Some have golf, they have tractors

August 01, 2004|by JULIE E. GREENE

WAYNESBORO, PA. - When dairy farmer Tom Kennedy talks about the time he was plowing in his tractor, he's not referring to preparing for crops.

He's talking about the time about two years ago when his 8,000-pound modified tractor, Old Reliable, was pulling a sled in a tractor pull and almost flipped over. The small front tires rose off the ground so far that the wheelie bars on the back of his tractor started plowing under the dirt.

"I could count every star in the sky, but I didn't let off the throttle. I didn't quit," said Kennedy, 35, of Waynesboro.


"I've done that a couple of times. I'm not braggin' either," Kennedy said. "It's not fun unless you like chewing on your shoe."

Kennedy is one of at least four Franklin County modified tractor drivers who will be competing at the Washington County Tractor Pullers Ag Expo Pull this week. The tractor and truck pulls are scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday at 7 p.m.

The tractor and truck pull is the biggest moneymaker and one of the biggest draws for the Ag Expo, helping the nonprofit Washington County Agricultural Organization Inc. break even, spokeswoman Joanna Calimer said.

Calimer said 3,000 to 4,000 people are expected each night at the tractor and truck pulls.

Local drivers expected to pull in the 8,000-pound open class on Thursday night are Kennedy with Old Reliable, Nelson Egolf with Tinker Toy, Mark Culbertson with Sparky and points leader Kevin Stouffer with Ruff 'n' Ready.

Thrill of pulling

Local drivers say they like the thrill of pulling, the strategy involved and tinkering with the mechanics.

"Yesterday morning, the only thing on that tractor was the block," Egolf said Wednesday, looking at his reassembled modified tractor on his dairy farm north of Waynesboro.

Egolf had major repairs to make after the alcohol in his motor detonated on the track at the Mason-Dixon Dragway on July 10. At the time his Tinker Toy tractor pulled up short on the dirt track, Egolf didn't know what caused a belt to break.

He was the picture of frustration with his face scrunched up and his arms crossed in front of his chest as he sat in the caged cockpit while his tractor was towed off the track.

Egolf said he can get dejected when things go wrong on the track, but admits he also can be a bit intense when pull time comes.

After missing a year and a half of pulling because his tractor kept breaking down, Egolf went back to the track this year using a stronger truck tractor rear instead of a farm tractor rear.

"I got tired of fixing it. It was time to improve," said Egolf, 46.

Egolf helped start a tractor pull club in Franklin County in 1976 and helped get his distant cousin, Kennedy, into tractor pulling 10 years ago.

Kennedy drove Poor Boys Express, which he bought ready to pull for $3,500, until he bought Old Reliable in 1998.

Kennedy relies on Egolf; his sponsor, Dave Shockey Auto Body; and Stouffer, who built his engine, to keep Old Reliable running and get it to events.

With running a dairy farm, Kennedy barely has time to get to events on time. He made it to the dragway last month with three to four minutes to spare before he needed to have his tractor weighed to make sure it met the rules. He won the competition.

Leveling the field

In a pull, a tractor or truck is hitched to a large vehicular sled. The object is to see who can pull the sled down the dirt track the farthest.

The sled has a box on top that slides toward the pulling tractor. The farther the tractor gets up the track, the more weight shifts toward the tractor, making it harder to pull the sled.

Brian Yeager of Chambersburg, Pa., who announces for Interstate Truck and Tractor Pullers, has been watching tractor pulls since the early 1970s, when drivers used old Massey-Harris 44 farm tractors with big engines.

When pullers determined they couldn't stretch old farm tractors' frames enough to accommodate bigger engines, they began using the rear ends of payloaders and dump trucks to create modified tractors, Yeager said.

They used automotive engines, which provided more power. Some tractor drivers in Maryland used two or three jet engines or six automotive engines, Yeager said. As things got out of hand, more rules and pull classes were created to level the pulling field.

Kennedy uses weights on the front and back of his tractor to bring it up to the required weight, generally around 8,000 pounds, for a particular pull.

Stouffer, 39, who lives south of Waynesboro, has been pulling since 1979.

He built Ruff 'n' Ready five years ago using a 1,600-horsepower Chevrolet engine and parts from a truck tractor and payloader. Owner of Stouffer Engine Service, he builds racing and tractor pull motors for almost all of his competitors, he said.

"I like the competition of seeing who can go the farthest," Stouffer said.

Stouffer, who has won the points championship for the 7,000-pound modified class twice, strategizes by taking into consideration the condition of the track, tire pressure and driving techniques.

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