You’d never know it was the coldest day of winter so far because inside Marlene Becker’s home it was filled with warm hearts and camaraderie.

Fellow members of the Tri State Old Iron Association were gathered around the kitchen table to reminisce about their role in the club.

Marlene Becker, Donna Harts, Peg Klimisch, Bev Mueller and I shared our thoughts on the role of women increasing in the club and Dawn Zavadil shared her experience with me at a later gathering.

I dug into the history of how the club began; Peg explained that she was part of the group that spearheaded the club in 2004. Dale Holcomb approached her and her husband Joe at that time, suggesting a meeting about starting a club for those interested in old iron. He included Mark Hunhoff, D.W. Duhacek and Gary Copperstone and the five met at Mark’s Machinery, just East of town. Because Peg’s husband Joe couldn’t make it to the meeting, he asked Peg to attend in his place. Though a little hesitant, she attended and was the only female there.

Starting a non-profit club wasn’t new to Joe and Peg; they already had experience with the requirements as they helped the Yankton Classic Cruisers car club gain its ground. Roles for the new group were determined: Dale volunteered to be President, Peg was secretary and board member and Gary was treasurer. They dove into the huge project of setting up proper by-laws, working out financial details, arranging meeting times and all other necessities. The group worked together for several months to narrow down the details and the by-laws were completed in 2005, making the club a legal organization.

They spread the word about the new club and lined up the first meeting at JoDean’s Steakhouse for those interested. Their advertising worked; the first meeting was well attended. In one of the first meetings, they had a contest to determine a name for the club. Because they had club interest in not only South Dakota but in Nebraska and Iowa as well, Todd Quartiere came up with Tri-State Old Iron Association (TSOIA) and designed the current logo. Eight states are now represented in the club. The club motto “to help preserve the history and agricultural heritage of the farming community” was determined at another meeting.

Women have continued to play a role in the backbone of the club.

Donna Harts, who joined with her husband Rodger in 2005, has served as newsletter publisher, on the activity, cookbook and Riverboat Days committees, board member and president intern. She was instrumental in getting the TSIOA two-day tractor ride started 14 years ago.

Marlene Becker joined with her husband one year later in 2006 and was also instrumental in starting the two-day tractor ride and has served on the cookbook and activities committees. Her most important role is being an assistant to husband Leon in his Treasury position. She exclaimed, laughing, It’s a lot of work!” Serving also on the Riverboat Days committee, she helped make several floats for the annual parade.

She laughed, “I never thought I’d make a covered wagon in my life!” Like the Becker’s, Bev Mueller’s husband Jerome joined in 2006 and she joined a few years later. She’s assisted her husband while he was Vice President, has served on the activities committee and the couple assist with the two-day tractor ride. A few years after the ride began, they began a complex project of designing and coordinating the layout of the participating tractors for a fly-over picture at the start of the two-day event. The fantastic result is often on the front page of the Yankton Daily Press & Dakotan each year.

The Mueller’s have tweaked their process over the last 13 years. They’ve come to plotting out the tractors on graph paper, marking the locations on the gathering grounds with little orange flags, mowing a path of the design and directing the tractors where to park as they come in. It’s a huge undertaking with a remarkable result.

Dawn Zavadil and husband Frank joined in April 2015. In those few years in the club, Dawn has served as secretary and on the activities committee and Riverboat Days committee. A few years ago, she and Frank created the process of videography of events, including interviews of participants. This has become very popular with the club members.

My husband Joe and I joined the club in 2012. I have served as newsletter journalist, board member, secretary and on the activities and Riverboat Days committees. Joe and I also assist with the two-day tractor ride. I help the Zavadil’s with the videography by conducting the interviews.

Though all the ladies, except Dawn, joined the club because of their husbands, they are still in the club for their own interests.

Dawn encouraged Frank to join after he purchased an Oliver 770 and had intensions of restoring it.

Shortly thereafter, Dawn saw a notice about the meetings and thought, “This would be perfect. Why don’t we join and see if we like it?” We met them and like many others, quickly became good friends.

We now know Peg was there from the beginning. Donna started going because Roger wanted her to. Marlene went when Leon’s brother, who was in the club, invited him to the meeting and I started coming to the meetings because Joe has a love of tractors.

