1930s John Deere tractor
FAMILY TREASURE: My mother remembers driving her father’s 1903s-era John Deere G to haul hay.

Connection between man and machine

Event draws together hundreds of antique tractor enthusiasts.

More than 1,300 antique tractors paraded north over Michigan’s Mackinac Bridge on Sept. 7, giving participants a view of Lake Michigan on the left and Lake Huron on the right, en route to the city of St. Ignace.

In the 11 years since its inception, this event has ballooned and attracted drivers from not just Michigan, but Ohio and several other states, as well. This love of antique tractors is a celebrated affair, especially in the company of so many other like-minded enthusiasts.

Tractors were originally designed for farming, but the industry’s risks and tolls have left many of the owners removed from agriculture. Memories keep the love alive of a day when GPS was just a bunch of letters.

As drivers completed the parade and parked for the grand showing in St. Ignace, more than a few disembarked slowly while rubbing their rear ends. Many of these tractors were not made for comfort, safety or convenience; they were designed to get the job done. And most of these drivers were over 50 — many into their 70s and 80s. Nonetheless, there were no complaints, only compliments.

This love of tractors and their histories is a special bond between man and machine. Some of the tractors are spotless and meticulously restored — some original, some not (such as the pink John Deere). And what may appear to be a bucket of rust to some is a prized heirloom to another.

So why do this? After all, it does come with a considerable expense. Participants must belong to a tractor club, so there’s that fee. Then there’s the entry fee for the parade across the bridge and transportation costs. Most participants will trailer their tractors to the staging area, although there are groups that organize and make it a multiday drive, including one from Wisconsin this year. Then there’s the lodging fee, food, time off from work and other incidentals.

So when asked, “Why did you do this?” A common response was, “Because I could,” or “It was on my bucket list.”

The camaraderie among drivers and the joy of seeing so many old workhorses in one spot was a thrill for these collectors.

However, unlike a bucket list, it doesn’t just get crossed off and the focus is on the next objective. Once across, drivers are already talking about next year, while they work to recruit others. The love affair continues.

 

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