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Poppers Club Benefits from Tractor Sale


by Jerry Goshert

Published: Friday, April 19, 2024

An antique tractor once belonging to the late John Coulter of Westville was auctioned off for a good cause last Friday in New Paris.

Mike Coulter, a farmer and member of the Northern Indiana Johnny Poppers, consigned his father's John Deere 720 to Polk Auction Co.'s annual spring collector auction. The tractor had been used on the family's pumpkin farm to transport visitors to the pumpkin patch. John owned the tractor for about 25 years, but the venerable tractor has been sitting idle for the past eight years.

John, who died last summer at the age of 83, was a tractor collector and long-time member of the Johnny Poppers. Due to his love for the club, Mike decided to donate one-half of the proceeds to the tractor club. When it came time to auction off the tractor, the final bid was $6,800. The Johnny Poppers' share was $3,400.

Mike said his father was well-known and had many friends, not only in his own community but in the conservative area near Wakarusa. He was a regular buyer at the produce auction there. According to Mike, his father purchased pumpkins to supplement his own crop.

"We always bought pumpkins at Wakarusa, whether we needed them or not," Mike recalled.

After John died last June, his widow, Jean, decided it was time to sell off some of the tractors in his collection. However, Mike said the family is keeping John's favorite tractors in the shed.

The John Deere 720 was unique. It once had a pumpkin mounted to its top and was part of the family friendly atmosphere at Coulter's Produce and Pumpkin Patch in Westville.

However, after "being asleep in the shed," as Mike said, the gas-powered tractor needed some repairs. Mike contacted Troy Cripe, president of the Johnny Poppers, about the idea of fixing the tractor and donating half the proceeds to the tractor club. Troy's father, Ron, obliged, and the tractor was given a proper tuneup.

Kenny Hunsberger, former president of the Johnny Poppers, stated that John was an outstanding club member and very generous. He said the Westville farmer once offered to help the club financially during some of the club's lean years.

The Northern Indiana Johnny Poppers raises corn and soybeans on nearly 80 acres in the New Paris and Goshen areas. Money from the crop sales is donated to area food pantries and FFA chapters.

The money earned last week will support the club as it gears up for another planting season—and another year of giving back.

Mike said his father started growing pumpkins many years ago after the county Extension agent suggested that as a way to diversify the farm's income stream. That first year began with one acre of pumpkins, which were sold for a dollar in the front yard. Mike said the pumpkins were a hit, and the business snowballed from there.

Many customers bring their children to the pumpkin patch each year. It's become a fall tradition.

"We don't really sell pumpkins there," Mike said. "We sell memories."

Mike said he and his father were partners in the agritourism business, with Mike and his wife Char doing most of the work and John helping wherever he could. However, an accident in 2004 claimed the life of Mike's 12-year-old son, Colin. Mike said Colin was struck by a motorcycle while crossing the road in front of their house.

After Colin's death, Mike and his family pulled back from the business. It was a difficult time.

"At that point, my wife couldn't go to work," Mike said. "Dad was determined; he'd worked too hard for this whole thing to fade at that point in time. There's something about generations and differences. His generation had that ability to somewhat delete their memory bank or scab over heavier than others do."

The accident happened 20 years ago this summer. However, for Mike, it seems like yesterday.

"It's a scab that tears off occasionally," he said.

Today, Mike farms with his nephew, Curt Coulter. The family still sells pumpkins and other produce, but it's not as profitable as it used to be. For one thing, labor costs are higher.

A second reason is the fickleness of the weather.

"We're dependent on eight days in October to make our world," he said. "If the weatherman's friendly, you've got a good season."

However, if the weather is bad, "you're not taking your kids out to play. That's what dictates that market."

Even with high labor costs, raising pumpkins is a tradition the family wants to hold onto—at least for now.

"It's a tough market to hang onto, and a tougher market to let go of," Mike said. "That's just the way time goes on."

Mike said his father loved John Deere tractors and even had the image of a John Deere 4630 printed on all his checks.

"That's his tractor of choice," he said.

The tractor that was sold last week may not have been John's favorite, but it was special. Mike said the John Deere 720 simply needed "somebody to like it again."

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