Tractor pulls deliver entertainment two or three times each summer in the small town of Nisbet, population 542 at last count.
The Nisbet Volunteer Fire Company runs that show with help from Nisbet United Methodist Church. That’s the story of a lot of things in Nisbet, in central Pennsylvania.
“It’s exactly what it sounds like,” said Terri Flook, 51, of the tractor pulls. She has lived in Nisbet and attended Nisbet UMC her whole life. She also volunteers as the secretary at the fire company and is president of its ladies auxiliary.
“My dad, my mom, my brothers, myself — we all belong to the fire company,” Flook said.
For the uninitiated, during a tractor pull a “sled” is hooked up to tractors and they compete to see which can haul the heaviest cargo. Sometimes money can be won; most of the time it’s just for bragging rights or a ribbon.
“It draws quite a crowd,” said the Rev. Bruce Wallace, a retired elder who pastors Nisbet UMC. “It's very loud, very noisy, and these things go on for hours.”
Together in service
Members of the church staff a food stand at the tractor pulls, which earn money for the fire company.
The church and fire company of the unincorporated town near South Williamsport, Pennsylvania, in Lycoming County are involved together in other community activities. These include Easter egg hunts, yard sales, crafts sales, trunk-or-treating for Halloween and a community Christmas dinner.
Many residents are farmers, Floot said.
“There's a restaurant (in Nisbet), there's a gas station convenience store, there's an auto repair garage, and then there's the church and the fire company,” Wallace said. “So it’s basically five things that aren't homes.”
The close relationship was evident to Wallace the first time he came to town six years ago to serve Nisbet UMC, he said.
“When I first went to the church, the first thing I saw was the fire hall staring across the street at the church and vice versa,” Wallace said. Currently, the chief and treasurer of the fire company are also Nisbet UMC members.
“I've always believed it's important for church to be involved in the community,” Wallace said. “Depending on where I was appointed to serve, that involvement has been different. … I spent 21 years serving in Lock Haven (Pennsylvania), which is a much larger community with a small university. My involvement there was primarily administering an aid fund for the needy.”
Together in worship
Wallace holds a special Fire Company Sunday service each October, where fire fighters show up in uniform to be honored.
“We have refreshments afterwards and just kind of a fellowship time,” he said. “And then I've held funerals for a couple of fire company members.”
Nearby Williamsport is where most Nisbet residents work and where entertainment like movie theaters, restaurants and a distillery are available.
Nesbit UMC is a small church, averaging 23 attendees at Sunday services and 44 members, and 10 who attend online.
When there are events at the firehouse, the church donates its church parking lot, since there are only a few parking spaces in front of the firehouse.
As president of the ladies auxiliary, Flook helps with fundraising for the fire company.
“I started out (in the ladies auxiliary), I think I was around 16,” Flook said. “The ladies auxiliary has two ham dinners a year—one in March and one in November—and we can serve anywhere between 200-250 meals. Whatever money we raise, the fire company can use it for equipment or whatever they might need.”
There for each other
The relationship works the other way around, as well.
“If the church needs something, they help us out,” Flook said. “A few years back we had a pretty bad windstorm and we had some branches down at the church. Then one year we had flooding at the church. The fire company members would pitch in and cut down branches, or they came over and helped us remove some (wet) area rugs we had in the basement.”
The fire company has stepped in financially for the aging congregation at times.
“I know the fire company at one point gave the church some money for their fuel because we have an older generation at the church, so we don't always have the best income coming in,” Flook said. “So the fire company will financially help the church in an instance like that.”
The future for the church is unclear. Many young people move away from Nisbet seeking job opportunities.
“With the age of our parishioners, unfortunately, we just don't have the people to get out and do more to interact with the community right now,” Flook said.
Jim Patterson is a Nashville, Tennessee freelance writer. Contact him by email.
Published July 11, 2022.