LIMA — A whole lot of folks, and a whole lot of tractors, are about to visit Allen County for the national International Harvester Collectors Red Power Roundup: Estimates of 20,000 to 30,000 people visiting the Allen County Fairgrounds for the four-day event beginning Wednesday.
Every hotel room in the county is booked for the event, and those attending are staying as far away as Sidney, Findlay and Fort Wayne, Ind. Add to that a full campgrounds at the fairgrounds and other camping in the area.
The work for the event began three years ago with tractor collector Dale Merkle, of Delphos, and continued through the efforts of the Allen County Convention and Visitors Bureau. After Merkle got the show to Ohio, Lima competed against Mansfield, Springfield, Wooster and Bucyrus for the event and won.
The result of that work: The bureau estimates the event will have an economic impact of $5 million to $7 million.
“It’s many things,” CVB Executive Director Christine Pleva said. “First, it’s a testament to the fairgrounds, because it’s a wonderful, first-class facility. To bid on these kinds of events, you need square footage, amenities, hotel rooms, camping availability, restaurants, all kinds of things.”
In recent years, the annual show has been in Illinois, Minnesota and Indiana. Merkle is looking forward to putting out the welcome mat for International Harvester friends he sees only once or twice a year. The CVB is also ready to make a great first impression and fortunate for quality facilities, amenities and communication among agencies that will smooth out challenges.
The efforts, which are typical of hosting a large event such as this, include welcome banners at the fairgrounds, a booth with maps and guides at the event, welcome bags for exhibitors and welcome buttons. The bureau staff have them, and they have distributed them to hotel, restaurant and retail staff who are willing to wear them next week, Pleva said.
The bureau has also worked with those managers in the area to advise them of increasing staff while the event is happening, because of the extra business expected.
It’s the sort of hospitality that draws people back to Allen County, Pleva said. The National Trappers Association, which brought between 6,000 and 8,000 people to the fairgrounds for an event in 2009, is returning to Allen County this summer for its national show. CVB Conventions and Meetings Sales Director Sharree Brenneman-Reehling made the proposal and the group had such a positive experience previously, it once again selected Allen County.
Merkle said Brenneman-Reehling has been a “sweetheart” to work with; Ohio Chapter 6 of the International Harvester Collectors gave her a thank you plaque for her work.
For Merkle, the work is almost complete, and now it’s time to enjoy the show. He’s been working on a couple of garden tractor restorations he’ll bring to exhibit. The work brings back memories.
“You know, when my son was 2, 3 years old, I had an old hot rod,” Merkle said. “I used to work on that hot rod, and my son would work on the tractors. Now he messes with the hot rods and I work on garden tractors.”
Those in the region will enjoy the show, Merkle said. It’s a chance to for parents and grandparents to show the young ones how farming used to be done. It’s also fun to see that many products in one place.
Some of Merkle’s friends have paid him the ultimate compliment: “Some of my John Deere friends have even said they’d show up.”