A Year-Round Guide to Franklin and Nantahala

What kind of Father’s Day gift do you get for a 75-year-old who doesn’t fish, doesn’t hunt, doesn’t travel much, and plays very little golf? One year, my grandfather received

Rosemary and Goat Cheese Strata

What kind of Father’s Day gift do you get for a 75-year-old who doesn’t fish, doesn’t hunt, doesn’t travel much, and plays very little golf? One year, my grandfather received

The Power of Love in Denton

What kind of Father’s Day gift do you get for a 75-year-old who doesn’t fish, doesn’t hunt, doesn’t travel much, and plays very little golf? One year, my grandfather received four cases of Levi Garrett chewing tobacco from his four children. In an effort to avoid that redundancy, my family decided to gather together in my grandfather’s front yard and wash tractors. That would be his gift.

These weren’t just any tractors. These were his restored antique Massey Fergusons. And this wasn’t a routine wash job. These six tractors were destined for Tractor Row at Denton FarmPark. There, they would shine and gleam in the July sun during the five-day Threshers’ Reunion. The annual July Fourth pilgrimage of farmers and farm-equipment enthusiasts to a 170-acre field in rural Davidson County has become a point of pride for the small town of Denton.

They may be vintage, but these tractors still have plenty of life in them: Lexington resident Martin McMahan (left) offers rides on his 1956 Earthmaster. photograph by Jerry Wolford & Scott Muthersbaugh

My grandfather’s six Massey Fergusons are part of a fleet of farm machinery that includes more than 1,000 tractors, as well as steam engines, combines, lawnmowers, trucks, cars, and even teams of horses. Every day of the Threshers’ Reunion, at about 3:30 p.m., my grandfather began checking gas tanks and passing out keys. He wanted every tractor lined up to make the daily lap for the Parade of Power at 4 o’clock.

If you want to see pride personified, take a seat in the shade on the east side of the exhibit building and watch parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles drive through on John Deeres, Allis-Chalmers, Farmalls, Olivers, and Massey Fergusons with laps full of children and grandchildren, nieces and nephews. As the parade proceeds, the announcer calls out the make, model, owner, and hometown of each tractor. Smiles stretch, and hands wave.

We could not give my grandfather any gift that would rival the joy he found during the Threshers’ Reunion. We simply showed up and helped him look his best.

• • •

Denton resident Brown Loflin started the Southeast Old Threshers’ Reunion as the Fly-In. He built a hangar and runway in the field that would become Denton FarmPark and offered airplane rides as a fundraiser for the local rescue squad. The first rides took place on July 4, 1970.

The threshing equipment that became the event’s namesake began as an afterthought. Loflin needed something to entertain people as they stood in line, waiting for a ride. He’d heard about a recent auction where more people showed up to see a 1940s combine start and run than people who were interested in the sale itself. A light bulb went off.

Randy Putman’s two-mule team turns a treadmill to power a 19th-century “groundhog” thresher. photograph by Jerry Wolford & Scott Muthersbaugh

Until the combine came along, threshing wheat involved the whole community. Neighbors joined together to complete the manual labor that harvesting and threshing required. Afterward, they ate and talked and danced and fellowshipped. When Loflin introduced wheat threshing at Denton FarmPark, the community component followed, and people began gathering to watch and talk and reminisce.

Loflin tried to introduce something new every year — the exhibit hall in ’74, sawmill in ’75, one-room church in ’76, music hall in ’77, general store in ’78, and the Handy Dandy Railroad in 1982. By the 1980s, airplane rides ceased, and the Fly-In became the Southeast Old Threshers’ Reunion.

The show now runs for five days, always spanning a weekend and including the Fourth of July. Equipment demonstrations continue, as well as tractor and horse pulls; antiques and crafts vendors; nightly bluegrass, country, or gospel entertainment; train rides; plenty of food; and fireworks.

