TRAVERSE CITY — A bunch of “fellows” in northwest lower Michigan decided to get together on a farm near Copemish more than 45 years ago to show off and run their old engines and equipment.
Word got out and lots of others came to watch. It was such a success that the nonprofit Northwest Michigan Engine and Thresher Club was founded to host future shows.
From humble beginnings in 1967, the Buckley Old Engine Show has grown to be an annual event that attracts thousands of visitors every summer to the club’s show grounds a mile west of Buckley. This year’s show begins Thursday and runs through Aug.18.
“This is our 46th year,” said Jim Luper, executive board trustee who is in charge of registration and public relations for the club. “And in those 46 years we’ve had non-stop growth. Every year beats out every other year in numbers of exhibits and spectators.”
More than 5,000 campers and 15,000 attendees swarm the four-day event, and Luper said it takes every one of the club’s 1,600-plus members to staff and run it.
“We could use more help,” he said.
The venue showcases hundreds of antique tractors, steam engines, cars, gas engines, and other mechanical equipment, along with dozens of demonstrations on everything from rope making to blacksmithing. Visitors can see how popcorn is made in a Hog Kettle, check out an 1850s working sawmill, or scope out the Foundry, where old-fashioned dinner bells are cast.
This year for the first time the club will host the National Leader Tractor Club. The tractors were produced between 1939 and 1950 by a small company.
“They are kind of an obscure brand,” Luper said. “It’s not something the public would have seen before; they’re kind of rare.”
Also new this year is a draft horse pull on Aug. 18 at 11:30 a.m.
The club hoped to have The Spirit of Traverse City, the mini-train that ran in Traverse City’s Clinch Park from 1982 to 2011, up and running, but the track is not quite finished.
“We’ve been working on it non-stop every weekend,” Luper said. “If the summer was another month longer, we would have made it.”
Members did restore all the passenger cars and the train will be on display. Their 1924 steam train will take visitors on rides around the grounds as in past years. New cars have been added on the side track for display.
Longtime volunteers lending a hand is a family tradition, and one they pass on to their children and grandchildren.
“We started going when our kids were little,” said member Terri Schichtel of Buckley, whose family also exhibits old farm implements.
“My husband’s family was in the farming business and we have a collection of Farmall tractors that we take,” Schichtel said.
The collection includes an original 1951 Farmall H, purchased new by Schichtel’s late husband’s grandfather and passed down from generation to generation in the family. It’s now owned and exhibited at the show by Schichtel’s daughter, Heather Cade, of Buckley.
Cade’s own family of four, along with her brother and his wife, are volunteers who attend every year.
“My brother runs the wooden bowl mill; they make bowls out of rough-sawn lumber,” Cade said. “And, my husband and son work with the threshing crew. They do a series of demonstrations, showing how it was done by hand and later by machines.”
In addition to the tractor pulls, poker runs, and cider mill demonstrations, there is a flea market on the grounds with over 500 vendors, making it one of the largest in the state, Schichtel said.
For more information on this year’s show, go to http://www.buckleyoldengineshow.org/.