Aug 092010

Tractor Pulls Smell Like Freedom

I’ve already mentioned how the fair and many of its activities are vitally rooted in the agricultural economy of the surrounding communities.  And while livestock judging and equestrian events capture the imagination of many fair-goers, the largest crowds gather for an orgy of horsepower celebrating that most famous of farm icons:  the tractor.

Saved SeatsHardcore Hobbyists

If you’ve never experienced a truck and tractor pull in person, you might be inclined to dismiss it as a hillbilly hobby that appeals solely to primitive males, grunting and hooting their approval as they revel in the smoke and noise.  You could hardly be faulted for such an assessment, but to witness one of these mechanical beasts at full roar as it hauls a leaden sled the length of the arena (AKA a “full pull”) is to celebrate the ingenuity and inventiveness of mankind.  The tractor and overall mechanization of farming throughout the last century has allowed for massive increases in productivity, safety and profitability.  And besides, who would pay to see a mule pull?

Fans gather to watch the trucks and tractors roll off their trailers in the pits, and early birds even stake out seats in the bleachers at the end of the track by placing rocks on seat cushions.  While that tactic might not fly in a big city ballpark, the honor system is in full effect at the county fair.

Garden Tractor PullPow, Pow, Power Wheels

The pulls feature everything from stock antique tractors (some lovingly restored, some looking as if they drove straight from the fields) to highly modified 4×4 machines that are essentially 1000 horsepower dragster motors bolted to a pair of giant tires.  But enthusiasts can get in on the fun without spending a fortune, thanks to garden tractor classes.  That’s right, even Tim “The Tool Man” Taylor would grunt in approval at the sight of these modified lawn tractors hitching up to a scaled-down version of the weighted pull sled, especially given that they are frequently piloted by youngsters.

Blown IncomeOld Meets New

At the other end of the spectrum, age-wise, are the old timers that tend to favor restored classic tractors dating back to the early and mid-1900’s.  They lack the wheel-standing drama of their modern, modified counterparts but watching these relics calmly sputter down the track like Aesop’s tortoise breeds nostalgia in even the most jaded viewer.  Once these classics have put on their show, the modified tractors start going to work.

As the night progresses, the tractors and trucks become more and more powerful.  And with each increase in horsepower comes a whole new level of smoke and noise.  The puffing and clattering of the antique stockers quickly gives way to towering clouds of black diesel smoke and the ear-splitting scream of exhaust pipes.  Mufflers and catalytic converters are a foreign concept to the modified classes.  I must admit that a tinge of the tree-hugger in me winces every time I see those ominous, oily clouds rise skyward, but as a friend joked, “it smells like freedom”.

There’s a lot of truth to that, actually.

At the Fair – Full Pull – Images by Corey Woodruff

  One Response to “At The Fair, Part 3 of 6: Full Pull”

  1. Corey – I love your documentary so far! The tractor pulls do bring back a lot of memories. I remember sitting with my Dad and Grandpa well into the night watching two night of pulls. I also remember fondly Mr. Dale Tieken, a close friend of my Grandma’s, who pulled mini-rods well into his 80’s. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and helping us all to remember a little bit more why the fair is so special to us!

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