Skip to main content

What's Up Magazine

She Thinks My Tractor's Subtle

Jul 20, 2011 08:54PM ● By Anonymous

What exactly was a tractor pull? I had a vague image of burly men hitching up massive piles of timber to the back of their John Deeres, and hopping aboard, but somehow that didn't seem fully down to earth. How did they work? I wondered. Where did they come from?

I really didn't know.

For answers, I turned to the Eastern Shore's George Bradley, a second generation tractor puller who's been involved with the sport for forty years. He told me that the competitions evolved from horse pulls, in which farmers would stack up their best horses against one another. The carrying trend was pride.

"They're popular at fairs because all farmers think that their tractor is better than yours. There's no prize money--it's about bragging rights."

These days, tractor pulls can involve anything from an antique Farmall to a souped-up "unlimited modified tractor" that doesn't even look like it belongs to the same family. And these sorts of events don't just take place at our local fairs. There are National Championships! (They're celebrating their sapphire anniversary this year. August 19-21 in Bowling Green, OH, if you find yourself suddenly drawn.)

There's even a National Tractor Pullers Association of drivers devoted to the cause.

But, regardless of type, all tractors go through the same operation.

The actual pulling happens on a weight transfer sledge. "On the sledge, the weight transfers and moves up the wheels onto a skin pan," explained Mr. Bradley. "Once the weight hits the pan, it goes from rolling to skidding fraction." That's when it gets hard.

Each tractor in its class starts out with the same weight, and moves up until one has pulled a weight further than the rest. Then, we have a winner!

While tractor pulls are a real study in physics, you can't leave it all to engineering. Mr. Bradley told me that there's an art to doing well.

"You have to think about things like speed limit, the balance of your tractor and track position. There are lots of little variables that you can stack up, and take your little horse power tractor and beat a bigger one."

Most tractor pulls have a genuine family atmosphere. If someone has trouble getting started, or they're slow getting their weight turned around, somebody else will surely pitch in and help. But, that's not to say they don't get competitive

"It's mostly friendly competition, but it's very fierce competition. There are guys who take it very seriously," said Mr. Bradley, adding "My daughter has pulled with me, and she's very strong. She's taken somebody else's tractor, and beaten them with it. Some drivers just have a knack."

Boy, I wish I'd been there to see that.

--Karly Kolaja