The Sport of Tractor Pulling
Tractor Pulling - The Little Known Motorsport
There are lots of different types of motor sports out there but one of the lesser known ones is tractor pulling. As a youngster growing up in a rural area of Michigan, I remember going to the county fairs every year. Of course they had all the normal farming related stuff including farm animal displays and competitions, 4H exhibits, etc., but being a gearhead, the main event I was interested in was the tractor pull.
Back then it was pretty much just the local farmers that would bring the tractors they use every day on their farms to enter in the competition. They had a few different classes for different size and horsepower tractors and they would pull a dead weight for distance. Pretty much just a heavy two runner sled with concrete weights piled on it. The tractor that pulled the most weight the farthest would be the winner.
Today, tractor pulling is a whole different thing and has become a business all it's own with heavily modified and purpose build machines that never see a farm field, only the professional pulling circuit.
So, this page will give you a little history of the sport and tell you how we got from what it was then to what it is today.
How It All Started
The origins of tractor pulling actually goes back to before the mechanical machine that we know as a tractor was even invented. Before there were engine driven tractors, farmers used horses or mules to plow their fields and pull loads. Of course whenever farmers would gather together, the conversation would eventually get to their animals and boasts would be made as to what a strong horse one of them had and how much plowing he could get done. The next farmer would say his horse could do more so eventually a challenge would be made and they would have to get them together and prove which one was better.
It's been said that what they would do was remove a barn door and lay it on the ground. Then they would hitch a horse to it and start pulling. As the horse pulled, more and more people would jump onto the door until the horse couldn't pull it anymore. The horse that pulled the most people would of course be the winner.
That progressed to more organized events and they would hitch multiple horse teams to pull more and more weight. They had to make different classes for single, two horse, four horse teams, etc.
Two Horse Pulling Team
Once tractors were invented, it only stands to reason that one farmer would claim his tractor had more power, so away they went. Even the oldest tractors ended up being put into a contest to see who had the most powerful machine.
Originally, tractors were pitted against one another by being hooked together directly but this proved to be very hard on equipment and the jerking back and forth resulted in a lot of broken parts. Taking turns pulling a heavy load turned out to be the best way to prove who had the most pulling power and that method became the norm.
Tractor Pulling Books
Old Steam Traction Engine Pulling
The first organized tractor pulling events took place along about 1929 but really didn't gain much widespread popularity until the 50s and 60s. It wasn't very organized though with the rules varying from event to event. This made it hard for competitors to compete in different counties or states so in 1969, representatives from 8 states got together, came up with a uniform set of rules and founded the NTPA (National Tractor Pullers Association). This is really when the sport of tractor pulling was born.
They had only two classes, stock and modified. Stock being just that, tractors just as you would buy them from the dealer, unmodified in any way. The modified class included tractors with non-tractor engines and other modifications. They used the basic dead weight sled that carried over from the horse pulling competitions. Most of the tractor pulls in this era took place at county or state fairs.
Stock Tractor Pulling a Dead Weight Sled
Modern Day Modified Pulling TractorsClick thumbnail to view full-size
More Engines = More Power
It didn't take long before the modified class to start getting wild with twin engine tractors coming into use in the early 70s. Then they added more engines, used 12 cylinder WWII aircraft engines, then turbine engines and then multiple turbine engines. Someone even put a radial aircraft engine into a tractor.
Modern Day Pulling
Nowadays, there are many different types and weight classes of tractor including mini tractors, 2WD trucks, 4WD trucks and semi trucks. They don't use the old dead weight sled anymore, opting for modern technology with a weight transfer sled that moves a weight forward onto the skidplate making the sled progressively harder to pull.
Unlike the old dead weight sleds that required a "pull back tractor" that would haul the sled back to the starting line, these new design weight transfer sleds had one or two axles at the back, their own engine power and an onboard operator to simply drive the sled back. This cut down on the time between pulling runs, speeding the event along and making it more enjoyable for the crowd.
Mini Modified Tractors
Three Allison Engine Tractor
Radial Engine Tractor
This is a 3350 cubic inch, 3700hp, 18 cylinder radial engine tractor pulling. This is an aircraft engine that was used on large, multi-engine airplanes. It's quite a feat of engineering to put one in a tractor.
Of course, with all those engines and all that power, mishaps are bound to happen. Whenever you hop up and engine to get more horsepower out of it and add more engines to a pulling tractor, you increase the probability of breakdown. The more moving parts you have, the greater the likelihood of some of them flying apart.
Here are some videos of a few mishaps at tractor pulling events.
John Deere Super Stock Blows Its Engine
Another Super Stock Blows the Engine
Wild Mini Mod Crash
For more information on tractor pulling, visit these sites:
Have you even been to a tractor pull? Do you want to go to one after seeing this lens? Tell me what you think about this whole tractor pulling thing.