ADRIAN — During the initial wave of coronavirus cases and protocols in the U.S., Jim Oprsal was one of the many Lenawee County residents who understood the long-term severity of the virus pandemic.
“This virus is no laughing matter,” he commented. “We are living in a time of history.”
A bit of a history buff himself, Oprsal is the current president of the Farmers Antique Tractor and Engine Association. The association, which strives to preserve the agricultural history of Lenawee County, each year hosts two informational and interactive tractor shows on its grounds along Forrister Road, Adrian. The 2020 spring show would have been held the weekend of May 15-17, however, Orpsal and the 12 to 14 members that make up the association committee, came to an agreement in March that the spring show should be shelved for this year.
“The Farmers Antique Tractor and Engine Association is committed to protecting and preserving the health, safety and welfare of our members, volunteers and visitors to our shows and activities. By cancelling this event, we are doing our part to help stop the spread of this virus,” a recent news release from the association read.
Oprsal said he feels confident word of the show’s cancellation has been received by the community.
“I think we did what we could to get the word out there,” he said. “The association — as a group — felt that we could not put on a quality show this spring. If we can’t put on a quality show, then we won’t put on a show at all.”
Fortunately, the association also hosts a tractor and engine show in the fall. Barring any additional “stay home” orders or other measures taken to combat the coronavirus this summer and fall, Oprsal said the association is planning to put its efforts into one of the largest tractor and engine shows ever recorded by the association.
“This should be a really good show for the visitors,” he said.
The Farmers Antique Tractor and Engine Association is housed at 7600 Forrister Road. The organization owns 115 acres of land. Of that acreage, anywhere from 40 to 50 acres of land is actually used when hosting shows and exhibits. The grounds of the association are described as “a museum of living history” by Oprsal. Vintage buildings, an on-site museum, agricultural artifacts and more are all housed on the organization grounds.
“We have a lot of living history here,” he said. “And we encourage people to be interactive when they visit us.”
In addition to a long line of tractor collections, the association also enjoys showing off its working saw mill from the late 1800s. Another historical piece of machinery still in working order is a 1910s-era spoke-making machine, which the association uses for crafting walking canes. Sales from these walking canes ensure that each historical machine is well-maintained.
Many of the items that the association shows off at its museum are also taken each year and put on display at the Lenawee County Fair.
The association also has a display of each Lenawee County school district’s FFA Chapter logo and memorabilia. These items were donated to the association upon the chapter’s liquidations from the schools.
Each year the association has a theme for its shows. Sometimes themes are repeated, but with enough new faces coming to the engine shows, the association is able to keep the shows active, fresh and educational.
This spring’s show would have highlighted the Alice Chalmers line of tractors, engines and related equipment from across the state of Michigan and the surrounding states. The fall show is in the works to be a culmination of everything ag related.
Lenawee County, and especially the Blissfield community, have a tie-in with the Alice Chalmers line of farming equipment. Willis Scholl, the president of the line of equipment, owned and operated a dealership in Blissfield from the 1940s to the 1960s.
Of course with any outdoor activity, everything is weather dependent. Last year, the association hosted the International Harvester Club of Michigan. It was one of the association’s largest shows in history.
“We try to reach the local history and historical impact,” Oprsal said. “Our association strives to showcase the importance of the county’s dependency on agriculture. We also encourage the hobby of collecting tractors. It is a chance to keep history alive.”
Not only are shows hosted by the association at its grounds, but members also hit the road and travel to other engine associations and clubs. The Michigan Alice Chalmers Enthusiasts, which would include tractor and engine associations from Michigan, Indiana and Ohio, plan to gather together this fall.
The local Antique and Engine Association also goes on a 40-mile drive-in through Lenawee County each June. This year’s drive-in is scheduled for June 20 at this time. That could change, Oprsal said, due to the virus pandemic. As of now, the goal is for the association to trek through the southern part of Lenawee County, riding atop antique tractors.
The association also makes appearances at such local shows and events as Appleumpkin in Tecumseh and the Blissfield Tractor Cruise-In shows.
“There is plenty to keep our members busy,” Oprsal said. “And there is plenty for them to get involved with.”
The association also sponsors a field trip for local school districts each year. This spring, the districts of Addison, Clinton and Onsted were to have toured the association grounds, however, the cancellation of school for the year due to COVID-19 brought an end to that field trip. Hosting Lenawee County schools has been something the association has done for the past 30 years.
“The kids really enjoy their time out here,” Oprsal said. “I think that is something we are going to miss most about this year.”
The tentative fall dates for the association’s upcoming show is Sept. 18-20.
“We will still be present at the Lenawee County Fair and other city, town and village events if restrictions are lifted,” the news release stated.