June 20, 2024

Tractor times: Time spent with grandson inspires a children’s book

‘He likes everything John Deere’

MARIETTA, Ill. — Like many little boys, Benji, a cheerful, redheaded little boy from western Illinois, likes to spend time with his grandpa.

His grandpa — actually, step-grandpa — Curt Mottaz, drives a grain truck and works for Waller Farms in rural Marietta.

So, that means the time they spend together is filled with trucks and tractors and enough adventures to fill a book.

That is exactly what Mottaz has done, writing a children’s book about their travel adventures, specifically their shared love of tractors and tractor pulling and, most especially, the tractor pulls at the National Farm Machinery Show in Louisville, Kentucky.

“I thought I could write a whole story about this,” said Mottaz, recalling their trip to Louisville last year.

The seeds for “Benji n’ Dapa’s Big Tractor Pull Adventure” were sown.

Mottaz, who grew up on a farm near Brimfield, has always been around tractors and tractor pulling, including his dad’s pulling tractors.

So, when step-grandson Benji arrived in his life, Mottaz started sharing his love of tractor pulling with the little boy.

“From that first minute that I held him, he latched onto me. Technically he’s my step-grandson, but — he’s my grandson. I started showing him tractor pulling on YouTube and I took him to his first pull in Louisville when he was 2,” Mottaz said.

With Benji headed for kindergarten in the fall, Mottaz knew the time they spent together would be limited.

So, that made their trip to the National Farm Machinery Show and the show’s tractor pulls last February more special.

“Everything that was going on, it just stood out. It was just very special. He is so cute and so animated, such a good boy, that I thought, I could write a book about this little adventure,” Mottaz said.

He started jotting notes on his iPhone about how that trip came together. In a couple of days, he had the book written.

Mottaz said he was surprised himself at how quickly the first draft of the story came together, but Benji and their time spent together was a powerful motivator.

“Benji is just a cute kid, such a cute, calm, good kid. He’s like America’s grandson,” Mottaz said.

While Mottaz’s favorite pulling tractor is the Silver Bullet, the Super Stock Agco-Allis 6195, Benji is a John Deere fan.

“He likes everything John Deere. He’s a John Deere boy,” Mottaz said.

The next pieces of the book fell into place like something that was meant to be.

Through some connections in the tractor pulling and antique tractor community, Mottaz contacted illustrator Tim Read, of 5 Fingers Creative Studio in Ames, Iowa.

Mottaz supplied Reed with photos of their tractor pull adventures that Reed transformed into illustrations for the book.

Benji’s name for Curt, “Dapa,” pronounced “Dapaw,” was something Benji came up with himself.

“He came up with that when he was hardly old enough to talk. He whispered it at first, ‘Dapa.’ Not papa or grandpa or pawpaw, but Dapa. So, that’s what he calls me,” Mottaz said.

Mottaz said trying to communicate the fun and spirit of their tractor pull adventures was the biggest challenge.

“I am not an author. I am not a writer. So, making it make sense to other people was the biggest challenge,” he said.

Finding someone to edit the book from Mottaz’s original copy to a finished draft fell into place, as well.

Last summer, he was at the farm where he works and was talking to Krista Waller, the wife of Dave Waller, owner of Waller Farms, and Krista’s daughter-in-law, Jennifer Waller.

“Krista mentioned she had always wanted to write a kids’ book. So, I showed her the cover of my book and she said Jenny and I will edit it for you. So, it was a team effort,” Mottaz said.

The book was finished in early December and Mottaz now is working to literally get his and Benji’s story out there.

“It is cool to look at it in book form. If I would have been a kid at a book fair and if this was laying on the table at the book fair, just looking at the cover, I’d be like — I gotta have that, without even seeing the story that is inside,” Mottaz said.

But the story inside is what matters most — and their adventures continue.

“I see him every few weeks. I take him to college basketball games at Western and Bradley. He loves tractor pulling and now he likes monster trucks, too. He likes to ride in the semi with me and I got him a John Deere book bag and John Deere lunch box,” said Mottaz, who said that he would like to continue writing about their adventures.

“He is just so good, he is something special and I want to make him something special,” Mottaz said.

“Benji n’ Dapa’s Big Tractor Pull Adventure” will be for sale, with Curt Mottaz signing copies of the book, at the WIU Ag Mech Show, March 4-5 at Western Hall in Macomb.

The book also will be for sale at the Heritage Iron booth at the National Farm Machinery Show, Feb. 15-18 in Louisville. The book also is for sale on Amazon.

Anyone interested in the book or having Mottaz sign copies can contact him at 309-231-7951.

Jeannine Otto

Jeannine Otto

Field Editor