With our work done we took ourselves over to the Antes Fort Historical Days to walk around a bit. It was late afternoon by the time we got there and most of the events had concluded, but the Antique Tractor Pull was just finishing up. We hurried over to take in the last of the scheduled events, a classic match-up between a Farmall M and a John Deere A. Although I have no time for either stock cars or drag racing I do have an appreciation for tractor pulling and (don’t tell anyone) so does Joanna. The sport of tractor pulling followed the horse pull and both grew out of the need to haul very heavy loads, down home. The right to brag about whose team (or tractor) could pull the largest load is something that has always been sought by those who work the land. Tractor pulling is much more than just giving-it-more-gas, especially for antique tractors which must retain their stock engines and appearance. Imagine what would happen if, attached to a very heavy load, you stepped your accelerator all the way up … you’d simply spin your wheels and go nowhere. If you let the clutch out too quickly your front wheels accelerate right up off the ground and you can’t steer. Pulling with a tractor has got nothing to do with speed, it’s entirely a matter of the finesse needed to move a heavy sledge down a 300′ track. The sledge carries a tremendous amount of dead weight. As it moves forward the weight moves up an inclined bed thereby increasing the effective weight that the tractor must pull. Drivers pick up speed while the weight sits back on the sledge. As the weight moves forward, and the effective weight increases, the trick is to allow the momentum of the sledge to help in moving the load forward. Easy to describe, and very difficult to do. All these machines are very loud, have standard transmissions, multiple gears in multiple ranges, and hand throttles.
On this particular day the competition between the M and the A was particularly fun to watch because the drivers of these two machines differed in age and, presumably, experience. The M was driven by a fellow who looked to be in his mid-twenties. He was calm and confident. His machine was brightly painted and fit and tuned to be used as a pulling machine in competition. The A was clearly a working farm tractor and needed a coat of paint. What attracted my attention however was its driver who couldn’t have been more than 8 or 9 years old. He was coached by his Dad who walked alongside the slowly moving vehicle. Each driver would have two opportunities to bring his machine down the track. The A went first with a respectable run. The M was next and wasn’t quite able to match the distance achieved by the A. The A was then up again and bettered its previous mark by pulling the entire length of the track, what they call a full pull. The point of high drama was reached when the driver of the M was asked if he wanted a second run to try and equal the effort of his young competitor. I should note that if the M had equaled the A, both would have run again with more weight on the sledge. There was silence on the track, a lengthy pause, and then the driver of the M declined a second run. The 8-year-old had won! He punched his fists into the air with excitement, for only a moment though – he was careful not to ruin the image of a rough and tough tractor puller! What fun.