HINCKLEY – The tractor needed a new paint job anyway.
Why not cotton candy pink?
That was how a red 1948 Farmall M tractor started its new life as an ambassador for breast cancer research.
The tractor – appropriately named “Pinky” – belongs to Jeff Hart of Hinckley. About two years ago, Hart and his friend Rick Wilkening were watching Wilkening’s granddaughter play with a pink pedal tractor Wilkening had won in a raffle. At the time, Wilkening’s mother was undergoing treatment for breast cancer, a disease Hart’s mother had survived years before.
“We came up with this idea we should do a real tractor like that,” Hart said. “Last spring, I had mine sitting in the shed and it needed a new paint job, so I decided if we were going to repaint it we’d paint it pink.”
Hart and Wilkening were expecting the pink tractor to get noticed when they took it to a tractor pull last July. But they were not prepared for the overwhelming amount of attention it received, especially when people realized there was a tie-in to breast cancer.
“At first you get teased a little bit,” Wilkening said. “Then we put these ribbons on that said, ‘Pulling for a Cure.’ People got excited. You’d be surprised the people that even pull over when they see it on the farm to get their picture taken with it.”
People who saw the tractor at pulls began asking the men to bring it to events. It made appearances at golf outings, tractor shows and cancer fundraisers. Wilkening and Hart attached a lock box to Pinky to collect donations, which are deposited into an account at Resource Bank in Hinckley.
By November, they had collected $1,800 to send to the Susan G. Komen For the Cure foundation.
The tractor is an emotional symbol to Wilkening, whose mother has had a recurrence of her cancer. He also lost a sister to the disease in 2008. When he talks about the way some spectators will approach him to share their stories, he chokes up.
“To have people come up and say, ‘I’m a survivor,’ that’s great,” he said. “That’s what we’re doing this for.”
By the end of its first season, the tractor was in such demand that several times Hart and Wilkening had accidentally double-booked it, Hart said. This year, they took steps to remedy that problem. At a tractor and toy show in March, Pinky Too – a 1949 Farmall M painted black with pink trim – made its debut.
“We had people coming up asking us if we can bring it here, can we bring it there,” Wilkening said. “One person wanted us to bring it all the way to St. Louis, but we’ve got to draw the line somewhere.”
The pair rely on donations from sponsors to pay for the fuel it takes to transport the tractors to their various appearances, Wilkening said. All of the money deposited in the donation boxes goes to the Komen foundation.
To paint the original Pinky, Wilkening said he expected to experiment with mixing red and white paint to find the right shade of pink. Luckily, he said, a clerk at the store had a better idea.
“I told him, ‘I’m trying to figure out how much paint to buy to get pink,’” Wilkening said. “He got a book from another part of the store. It was a Betty Crocker cookbook for breast cancer, and it was that trademark shade of pink. Then he just scanned the color from that.”
When it was time to paint Pinky Too, the men asked for professional help. They approached Hayes Body Shop in Sycamore, which painted the tractor a glossy black with pink trim and accents.
“You wouldn’t believe some of the colors people choose for things,” owner Randy Hayes said. “For something like this, for a cause, sure, we do this kind of thing all the time. They had an image in their mind of what they wanted it to look like, the pink with the black to set it off.”
Now that there are two tractors, the men are expecting the season of parades and pulls to go a little more smoothly. Each of them keeps an appointment calendar, and they’re in daily contact, Hart said.
“I’m glad we’re busy,” Wilkening said. “I’m not afraid of taking it places. I hope we can keep raising money and turning it in til we get this thing kicked.”