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The tractor factor

August 03, 2004|by RYAN C. TUCK

ryant@herald-mail.com

SHARPSBURG - Multiple generations were present for the tractor driving contest at Washington County Ag Expo Monday and members of the older generation were pretty tough in their analyses of how the younger folks drove their tractors.

"This isn't something you learn overnight," said Robert Smith of Clear Spring, a farmer of 28 years, after watching his son compete.

Although Smith and Gary Harbaugh, the father of another contestant, had some compliments for the participants, they also had some criticism.

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Terrie Shank, event coordinator and a teacher at Clear Spring High School, said the event has been a part of Ag Expo since its first year.

Contestants are given a written test on tractor safety and a hands-on test during which they must inspect an old tractor and identify all of its safety violations. Then they drive tractors as part of the competition.

Contestants must complete an obstacle course for both a four-wheel hay wagon and a two-wheel manure-spreading wagon. Then they must park the wagons in a space that is only 6 inches wider on all sides than the wagon.

"The wagon part shot me," first-time participant Jason Fitts said. "The pressure and the heat got to me.

"It's easy to get aggravated out there when things aren't going your way," he said.

Fitts' cousin and Harbaugh's son, Ben Harbaugh, had a different reaction to the driving part, having won the contest in the past two years.

"Sometimes people think you have to have a gift," Ben Harbaugh said. "You just have to practice like everything else to get it right."

Also competing was Smith's son, Trenten Smith, 14, who parked the four-wheel wagon perfectly just before Ben Harbaugh was to start.

"They said it was the best all day," Trenten Smith said afterward. "I feel confident."

Trenten Smith said he wants to be a farmer one day and that tractor driving skills are an important aspect of that job.

Derek Wiles, 14, of Fairplay, said he came just for the tractor driving and was trying to negotiate his way out of taking the written test.

"The tractors were the best part," he said. "I'd like to take one."

With the results pending and everyone sweating in the shade, the remarks of the spectators began to annoy some of the contestants.

"Let's see the old men do it," Fitts said after having his driving criticized.

"I guarantee I could do that," Robert Smith responded.

"He's lucky he's related to me," Ben Harbaugh said, shaking his head at Fitts' comments. "It's not the wagon, it's the driver."

Participants represented either the Future Farmers of America or the 4-H Club. The winner and runner-up from both go on to represent the county at the Maryland State Fair.

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