Michigan Flywheelers Museum, 64958 M-43 Highway, Bangor, Michigan 49013
Rain and cold temperatures didn't hamper the dedication of two disc jockeys as they drove an antique tractor from Benton Harbor, Michigan, to the Farm Aid concert in Tinsley Park, Illinois, to help raise money for farmers in southwest Michigan.
Denise Bohn and 'Wild Bill' Lewis, the morning deejays from Continuous Country Station Y1037, in Benton Harbor, teamed up with members from the Michigan Flywheelers of South Haven and began the long 10-hour journey to the New World Music Theatre on a cold but sunny Friday morning. Leaving the station at 10:00 a.m. with encouragement from their fellow workers, the two deejays left the parking lot on a 1956 Cockshutt tractor owned by Michigan Flywheelers members Jim and Betty Schlachter of Hartford. With the local police department escorting the group, the caravan drove through the streets of St. Joseph and surrounding towns as local residents cheered them on with banners and donations. Wild Bill, who had only learned to drive the tractor the day before on the Schlachter farm, drove with Denise standing on the drag bar. They were followed by the owners of the Cockshutt, as well as by Michigan Flywheelers president Pat Ingalls and wife of Bangor who towed his Farmall Cub in case the Cockshutt broke down.
The 1956 Cockshutt 30 is a low profile industrial tractor that was designed for brush chopping. One of only 15 made for the Ontario Road Department, the tractor was the first made with an independent power takeoff. It also has cast iron hubs in front and back that are twice as thick as other hubs. The '30' was last made in 1956.
The idea to do something special to raise money for Farm Aid occurred to Wild Bill after receiving a press release about the event six weeks earlier. Bill came up with the idea to drive the tractor and then program manager Steve Williams talked with Ingalls about the plan while broadcasting from the Flywheelers' Antique Engine and Tractor Show in September. The two recruited Schlachter and began planning the trip.
About halfway through the adventure it began to rain, but Bill and Denise continued to drive on. When they arrived in the dark at the concert site at 7:45 p.m., members of the Farm Aid staff were waiting for the cold and wet couple and their escorts. The group was hustled inside, and introduced to the organizers and then given dinner. The generous Farm Aid staff made sure everyone had a place to stay and tickets to see the concert the next day as well. On concert day, a check in the amount of $4,515 was presented to entertainer Willie Nelson by Bill and Denise, who also earmarked the money for south west Michigan farmers. The tractor was included in the concert press conference which was attended by 300 news media people, due to the fact that it was the only one in the United States to have been driven to the Farm Aid event. Bill and Denise received a standing ovation by the members of the press and the entertainers. Many of the per formers like Willie Nelson, Hootie and the Blowfish, and Neil Young stopped by the tractor which was parked outside the press tent, for pictures and to sign the hood of it. Schlachter stated that after putting a clear coat on the hood, the tractor will be put on display at the next Michigan Flywheelers Museum's 1999 antique engine and tractor show held September 9-12 at the organization's show grounds on 68th Street in South Haven, Michigan. Donations can be made to Farm Aid year round. Organizers say they hope that they won't have to continue to have concerts, but the unusual weather makes it hard for farmers to make a living. To donate, call 1-800-FARMAID.