2015-09-17 / Front Page

1,091 Old Tractors Chug Into Town

Chance to Cross Mackinac Bridge, Celebrate Farming and Family Draws Them to St. Ignace Show
By Tory Cooney


Tractors passing through downtown St. Ignace in the Owosso Tractor Parts Antique Tractor Parade and Show Friday, September 11, display American flags to honor the nearly 3,000 people who died in the 9/11 terrorist attacks or risked their lives in response. The show drew more than 1,000 vintage tractors, and crowds of tractor enthusiasts, to town for the weekend. Tractors passing through downtown St. Ignace in the Owosso Tractor Parts Antique Tractor Parade and Show Friday, September 11, display American flags to honor the nearly 3,000 people who died in the 9/11 terrorist attacks or risked their lives in response. The show drew more than 1,000 vintage tractors, and crowds of tractor enthusiasts, to town for the weekend. More than 1,000 antique and vintage tractors crossed the Mackinac Bridge and were displayed in St. Ignace during the eighth annual Owosso Antique Tractor Parade and Show Friday, September 11, and Saturday, September 12.

The show drew 1,091 tractors, breaking 1,000 tractors for the first time, and participants were eager to be a part of the celebration of tractors, farming, and family. People traveled from across Michigan to take part, and came from Texas, Nebraska, Mississippi, California, Wisconsin, Ohio, Indiana, and other states, as well.


One-thousand-and-ninety-one antique and vintage tractors crossed the Mackinac Bridge during the Owosso Tractor Parts Antique Tractor Parade and Show Friday, September 11. This was the first year the annual event drew more than 1,000 tractors. One-thousand-and-ninety-one antique and vintage tractors crossed the Mackinac Bridge during the Owosso Tractor Parts Antique Tractor Parade and Show Friday, September 11. This was the first year the annual event drew more than 1,000 tractors. Most of the participants used trailers to transport their tractors to the show, but a few drove their tractors there. Fifteen members of the County Line Antique Tractor Club, based in Williamston, drove two and a half days over 230 miles of back roads to reach the parade and show in St. Ignace. The Pernat Family of Ixonia, Wisconsin drove even further, nearly 458 miles, to reach the show.

At Little Bear East Arena Friday and Saturday, tractor owners, their families, and spectators enjoyed seeing the equipment and asking questions. Many would leave business cards on the seats of tractors they were interested in, so the owner could contact them later.


Brice Honke of Byron rides a Mini-Cub International Harvester tractor, a scaled down version of the company’s Cub tractor intended for mowing lawns and being driven by children. Brice, 4, drives the little tractor frequently and enjoyed the chance to explore the show on it Saturday, September 12. Brice Honke of Byron rides a Mini-Cub International Harvester tractor, a scaled down version of the company’s Cub tractor intended for mowing lawns and being driven by children. Brice, 4, drives the little tractor frequently and enjoyed the chance to explore the show on it Saturday, September 12. While many of the tractors were purchased as antiques, many people brought equipment that they, or a family member, purchased new or slightly used decades before.

“They all have special meanings,” said Linda Miller of Ladoga, Indiana, who drove across the bridge on a 1946 Farmall B that belonged to her father.

Her husband, Jerry Miller, drove a 1951 Ford 8N tractor that his grandfather bought for him in 1953. Their son, Jeff Miller, drove a 1966 McCormick Farmall 806D that his parents purchased new in the spring of 1966.

“We got married August 22, 1965,” Mr. Miller said. “If was our first big purchase as a couple. I was young and dumb at the time, but it was great. The two of us have become such a pair.”


At left: Jon Olsen (right) and Larry Belonga, both of St. Ignace, displayed several flywheel machines from their personal collections at the antique tractor show at Little Bear East Arena Saturday, September 12. The machines, which date to the 1910s and 1920s, could be transported around farms and between properties to power farm equipment including buzz saws, water wheels, pumps, corn grinders, and rock crushers, before farms had ready access to electricity. The machinery is displayed among antique tractors at the show. At left: Jon Olsen (right) and Larry Belonga, both of St. Ignace, displayed several flywheel machines from their personal collections at the antique tractor show at Little Bear East Arena Saturday, September 12. The machines, which date to the 1910s and 1920s, could be transported around farms and between properties to power farm equipment including buzz saws, water wheels, pumps, corn grinders, and rock crushers, before farms had ready access to electricity. The machinery is displayed among antique tractors at the show. The couple honeymooned in Mackinaw City and celebrated their 50th anniversary on Mackinac Island this summer, so the area holds special significance for them. Mr. Miller finds the opportunity to cross the Mackinac Bridge on his tractor especially rewarding because the first time he visited the area, in 1955, underwater construction on the bridge was underway.


