Old tractors will be rollin’ on Sept. 17

Bob Baumgras is pretty convinced the Mackinac Bridge Authority had no idea three years ago about the number of antique tractor owners there are in Michigan or how many miles they would travel to parade across the Mighty Mac.

Regardless, the Mac Authority welcomed the idea, expecting maybe 100 to 300 tractors. The first year, 614 tractors made the trek. Last year there were 811. So far, this year’s Annual Mackinac Bridge Antique Tractor Crossing has 809 tractors, representing 37 clubs, in the parade lineup. Most travel more than 100 miles to participate, including entries from Illinois, Ohio, Wisconsin, Indiana and even Texas this year.

So, mark your calendar for Sept. 17, at 10 a.m., to see possibly the world’s longest antique tractor parade.

Baumgras, who has more than 30 years in the tractor parts business, including opening Owosso Tractor Parts in 1998, came up with the idea.

With the bridge being known for many special crossings, Baumgras zipped an e-mail to the authority in the fall of 2007. Three weeks later in his in-box was a message that said, “Let’s talk.”

One problem in all this is that Baumgras lives in Shiawassee County, which is more than 200 miles away.

But he made the trip north in December 2007 to discuss the plan. The authority saw no real reason why not. For every “what if,” there was an answer, even with liability. To protect everyone, parade entries must be part of a club that carries parade and event insurance.

The date was set. A parade for antique tractors built before 1965 (there are special exceptions) would be the day before the Truck Parade of Lights, when big semi-rigs cross at night.

Baumgras’s logistical problems were partly solved with the involvement of three northern Michigan men who help coordinate activities, Ed Socolovitch, Chum Ostwald and Leonard Schreier.

One of the biggest nightmares in organizing an event of this kind is finding an appropriate staging area. But with a little searching, even that fell into place. The tractors are unloaded and parked about a mile and half west of the bridge on a site owned by a gravel company.

About half the tractors will parade through Mackinaw City en route to the bridge. On the bridge, tractors use the right northbound lane only. Those traveling north alongside should not — and I can’t stress this enough — travel at the same speed trying to film the tractors. This creates backups, so don’t do it.

Drivers, who are not allowed to pull anything, must be at least 18 and ride solo. They must also carry a tow strap or chain. Initially, a wrecker was on standby. “We don’t bother with that anymore, these guys take care of each other,” Baumgras says. “Each year we have about five that get pulled across by another tractor.”

The first one over Mighty Mac is always the grand marshal. For the inaugural year, it was Socolovitch, then Ostwald, and you guessed it, this year it’s Schreier. Baumgras is the last to cross is in his Jimmy. Remember, he’s a parts guy, not a collector.

The tractors then travel through St. Ignace, and many park at Kewadin Shores Casino on Mackinac Trail for a show that continues into the next day.

So, there’s your reason to head north in September. I’ll see you there!

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INAUGURAL CROSSING: Larry Langshaw drove his 1953 John Deere 60 across the Mighty Mac in 2008.

This article published in the September, 2010 edition of MICHIGAN FARMER.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2010.