HARRISBURG — The Rhoads family has been square dancing at the Pennsylvania Farm Show for decades.
Harry Rhoads; his son, Tim; and his grandson, Brandon, all of Berlin, square danced with the Wheelers and Dealers of Somerset County for years. These days, they do their Farm Show square dancing on tractors.
The Rhoads men, part of the Roof Garden Tractor Buddies, dazzled visitors to the 102nd Pennsylvania Farm Show on Friday during a fun and quirky event that in 11 years has become a Farm Show tradition.
The Farm Show runs through 5 p.m. today. Admission is free but parking is $15.
“We do eight shows a year, but this is the highlight,” said Tim Rhoads after getting off of his 1942 Farmall tractor. “I like both kinds of square dancing, people and tractor.”
Sponsored by the Friends of the Pennsylvania Farm Show Foundation and Fairfield Inn & Suites of Harrisburg, the tractor square dance involved eight drivers ranging from 13 to 80 years old. They drove antique tractors and performed square dance maneuvers to music and a caller’s orders.
Edith Rhoads, team caller and Tim Rhoads’ wife, sang the national anthem, welcomed the crowd and put vinyl records on a record player. She then called out the orders.
Within minutes, the eight men (four wearing wigs, skirts, hats or aprons to portray women) drove into the arena on seven red Farmall tractors and one green John Deere tractor.
Soon, the drivers were guiding the antique tractors, mostly from the 1940s and 1950s, into intricate maneuvers. They whirled, twirled and obeyed commands to promenade, do si do, corner and star, all without wrecking into each other.
The tractors had different gear ratios and different wheel sizes. The men had different driving styles. Yet they gave a smooth performance. Their tractor wheels came within inches of each other yet never collided. All agreed that practice and knowing human square dancing helps.
It also helps that this team is from Somerset County, one of Pennsylvania’s top square dancing counties.
“All of us square dance,” Tim Rhoads said, introducing another team driver as Alex Leydig, his nephew.
“I started square dancing here when I was 12,” Tim Rhoads said. “My three sisters square dance and now their kids do too. When we practice in the winter, we walk the routine to the caller’s orders. When the weather gets better, we practice outside.”
Al Berkebile of Shade Township said the team practices every Wednesday evening in the summer, then has a potluck dinner.
“We do this for the fun of it,” he said. “We love to laugh and carry on.”
Although square dance tractors are old, many still work on the farm. Harry Rhoads drives a 1945 Farmall that he still uses to haul his hay wagon. Tim Rhoads still uses his 1942 Farmall in his crop farming. Brandon Rhoads drives a 1952 Farmall still used to haul water to the family’s beef cattle.
As the tractor square dance went on, audience members said tractors don’t have the same grace that the nearly 500 human square did on Monday night. Yet, many agreed, the power of the tractors and the skill of the drivers in maneuvering them makes this a fun tradition worth keeping.