At 6:40 a.m. Friday morning, Matthew Wells left his 1985 Chevy K10 truck at home, opting instead to drive his family’s John Deere tractor — which tops out at 13 miles per hour — to attend one of his final days at Mattituck High School.
“You have to leave early,” said the 18-year-old senior, who lives in Mattituck. “That’s the problem.”
Forgoing a few extra minutes of shut-eye was worth it to Matthew and the dozen or so other Mattituck High School students who participated in this year’s Tractor Day. As part of the 20-year-old tradition, seniors drive tractors to and from school on the last Friday before final exams.
“It’s something different that no other school really does,” said Justin Kirchberger of Mattituck, who was riding his family’s John Deere 440.
Tractor Day dates back to 1996, when then-senior Peter Ruland rode a tractor to Mattituck High School one day in June. Similar to a game of Telephone, the facts behind the tradition’s origins have since become muddled.
“From what I heard, [Mr. Ruland’s] car broke down one day and he needed a ride to get to school,” said Justin Imbriano of Mattituck, 18, who was driving a New Holland TL Friday. “So he took his tractor from his family’s farm and that’s how he got here.”
When reached by phone Friday afternoon, Mr. Ruland laughed at that version of events.
“It was a gag with a couple of my friends,” the now-38-year-old said. “I said I would drive a tractor that day.”
Mr. Ruland, who currently lives in Aquebogue and worked in Mattituck High School’s IT department from 2003 to 2009, said he has long been aware of his prank’s evolution into a beloved annual tradition. To his surprise, however, he has never seen it in action.
“I’ve only heard tidbits,” he said.
As school was being dismissed around 2:10 p.m. Friday, Mattituck Junior-Senior High School principal Shawn Petretti said he thinks Tractor Day is “great.”
“It’s something unique to Mattituck. It’s something that is theirs,” he said in reference to the students who participate. “The kids organize it and the kids do it. It really has no involvement from us.”
These days, Tractor Day is much more than a gag. For the seniors set to graduate in a couple weeks, 18-year-old Caroline Keil said, it’s a celebration of their time at Mattituck High School.
Still, driving a John Deere to class has its perks.
“It’s better than driving a car because you can kind of break the rules,” Matthew said.
Top Caption: Matthew Wells, left and Justin Kirchberger leave school Friday. (Credit: Rachel Young)