Tractorcade rolls out Sunday without its leader

2013-08-08T15:00:00Z 2013-09-17T17:46:36Z Tractorcade rolls out Sunday without its leaderBy DENNIS MAGEE, Waterloo Cedar Falls Courier

DUNKERTON --- Tractors feature prominently in Chris Toneff Jr.'s life. He took his first one apart --- and put it back together --- as a teenager, and over the years he was rarely very far from at least two cylinders.

"Never --- eat, sleep and breathe tractors," his wife, Jennifer, says.

By day, he was a mechanic assembling test engines at John Deere's Product Engineering Center. After hours, Toneff, 34, ran a full-service repair shop about four miles north of Dunkerton.

Three years ago, he and a few buddies came up with another way to enjoy their passion for power. Toneff and his pals Luke Happel, Trent Zuck and others organized a tractorcade, rolling around rural Black Hawk and Buchanan counties.

"Big boys with their big farm toys," Jennifer, 39, says.

If you knew Toneff, had a tractor or both, you were in. He drove an International 3088 reconditioned earlier.

"I think they just wanted a reason to get it out of the shed and use it," says his sister, Cindy Pint.

The tradition continues Sunday morning, and Pint says friends and family are trying to keep the focus on the ride. But that will be difficult.

After suffering a seizure in 2008, Toneff was diagnosed with anaplastic astrocytoma, a kind of brain tumor. He had exploratory surgery three days after the birth of the couple's first daughter, Delaney.

Radiation and chemotherapy drove the tumor into submission, and Toneff went on with his life.

"He just kept moving forward. He wanted to provide for his family," Jennifer says.

"It was just kind of out there, in the backs of our minds," she adds.

Until December.

The tumor returned and is inoperable. Toneff in July moved into the Cedar Valley Hospice Home in Waterloo. Jennifer and the couple's daughters, Delaney, 4, and Reegan, 1, are routinely at his bedside.

"It's the highlight of their day. 'When are we going to see Daddy?'" Jennifer says.

During the first two rides, participants each kicked in at least $100, and the money went to the American Brain Tumor Association.

Sunday will be slightly different. Donations will go into a college fund for the girls. Organizers also created a T-shirt and solicited sponsors.

But otherwise, the group hopes to maintain the original informal mood.

"We've been trying to keep it upbeat and doing it the way he would want it done," Pint says.

"We took it a little bit further because there was a reason to," she adds. " ... I'm sure it will be a little emotional."

For a lot of people.

Toneff developed a reputation as a skilled mechanic with the nerve to crack open a $100,000 machine built last year and the patience to loosen a rusty bolt.

"He was never afraid of an engine," his mother, Colleen Toneff, says. "I've watched him split tractors apart, and parts were flying."

"He loves the challenge. He likes figuring out what's wrong, what is really wrong, not just hanging parts," Jennifer adds.

Consequently, many of his customers are now friends.

"The shop was always pretty full of people wanting to help with tractors or checking on their tractors," Jennifer adds.

Organizers expect 75 to 100 machines Sunday --- whether red, orange, blue, gray or green. Hopefully, each will be on the vintage side.

"The rule that they made was no cabs. ... We want the old tractors," Pint says.

Jennifer appreciates that others wanted to keep her husband's tractor ride going. She suspects his personality played a role.

"I think everybody just sees the good old American farm boy willing to help everybody," Jennifer says.

"I don't think they make too many of those anymore," she adds.

Copyright 2015 Waterloo Cedar Falls Courier. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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