Daniel-Shafer American Legion Post 445 in Edgerton, Mo., was looking for a way to both boost its membership and raises money for what could become a future Department of Veterans Affairs program. They got both, and in doing so created an excitement the post is hoping to build on in the future.
On June 3, more than 20 tractors participated in Post 445’s Tractor Cruise. The event was the brainchild of Post 445 Second Vice Commander Lenny Hill, who said he wanted to create “synergy” with the project.
“We’re a small post (less than 50),” said Hill, who also serves as Missouri’s Fourth District southern vice commander. “We don’t have a bar. I was trying to figure out how to create some money so we could revitalize our post. We typically only have two fundraisers: one in the spring and one in the fall.”
Pondering possible fundraising opportunities, Hill approached the membership and asked how many owned tractors. When half raised their hands, he suggested the idea of a tractor cruise.
To help the project get going, Hill came up with the idea of turning the event both into a fundraiser for the post and a pet project – literally. Having read about a VA study being done on the effects of a service dog in helping treat post-traumatic stress disorder, Hill decided that would be a good way to motivate participation in the tractor cruise.
“I know it’s going to be a worthwhile cause," Hill said. “I’m a 32-year year law enforcement official, and we have service dogs that come into the airport all the time. I’ve seen the positive (effect) of those dogs for the handler. I just think it’s going to be a great marriage between a service dog and a veteran. So we identified that as our charity.”
Hill chose June 3 as the day of the ride to build on the momentum of Memorial Day. A total of 22 tractors took part in the ride, which lasted 40 miles. The post was able to secure escort efforts from the Platte County Sheriff’s Office, and with local churches to provide water and Gatorade along the route.
Hill brought in three other posts in the area to assist: Leon A. Robbins Memorial Post 318 in Parkville, Weston Post 501 and Dick Munkres Post 287 in Savannah. “Everybody wins that way,” he said.
Between the $40 registration fees and sponsors, Post 445 was able to raise around $1,000. “We were pretty happy about that,” Hill said. “This year’s goal was not to raise a lot of money. It was to get the bugs worked out start, small so we didn’t get a bad reputation as a bunch of knuckleheads who didn’t know what they were doing.”
The creation of the post’s Tractor Cruiser Division and ensuing ride resulted in signing up five new members and brought in another 12 Sons of The American Legion applications, allowing the post to begin the process of chartering a squadron. “We’re creating membership synergy, as well as some economics,” Hill said. “We had fathers and sons riding together. We wanted to create a family event, and we did.”
Hill already is looking to next year’s cruise and how the post can improve on this year’s efforts. He would like to see the tractor program expand throughout Missouri and then go nationwide. He believes it can be a way for aging American Legion Riders to continue to ride and serve once they put up their motorcycle.
“Not all of those guys are going to continually ride,” Hill said. “They’re going to have to get off two (wheels) and get to four eventually. I want to be that vocation where those guys still want to participate, but they just can’t go down the road 70 miles an hour anymore. We want to get this thing going so that it becomes a little brother to The American Legion Riders nationally.”