This year’s Mackinac Bridge Antique Tractor Crossing on Sept. 8 marked a decade for the annual event, but it never seems to get old.
Two years ago the crossing topped the 1,000-tractor mark. Last year the tally was 1,326 tractor drivers from 48 clubs. This year, a record is in the books, as 1,466 tractors from 53 clubs crossed the bridge. But that’s not all; a few years back the organizer of the event, Bob Baumgras, began allowing buddy riders in approved seating. There were 275 this year.
“It was a beautiful weekend, everything went off without a hitch, and we sure had a good time,” says Baumgras, who is also owner of Owosso Tractor Parts.
The tractor crossing is anything but ‘one and done.’ Many of the drivers have crossed multiple times — some all 10. Baumgras doesn’t know exactly how many have that claim to fame, but he did hand out plaques to 16 clubs that have participated all 10 years.
Honoring law enforcement
This year’s Grand Marshall was the sheriff of Mackinac County, Scott Strait, who drove a 1936 Farmall F-20. Scott was followed by his father, Roy, who is a law enforcement veteran of 52-plus years and Village of New Era chief of police. And behind Roy was Scott’s son Jake Strait, a firefighter and emergency medical technician for Cedar Area Fire and Rescue in Leelanau County.
Roy drove Jake’s 1950 Farmall M. “My grandfather Tom bought that tractor new and passed it down to my dad, who then passed it to me, and I to Jake,” Scott explains.
Jake drove Roy’s Farmall 504. The family is not sure of the year.
“My dad and I have participated every year, and we enjoy it very much,” Scott reflects. “Remembering our family’s heritage of farming in Traverse City and celebrating the love of old tractors with other tractor enthusiasts is fun for all.”
Scott carried a flag with a thin blue line on his tractor to honor all the police officers who sacrifice every day to protect their communities. Jake carried a flag with a thin red line honoring firefighters who have sacrificed for their communities. “I'm very proud of both my dad and my son for their service,” he says. “To have Bob recognize me and my deputies and all of the other first responders who make the tractor crossing possible, I share my honor with them.”
Let the fun begin
The tractors are split into two groups. The first group lines up and starts crossing the bridge at 9 a.m. The second group, to prevent congestion, hangs back and parades through St. Ignace. The second group eventually tags onto the end of the first group, making for a continuous parade. There’s a list of rules, but essentially, drivers must be a member of a participating tractor club, and tractors must go at least 10 mph and have a tow strap in case the tractor behind needs a little help.
Once across the bridge, tractors travel through St. Ignace to Little Bear Arena, where volunteers direct drivers on where to park to make the most efficient use of space.
So how do you pull off an event of this magnitude? Baumgras says it’s in the planning, good volunteer helpers and having good dialogue with the Mackinac Bridge authorities and the cities of St. Ignace and Mackinaw City.
So, even with 140 more tractors this year over last, the parade finished an hour earlier. “We were all in the arena by 2 p.m., which is good because the city really wants us finished before school lets out,” says Baumgras, who for the first time, led the parade with his granddaughter, Haven Canze. She couldn’t drive because she was 16 years old (18 is required), but for the first time she was eligible to be a buddy rider. “Her dad, Jeremy Canze, who is also my parts manager, bought the tractor for her last year,” Baumgras says. “It is a 1941 Farmall H that they restored.”
While Baumgras admits that leading the parade was quite fun, he went back over the bridge to make sure everything was running smoothly and to bring up the rear. “I was both the first and the last one across the bridge, albeit in my pickup at the end,” he says.
Friday night and Saturday afternoon, Sept. 8-9, included tractor games with prizes and ribbons. Saturday afternoon before the parade there was a raffle, including such prizes as a bridge tower tour, hotel vouches, trips to the museum and the island, tractor radios and more. Another parade through St. Ignace followed, which included 309 tractors.
One of the most asked questions after the weekend was “When is the next one?” Baumgras is quick to respond, “Sept. 7 is the 11th annual event.”