Orange tractor trail leads family to rural Michigan

posted Aug. 28, 2017 7:57 a.m. (CDT)
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by / Heidi Clausen, Regional Editor |

Our family’s annual pilgrimages along the Allis-Chalmers trail, thankfully, never fail to yield some sort of material to fill this column space, and a visit earlier this month to the national Gathering of the Orange in central Michigan was no exception.

One of my favorite parts of owning “Old Allis News” magazine and organizing the GOTO sites has been straying off the freeway to explore different rural areas across North America — from northwest Washington to upstate New York and from Ontario, Canada, to Florida. Every place is unique.

The first GOTO of this year took us to the Mid-Michigan Old Gas Tractor Association show grounds in Oakley.

Always looking to make the most of our miles, we fit in a tour of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor with our 17-year-old son, Dylan, before setting off for adventure in less-populated parts.

Along the Vermontville Highway, on the way to see a tractor mechanic in the quiet farm country near Charlotte, we came upon the Jones Country Store and simply couldn’t resist the pull of its rustic charm. As advertised outside, the elderly female owner of the almost 180-year-old store greeted us warmly with “free smiles” and a little history. We picked up a couple bottles of Michigan cherry pop and were on our way to the farming town of Elsie, which proudly proclaims its dairy heritage through a mid-July festival and an enormous Holstein bull statue on Main Street.

Wanting to sample some of the local flavor, we bellied up to a table at Cooter’s, a little bar and grill in a nondescript pole shed. The orange font used for the name on the sign implied a play on the Hooter’s franchise.

Once inside, it became apparent to us this was no Hooter’s and it wasn’t your typical lunch joint, as the no-nonsense cook/​bartender and, presumably, owner of the establishment didn’t set any menus before us (we figured out on our own that what was available that day was written on a couple large whiteboards hung on the wall over the restrooms) and rather gruffly took our orders.

Making no apologies, he informed us that the Michigan bean soup was all out, I could not swap out French fries for homemade cucumber salad with my burger and no, they didn’t carry root beer. They did have frog legs, cherry pie and a “huge wet burrito,” according to the menu.

While in Elsie, we simply had to stop by Green Meadow Farms — the largest registered Holstein herd in the U.S., milking more than 3,000 cows. The welcome mat is always out at this sprawling dairy, where passersby are invited to freely observe milking and feeding chores. We took advantage of the opportunity to watch stalls being bedded with sand and calves drinking at a self-feeder.

No trip to central Michigan — at least for this German — would be complete without going to Frankenmuth, Michigan’s Little Bavaria. Surrounded by the beautiful architecture and landscaping, I was in heaven. My teenage son, however, was less than elated to accompany me into Bronner’s, the world’s largest Christmas store. Even in late-August, this place was hopping and, browsing for ornaments as carols played, I had to fight off the urge to get into the Christmas spirit four months prematurely.

Poor Dylan, with no “husband bench” on which to park, tagged along, elbowing me every time I stopped to look at something. He also didn’t get his way at lunchtime; no way was I going to Little Caesar’s when I could have sauerkraut on my brat at the Bavarian Inn.

I was able to appease him with a giant chocolate doughnut. This thing must’ve been 9 inches in diameter, and he almost downed the whole thing in one sitting.

Noticing the many sugar beet fields along the road back to Oakley, I made a mental note to ask one of the locals back at the tractor show about this crop. Interestingly, the sugar beet harvest is scheduled by processors, with growers’ names put into a lottery and drawn to determine when they can pick their crop and ship it to market.

Next April, we’ll follow the GOTO trail back to eastern Tennessee, then in late-summer, you’ll find us in Pontiac, Ill. These trips, too, are sure to yield plenty of stories, so stay tuned.

Heidi Clausen covers news and writes features in northwest Wisconsin. She can be reached at

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