Denton FarmPark founder Brown Loflin died in 2019, but his wife, Ruby (center), and their children, Karen Loflin Miller and Keith Loflin, keep the park open and his legacy alive. photograph by Jerry Wolford & Scott Muthersbaugh

Brown Loflin’s children, Keith Loflin and Karen Loflin Miller, remember each of those Threshers’ Reunion chapters. Keith was 7 during the first event, and Karen was 5. Keith remembers sitting in an aluminum chair in the airplane hangar beside a big, black pot of green beans cooking as a thunderstorm rolled in. They both remember getting spankings after grabbing ice out of their daddy’s cooler and putting it down each other’s shirts.

Today, Keith and Karen work full-time at Denton FarmPark. Their father passed away in 2019, but their mother, Ruby, still comes into the office every day. The FarmPark now hosts a pickers antiques festival in the spring, a fall festival, and the Country Christmas Train in November and December. But the Threshers’ Reunion — which draws approximately 30,000 people in addition to volunteers and exhibitors — remains the centerpiece.

“A lot of people will say, ‘I brought my granddaughter when she was born, and now she’s 18,’” Karen says. “They appreciate the family aspect and good, wholesome entertainment.”

• • •

The Threshers’ Reunion runs not only in the Loflin family but also in other families, both local to Davidson County and farther afield. The Cook family of Denton is on its fifth generation of Threshers’ Reunion participants.

“We live three miles away, but we camp during the show,” Ronnie Cook says. “We love it.”

Ronnie’s great-grandfather and his great-uncle were some of the first farmers to help Brown Loflin introduce steam engines into the show. Ronnie’s grandfather knew how to work with the equipment as a lifelong farmer, and his uncle picked up the skills while serving in World War II.

“That generation could fix and make and do things,” Ronnie says. “It’s amazing to see what they did.”

Members of the Cook family — including (left to right) Tony, Ronnie, James, and Lonnie — don’t have to travel far to reach the FarmPark from their property in Denton, but they still prefer to camp on-site during the Threshers’ Reunion. photograph by Jerry Wolford & Scott Muthersbaugh

This year will be Ronnie’s 47th Threshers’ Reunion. He first attended with his father, James, when he was about 2 weeks old. Ronnie’s two adult sons wouldn’t miss the show, either. The Cooks are involved with the South Davidson Volunteer Fire Department, where Ronnie is fire chief. In addition to showing off their Farmall tractors, they handle parking and safety.

During the Threshers’ Reunion, Ronnie takes a week of unpaid vacation from his construction business, and James sacrifices any plans for his July wedding anniversary in exchange for spending five days in the middle of a field, talking and laughing and admiring machinery. More than anything else, they enjoy the camaraderie.

“If you’re set up over there and your tractor won’t run, before you know it, there are 10 people around you trying to figure out what’s wrong with it,” Ronnie says. “That’s just the kind of people who are there.”

• • •

Jeff and Kathryn Taylor didn’t grow up going to the Threshers’ Reunion. But after discovering it in 1988, they made it a family tradition. The Taylors are part of a dedicated set of long-distance campers who return to the same spot in the park every year. The Taylors travel 200 miles from Castle Hayne, near Wilmington. They arrive several days early and sometimes use the FarmPark as a jumping-off point to explore destinations farther west.

“When the kids were younger, we would have season passes to Carowinds, so we would do that,” Kathryn says. “But not during the show. You can’t leave the show.”

At the Handy Dandy Railroad depot, families admire Engine 202, a 1949 diesel locomotive. photograph by Jerry Wolford & Scott Muthersbaugh

The Taylors’ daughter, Victoria, used to cry when they left Denton, and she’s remained a dedicated Threshers’ Reunion patron. One year, after the fireworks, her boyfriend dropped to his knee and proposed: “You love it here,” he told her, “and I want to give you one more good memory of this place.” A couple of years later, the two made the journey when Victoria was eight months pregnant, determined not to miss a show.

