Giant Machines Take Over

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Buckley Old Engine Club
A four-cylinder 1918 Flour City tractor (one of only 13 left in existence) has wheels that are more than 8 feet high. It's one of more than 900 antique tractors on display August 13-16 at the 2009 Buckley (Michigan) Old Engine Show.

Traverse City, Michigan – The village of Buckley lies just a few miles south of the trendy shops and beaches of Michigan’s Grand Traverse Bay. For most of the year, it’s a sleepy little crossroads surrounded by cornfields and cow pastures, with a population that hovers around 650.

But every year on the third weekend in August, the little town explodes into roaring, clanking, chugging, shuddering life as more than 50,000 visitors descend on Buckley and its environs. Their goal: the Buckley Old Engine Show, one of the largest gatherings of huge antique machines in the world.

Hundreds of these iron behemoths – steam traction engines, rock crushers, balers, sawmills, more than 600 gas and oil-fueled engines and almost 1,000 antique tractors – are on display during the four-day event. There’s even a working 1923 steam locomotive that circles the place on its own mile-long track, giving free rides in its two passenger cars.

It’s a mechanical wonderland of old-fashioned noise, steam and power – guaranteed to dispel any illusions you may have had about the “quiet past” of the 19th century. Confected of gleaming brass, polished steel, engine oil and woodsmoke, the Old Engine Show is a four-pronged assault on the senses. And people love it.

“For a bunch of guys who celebrate the past, we’re pretty progressive about this show,” says Jim Luper of the Northwest Michigan Engine & Thresher Club, which started the annual show back in 1967. “We try to add something new each year.”

They’ve added so much, in fact, that the Old Engine Show now occupies its own 200-acre preserve just west of the village. Within its boundaries, the club has created a small settlement of its own – a recreated turn-of-the-century Main Street from a typical Michigan lumber town (which is what Buckley once was) with its own train depot, switch house, blacksmith shop, leather shop, cobbler, barber, print shop and town hall.

This year’s Old Engine Show, the 42nd in the club’s history, will be held Augugust 13-16. Since its beginnings, it has evolved from what club members cheerfully admit was “a bunch of men showing off their old engines” into an immense labor of love that encompasses hundreds of families – sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, mothers and grandparents who construct new exhibits, maintain the club grounds, run the exhibits, and direct traffic.

Beyond the sheer impressiveness of watching an enormous 250-horsepower steam engine at work, there’s a long-term educational strategy at work in Buckley – to preserve and appreciate the ingenuity of the 19th-century craftsmen and technicians who created the first generation of useful agricultural and industrial machines.

The show also has attractions for those who can’t get excited about wandering through a labyrinth of enormous antique engines. There are parades each day, a petting zoo, an enormous flea market with 600 market stalls, demonstrations of traditional non-mechanical skills like soap making, spinning and weaving, regular dances and “old-fashioned music” recitals from over 200 musicians. And on a hot summer day there’s really nothing like the experience of tasting ice cream that’s been churned by a steam engine!

The Buckley Old Engine Show grounds are located on M-37 between Traverse City and Cadillac. Tickets are $10 per day for adults or $25 for a four-day pass. Children 15 and under are admitted free. More detailed information about the Buckley Old Engine Show can be found on the website.

For information about other activities and attractions in Michigan’s scenic Traverse City area, and assistance with lodging, dining and other activities, contact the Traverse City Convention & Visitors Bureau by calling 800-872-8377 or visit the website.