The 2012 Rust ‘N Dust Antique Tractor Caravan
Central Michigan tractor caravan makes room for youthful enthusiasts
A game of catch football was a welcome activity at the end of the first day of the Rust ’N Dust 100-mile antique tractor caravan for cousins (left to right) Sully Irish, Amber Irish and Caleb Brink. At the end of the first day, having covered 63 miles, caravan participants camped overnight in Colon, Mich.
Photo By Thomas E. Gilpin
Tractor drives are typically thought of as pursuits for seasoned hobbyists. But at the Rust ’N Dust Antique Tractor Caravan in central Michigan, the sounds of children laughing and playing offered sweet accompaniment to the deeper tones of old iron. Held in early August 2012, the caravan drew 45 tractors, 50 enthusiasts and more than a dozen kids ages 4-17.
Launched in Hanover, Mich., the 9th annual tractor caravan set out to cover more than 100 miles in two days. Participants formed a caravan that stretched a mile and a half as they rolled along back roads through five counties at a leisurely pace of about 10 mph.
“This is my seventh trip,” boasted Sully Irish, 10, Jerome, Mich. “It’s pretty cool to see all the different tractors,” he added while climbing onto his 1951 Oliver 77 Row-Crop, a gift to him from his great-grandfather, Don Blakley, a long-standing member of the Rust ’N Dust group. The tractor was given to him on condition that he continue going on the tractor caravans, something he gladly agreed to. A parade seat and an umbrella mount were recent additions by his dad, Levi, who also handled the driving.
Sully’s sister, Amber, 14, and cousin, Caleb Brink, 10, Jerome, also came along this year. “It’s my first trip and so far the scenery has been my favorite part,” Caleb said at the end of the first day.
Another group of cousins along for the two-day adventure included Alec Balfour, 13, Jackson; Shelby Hewlett, 14, Grand Rapids; and Jes Hamlin, 17, Jackson. Their grandpa, Bill Hewlett, is the caravan’s organizer. “This is my first time,” Shelby said. “I’ve heard about all the past trips and it’ll be fun.” Jess, who’s off to college this fall, is on her sixth tractor drive. “My sister and I went all the time,” she said. “I like spending time with Grandpa.”
John Reed, 12, Adrian, Mich., is an old hand at the tractor caravan, having participated in four others. Accompanying his granddad, Harold Finegan, Jonesville, Mich., he drove a 1951 John Deere Model A. The vintage tractor sported a pair of custom cup holders John designed. “John helps me all the time,” Harold said. “He’s good with tractors and helps me work on them.” The Model A pulled a large wagon outfitted with a yellow canopy and chairs so family and friends could come along.
Joining the caravan from Chelsea, Mich., was Michael Staebler, 15, and his father, Jeff. Michael missed the first Rust ’N Dust caravan but otherwise has perfect attendance. “I’ve been on every caravan since the first one,” he said. “I really enjoy driving and riding tractors.” Like many other participants, the Staeblers also pulled a trailer that doubled as an enclosed camper.
Caravan veterans Alex Sackett, 18, and his cousin, Michael Donihue, 16, brought tractors from the family farm near Hillsdale. Each on their eighth tractor drive, the youths are well versed in the old iron hobby: Members of their extended families own 23 tractors. Although the cousins attend different schools, they live on the same parcel of land with the tractor barn situated between their houses.