At Little Bear East Arena, Jillian Fraser (left) and Mia Martin of St. Ignace enjoy seeing a Ford AA 1930 “Eskimobile” that served time as a mail truck. “It’s so old and the doors slide!” Mia said. It was one of several atypical, but interesting machines exhibited at the show. At Little Bear East Arena, Jillian Fraser (left) and Mia Martin of St. Ignace enjoy seeing a Ford AA 1930 “Eskimobile” that served time as a mail truck. “It’s so old and the doors slide!” Mia said. It was one of several atypical, but interesting machines exhibited at the show. “I’ve been to Mackinaw City for vacation every year since then. I’ve seen it grow,” Mr. Miller said. “Driving across the bridge is my favorite day of the year. It’s just wonderful.”

The thrill of crossing the bridge draws many people to the event. Others also enjoy the sense of drama from not knowing whether the weather conditions will make it an easy crossing or effect the performance of the tractor, said tractor owner Kris Morse of Owosso.


Jerry, (from left) Linda, and Jeff Miller all rode tractors purchased new, or gently used, by family members in the mid-1900s during the eighth annual Owosso Tractor Parts Antique Tractor Parade and Show Friday, September 11, and Saturday, September 12. The tractor to the left is a 1951 Ford 8N purchased by Mr. Miller’s grandfather and to the right is a 1966 McCormick Farmall 806D purchased new by Mr. and Mrs. Miller in 1966, less than a year after their wedding. Jerry, (from left) Linda, and Jeff Miller all rode tractors purchased new, or gently used, by family members in the mid-1900s during the eighth annual Owosso Tractor Parts Antique Tractor Parade and Show Friday, September 11, and Saturday, September 12. The tractor to the left is a 1951 Ford 8N purchased by Mr. Miller’s grandfather and to the right is a 1966 McCormick Farmall 806D purchased new by Mr. and Mrs. Miller in 1966, less than a year after their wedding. “There’s always some anticipation,” he said, “but I loved it. The fact you get to drive a tractor across the Mackinac Bridge is great. It’s not something they let you do every day.”

Mr. Morse rode and displayed a 1969 John Deere 4520. The model is so large, he had to haul it north on a semi-truck, he said. Although a staunch “John Deere Man,” Mr. Morse bought his wife, Carolyn, a red International Harvester tractor for her birthday a few days before the show. She was unable to attend this year, but the couple hopes to ride in the parade together next year.


At left: Betsy Martin holding Emilee Martin, (from left) Ryan Martin, Jacob Martin, Calvin Martin, and Gloria Koch enjoyed watching more than 1,000 tractors cross the Mackinac Bridge Friday, September, 11. They had two family members and many friends participate in the bridge crossing and even more came as spectators. “We all migrate north for the weekend,” Mrs. Koch said. At left: Betsy Martin holding Emilee Martin, (from left) Ryan Martin, Jacob Martin, Calvin Martin, and Gloria Koch enjoyed watching more than 1,000 tractors cross the Mackinac Bridge Friday, September, 11. They had two family members and many friends participate in the bridge crossing and even more came as spectators. “We all migrate north for the weekend,” Mrs. Koch said. “She’s from a red family, I’m from a green one, but that’s what she wanted, so that’s what she’s getting,” Mr. Morse in response to teasing from family friends who also favor International Harvester tractors over John Deere tractors.

Tractor owners enjoy pitting the quality of their preferred tractor companies against others and a good-natured rivalry surfaced at the event between the owners of John Deere, Case, International Harvester (which merged with Case in the 1980s to form Case IH), and Allis-Chalmers tractors.

The loyalties are primarily related to each person’s family background and can be compared to ongoing, friendly debates between Ford and Chevrolet car owners regarding which is superior, said Claude Benjamin of Perry, who attended the show with his daughter, son, daughter-in-law, and Mr. Morse, who is a family friend.

Gary Fouts of Bancroft said that he is one of the rare tractor owners who grew up in a family that farmed with one brand, International Harvester, and later began using John Deere tractors, instead.

“It’s because he likes to fix things!” Mr. Benjamin said

The friendly competition expanded to include all tractor owners during the show’s second annual “Tractor Games,” held along the railroad grade near Little Bear. One of the crowd’s favorite challenges in the games was a “race” to see who could go the slowest. Another favorite was the “dress up” race, in which tractor owners had to race from one point to another, put on a costume and wig, climb back on the tractor, and return to the starting line.

“That one’s even more fun if you know the people competing,” Mr. Benjamin said.

The games are one of several additions, including live music, a Saturday evening tractor parade through town, and another night of city-sponsored fireworks, intended to invite the tractor drivers to stay in St. Ignace for an extra evening.

“It can be expensive getting up here between transportation costs, food, and lodging, so it’s nice that you can be up here for a while and really take advantage of that,” Mr. Morse said.

Staying longer also means that tractor owners have more opportunities to interact with each other. Mr. Morse and the Benjamin family ate dinner next to Roger Foster of Potts Camp, Mississippi, and Gerald Young of Hernando, Mississippi, in St. Ignace Friday night, then encountered them again at the show.

“People come from everywhere for this. It’s something special,” said Mr. Miller. “This is about tractors, a love of tractors, and a love of farming. It’s great to share that.”

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