It’s fall and the nights are cooler. Grab a warm blanket and a thermos of hot chocolate before heading out to the local fall fair. Don’t forget earplugs if a truck or tractor pull is on the agenda.
At the fair, be sure to head to the grandstand. If the words class, diesel, 4×4, full pull, hook and modified can be heard over the PA system, then settle into a seat and be ready to experience a night of action on the track. The track side announcer will keep the audience informed about each pull throughout the evening, including facts about the driver, the truck or tractor and the distance pulled.
Tractor and truck pulling has Its roots dating back to the era before mechanization. Farmers used horses to pull farm equipment before the invention of the tractor. Formal competitions between teams of horses to see which team proved strongest, gave bragging rights to the owner of the winning team. The first competitions involved the pulling of fully loaded hay wagons or carts. Flat boards or skids with rocks added for weight were also used. Some competitions involved pulling a stone boat down a track lined with spectators. As the stone boat passed in front of the spectators, they would step onto the stone boat, increasing the weight.
When the horses could no longer pull the boat, a measurement of the distance pulled was taken. The horses that pulled the longest distance were declared the winner and were considered the strongest horses.
With the introduction of tractors to the rural landscape, motorized vehicles began to replace horses in pulling competitions. The first motorized pulls were held in 1929 in Vaughansville, Ohio and Bowling Green, Missouri. The sport’s popularity was slow to gain fan support until the 1950s and 1960s.
As no uniform set of rules existed for the sport, competitors found it difficult to know which rules to follow. In 1969, representatives from eight American states, met and created a book of rules in order to give the sport structure. From these meetings, the National Tractor Pullers Association was created. The first pulls hosted by the association, consisted of standard farm vehicles competing. The motto, “Pull on Sunday, plow on Monday,” was upheld. Tractors were modified to compete and then returned to stock form for field work. As horsepower and competitions increased, competition only vehicles became a necessity. Stock truck and tractor modifications stayed permanent and were continually honed to run stronger for years.
By the 1970s, the Stock and Modified classes were created. The Stock class was defined by regular farm tractors. Single engine tractors powered by non-tractor type engines made up the Modified class. The introduction of the crossbox radically changed pulling. With this device, pullers could hook up more than one engine to a driveshaft. Tractors soon began to lose their tractor appearance with the addition of a number of engines. These tractors became known as high spec dragsters. In 1988, a tractor with seven engines was built and jet engines came alongside piston engines.
The introduction of the Four-Wheel Drive Truck class in 1976 attracted a large fan base. Engine sizes in this division increased from 450 cubic inches/7.3 litres to 700 cubic inches/11.5 litres. With the modification to tractors and trucks becoming a regular occurance, the need for a uniform set of rules and the development of additional classes of competition became necessary.
As tractor and truck pulling became more competitive, and with ground speed and horse power constantly on the increase, changes were made to the sleds used in competition. The step-on sled became a safety hazard for spectators and was replaced by the weight transfer machine. Also known as the sled, the weight transfer machine with its sophisticated gearing systems, had the ability to move up to 65,000 pounds of weight from the rear axles towards the front of the sled. In front of the rear wheels was a pan that was essentially a metal plate. As the weight moved over the pan the resistance increased. Starting with a manageable weight, gradually increasing as the truck or tractor made its way down the track. The farther the driver pulled the sled, the more difficult pulling got. Each class pulled a set weight in the sled.
A full pull was achieved when a competitor reached the end of the 330-foot track. In the event of a tie, additional weight was added to the sled and a pull off took place. The winner was the competitor that could pull the sled the farthest.
In Ontario, the Southwestern Ontario Tractor Pullers Association rules over sanctioned events, stressing safety and fair competition. Today classes for trucks include 8500 diesel pickup, 6500 gas pickup, super modified 4×4 pickup and pro street diesel trucks amongst others. The tractor classes range from 6500 local tractor and 15500 local tractor to the pro stock 10,000 tractor and the single engine modified tractor.
Entry fees are collected and monetary prizes along with trophies are awarded to the successful competitors. Somewhere on the fairgrounds there’s bound to be a little bit of bragging about the horsepower displayed by a John Deere tractor or a Ford 4×4 pickup truck.
Learn more about this popular sport by supporting a local fall fair and taking in the action on the track by truck and tractor pull competitors. Noise, smoke, flames, and the occasional breakdown of a tractor or a truck make for an entertaining evening.