The Taylors exhibit pedal tractors. These miniature versions of farm icons have a following all their own. Jeff has his childhood 1965 Model 20 John Deere. Victoria has Kathryn’s father’s Ford. The Taylors gave their granddaughter one when she turned 3 and plan to do the same for their other grandchildren. They reserve four campsites and position their campers in a square. “We do the family thing,” Kathryn says. They cook out in the evenings and make homemade ice cream. Kathryn always puts a few scoops into a cup, sticks in a spoon, covers it in tin foil, and delivers it to Keith Loflin in the camper office.

• • •

Generosity is a theme during the Threshers’ Reunion. People share jumper cables and gallons of gas and extra seats in the shade. A few years ago, when my aunt and uncle were expecting a new child, our “neighbors” a few spots up on Tractor Row dropped off a pair of handmade blue bootees. Those bootees were the handiwork of Jane Barnette. She and her husband, Roger, make the hour-and-a-half drive from Statesville every day of the Threshers’ Reunion.

“We enjoy seeing family members,” Jane says. “In addition to our family, some who aren’t our blood relatives, who we call our extended Denton ‘family.’”

Roger starts counting down the days to the Threshers’ Reunion in January. He actually starts counting on July 5 or 6, but he gets serious after New Year’s. He’s always one of the first to register his tractor and claim his spot on Tractor Row. One year, he left home for Denton at 4:30 a.m. Jane protested, pointing out that the gates wouldn’t open until 7. “That’s all right,” Roger responded. “I’ll be sitting there when they open.”

The Barnettes travel in a crowd with siblings and nieces and nephews. And they always have at least one dog from their pack of blue heelers and Great Pyrenees. Concession-stand workers slip Jane a napkin with bacon in it as she passes with the pups.

Along Tractor Row, the Barnette family sits around a tent with a 1959 John Deere 430W in the middle. Roger’s uncle Jack bought it new the year that his nephew was born. Roger remembers Jack using it to bale hay and straw, pull a combine, and swing up hogs with a boom pole. Roger rebuilt the motor with Jane’s dad, and Roger’s twin brother painted it.

“I can still see Uncle Jack coming down the driveway with that combine,” Roger says. “Every time I crank that tractor, I remember those things.”

• • •

Tractors are good memory keepers. They run on both sides of my family. As passionate as one grandfather was about his Massey Fergusons, my other grandfather cared just as much about his Farmalls. He first restored a 1947 M with a double drawbar that was used to snake logs. Then came a 1947 H that I rode with him to get from Carolina Stockyards in Siler City. And finally, a 1950 C, which we retrieved from a garage in Archdale.

He also counted the days until the Threshers’ Reunion. Every year, he tied a piece of surveyor’s ribbon to the fence to mark our spot on Tractor Row. As the months passed, he’d circle by the FarmPark on his way to or from Denton, cruising by Tractor Row, checking on his ribbon. The Threshers’ Reunion and my grandfathers’ affection for it appeared in both of their obituaries — right alongside professional accomplishments, community contributions, and the names of family members.

When Brown Loflin passed away in 2019, “founder of the Denton FarmPark” was the first item in his obituary. In his lifetime, Loflin championed a lot of causes and won many awards, including the Order of the Long Leaf Pine. He served in the U.S. Army Reserve and was a Davidson County commissioner. He and Ruby were married for 61 years. They had two children and four grandchildren. None of them was surprised that the FarmPark received top billing.

Loflin’s funeral took place in the FarmPark music hall. Even the toughest farmers shed tears when the train made a circle around the track and blew a long whistle. What a gift to know that something you created continues to bring people together year after year to find joy in a field full of farm equipment, learning and laughing and making memories.

Denton FarmPark
1072 Cranford Road
Denton, NC 27239
(336) 859-2755

This story was published on Jul 25, 2023

Leah Hughes King

Hughes writes from her family farm in Jackson Creek, a rural community in Randolph County. She has a degree in journalism and mass communication and a minor in folklore from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Hughes’s work has appeared in Our State, the News & Record, Business North Carolina, Winston-Salem Monthly, Lake Norman Magazine, Epicurean Charlotte, Carolina Country and other local publications.