Antique Tractor Pull

They are more entertaining than you might think. The antique tractor pull was basically our whole reason for going to the Ulster County Fair (featured yesterday here) because Chad and I both love old tractors. Chad grew up with them and while I didn’t really, I have strong familial connections to them and first got interested by going to the Western Minnesota Steamthreshers Reunion several years ago with my grandpa and several great uncles, all of whom grew up farming.

If you’ve never been to a tractor pull, each tractor competes in a weight class. We missed the 2,500 and 3,500 weight class competitions, but arrived in time for the 4,500 weight class and stayed almost until they got to 6,500. Apparently Ulster County has so many antique tractor enthusiasts (or rather, so many who come from all over the state, and some from out of state) that the whole competition lasts many hours. It started at 6 pm, and we left the fair around 10 pm and they were still finishing up the 5,500 weight class and still had the 6,500s to go.

The "crowd" at the tractor pull. I think many people only attended to have a place to sit down. I thought it was fascinating.

Those weight class numbers refer to pounds. Not every tractor in each competition weighs that much, so people add weights to the front and back of the tractor to give traction. In fact, many people had entered the same tractor in several weight classes.

The competition centers around a weighted machine that looks like this:

The "stone boat" for the tractor pull. It gets pulled back into position after every pull by the big blue Ford.

Historically, tractor pulls used stone boats loaded with stones or other weights. I’ve also seen draft horse pulls which use 500 lb weights on a kind of weight lifting machine, mounted on a big flatbed truck with skids under the tires, so the horses pull the entire truck. But this machine adds weight gradually on a kind of lever, which puts more weight on the front of the machine (which we’ll call a boat, for simplicity’s sake) and sinks it so it drags into the ground at a certain point.  Which looks like this:

The black smoke coming out of this tractor is not from a fire - the carbon inside the engine and exhaust is burning out because the engine is running so hot and so hard.

There are two approaches to the tractor pull. 1) Shift fast and go all out to build up as much speed as possible before the boat slows you down or 2) Go slowly and rely on the power and torque of your engine and the traction of your wheels to get as much ground under you as you can before the boat stops you. I’ve seen both techniques used successfully, though the first seems to work better with the higher weight class tractors.

It is actually very entertaining. And there are a nice mix of drivers – with boys as young as 12 or 13 up to old men, and some women as well, although they were generally younger.

Lining up to hitch up to the boat. This is an old Olive row-cropper. We love Olivers in our household. Note the weights on the back wheels.

This year we could hear the announcer better than last year, which made it easier to know who was in the lead and which was the farthest distance pulled (which is how you win).

The announcer is in the engineer's cap and overalls. He was awesome.

Because this was a vintage tractor pull, no tractors younger than 1965 were allowed to enter. There was also a good mix of trashed old rust buckets, show-room shiny, and tricked out tractors.

One of the few female drivers on a gussied up Oliver 77. Note the side weights.

In addition, there were “modifieds,” which are totally souped up, crazy-looking things that are scarcely even tractors any more. They had their own competition as 5,500s. One guy entered two and another guy entered one, so either way, I thought, each one will get a trophy (1st, 2nd, or 3rd place). BUT! The one guy was having serious engine problems and had to be towed off the field. So the other guy automatically got 1st and 2nd place. The ironic thing is that because these modifieds are so crazily constructed, they often don’t outperform conventional tractors and often do much worse.

One of the modifieds. Note the roll cage - a necessity with such big back wheels and such a light front end!

The modified that had engine trouble. Note the anti-flip bars in back of the wheels to keep it from flipping over backwards.

A schmancied up Farmall, which are traditionally red. This one was trying to be badass.

"Murphy's Law." A bunch of Irish guys kept entering this one, and a Dextra, with different drivers. And they got wildly different results! Which just goes to show that it's more about skill than the engine.

And now, since you’ve been so good to read through this whole long post about my not-so-secret love of tractors, THE VIDEOS!

This is the above “Murphy’s Law.”

And now my personal favorite:

The girl on the gorgeous Oliver 77! She actually did better than many of her male competitors, but alas did not get enough distance to place.

Have you ever been to a tractor pull? Ever entered as a contestant in one? Got a favorite vintage tractor?

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