When former RAF Director and pilot Peter Burwell learned that it was taking twelve hours to mow the turf field at Michigan’s North Fox Island, he began the search for a suitable John Deere mower. Burwell, CEO of C&B Operations, a network of John Deere dealerships throughout the Midwest, located a mower in Luverne, MN, a stone’s throw from the South Dakota border. 

The trouble is, you don’t just load the machine on a trailer, and drive it to the island in giant Lake Michigan. And it was too big to fly in. So the mower had to traverse 928 miles on land, then 32 more miles over open water, a distance the same as Alaska’s legendary Iditarod race from Anchorage to Nome.  

That’s when resourceful RAF volunteers rose to the challenge. RAF Director Jeff Russell of Wisconsin, RAF volunteer Jerry Ness, and RAF Michigan Liaison General Grant started making plans. Russell and RAF supporter Rick Rettler drove the 12 hour round trip from Wisconsin to Luverne and back. “We tested the mower locally, then General hauled it to Escanaba, Michigan. Jerry hauled it to Leland, where Geoff Niesink, a contractor with a landing craft boat, waited for relatively flat water. He was able to ship it to the island on May 12,” Russell explained. “And it was a relay all the way.”  Accompanying Geoff on the boat ride were Jerry and longtime RAF volunteer George Stevens.

Grant and other volunteers had previously flown into North Fox Island, 6Y3 to prepare an addition to the tool storage shed to accommodate the equipment. While they were there, they cut up trees that had fallen on the trails to the beach from the ends of the airfield. 

A second pull-behind mower was also purchased and delivered to the Island. The two mowers can be combined for a ten-foot-wide cutting swath, saving many hours of mowing on the 3,000 x 100-ft airfield and camping areas.

“I like the saying, ‘Many hands make light work,’ and it couldn’t be more appropriate in describing this mission,” Russell said. “From the generosity of Peter [Burwell] to all the folks that helped with the relay delivery, it was an RAF team effort that got it done,” he added.

For information on North Fox Island, see the Airfield Guide.


  1. Lynn on June 1, 2023 at 10:22 am

    Great story. Great teamwork!

  2. Joe Shetterly on June 1, 2023 at 1:08 pm

    Outstanding. Landed there last July and got to see the old mower in action. What a HUGE improvement. Thanks to all involved. What a special place.

  3. Michael Wolter on June 1, 2023 at 5:44 pm

    North Fox is one of my Bucket List stops, i live in Dallas Tx. Fly a Cherokee 140 but want to make it there to say i did it. Went to Trigger Gap on my birthday last year to eat a tuna fish sandwich and then go back home.
    Thanks folks for all you do.


    • Joe Reeder on July 7, 2023 at 8:40 am

      Your hard work and time volunteered is very much appreciated.

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