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Tractor pullers say thrills make expense worthwhile

July 12, 1998

photo: JOE CROCETTA / staff photographer

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Tractor pullBy CLYDE FORD / Staff Writer

Local farmers and mechanics spend thousands of dollars and weeks of labor on their tractors and trucks - all for about a dozen seconds of thrills.

"It's just a hobby - an expensive hobby," said David Bush, 23, of Charles Town, W.Va.

Bush and others competed in a tractor and truck pull Saturday night in front of an estimated crowd of 5,000 at the Mason-Dixon Dragway hosted by the Washington County Tractor Pull Association.

The engines roared and thick black smoke blasted out of the exhaust as the tractors pulled a weighted sled down the track.

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Bush, who works at a hardware store in Charles Town, estimated he's spent about $3,000 a year in the past two years on his 1972 Chevrolet truck.

"It's just the rush you get from when you take off and pull to the end," Bush said.

In a tractor and truck pull, the vehicles back up to a weighted sled and attempt to pull it as far as they can down a 300-foot-long dirt straightaway.

They compete at local county fairs and other events. Winning the top prize can earn a driver $150.

"You never come out ahead," Bush said, laughing.

Steve Beckley, 38, of Hagerstown, competes in the "hot stock" tractor class, using his old John Deere 4440 farm tractor.

"When we get done with the tractor in the spring for planting, then we put a different injection pump and turbo charger in it for the tractor pulls," said Beckley, who farms about 2,700 acres.

The injection pump and turbo charger can double or even triple the amount of horsepower the tractor produces, he said. They usually do not harm the engine for the short use of the tractor pull, but would burn up the motor if left on for an extended period for farming, he said.

He does not worry about blowing up the engine in a tractor pull -which sometimes happens in competition -  because he has newer tractors at home he can use for farming.

"It's a tractor that's got 6,000 engine hours on it, so if it blows up, it was due anyhow," Beckley said.

Beckley said he's spent about $2,000 over the last four years on the 1979 tractor for pulls.

Beckley said he got into tractor pulls after seeing his friends participate in them at local fairs. They talked him into joining them.

Winning can lead to bragging rights among the farmers, he said.

"Getting to compete with your friends is fun. I don't win too often, so I don't often get the bragging rights," Beckley said.

Beckley said his wife, Karen, and 17-year-old daughter, Kelly, sometimes compete in tractor pulls.

Kevin Frey, 16, of Boonsboro, uses the International 1466 tractor owned by his grandfather, Jim Frey, a retired farmer, who also competed with it.

"You've got to watch your RPM gauge and make sure you don't blow it up," Kevin Frey said.

If he blows it up, "I'll just have to fix it," he said.

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