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Deafening roar is the sound of another opening day -- pulling season

May 02, 2008|By JULIE E. GREENE

The noise, which is deafening to some, doesn't bother them.

They like the noise.

They don't wear protective headphones or earplugs, and some of them sit pretty close to the track.

The better to see the action and feel the noise -- right in the chest.

They are dedicated truck- and tractor-pull fans, and their Tri-State-area opening day is Saturday with the South Berkeley Fire Department Truck and Tractor Pull.

Janie Blair, 70, of Middletown, Md., has even been to the tractor-pull version of spring training -- a "test and tune" session on the Washington County Agricultural Education Center grounds in early April.

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"We lived on a farm my whole life, and I just like tractors," says Blair, whose husband got her into watching pulls. "We take food with us. Nobody drinks, nobody smokes. We take our Pepsi along, sit there and watch."

At pulls, tractors and trucks -- often ones souped up with bigger tires and engines -- compete to see which can pull a "sled" farthest. The sled has a box on top that shifts weight toward the tractor or truck as it pulls; this makes the sled heavier the farther it's pulled.

There are various competition classes depending on the weight of the vehicle and type. Superstock tractors are souped-up, traditional-looking tractors, whereas modified tractors look more like dragsters.

Pulls can typically attract about 3,000 people, says Gerald Poffenberger, president of Washington County Tractor Pullers Association.

Mark Rudy, 43, likes the way the diesel tractors are named, painted and fixed up with Hemi engines, then pull the weight as their vertical exhaust smokes and occasionally spits out flames.

"I like the trucks too -- the big tractor-trailer (cabs). That's different too because that's something you see on the road every day. They got them fixed up, painted up." Rudy, who lives south of Smithsburg, has been going to pulls since he was 13.

Rudy, who drives a Mitsubishi Gallant, says he's never driven at a pull, though he wishes he had.

Donnie Palmer has pulled occasionally in an old Chevy pickup in the street stock class at the Ag Center, but he says pulling requires too much money for him to do it regularly.

Palmer, 39, of Clear Spring, got into pulls when he tagged along with some friends about 18 years ago.

"I've always been a fan of high-horsepower motor sports," he says.

While some people wear headphones or earplugs to protect their ears, Palmer doesn't bother. He and his family often sit in the first couple rows of the bleachers at the 300-foot mark near the finish line, where it's still pretty noisy.

The engines are wide open and screaming at that point with wheels spinning, trying to pull that 30,000- to 35,000-pound sled just a little bit farther, Palmer says.

Robbie Hoch, 21, of Downsville, likes the motor noise, which causes a rumble in his chest, and the smell of the exhaust, which is distinctive from normal automotive exhaust. Drivers use Cam 2 racing fuel, which has a sweeter odor than normal exhaust, he says.

Jeremy Hutzell, 31, enjoys the horsepower and the looks of the tractors, such as the old-style tractors fixed up with two or three turbo chargers on their engines.

"I don't mind the noise. I work in construction. I'm used to being around noise all day long. That little bit of noise (at a pull) doesn't bother me a bit," says Hutzell, a bricklayer who lives near Mason-Dixon Dragway.

"I'm a pretty good fan of International tractors," says Hutzell, who likes to see how the 1970s models have been fixed up.

Lionel Abbott Sr., 62, who lives near Rohrersville, bought a 1972 International three years ago from a farm equipment dealer in northeastern Pennsylvania, repainted it last summer and overhauled the engine this spring.

In the early 1970s, Abbott and friend Gary Zimmerman built a pull tractor that they took turns in pulling for a few years, but then pulling tractors got fancy with people investing more money -- getting up to $40,000 to $50,000 -- in a tractor and they stopped pulling and became spectators.

Abbott bought the 1972 International for show, but also to do some pulling. This particular model, a 1468, has eight cylinders, whereas most other diesel tractors of the time had four or six cylinders, he says.

Abbott says he's looking forward to trying this regular-style tractor in a pull this summer, as compared to the souped-up modified style he drove in the '70s.

"When you first start out, it's kind of scary. You're sitting up there nervous, thinking this is supposed to be fun," Abbott says.




If you go ...



WHAT: South Berkeley Fire Department Truck and Tractor Pull

WHEN: 4 p.m. Saturday, May 3. Rain date is 1 p.m. Sunday, May 4.

WHERE: Berkeley County Youth Fairgrounds, W.Va.

COST: $10 for ages 13 and older; $5 for ages 8 to 12; and free for ages 7 and younger

CONTACT: For more information, call the fire hall at 304-229-5377.

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