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Garden tractor pull a family sport at Franklin County Fair

August 22, 2008|By DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. -- They were riding John Deeres, Cub Cadets and Kohlers, but riders such as Kyle Adolini, William Gerhart and Jim Kiefer were not cutting grass or pulling little trailers of mulch for flower beds Thursday night at the Franklin County Fair.

Instead, drivers young and not-so-young were trying to coax as much power, torque and traction as possible out of sometimes highly modified garden tractors to pull a 6,500-pound sled. The garden tractor pull attracted scores of riders and their machines in several classes to the fairground arena.

A 12-horsepower Ford with Mark Cessna of Chambersburg at the helm chugged down the dirt track for 105 1/2 feet until its front wheels were airborne and the rear tires were digging ruts.

"First pull," Cessna said when asked how long he had been participating in the sport.

"My oldest son was supposed to do it, but he was at a golf tournament," Cessna said. Another son, 14-year-old Morgan, dragged the sled 109 feet 1 inch on another Ford, besting his father.

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Morgan, who has been doing this for three years, already had competed in the Youth Class, where the machines are limited to 14 horsepower before moving up to Stock Class with its 16-hp limit.

"I take it up a class and hope to keep up with the horsepower," Morgan said.

Since most people do not have a 6,500-pound sled in their garage, Mark Cessna said most participants learn the tricks of the trade in competition rather than through practice.

"You just come out here and keep tinkering 'til you figure it out," he said.

William Gerhart on Wild Willy 2 also was competing in the Stock Class. At 10, he is a three-year veteran, having captured youth championships his first two seasons.

Williams' father, William T. Gerhart, also is a driver, and his grandfather, William C. Gerhart, also is involved in the sport.

"I'm the mechanic," the grandfather said.

"It's pretty nice to have all three of us together," William C. Gerhart said. They will take part in about 20 pulls this season, including four events in three states in eight days ending in Smithsburg on Sunday, he said.

It also is a family affair for Sean Adolini, his daughter, Caitlyn, 12, and 10-year-old son, Kyle. The Waynesboro, Pa., family runs four tractors at events, and Sean figures they have invested more than $12,000 in the sport.

Some riders will put twice that much into one machine in some of the alcohol-powered Super Stock machines, Sean Adolini said.

"It's nothing to drop $10,000 on a machine," said Kiefer, who runs a Web site, easterngardentractorpulling.com. Kiefer has a 1965 Cub Cadet, Ol Yeller, that will put out 68 horsepower.

"I won my first tournament when I was 12," Kiefer said. "I'm 51 now."

The horsepower and the decibels rose as the sun set and the more powerful classes lined up for their shot at the sled.

The "big smokers" will be digging up the dirt at the Franklin County Fair when drivers such as Ivan Hissong of Mercersburg, Pa., and his 1466 International take to the arena tonight for the farm tractor pull.

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