For two classic tractor owners, Steinbach’s Tractor Trek brings together history, hobbies and helping.
“I enjoy driving my tractor and seeing the people enjoy sitting on the side of the road and watching that, or coming to the museum,” said Henry Doerksen who was on this year’s organizing committee for the event.
“It’s just the thing that I do. It’s a great thing to raise money, especially since (the Eden Foundation) started being a part of it,” he added.
The “museum” in question is the Mennonite Heritage Village, a 40-acre site near Steinbach reconstructing life in a Russian-Mennonite community at the turn of the 20th century, and one of two driving organizations behind the region’s annual Tractor Trek fundraiser.
Why it matters: Mental health services that garner fundraising from the annual Tractor Trek have been in high demand under pandemic conditions.
The Steinbach Tractor Trek sees classic tractor owners drive in an informal parade around the Steinbach area. The event raises money, which is split between co-organizers Mennonite Heritage Village and the Eden Foundation.
A similar Tractor Trek in the Winkler area also supports the Eden Foundation.
The Eden Foundation funds Eden Health Care Services, a faith-based organization that provides mental health care and support services in the Southern Health Region.
This was the event’s 12th year, said Earl Reimer, director of development at Eden Health Care Services.
After an incredibly rainy Friday, the actual ‘trek’ portion of the event — to be held all day Saturday, Aug. 21 — was cancelled. However, drivers met for breakfast at Mennonite Heritage Village and returned again with their spouses for a banquet that evening.
Preserving the past
For Doerksen, his classic tractor journey began in the early ’90s.
At the time he was a long-distance truck driver. Every time he drove up the highway back into Canada, he said, he seemed to meet a truckload of old tractors headed to collectors in the U.S.
“What are we going to be left with here in Canada, eventually? They’re all going south,” Doerksen said.
He began to invest what he could in buying old tractors and saving them for himself and his family.
Doerksen intended to drive his 1948 John Deere Model A in the trek, joking that he drove “a real tractor... that’s green and yellow.”
The Model A is one of 20-some tractors he owns.
Doerksen’s fellow committee member and receptacle of his teasing, Roland (Rolly) Wiebe, has a different colour-scheme preference.
Wiebe, a longtime organizer of the event, planned to drive a 1968 International Model 1206, while two friends drove two more of his tractors — a 1954 Farmall Super M-TA and a 1963 Allis Chalmers D15.
For Wiebe, the International har- kens back to a summer when he worked on a farm in western Manitoba and fell in love with the Model 1206, which he considered a “big tractor.”
“Which is of course fairly small right about now,” Wiebe said, “but I enjoyed it so much that I thought, one day I’m going to own a tractor like that.”
Later in life he bought one, and says that’s how his tractor habit started.
Creating a future
For Wiebe, however, the Tractor Trek is not just a day to drive his equipment and spend time with like-minded friends.
He knows someone who has benefited from Eden Mental Health Centre in Winkler, he said.
“It’s a great cause, and that’s part of the reason I’m doing this,” Wiebe said.
This year, the Steinbach Tractor Trek raised about $28,000, according to Patrick Friesen, development co-ordinator at Mennonite Heritage Village.
That matches the sum raised last year in Steinbach. Last year’s Winkler trek raised just over $55,000, Reimer said.
“The Tractor Treks are a significant revenue source so that we can, in fact, provide services that are not part of our service purchase agreement with the provincial health care that we have,” Reimer said.
This may include covering costs for Recovery of Hope, Eden’s fee-for-service counselling program.
“Regardless of people’s ability to pay for counselling services... we don’t turn people away,” Reimer said. “They pay what they can pay and these funds are used to supplement that.”
During the pandemic, Recovery of Hope has seen more patients “than ever before, and that demand is not decreasing,” he also said.
He doesn’t expect that demand to drop any time soon.
Eden’s community mental health has also seen a surge in demand.
“Our capacity continues to be constrained simply by the availability of people to help,” Reimer said.
Funds may also be used toward Eden’s housing properties, which support people dealing with mental health challenges, or toward renovation or furniture in facilities like the mental health centre in Winkler.
Between Mennonite Heritage Village and the Eden Foundation, they’re “preserving the past and creating a future,” Reimer said.