August 6--International relations between the United States and Canada were soured last Saturday by an incident at the Michigan/Ontario border.
Returning from vacation in northern Ontario the Morton family were deep into day two of their drive. The old trapper's town of Temagami (pop. 1,000) and its eponymous lake were the environs of the vacation, and a more beautiful place on Earth would be difficult to find. After a week in the semi-seclusion of a cottage on a lake so crystal clear you can still see the bottom fifty feet down, seven-year-old Sebastian knew it was too good to be true.
"I was just waiting for the other shoe to drop. It hit me in the head with a colossal waste of time at the border crossing."
Anticipating the madhouse created by the construction rerouting at the Ambassador Bridge between Windsor and Detroit, the family chose to cross back into the US through Port Huron, MI.
Port Huron looked like smooth sailing upon approach. "We even took a pit stop before we crossed over," says Burke Morton, 37. "Thank God we did!" When they got back into the car and began to climb the bridge, there were three lanes, the far right marked with an overhead sign reading "CARS"; the middle lane marked with a sign for "TRUCKS"; the left-hand lane had a credulity-straining sign over it reading "Vintage Tractors".
Mr. Morton: "Vintage Tractors? My first thought was that since this was farm country for both Ontario and Michigan, it didn't seem too implausible for there to be a tractor lane, and perhaps some Amish-looking German Anabaptists would chug past on their way to do some freelance plowing across the border." Doubting there was such a community in Port Huron, MI or Sarnia, Ontario, the family pressed on, but as they reached the zenith of the bridge, they could see a Vintage Tractor Parade beginning.
Hulking & Sleek Machines
"The tractors weren't on our side of the bridge, they were heading into Canada. We were a bit disappointed that we would miss seeing it, because it sounded to me like good, quirky fun," says Mr. Morton's wife Cynthia, 34. "We could see a bit of the tractors through the bridge railings, and we even saw a combine, but it really wasn't a rewarding view."
Cars piled up at the check point. The Morton's mini-van was three cars from the Border Agent's booth--tantalizingly close to freedom. "We waited for an hour. We started worrying about some kind of border lock-down--had they found drugs? An illegal immigrant? Explosives? And then out of the corner of my eye, I caught sight of a vintage tractor returning from Canada!" At this point Morton started ranting things that cannot be printed in a family publication, but he was, according to his wife, not the only one frustrated by this.
"I got out of the car with the kids and walked over to the side of the bridge to watch the parade. I figured we might as well make the most of it, and my husband wasn't really fun to be around just then. We were joined by lots of other wives and kids, too."
Having regained his composure and looking a bit sheepish, Mr. Morton tried to save his dignity by saying that "people all around were worked-up and getting angrier at the ridiculous parade, because they didn't actually use the designated 'Vintage Tractor' lane. There were at least two thousand cars backed up that I could count, and there's no way there weren't twice that over the crest of the bridge. People--even those with Ontario license plates--were swearing at the Canadian government for consenting to this nonsense."
Memories of the Fields
Port Huron resident Fred Ramsey, 72, extolled the virtues of the Vintage Tractor Parade. "I just love seeing these tractors. I grew up on a farm and vineyard here in St. Clair Township, and we had an old 1952 Minneapolis-Moline--it was an ugly thing...had a rusty orange color...." He heaved a sigh. "What a great old gal!"
The Black River Area Antique Power Club's annual Vintage Tractor Parade causes traffic snarls every year in Port Huron. "One year we had a 15-minute traffic jam," said Earl Roberts, 59. "For Port Huron that's like Detroit rush hour, so I hear."
After crossing the Blue Water Bridge, the parade ended at the Thomas Edison Inn, for Port Huron's Concours d'Elegance of tractors--110 of them on display, some from as far back as the 1940s.
Implicated & Exonerated
It seems that drivers stuck at the U.S. Border misplaced their ire. For while the tractors did cross the Blue Water Bridge, they turned around in a maintenance lane without ever getting off the bridge. Turns out the city leaders of Sarnia, Ontario saw the problem from the beginning. Tractors aren't allowed on the major roads leading off the bridge, because they are too big and slow, and would cause major traffic problems.
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