This article is reprinted with permission from the October 2017 Golden Gazette.
Dick Hoffmann is originally from northwest Iowa—where corn grows tall. He came to Fairfax County in 1983 by way of farm-rich Missouri.
With a geological engineering degree in hand, he and his wife planted themselves in Reston with a job safely lined up at a large company.
Who knew that more than 30 years later, Dick would be driving a tractor pulling a wagon full of children for fun and informative rides at Kidwell Farm, a part of Frying Pan Farm Park in western Fairfax.
Located at 2709 West Ox Road in Herndon, this county-owned park preserves and interprets life on a 1920s-50s farm and includes a meeting house that was used for town meetings and religious services.
The volunteer tractor job was a natural fit for him. He holds a fondness for farms that stems from his childhood. Additionally, he says that retirement is just around the bend from his “real” job. (He works as a consultant on government proposals.)
Dick graciously took time out of his day to answer a few questions about his life and why he likes volunteering on the farm.
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I went to kindergarten in a one room school. We had 21 students, seven grades and one teacher.
When I was in high school, we moved to Missouri. I graduated from the University of Missouri at Rolla. My wife and I moved to Northern Virginia in the early 80s and have lived in Herndon and Reston. We have twin boys and a dog.
How long have you been driving the wagon and is it hard to operate?
I’ve been driving for more than 10 years, and it’s not really hard to operate. Luckily, I already could use a standard transmission, and thankfully, we don’t have to back up. But, you need to carefully watch out for people — especially kids, stay away from fences and try not to hit many potholes.
It must build up your arm muscles . . .
Mine aren’t bad, but a lot of muscle isn’t necessary. The newer John Deere tractors have power steering and the old Farmalls have tricycle steering gears that make them easier to drive.
Did you always want to drive a tractor?
No, this job offer was quite unexpected. My dog frequently walks me at the park, and one day a park employee asked me if I would like to drive wagon rides.
How many rides are given in a day?
Wagon drivers usually work in the morning or afternoon. They do five or six rides with between five and 130 riders.
In the summer, we give rides to park visitors. But, now during the school year, we mostly carry student groups on field trips. The number usually depends on the weather.
We also provide rides during special park activities, like the Fall Carnival Fun, which is coming up Oct. 13-15.
Why do you like driving the tractor?
It gives me a chance to tell people interesting things about the park. I also learn from my riders, too, like the gentleman who herded bison.
It is also a bit nostalgic from living on a farm and helping my surrogate grandfather while I was in college.
How did you become a volunteer?
My dog frequently walks me at the park, and one day, I was asked if I would like to help with wagon rides.
What is your favorite season to drive?
Probably fall when the leaves are turning and temperature is cool.
Any memorable rides or people that stand out?
The day the shuttle arrived at Dulles was exciting. Some people on the ride had past connections with the farm and talked about how things used to be on the farm and in the area.
Frying Pan Farm Park is located at 2709 West Ox Rd, Herndon, VA. Call 703-437-9101 for more information or go to www.fairfaxcounty.gov/parks/fryingpanpark.