A toddler’s playpen was the first indication that things are done just a little bit differently at the Mid-Michigan Old Gas Tractor Assn. Squeezed into the only remaining open space in a tiny office used by the club’s treasurer, the playpen signaled a strong emphasis on family involvement in the club and its activities. Indeed, the membership roll counts families rather than individuals.
“We have 450 families,” says vice president Bill Koski, Owosso, Mich. “And we try to keep everybody, all ages, involved. We have a lot of activities for kids: pedal pulls, garden tractor pulls, you name it.” During the annual show, every member is required to work four hours a day. “Work or die,” he says in a mock stern tone.
Family involvement is evident everywhere during the show. The blacksmith has a trio of youthful apprentices; over in the handle mill are another three, clearly well familiar with the routine there. Helping in the kitchen, the petting zoo and crafts areas, kids pull their weight and appear to be having the time of their lives.
Then there’s the setting. With members camping in a rustic wooded area adjacent to the grounds, the population swells during the annual show. “For three days, this becomes the second largest town in Saginaw County,” Bill says.
At about the time other shows shut down for the day, the Oakley show starts to pick up steam. A full slate of tractor pulls (including powder puff, cement [a percentage pull on cement with oversize rubber tires] and steel wheel pulls, among others) goes on late into the night. A carefully contained and controlled beer tent with live music does brisk business nearby. “It’s the only legal bar in the tractor business,” Bill says. “Some people love it; some people hate it. But we have as many people at this show at 10 p.m. as we do at 10 a.m.”
A 7 a.m. railroad steam whistle ensures no one’s late to work on the early shift. It is the kind of whistle that rattles windowpanes, short-circuits hearing aids and causes dogs to howl in desperation. Steve Oszust, co-chair of the steam area, hails a friend one morning. “I see the whistle did its job,” he says by way of greeting. “I set the alarm clock,” his buddy replies. “I’m not going to give you the satisfaction.”
Other than that whistle, the club is a good neighbor. MMOGTA makes regular donations to local ambulance and fire departments, youth and academic programs. Proceeds from sales of homemade bean soup during the show are targeted for the local Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) program.
And each year in late September, the club gives school children a taste of traditional farm life. For one day, 500 fourth-graders are guests of MMOGTA at the club’s Rural Education Day. “It gives those city kids a chance to drive a tractor or milk a cow,” Steve says. “They love it.” Demonstrations and activities keep the kids busy all day; lunch is provided at no charge through partnerships with local businesses. FC
Read more about the MMOGTA annual tractor show in The Annual MMOGTA Gas Tractor Show: Come to Oakley & Hear 'em Run.