There’s this event to the north that has a lot of people from around the country flocking to Michigan the Friday after Labor Day, including some Ohioans. It’s a combination of a shared love of antique tractors and the thrill of doing something that’s forbidden except one day a year.
It involves the mighty and majestic Mackinac Bridge, which connects Michigan’s Upper and Lower peninsulas.
This year, a record 1,466 antique tractors paraded across the Mackinac Bridge for the 10th annual Mackinac Bridge Antique Tractor Crossing. One lane of the two northbound lanes is shut down to traffic to allow the crossing. People line the streets before and after the bridge to get a glimpse of the old workhorses and to cheer them on. It’s a five-hour parade!
BEGINNER DRIVER: Zach Mowen drives a 1948 John Deere M for his first trip over the bridge.
Once across, they parade through the town of St. Ignace en route to a showing at Little Bear Arena. That’s where I met the JD Tech boys. They called themselves something like that because the three of them became friends while attending Owens Community College in the John Deere Tech program.
Joshua Fitzpatrick, 20, is from Blissfield, Mich., but works just across the state line at Fred Ott Inc. in Berkey. He’s the linchpin in the trio’s journey north. He’s been hooked on antique tractors since he was a youngster. Last year he drove his grandpa’s 1964 John Deere 3020 for his inaugural crossing. This spring he bought a 1950 John Deere G. He rebuilt the carburetor, put on new fenders and turned it all up. He was ready for the next crossing, but events like this are even more fun with friends.
Kenny White, 21, of Stockport, Ohio, bought a 1960 Oliver 880 last Christmas. “It was in boxes and crates,” he says. “With my dad [Greg White], we went through every piece.”
While the family owns three Olivers, White is quick to point out that they farm with John Deeres, raising about 300 acres of corn and beans with his dad and grandpa Connie White. They also raise hay and pasture beef.
It was White’s first time ever at the bridge. “And boy was that a view. It was peaceful and a lot of fun — the whole weekend,” he says.
It was also new for Zach Mowen, 20, who says he’s never been that far north — let alone driving across a 5-mile suspension bridge on an antique tractor. He drove a 1948 John Deere M — a loner tractor owned by John Bavtholomew. Mowen is from Yellowspring, Ohio, and he’s working on restoring a 1945 John Deere LA for next year.
TRACTOR FAN: Joshua Fitzpatrick rides a 1950 John Deere G.