“Oh, we have got to see this!” It was an ad for the Hillsdale, Michigan County Fair. The entertainment for the opening night was the Second Annual Combine Demolition Derby. We could hardly stand it.
Long a fantasy of mine to demolish a ’73 Chrysler in a derby, the next best thing had to be seeing giant farm implements annihilating each other in the mud and dust of a county fair track.
Veronica, who grew up outside the farming belt was a bit confused, “Aren’t combines those machines that do something or other with crops?” Oh yeah, they harvest crops, are extremely huge and this is gonna be great! Immediate Googling was needed for more information on Hillsdale and this wacky, must-see event.
To make the pot even sweeter, we found out that Hillsdale is the town in Michigan that elected the 18 year old highschooler, Michael Sessions, for mayor and proudly proclaims themselves as home of “The Most Popular Fair on Earth.” Sweet.
Not the biggest, not the best, not the oldest or even most famous, but the most popular. Intriguing.
A bit more research, a few phone calls and we were on our way. We arrived in Hillsdale, a charming little village with a Wal-Mart
on the outskirts and more than half of their main street storefronts closed.
The décor of the town seemed to be flag-draped with intense lawn ornamentation. Hillsdale could possibly be the yard ball capital of the world. And hey, who doesn’t love a good Victorian garden gazing globe?
We checked in to our room at the Hillsdale Motel, a piece of Americana if there ever was one, complete with the marquee letter board that read “Anything Almost Right Is Wrong” and complimentary lawn chairs for watching the traffic go by on route 99. Excited to get a bit of flavor before seeing the main event, we immediately headed off in the direction of the fairgrounds.
Homemade signs directed us toward the parking area, run by a local church, in the cemetery. Wait, what? Yup, graveside parking, right in the middle of the burial grounds, just 3 bucks.
Inside the fairgrounds, folks were already lining up at the grandstand gate over an hour before the big event. This was gonna be huge!
We got our tickets and joined the line so we could stake out the best possible vantage point. With some fresh roasted peanuts and the obligatory county fair sausage, we were ready.
The machines entered the arena for the judging, by applause, of the “Best Decorated” and the $100 prize. Competition was stiff with numerous great slogans lovingly spray painted across the sheet metal.
We Eat Deere, Git ‘er Done, and She Thinks My Combine’s Sexy were among our favorites. Tributes to sweethearts and sponsoring farms adorned them all, as well as some interesting color schemes.
This also gave us some time to size up the drivers. They were young, determined and very appreciative of their pit crews, standing on the sidelines with welding torches, extra parts and great ideas.
The competition was over when The General Lee sounded his horn that blasted Dixie. Nothing fires up a crowd way up north in Michigan like a confederate flag festooned combine that plays Dixie.
The rodeo-style announcer had the crowd count down to the green flag and they were off.
The sight and sound of multi-ton, twelve foot high, thirty foot long heavy equipment monsters bashing head-on at full throttle brought us and the entire crowd to its feet cheering and laughing.
Yes, laughing. The crowd was caught up in a combination of awe and maniacal glee. Holy crap!
It was great. Even better than expected. Combines are big, powerful, heavy machines that are made for harvesting grain in peaceful open fields, not for combat.
They have no natural enemies so their shells are thin and defenses weak. The damage was immediate and extensive. Tires shredded, parts flew off, entire axles were removed, all in a matter of seconds. There is no doubt that somebody needed to know how to install a new gas strut.
After the initial carnage, it began to settle into a war of attrition. According to the rules–yes, there are rules–there are two ways to be eliminated.
Either your machine is completely disabled or you are pushed out of the ring. Clouds of diesel smoke filled the air as the survivors played out their strategies.
Once the smaller and weaker were thinned from the herd, it began to resemble sumo wrestling as the big boys settled into imposing their massive wills upon each other.
Sometimes a twosome would gang up to shove another out of the ring, then turn on each other with metal crunching ferocity. As this stand-off phase proceeded, radiators burst and engines died smoky deaths.
A real treat for the senses, the grins never left our faces. Amazing sights, sounds and especially smells–while standing a mere few dozen feet away from this pure mayhem. By the end it took forklifts to drag off the carcasses.
The winning combine, initially purchased at a price upward of a hundred thousand dollars, was awarded $600.00 and bragging rights for the year. Certainly not doing it for the money, the winner was asked to give the crowd his thoughts on his experience in the derby.
He pronounced it “A great alternative motorsport.”
We have to agree.
David & Veronica, GypsyNester.com