MOUNT OLIVE -- The colorful tractors lined up like rows of crops on the M.F. McCullen Jr. farm normally help provide the food that sustains life.

Saturday they were called on to help bring forth a different harvest -- funds to help victims of cancer.

The field of bright red, blue, green, orange and yellow tractors provided a fitting tribute to the Southeastern Cancer Care Cures for the Colors that the ride benefits.

There was even a pink semi-truck from Mitchell Farms with the names of cancer victims ad survivors printed on it.

M.F. McCullen Jr. started the Eastern Carolina Tractor Ride three years ago to raise funds for Cures for the Colors. The nonprofit helps cancer patients in eastern North Carolina by assisting with basic living essentials such as grocery vouchers, gas cards, utility payments and oncology related prescription drugs.

All of the proceeds raised by Cures for the Colors stay in eastern North Carolina to help those who are on active chemo, radiation or within three months of surgery.

Not only was the event a way to realize his long-held dream of holding a tractor ride, it was a way for his family to pay forward the help his son, Chad, a cancer survivor, received from Cures for the Colors.

M.F. McCullen was under a large shelter Saturday before the start of the 10 a.m. ride adding the final seasonings to the barbecued pork that had been cooking overnight.

A man of few words, McCullen said he had not expected the event to experience the growth that it has.

"We didn't think we would be doing it three years then," he said. "Twelve head of us have been here all night. We got here at 12.

"What we are doing it for is why people are coming out. It if (wasn't) for volunteers, we couldn't do it."

Chad McCullen was busy helping with the barbecue as volunteers finished up the six pigs and 16 turkeys barbecued for the event. Some had been working since about 11:30 Friday night.

"The first year, I didn't even think it would be as big as it was that year, especially with the rain," he said. "Last year was even bigger. There are just so many good neighbors and friends who wanted to do it and wanted to help. That is the reason we kept on doing it.

"It is incredible. You can't believe the support we get behind this. It is good to give back. I am lucky to still be alive. I am five years out from colon cancer, four years out from thyroid cancer -- still here and able to do this. That says a lot and to give back to them (Cures for the Colors), it meant a lot to daddy because he felt they had done a lot for me."

Many of Saturday's riders had participated before and were riding in memory or honor of family and friends.

Robert Taylor was driving in memory of a cousin lost to cancer this past summer. Taylor, who also participated last year, was driving 1979 Massey Ferguson 245 that he uses to till his garden.

"He loved tractors and his dad was a Massey Ferguson guy so I thought I would drive it in the event this year," Taylor said. "It is a big undertaking, and I applaud them for putting this on. I am sure they will get rewarded for it tremendously.

"I think it is very important. It gets the community involved. It raises a lot of interest, and most importantly, it raises a lot of funds for cancer."

Taylor's younger brother, Frankie, was driving a Massey Ferguson in honor of his wife's 16-year-old nephew who is battling leukemia.

Frankie Taylor said the event has special importance to him, but that he also attends the same church with the McCullens who his has known for many years.

"They mean a lot to me and different ones," he said. "They are good people and this thing is getting bigger and better every year. We need to get more people involved."

The Duplin County Sheriff's office provided an escort car and several fire departments helped out with traffic control and other duties.

Cub Scout Pack 34 presented the colors.

M.F. McCullen led off the ride, but circled back to help finish setting up for the meal.

Last year 50 tractors took part in the ride. A final count was not ready prior to press time Saturday. Also, the amount raised was not ready by that time either.

The first two rides raised more that $37,000 for Cures for the Colors.

The event is be held at the McCullen family farm located abou t six miles east of Mount Olive on N.C. 55.

The gates opened at 9 a.m. for the tractors to start lining up. The tractor ride started at 10 a.m. for a 15-mile ride through rural Wayne and Duplin counties.

An auction of items donated by local businesses and friends of the community was held, and live music was provided by the Harmony Boys.

Antique buildings on the farm were open for self-guided tours.