A line of farm tractors stretching as far as the eye could see were queued in front of Ozark Die Casting Co. in St. Clair on a recent Saturday morning. The hum of their engines sounded like sewing machines, with occasional puffs of smoke from their exhaust stacks releasing into their air.
Their drivers were poised to set out that morning on a 30-mile trek as part of the Knights of Columbus’ 16th annual Journey for Charity Tractor Cruise. A second fleet of tractors traveled from St. Ignatius Parish in Concord Hill, with the two routes converging in Washington and ending at the Knights of Columbus Hall. In all, 183 tractors were on display as they slowly wound their way through the rolling back roads of Franklin and Warren counties.
The event is a community affair, with families coming out of their homes to watch the parade of tractors. Many of them sat on their porches or in chairs on the front lawn, some of them with picnics — and in one case, a group with a Weber grill was barbecuing as tractors rolled by.
But more important from these observers was their support, with nearly 9,000 pounds of food collected along the route, which was distributed among nine food pantries in Franklin and Warren counties. The event also brought in $39,550 in donations, to be divided among the seven participating Knights of Columbus councils and shared with the food pantries.
Heather Pratt has been a longtime volunteer with the Tractor Cruise. Her father, husband and several cousins drove their tractors this year, while Pratt manned a utility vehicle, with her son and a friend picking up donations from those watching the parade.
As a registered nurse and trauma manager at Mercy Hospital Washington, Pratt has seen firsthand why supporting the work of food pantries in the area is so important. “We have a little food pantry outside the building,” said the member of Immaculate Conception Parish in Union. “Each department takes turns filling that pantry, and it’s always empty. I also know from work about how the homeless population has increased so much.”
Before they headed out, drivers received physical and spiritual nourishment for the nearly four-hour drive. Donna Katzung, a parishioner at St. John the Baptist-Gildehaus in Villa Ridge, prepared sausage, egg and cheese breakfast sandwiches and biscuits and gravy for hungry drivers. Deacon Randy Maune of St. John the Baptist also blessed the fleet, offering prayers for past participants who have since died.
“To accomplish God’s purpose, we use these tractors and so, in some way cooperate with our Lord and share in the good of His redemption,” Deacon Maune prayed. “In your kindness, protect your servants who stand before you devout and faithful, bearing the tools of their trade, these tractors. Grant that their hard work may contribute to their perfecting of your creation.”
John Jasper mounted his International 1066 Turbo farm tractor, microphone in hand, to give the group their marching orders. After 16 years in action, the cruise has become a well-oiled machine, with the Missouri Highway Patrol, Franklin County Sheriff’s Office, local police departments and volunteers helping guide traffic.
“I want to thank everybody for your prayers — for all the prayers you said to get this beautiful day,” Jasper said as thumbed through his notes. Later, he reflected on how the Tractor Cruise brings together so many people in the community for a common cause.
“This is so important to the food pantries,” said Jasper, a member of Immaculate Conception Council #1576 in Union. “Last year, they all took home more than a thousand pounds of food — that day. It’s really important more than ever, with inflation and everything.”
The Second Blessings Food Pantry in Union, which serves Franklin County, also has seen an increase in the need for food in recent years. Terri Crouch, who has volunteered there for the past decade, noted that “our clientele is growing. Food prices are outrageous. We’re seeing a lot of people with mental health needs, too. This event is a tremendous help to our community.”
This was the first year Father Peter Blake observed the Tractor Cruise, having returned to Union two decades after a previous assignment at
Immaculate Conception in the 1990s and early 2000s. The priest now serves as pastor of Immaculate Conception, St. Joseph in Neier and St. Clare in St. Clair.
“The amount of money they’ve raised and food they’ve collected has been great for the community,” Father Blake said. Reflecting on that weekend’s second reading from St. Paul, he said, “we have a duty, a responsibility to love one another. That’s the command. And this is a great testimony to that.”
>> Journey for Charity Tractor Cruise by the numbers
- 16th annual event
- 183 participating tractors
- 7 participating Knights of Columbus councils: St. Clair #4667, Union #1576, St. John’s Villa Ridge #8073, Dutzow #1927, New Haven #7475, Krakow #16213 and Washington #1121
- 9 benefitting food pantries: St. Clare in St. Clair, St. John the Baptist-Gildehaus in Villa Ridge, Immaculate Conception in Union, Second Blessings in Union, Warren County Food Pantry, New Haven Food Pantry, St. Francis Borgia in Washington, St. Peter United Church of Christ in Washington and St. Gertrude in Krakow
- $39,550 net profit, all of which is shared with the food pantries
- 9,000 pounds of food collected