The Elkhorn Valley Antique Power Association (EVAPA) was formed in August, 1997 and is dedicated to the preservation and restoration of equipment commonly used in agriculture and construction since the beginning of the 20th Century. The club has been hosting an annual display show since that year. Members have also displayed equipment at numerous events including the World’s Expo of Antique Farm Equipment, Nebraska State Fair, River City (Omaha) Roundup, Sarpy County Fair, and Omaha’s Lauritzen Gardens. In addition, members have traveled together to attend other shows, and visit other collections and have enjoyed providing demonstrations.
Its members from Nebraska and Iowa have a common bond in their interest to preserve old tractors and other farm equipment, engines, lawn and garden tractors and construction equipment and have banded together to hold shows, parades and demonstrations and to help each other in the search for and restoration of ageless power equipment. Members are also regular participants in small town parades in the club’s geographic area.
The Elkhorn Valley Antique Power Association is a hobby club; organized exclusively for pleasure, recreation, civic, social and other non-profit purposes as limited by the organization’s 501c status.
In the Beginning – 1997 to 2010
It all started when a handful of rural residents of western Douglas County, Nebraska discovered they had similar interests in recovering and restoring old farm implements, especially tractors that were used in their younger years. Their interest was so strong that they decided to get together to share their knowledge and experiences. A couple of the fellows invited several others to a gathering in mid-summer of 1997 at the Elkhorn Lanes in Elkhorn, NE, (a bowling establishment and site for more future meetings. It burned down in early 2010). Among those attending the inaugural meeting were Merlyn (Skip) Anderson, Tim Rees, Warren Anthony, Kevin Segebart, Jim Dillon, Terry Loptin, Dave Vyhlidal and Lynn Lohrman. (All of the above except two continue to be members.) After agreeing that they should organize, their first major effort was to hold a small combined tractor show/pulling event; since one of the organizers worked at Vala’s Pumpkin Patch near Gretna, it was agreed that they should approach the Vala’s to see if their parking lot could be used to stage a display show to be held in mid-to-late September. The Vala’s embraced the idea and the first show was held that fall, in 1997.
Since the club needed a name, it was decided that the group would be known as the Elkhorn Valley Antique Power Association. This name was derived from the fact that most of the original members lived fairly near the Elkhorn River, in its hills and river bottoms and the club would be tied to no particular community. The rest of the name was picked because it would encompass all of the early equipment used to farm, to power and to construct. As part of the plan to promote and identify itself, the club sought to have a logo. The first draft of an official club logo, the distinctive old hard-working tractor, was designed by Cheryl Rees. It was enthusiastically received and is still being used today as originally drawn.
The organization continued to grow as more and more collectors of antique tractors learned about the club; interested persons from as far away as western Iowa even became a part of the growing membership. To attract more members, advertisements making note of the monthly meetings were run in the local newspaper. Once the membership reached about 20-25 members, it was obvious that the club should officially organize so it could collect dues and other monies, sell merchandise and products, charge admission to its events and maintain a bank account for paying expenses. In early 1999, by-laws were written; working with the law offices of Donald R. Overholt, the club was incorporated in the State of Nebraska as a not-for-profit (501©7) Social Hobby (Mutual Benefit) Club on October 22, 1999. As part of this organizational effort, the club was declared federally tax-exempt and state income tax exempt as long as its assets and yearly financial activities stayed below the then $25,000 threshold, which it continues to do to this date. Later it was determined that the organization would be better served if it were a not-for-profit (501©3) organization, organized exclusively for charitable, educational, religious or scientific purposes under the Internal Revenue Code. The change in status allowed the club to more easily provide for charities that support the needy, college scholarships and educational events.
As the nationwide interest in collecting and restoring old farm equipment grew in the late 1990’s, fueled by the fact that several farm and collector magazines were all writing about it, the Elkhorn Valley Antique Power Association grew to more that 50 members in early 2001. At that time the acronym, EVAPA, an abbreviation of the organization’s long name, was used regularly to identify the club and its activities. Each year since, the club has held regular monthly meetings with a program presentation, has edited and distributed a monthly newsletter, created and regularly updated a website, gone on bus trips to view other restored collections, financed a scholarship program for students interested in Farm Diesel Engineering, organized a charity tractor ride, held sanctioned antique tractor pulls, and staged numerous other tractor display events highlighted by its annual tractor show. This show was held the last full weekend in September and held on the Vala’s Pumpkin Patch grounds. In 2002, members of the club rescued a dilapidated old modular Wahoo building (these were sold through the Sear Roebuck & Co catalog) and moved it to the Pumpkin Patch site. It was resurrected as the show headquarters and given the popular name “Possum Lodge.” Today the building serves as a club-owned storage facility except on that show weekend, when it becomes a place for exhibitors to register, gather and converse.
The number of tractors and implements on display at the annual show rose regularly through the years reaching 160 in 2004. Starting in 2005, the club began scheduling its yearly antique tractor pull one week ahead of the annual show and moved the pulling event to the Sarpy County Fair grounds in Springfield. Breaking up the two events to separate weekends did tend to decrease the number of implements on display, as some of the pulling tractors were not brought to the annual display show. In the years following, the count of tractors and other farm implements has leveled off at about 140-150. Handling this large number of exhibitors became much easier in 2009 when an online computerized registration system was developed and implemented.
