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Antique tractors, Mackinac Bridge bring brothers together

Photos by Jennifer Kiel Steve Kittle stands next to a 1950 Farmall M tractor
1950 FARMALL M: Steve Kittle of Aurora, Ind., drove this 1950 Farmall M across the Mackinac Bridge. The tractor originally belonged to his grandfather Carl. The tractor was sold, but the family tracked it down, bought it back and restored it.
Tractor Treasures: Three Indiana brothers make an eight-hour trek to drive antique tractors across Michigan’s Mackinac Bridge.

Steve Kittle of Aurora, Ind., has been across Michigan’s majestic 5-mile Mackinac Bridge six times, but not in just any vehicle — on a 1950 Farmall M antique tractor that originally belonged to his grandfather Carl.

Steve, along with his two brothers, Jerry and Bruce, were among more than 1,100 antique tractor drivers making the annual trek Sept. 10. It was the 15th year for the event. Starting in the Lower Peninsula, tractors parade across the bridge to the Upper Peninsula, where they end with a show in St. Ignace, Mich., for the weekend.

The Kittles’ Farmall M was sold at auction in 1968, but Bruce later found it and restored it. Steve has since done some mechanical upgrades.

“We also have Grandpa’s very first tractor he owned, with the original bill of sale — a 1928,” says Steve, while noting his father, Leo, 98, likes to drive it for local parades and events.

The brothers came with a club that included 13 tractor drivers and five buddy riders from Indiana, Kentucky and Illinois.

“We just have a great time, and it kind of gets in your blood,” Steve notes. “You do it once and it’s like, that was fun! You come back the next year and, wow, it’s still fun. So, we keep coming. It also makes for a good brothers weekend.”

Jerry, from Thorntown, Ind., brought a 1958 John Deere 630, one of 56 antique tractors in his fleet. From mechanical work to bodywork and painting, Jerry does all the restorations. While he owns a business as a civil engineer and land surveyor, he also finds time to help a nearby grower farm 5,000 acres of soybeans, corn and hay, and uses antique tractors to plow about 1,200 acres every year.

Jerry Kittle standing next to a 1958 John Deere 630 tractor

1958 JOHN DEERE 630: Jerry Kittle of Thorntown, Ind., drove this 1958 John Deere 630 across the Mackinac Bridge. It’s just one in his massive collection of antique tractors.

Jerry brings a different tractor every year to the bridge crossing and uses his trailer to haul his chosen tractor, as well as his brothers’ tractors. It is about an eight-and-a-half-hour trip to the Mackinac Bridge.

“But it’s worth it … it’s always a blast, and it’s for everyone,” Jerry says. “You don’t have to have everything perfect — it’s not about the prettiest or the best.”

The Kittle brothers also love to share their collections with the community by taking tractors to schools and nursing homes.

Bruce, from Franklin, Ind., drove a 1947 Farmall M that’s been meticulously brought back to life after sitting in a barn for 30 years.

“I had no idea what kind of shape the engine was in,” he says. “I started tearing into it, and the deeper I got, the worse it got. Pistons were seized. Someone had run it out of oil, and the crank and connecting rods were bent.”

The block was pulled out twice and machined to get it just right. “When you’re in that deep, you go ahead and convert the electrical system to 12-volt,” he explains. “I also put a new clutch and pressure plate into it.”

Bruce Kittle sits in the driver seat of a 1947 Farmall M tractor

1947 FARMALL M: After a massive restoration, Bruce Kittle of Franklin, Ind., drove this 1947 Farmall M across the Mackinac Bridge.

After two and a half years, a new paint job finished off Bruce’s substantial investment. In his second year crossing the bridge, Jerry says he loves the tractors and loves the event, but the highlight is “just meeting good, down-to-earth people and making new friends.”

TAGS: Tractors
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