Pink on the farm

Everyone in farm country knows that tractors come in a variety of bold, signature colors, including John Deere green, International red, Allis-Chalmers orange and Ford blue. But recently, pink became one man’s tractor color of choice.

Ernie Engelkes, a retired farmer from Slayton, recently came up with the idea to paint one of his tractors pink to honor his wife Betty and bring awareness to cancer and provide a symbol of hope for the future.

“It seems like every time you turn around, someone you know gets cancer,” Engelkes said. “I got the idea to paint a tractor pink when (my son) Jeff and I were driving Betty back and forth to Sioux Falls (S.D.) for treatments. Jeff thought I was nuts, but there is just so much cancer in this area. I wanted to do something for Betty and for others.”

Engelkes purchased a 1954 Farmall Super H tractor at an auction in the area about a year ago. After removing the belly mower and attaching it to a different International H, he then got to work restoring it.

“I had to do quite a bit of work,” he said. “The project took about six weeks, between taking it apart and putting it back together. I pretty much worked steady on it. Jeff helped me as much as he could, too. He’s a good mechanic.”

While Ernie Engelkes painted the fenders, rims and other trim in the traditional fire engine red color indicative of International equipment, Jeff Engelkes ended up being responsible for putting the soft pink color, representing breast cancer awareness, on the special tractor.

“We got the paint right from International,” Ernie Engelkes said. “We mixed red with white to get the pink color. The body shop here in Slayton, we mixed it there. We took a pink (breast cancer awareness) ribbon with to get the right color.”

The Engelkes also had a little fun with the project, attaching “Rust Cancer Survivor” ribbons to the front of the Farmall to acknowledge they had assisted in the recovery of the restored tractor.

“Betty thought of that,” Ernie Engelkes said. “She went up and got two ribbons from a guy that does ribbon work and we put one on each side of the tractor. People really laugh about that. But it did have rust, and we had to fix it up.”

Also near the front of the tractor are two flags – one representing the U.S. flag and one for the state of Minnesota – which highlight Engelkes’ patriotic side.

Ernie Engelkes even has a little tractor replica on display on the side of the full-size tractor.

“I painted it red and pink, just like the big tractor,” Engelkes said. “It’s on the side, under the gas tank. I did it for all the kids down in our neighborhood.”

Also on the side of the pink tractor are magnetic ribbons, which Betty Engelkes found in Wisconsin. The symbolic-colored ribbons of 28 different kinds of cancers are represented on the unique tractor.

“I don’t know if it’ll help, but we just wanted to put the message out there,” Ernie Engelkes said. “If it helps one person, it would be worthwhile.”

It’s rare nowadays to find someone unaffected by cancer, which is likely why people have responded so positively to seeing the pink tractor.

“At parades, people even stand up when I go by,” Engelkes said. “I don’t know if they had cancer or know someone with cancer or what. But they sure seem to take notice.”

Ernie Engelkes took the pink tractor to its first parade this past month, for the 2013 Fulda Wood Duck Festival, then to Balaton for its grand parade during its Fourth of July celebration.

“One women in Balaton hollered at me, saying she had never seen anything like it,” he said. “She probably had cancer in her family and it really meant something to her.”

Ernie Engelkes pointed out that he and Betty just found out that two more people they know really well were diagnosed with cancer. A real good friend up north, who was diagnosed the same time as Betty, also lost the battle with cancer at the age of 65.

“Both the fellows that stood up for us at our wedding have also died,” Betty Engelkes said. “That’s why we’re just taking life easy and doing what we want to do.”

Ernie Engelkes said he’ll continue to showcase his unique tractor, including more parades. This past weekend, the pink tractor made its way through the parade route in Edgerton.

“The next project will probably be Relay For Life,” he said. “Then there’ll be tractor show and the thrashing show in Slayton.”

For the fourth straight year, the Engelkes farm will serve as the location for the tractor show during the Murray County Fair. This year, organizers plan to pay a special tribute to the late Bill and Joan Sauer. Bill Sauer was on the fair board, was a county commissioner and worked for the county for a total of 27 years, Engelkes said.

“They usually have over 100 tractors in the line-up here in Slayton,” he said. “Bill is the guy that started the tractor show years back. He died after the tractor show last year. He’d lost his wife, too. So this year, we’re going to sponsor it for him.”

While Betty Engelkes appreciates her husband’s efforts, she doesn’t like being at the center of attention. She knows the devastation that cancer can have on people and how much a cure would mean. That’s why she’s extremely grateful for the message the pink tractor sends to everyone who sees it.

“It says that there is hope,” she said.