One highlight of the annual show is the operation of the sawmill. Though the sawmill is owned by Vala’s, it was relocated and returned to working order by EVAPA in 2001. Today its operation and upkeep is managed by volunteering EVAPA members. Each weekend from the date of the show until the first weekend after Halloween, members of the club operate the sawmill, making rough lumber for use throughout the Pumpkin Patch grounds. Starting in 2006, the club began making birdhouses, benches and other items to be sold; these quickly became a big revenue activity for the club.
Through the years EVAPA has developed several other profitable fundraising activities. The monies generated were used to reinvest in the club activities to make them better and more member friendly. One of the club’s most successful fundraisers comes from working with operators of a swap meet in Fremont. Using member-owned tractors and trailers, purchases made by swap meet visitors are hauled back to their vehicles for a good-will donation. In later years, the use of a people hauler to move swap meet visitors back and forth from the parking areas increased both the amount of traffic and the donations. A small raffle was held at one of the first tractor shows held at Vala’s. A pedal tractor of the same brand as the featured tractor was offered as first prize. Through the years, this raffle has grown enormously and today it supports two $500 scholarships awarded to area community college students each year.
One of the club’s most successful activities has been its annual support of the Christian Outreach Program of Elkhorn (COPE), the parent organization of the Western Douglas County Food Pantry. This charity’s goal is to assist families or individuals who have needs that are temporarily greater than their resources. EVAPA has used the proceeds from “Tractor Ride for Charity” which started in 2002 to support COPE and has donated more than $8500 and 2500 lbs of non-perishable goods since the two organizations formed a partnership in 2002. And more recently a silent auction that has been held as a part of the yearly “Significant Other” dinner has seen extraordinary growth and the funds generated go directly to the club’s chosen charity, COPE, as well.
Though the club has engaged its members in many restoration projects, none have had as much impact as the restoration of an old trolley in 2009-2010. The donated trolley was given a complete face-lift and is emblazoned in the club’s burgundy and grey ash colors. The EVAPA Trolley is now a familiar site at local parades, festivals and swap meets.
Membership has grown from the original nine to more than 210 members and participation in club activities has grown, as well. Though the club membership is made up mainly of persons who experienced using the “more than half-century” old equipment, it is rewarding to see that there is a small but growing interest among a younger generation. In 2008, the Board of Directors established a Lifetime Membership category to supplement the regular annual membership enrollment. This category was surprisingly popular with more than two-dozen members showing their long-term support of the organization by choosing to be lifetime members.
A small but important number of the club members are active in antique tractor pulling. These members spend many summer Sundays participating in area tractor pulls, hoping to bring home a trophy or some cash winnings. EVAPA itself has staged two tractor pulls each year. One is at the Sarpy County Fair on behalf of the Fair Board and the other is EVAPA’s own pull. Both the number of hitches and the pulling equipment has grown considerably since that first 1997 pull featuring a borrowed “step-on” sled. Recent pulling events now have a loyal spectator base of their own.
Membership in the Association is considered by many to be a family affair. Through the years spouses have played a key role in a number of regular club activities. Wives of many members have helped with annual show registration and the picnic potluck on the first evening of the show, and with the picnic following the charity tractor ride. Some women have owned their own tractors and have driven them in club events. Spouses have often found great enjoyment in riding on a buddy seat, in a trailer and, most recently, on the EVAPA trolley. The club’s major social event that was started in 2000 is the “Significant Other” dinner, recognizing outstanding volunteerism and saying thanks to members’ significant others for supporting their involvement in EVAPA and its many programs and projects.
Little did the original eight know that their early interest and efforts would lead to something so big and rewarding!! (Written by Benny Benschoter – 2010)
Addendum – 2011 to Present
Though the Vala Pumpkin Patch’s parking lot had served as the annual show location for 15 good years, it became obvious in 2010 that the overwhelming growth in attendance at the Pumpkin Patch events and ever-increasing number of implements at our EVAPA display show put the two events on a collision course. At the urging of Vala’s management, the club considered moving the show dates to a week earlier. But that move would have put the show in competition with other annual non-club activities that many in our membership wanted to continue to participate in. Recognizing that some of the membership had suggested that EVAPA should consider hooking up with some other agriculture organization, Benny Benschoter, the Club president at the time, held an informal meeting with some Sarpy County Fair Board members to see what their responses would be to moving the show to Springfield, Nebraska to become a part of the annual Sarpy County Fair, held in early August rather than late September. The preliminary reaction was very positive and within days, the entire EVAPA Board of Directors was invited to the monthly Fair Board meeting to brief the Board that there was a strong interest in becoming a part of the Fair program. Fair Board President Rich Jansen stated that EVAPA would be most welcome as the Board was interested in “returning the Fair to some of its agricultural roots;” having the EVAPA show with its tractor show, threshing, sawmill and corn-shelling exhibits, would certainly be a giant step. Planning for the move began immediately with the blessing of our friends at Vala’s Pumpkin Patch, who had been great partners. Leaving the Vala’s location would mean that EVAPA would have to leave behind its cherished Possum Lodge registration building and the shared ownership in the antique saw mill. But making the move did bring the display show and the tractor pull back on the same weekend and the events are now sharing resources and personnel.
EVAPA has been extremely pleased with its strong relationship with a supportive Fair Board. The show has experienced a significant increase in attendance which has supported EVAPA in our efforts to present more activities and demonstrations. It is nice to have space so we can saw wood, thresh, and shell at the same time. And the recent move to the area north of the Fairgrounds Office has further enriched the club’s experience. It appeared that more and more fair attendees were taking a look at what EVAPA brings to the Sarpy County Fair. The original eight EVAPA founders would be further pleased to see what they created.