Bev explained, “To be honest, I didn’t know that the club even existed until Jerome started bringing me. She was always introduced as a guest for some time until she and Jerome got married. “It was a standing joke between the two of us that we had to get married so that I could be a member and not a guest anymore!”

These women know their tractors. It was interesting to sit back and listen to their experiences of learning how to drive one. Peg’s experience the most interesting and notable; the first time she drove a tractor was when she was in the 2nd grade and her dad sent her to take an 81 Massey Harris to her uncle’s farm, five miles away, with her sister. She dropped off her sister, who was riding on the fender, at their grandma’s house on the way. “We had a heck of a good angel, a guardian angel,” she laughed.

Donna drove a tractor while growing up on the farm and so did Marlene. Marlene recalled one experience when her dad borrowed his brothers Ford tractor and she got to drive it… and put it into the fence line. Bev started driving about 5-7 years ago with some of Jerome’s help. Not knowing how to drive a manual (stick shift) made learning to drive even more challenging. Dawn learned how to drive a tractor at a young age and used to help rake hay for her dad and the neighbors. I had the least experience. Though I grew up on a farm, I learned to drive everything but a tractor. Joe taught me how to drive a few years ago.

The ladies compared their favorite aspects of being club members. Peg stated that some tractors would have made it to junkyard instead of being restored if it wasn’t for the support and motivation from club members. She really enjoys the rides; there are many roads she would have never gone on if it weren’t for the event.

Donna smiled, “I like to see the people meeting people and making new friends. That’s a biggie.”

Marlene has made many new friends and enjoys the speakers. “There are things I would never know about if there wasn’t a speaker there to inform us.”

Bev likes the benefits you reap as a member and the various generations of members. She commented on the wide spectrum of members’ occupations. They’re not just farmers, they come from all walks of life, with a common interest in the farming heritage.

Dawn enjoys the picnics, tractor ride and the Christmas party. I appreciate the close friends I’ve made through my time with the club. I love the people; they’ve become a type of family for me.

The club made different first impressions among the women. Being a female in the foundation of the club, Peg explained, “I was the only woman out there and I think there were a couple in there that wondered what I was doing there.”

Donna first thought, “I hope this club succeeds and over the years, it has.”

Marlene laughed as she initially thought “Oh the men, what am I doing here?” The female attendance has steadily increased over the years.

“Being the farmgirl that I am, I enjoy it,” Bev explained. She likes the stories that are shared at the meetings, helping to bring back memories.

Dawn was surprised to see such a large group of people at her first meeting. She found the members to be very kind and welcoming and was impressed at the talent and hobbies of the members.

I was hesitant to attend a meeting with Joe, thinking it was just a bunch of men sitting around and talking about tractors. My first meeting proved my initial judgment wrong. I was pleased to see the number of women in attendance and quickly made new friends.

Peg is amazed to see the where the club is now. Reminiscing recently, she told her husband Joe, “When that day, when were all (at the first meeting), and I think back today, where this club is, that is tremendous.” She would never have imagined the club being this successful. What started as five people expanding on a similar interest has expanded to meeting attendance of an average of 80 people and roughly 200 members in the club. The members have grown into a large family with a high respect for each other.

Donna had also become a major part of the foundation of the club. When Donna’s husband Rodger passed away in April 2019, she was asked by the board to fill in the President spot for the rest of his term, becoming the first female president of the club. As Rodger’s right hand person, she knew the details as well has he did. She knew that he would be honored if she took on the role. She did a remarkable job as she filled out rest of his term.

Bev welcomes females to join the family, explaining that they don’t need to be afraid to join the club even if it’s a man’s world. “We have a number of widows that are still members, we have more and more female (tractor) drivers each year. And you don’t even need to have a tractor to be a member!”

Bev summed up the female role in the history of the club nicely. “Behind every man is a good woman. Donna is really the oil behind the squeaky wheel. As much ladies’ finesse that they put into supporting the club, supporting the husband, I think that makes the club priceless. I don’t know if the men would admit as much work that the female counterpart puts in to help all that inner-workings go on.”

If you have any interest or questions about the club, please contact Jerome Mueller at 605-660-2861