I was traveling from my residence in Colorado in early May 2016 to visit family and friends in my adopted hometown and former longtime residence of Tulsa, Oklahoma. While there, I spent time at the nearby Steam Park Grounds in Pawnee, on the occasion of the 50th Oklahoma Steam and Gas Engine Show. It is a picturesque setting on Black Bear Creek, organized by the Oklahoma Steam Threshing & Gas Engine Assn. The area is situated near the heart of the Pawnee Nation in northeast Oklahoma, with lush forests, rocky bluffs and hilly terrain, and the serene waters of a nearby stream. I find myself on the lookout to catch a glimpse of white-tailed deer or wild turkey driving the winding road to the park. For me it brings back many pleasant memories of youth.
I am not an engine enthusiast to the extent of so many whom I met on that pleasant afternoon in Pawnee, but I am the son of an engine fan. Clayton Walker, my father, lived in Tulsa and the surrounding area nearly all of his life. He died in 1989, after many years as a hobbyist collecting numerous old oil field engines and other antique mechanical equipment. He was a petroleum engineer by profession who always seemed happiest tinkering with engines and other mechanical devices. After my dad died, my mother – now also long deceased – soon sold or gave to others his engine collection. This included parting ways with a small tractor.
My father designed and built the tractor not long before he passed away. It was among his last of many hand-built projects. It was special for him then, and so it is for me now, nearly 30 years later.
He wrote an article for Gas Engine Magazine, published in the February 1989 issue (Vol. 23, Issue 2), about this “Homemade Mini-Tractor,” as he called it. In the article, he described designing and building the tractor, powered by an heirloom single-cylinder Maytag gasoline engine. He constructed it from scratch using the self-described “cut and fit method.” Some parts were custom manufactured, such as a brass steering wheel he cast at a local foundry, along with some shiny Maytag signs on the hood. Other parts for the tiny tractor he salvaged from a minibike (rear wheels) and a couple of junked motorcycles (seat and backrest), a washing machine wringer release, an old Dodge van driveshaft, an auto condenser, a riding lawn mower differential, and so on. He first publicly displayed his completed Maytag tractor at an engine show in Republic, Missouri, in 1988.
But my dad passed away suddenly not long after that exhibition, and only two months after his article about the tractor was first published. I reflected a lot about my father and learned a bit more about him when I recently read what he wrote about his Maytag tractor. His magazine piece was given to me by the current owners of the mini-tractor, Milford and Bonnie Reagle. My acquaintance with this cheery couple began while at the engine show in Pawnee. They are wholehearted antique engine devotees. I will long hold dear their companionship on that comfortable spring day. You can imagine my delight when I first encountered them at the Pawnee exhibition along with that miniature Maytag tractor they showed there. The very same tractor my dad planned and constructed so many years ago.
It was once written that “life can only be understood backwards.” So it is that we hold dear our remembrances of people, events, and things from earlier in our lives. My visit to Pawnee on that day in May was like that for me.