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Memories come roaring back Langford remembers inventor with parade of machines

On and on up the long hill they slowly rumbled Thursday under thick plumes of exhaust -- six fire engines, more than 30 farm tractors, dozens of trucks hauling bulldozers and other heavy equipment on flatbeds and even a vintage coal-fired threshing machine.

The half-mile-long cortege accompanying the body of Edwin R. Winter from his home at Route 78 and Shirley Road in Langford to Epiphany of Our Lord Catholic Church on the hilltop must have been one of the most unusual, and heaviest, in the history of funerals.

But it was a fitting last ride for the inventor and entrepreneur, who was revered in the little Town of North Collins hamlet 25 miles south of Buffalo.

The high regard shown for Winter, who died Sunday at 86, was not just about the collection of heavy machinery, featuring a 24-foot-tall iron flywheel, that he turned into an admission-free theme park on his sprawling property.

It was also about this self-educated man's consideration for the farmers whose fields he plowed after working nights at Bell Aircraft in the 1940s, people who consumed the free dinners he served during the annual Langford Tractor Pull, which he started a half century ago, and folks who borrowed his equipment without charge when a project needed doing.

"He was a legend. There isn't a soul here he hasn't touched," said a friend, Tony Alessi.

The funeral procession, both solemn and celebratory, was not planned in advance, said Winter's son, David.

"It started the day my dad passed away. We had to give him a good send-off," said Winter, who stood in front of the church in a white Stetson hat, wife and children at his side, as the parade passed.

In a sense, the procession told his father's life story, the younger Winter said.

"A lot of these tractors are tractors he sold over the years to these folks," he said as John Deeres, Farmalls and Fords passed single-file between the church and the 1902 Bogart natural gas engine sitting on the other side, pulleys turning.

When a 1940s yellow Minneapolis-Moline tractor came into view, Winter noted that it was once owned by his uncle -- his father's brother.

"We couldn't have done this without support of the entire neighborhood and family," he said as the last of the heavy vehicles drew near. "Now I've got to get into church."

e-mail: tbuckham@buffnews.com

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