Agricultural fairs are popular across the country and no less important in our neck of the woods. Farmers, residents, and children all compete for ribbons, trophies, and bragging rights in categories such as garden produce, animal husbandry, art and photo competitions, crafts and hobbies. There are baking contests, skillet throws, pie-eating, and watermelon seed spitting, pig races, and kiddie tractor pulls. The list goes on and on, from campfire building contests to who can break apart and don a wet T-shirt that’s been frozen into an icy ball the fastest. We always urged our kids to enter their garden vegetables into competitions or display their collections. At our urging, they have entered LEGO creations, farm dioramas, and models they had built. They also entered paintings they’d made and competed in a variety of children’s’ games and competitions.
My kids also competed in league sports and in any number of events that were judged. Invariably their team lost or their entry was deemed un-prize worthy enough. It is tough to explain to a kid that the point of participating in these kinds of things is not about winning or losing but about having fun in the process. You will always be good at some things and not at others, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try new things or activities that are out of your comfort zone. That is the lesson and take-away in my book Tractor Mac: You’re a Winner.
In this, the third book I created in the series, Tractor Mac travels to the local county fair to compete in the tractor pull, a staple event at any of our fairs since the evolution of the tractor. The Bridgeriver Fair that Mac attends is named after our neighboring town, Bridgewater, who’s county fair, run by their fire department and volunteers, I’ve attended since I was a kid. I and my tractor, “Tractor Mac,” have had a vendor booth and a small stage where I perform drawing shows twice daily in the fall for almost two decades.
In the book, Mac has been practicing for the pull but once he arrives he feels a little nervous and unsure of himself. A little bulldozer named Carl encourages Mac to do his best. Carl returns in future books Parade’s Best and Teamwork, where we also meet Deke again. Deke is the tractor who beats Mac in the tractor pull. Deke is based on an early Minneapolis Moline tractor, a Twin Cities brand. The character is not really a bully but instead, a know-it-all blow-hard, and children seem to enjoy his antics. When Mac loses the pull he feels sad and embarrassed but ends up saving the day by powering the carrousel which has broken down. Oddly enough, the story of a tractor running a merry-go-round really happed at the Cummington Fair in Massachusetts once upon a time. The story was relayed to me by one of the managers. Incidentally, You’re a Winner came out when I had a booth at their fair.
In this book, there are many representations of real people who attend the Bridgewater Fair, including my wife and kids in the grandstand. On the art panels of the carousel, you’ll see paintings of scenes from around my home town of Roxbury, CT. My church, the local farm stand, and our town’s nineteenth-century blast furnace and other sights are depicted.
This may be the first book where I depicted certain animals that appear on every page of the story. In this book, you’ll see Fetch the dog and a bluebird on every page. Tucker pickup and Paul the pig are seen in this book for the first time too, and Plane Jane returns on a page where she’s flying over the fair. I once again hide my wife’s and my children’s names in the artwork, as I do in all my books.
This was a fun book to write and illustrate. It’s probably my favorite storyline in the series. Looking back at early sketches, I can see that I was still developing the character, Tractor Mac. The drawings I made for this book have him drawn a little too narrow in the face. It’s fun to see how I’ve grown as a storyteller and artist when I look at later books where he was drawn a little better. Oh well! You can’t always win!