlebugs less speed but better pulling power.
In addition to saluting the doodlebugs, this year’s show also features what collectors like to call “the lesser-known classics,” tractors with uncommon manufacturers. Several tractors on display at this year’s show were produced by the Graham-Bradley Company, a line of tractors farmers could order through the Sears and Roebuck catalogue.
“It’s the kind of show that a guy can come out here and see just about everything he wants to see,” said Jim Eberly, the Northeast Indiana Gas and Steam Show Association president.
New this year is a restored 1870s shingle cutter that sat and rusted away for the last several decades. Fully restored, the specialized machine was a donation to the Steam and Gas Association by Wolcottville resident Lindsey Spohr in memory of her grandparents, Stanley and Grace Spohr.
Stanley Spohr found the saw and brought it back to his farm intending to restore the antique machine. Spohr passed away before he found the time to start that project.
Lindsey said restoring the saw in her grandfather’s name was a labor of love.
“I know he’s looking down smiling right now,” she said, standing next to the restored saw.
In addition to the doodlebugs and lesser known classics, hundreds of vintage tractors are rolling into the LaGrange County 4-H Fairgrounds for this annual show. Eberly said the show’s already off to a good start, but he expects to see even more antique farm iron come rolling in before Saturday.
The show, now in its 38th year, brings an estimated 5,000-10,000 people to LaGrange.
Vintage tractors on display at this year’s show include tractors built by Oliver, Farmall, John Deere, Minneapolis Moline and many, many more. There’s even an area devoted to lawn tractors.
Steam powered enthusiasts will see dozens of antique steam tractors and engines, a working steam powered sawmill, and various displays of steam power including a steam tractor plowing exhibition.
The show also features a flea market that sells all kinds of vintage and found farm items, a swap meeting, food vendors and nightly entertainment.
Tickets are $5 and are available at the gate.
The annual show runs through Saturday night.