The inspiration behind Tractorpolooza, coming to the Heritage Farm Museum this Saturday, Jan. 12, began long ago and fairly nearby.
"I was born and raised on a farm in Arcola and I have been totally fascinated by tractors ever since I was big enough to walk," said Philip Marshall, now a member of the museum’s board and the donor of a 50-piece collection of model and toy tractors.
About 30 of those items make up this winter’s exhibit, "Model Tractors and Farm Equipment: Objects from the Philip Marshall Collection," which opened shortly before Christmas and will run until Jan. 20.
As a boy, Marshall said, he always got a toy or model tractor on Christmas. When he had his own small farm and a real tractor, his wife urged him to keep up his collection of miniatures, and Marshall said a number of the models in the exhibit belonged to her. "It just kept getting bigger and bigger and bigger," he said of the collection.
THAT SIZE ONLY became an issue when they moved into a condominium in the Potomac Green retirement community in Ashburn two years ago. Looking for a space for his tractors, Marshall thought of the museum. "I thought it would do [Heritage Farm] more good and if I wanted to see them I’d go down there and see them."
When it opened last winter, the exhibit was so popular that it was extended beyond its scheduled time and finally the museum decided to stage an event around it, said curator Katie Jones. So Tractorpolooza was born. "It was the most successful event I’ve seen that we didn’t plan on," said Jones, calling its popularity "a delightful surprise."
Mary Novotny, the museum’s manager, said she expects the event to draw 400 to 500 people. In addition to the Marshall collection, she said, about half a dozen actual tractors, from antique to modern, will be brought in for the day. Activities will include wagon rides — weather permitting — and a scavenger hunt, and children who bring their own toy tractors to drive on the Loudoun County floor map will be granted free admission.
Novotny said the real tractors tend to be especially well received by children. "What 5-year-old doesn’t love a tractor?" she asked. Among the antiques, she said, will be a World War II-era machine, one of the first tractors purchased by a Loudoun farmer. She said history figures largely into the exhibit, part of which tells the story of the farmers who founded Loudoun County.
THE MODELS, TOO, have a historic quality, as most of them are highly accurate. "Most of them are models made for adults," said Jones, noting that some are promotional models while others are "salesman’s models," one-sixteenth scale replicas given to the purchaser of an actual tractor. Some, however, are World War II-era models for children.
Accompanying the model tractors are miniature plows, harrows and other accessories, said Novotny. "A couple of them have little model farmers that sit on them as well."
Marshall said the exhibit also contains miniature manure spreaders that are actually functional, fastened to model horses. There will be no demonstration of their manure distribution capabilities.
Jones said the museum plans to put on the exhibit, as well as Tractorpolooza, every holiday season, with a different take each year. The 20 items remaining in storage allow some flexibility, she said.
Speculating on the unexpected popularity of his tractor collection, Marshall said, "For me, as an older person, it’s a lot of nostalgia." As for the power these machines hold over the young, he said he was mystified, although he could remember coming under its spell. "As a kid, I could go out and sit on a tractor and play by the hour."
"Kids in this area love their tractors," said Jones, adding that adult collectors also are not rare in these parts.
To those collectors, Heritage Farm Museum is issuing a call for donations, to fill in any holes in the Marshall collection and enrich next year’s exhibit.