Published in 2014 by The St. Ignace NewsDownload PDF
Spectators began gathering by the Mackinac Bridge tollbooths well before 7 a.m. Friday, September 5. They huddled in their cars to avoid the mud and rain and shrugged on ponchos or raincoats as they emerged, but those were their only concessions to the weather. They were here for the tractors.
“You’ve got to get here early if you want a front-row seat!” said Dan Waltz of Mason, adjusting his lawn chair. “The weather’s nasty, but worth weathering. There’s nowhere else in the U.S. where this happens.”
Despite heavy rain and an hour and twenty minute delay of the 9 a.m. start-time, the seventh annual Owosso Tractor Parts Antique Tractor Show and Parade drew hundreds of spectators. Not only did they gather at the bridge to watch 910 antique and vintage tractors rumble across, but they stretched along US- 2 and in downtown St. Ignace to see them make their way to Little Bear East Arena, where the tractors were displayed until 5 p.m. Saturday, September 6. The tractors paraded through town again Saturday at 5:30 p.m.
“There were no major difficulties, it was just a waiting game,” said Mackinac Bridge Authority bridge services manager Dean Steiner. “We could tell it was going to move, it just wasn’t moving fast enough.”
Thursday, September 4, the tractors were staged in Mackinaw City, where they were also available for display. Viewers were shuttled back and fourth between the staging area and the parking lot on Central Avenue by an antique tractor-towed “people mover” free of charge.
“It’s just something you should see once, whether you’re into tractors or not,” said Connie Thornburg of Ovid, who attended the show with her children, grandchildren, and husband. The family had six members driving in the parade. Dick Thornburg, her husband, has participated every year since the show began.
“It just keeps getting bigger and bigger,” Mrs. Thornburg said. “It’s amazing. I’m glad the rain let up. You don’t want to miss this.”
People come from across the country to participate, though they have to belong to a tractor club to do so. One group from Ixonia, Wisconsin rode their tractors more than 400 miles to St. Ignace. It took them three days.
“You’re not [often] allowed to drive across the Mackinac Bridge in an open-air antique tractor, so when you get the chance, you have to take it,” explained Mr. Waltz, who drove in the parade a few years ago.
“It’s like being a little kid on a ride at the amusement park,” said David Roehl of Ixonia. “It’s just so much fun.”
Ward Holton of Ovid, 91, participated in the parade for the second time this year, driving a vintage John Deere Tractor across the bridge without any assistance, although he did let a grandson ride with him.
“He gets a big grin on his face,” said his wife of 69 years, Iva Holton. “You can barely see the tractor, he’s grinning so widely.”
Four generations of the Holton family were represented at the event.
“We came from everywhere,” said his daughter, Debbie Williams. One of his grandsons flew in from California, and another was flying in from Texas to attend the show.
The tractor Mr. Holton rode was borrowed from a friend, but he also brought a tractor of his own to display. His son drove it across the bridge on a trailer owing to its age — Mr. Holton’s father bought it new in 1937.
“Ward was the first person to drive it. He was 14 and he took it off the truck and he loved it,” Mrs. Holton said. “Then his older brothers kicked him off so they could have a try.”
The tractor left the family for a time when a collector purchased it. The collector lived nearby, however, and Mr. Holton’s son bought the tractor back for his father’s birthday.
The event has an amazing way of bringing families together, said Bob Baumgras, the event organizer.
“I think that’s one of my favorite parts,” he said.
One of the other attractions is the tractors themselves.
Joe Burda of DeTour and Joe Vernon of Sugar Island have attended tractor shows for more years than they care to admit, and both have collected tractors in the past, although they only attended this show as spectators.
“It’s a great show,” said Mr. Vernon. “I love tractors, and here you see a lot of variety. All of the brands are represented, and it’s nice to see both the originals and tractors restored to a better condition than they were when they left the factory. It’s just incredible.”
The rain cleared by Friday afternoon, drawing even more spectators to enjoy to mass of green, red, orange, and yellow machinery outside Little Bear East Arena. Some of the tractors left Friday night, but the turnout on Saturday was good, as well, said Mr. Baumgras.
“It’s been good,” he said. “We got pretty wet and had to delay, but everyone stuck to it and we made it happen.”