An emotional pull

A fourth-grade student drives an antique tractor in 2016 at the Rural Living Education Day in Oakley hosted by the Mid-Michigan Old Gas Tractor Association. The group is hosting its annual tractor show this weekend.

BRADY TWP. — What started out as a friendly competition between two neighboring farmers over whose tractor could pull more than the other has now become the largest gas tractor show in the state, according to Mid-Michigan Old Gas Tractor Association (MMOGTA) President Randy Sutter.

“We started out right out here with just a little dirt pad and we had tractor pulls, now it’s huge, it’s really blossomed,” Sutter said. “We’ve got more area right now just for tractor parking for displays than we started with for the whole grounds for a lot of years. There’s probably 20 acres or better just in tractor display and engine display out there.”

The association’s 45th annual gas tractor show begins Friday and runs through Sunday at the MMOGTA Showgrounds west of Oakley at 17810 W. Ferden Road. Over the course of the weekend, 85,000 to 100,000 people are expected, according to Sutter.

“It seems like it grows every year. More and more people find out about it. It’s gotten to the point where we are the largest gas tractor show anywhere around the country,” Sutter said. “This has always been presented as a family environment, you know, you come out here with your kids, there’s stuff for them to do, all kinds of things to see…we try to hold onto the persona of back in the day, the old farm life, the old country life and the attitude that went along with that back in the day. We try to recreate it with all of our equipment out here, it’s all antique, you know, we’re getting stuff that’s been in the weeds for 30 to 40 years.”

In keeping with old times, the weekend event will feature tractor pulls, harvesting and crop demonstrations, rock crushing, wool spinning, basket making, and wood working, as well as a veneer and shingle mill, a cider mill and a blacksmith shop.

“It’s like walking back in time as soon as you come through the gate, and that is what draws our spectators year after year,” Sutter said. “We’ve got a generation of kids in here that have been born and raised and have never known a day without a microwave or a cellphone, and it gives them the opportunity to come out here and see why they have a cell phone and a microwave, they get to see the crude technology and engineering from the teens and the 20s when there was nothing like that…the only reason they have those things today is because of those people back then that took the time, that took the initiative, that had the intelligence and the ingenuity to make something work because they needed it done….people are absolutely amazed.”

In addition to the number of demonstrations, 600 to 800 registered tractors and engines are expected to be on display at the showgrounds, Sutter said, with this year’s feature International Harvester.

Among the tractors on display will be Mark Kline’s Allis-Chalmers. Kline, owner of Kram Truck & Tractor Restoration, had set out to restore his grandfather’s 1964 Allis-Chalmer’s turbo diesel tractor, which hadn’t run since 1972. After three years of hard work, and more than $10,000 in costs, Kline said the tractor will be making its way to the showgrounds.

As someone who restores tractors for a living, Kline said this experience in particular will make him a better businessman.

“After working on this for several years, I now understand the attachment people can have with a tractor, I understand how a tractor can really mean something to you, there’s emotions involved,” Kline said. “This really did it for me, I mean, I’ve always cared about the quality of work I put in restoring people’s tractors, but I have never fully understood the emotional side, of how people break down when they finally hear their tractor fire up…until now. When I first heard that tractor start, I was like ‘Wow.’ I remember sitting on it as a kid pretending I was farming. To drive it now is pretty special. I think my grandfather would be proud.”

Gates open at 7 a.m. Friday through Sunday. A weekend pass is $20, while daily admission is broken down by age: Adults, $10; students 13-18, $5; and children 12 and under are free. Senior Day is Friday: Admission for those 65 and older is $5.

Sutter, 47, whose family joined the association when he was only 5 years old, said it’s been special to witness the growth of the show, the growth of the association through the years, pointing to the fact that people have been camped out on the showgrounds since last Saturday.

“We’ve blossomed into instead of just somebody driving out in their car and coming through the gate for the day, to people that come out and put their campers in a week ahead of time and the spend the week out here, it becomes a family vacation,” Sutter said. “It’s pretty cool to see that, and it’s been pretty cool to be a part of it, growing up through it.”

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