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Kansas men collect old tractors for competition
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TOPEKA (AP) — Unquantifiable numbers of garden tractors and lawnmowers in various states of disrepair are littered about a southwest Topeka property.
At first glance, one would assume this odd assortment of mostly 1960s, ‘70s and ‘80s models is a final resting place for machines bested by time.
But Keith Moody’s backyard is much more Frankenstein’s lab than steel graveyard.
“There’s some more future projects,” Moody said while walking his property and pointing out another stash of tractors.
A stroll through this Topekan’s backyard is akin to a journey through time visiting, of all things, a scrap yard. But Moody, and his friend Jason Wunder, piece together and resurrect these metallic creations to compete in garden tractor pulls throughout northeast Kansas. Moody has such a large quantity of tractors and mowers, he doesn’t even have enough space to stuff them all inside the storage buildings on his property.
“I don’t smoke or drink, so it must be an addiction,” Moody said.
Wunder disagreed.
“I think we can turn it on and off,” he said, his voice trailing off as he pondered the thought.
Both quickly took to tractor pulling, not only because it is one of the cheapest motorsports around (“a $50 tractor and $200 set of tires and you’re in business,” Moody said), but also because it is a fun way to let the competitive juices flow.
Wunder said many people have driven a tractor at some point in life, but there is something noticeably different about the ride when it comes with the more difficult task of negotiating the machine down a 150-foot track pulling a sled that becomes increasingly heavier the farther it is pulled along on the dirt.
“It feels different,” he said. “The tires are a grabbin’ and a diggin’ and you can feel the front end pulling up — maybe pop a wheelie — I was hooked. You wouldn’t believe a tractor could do that to you, but it does.”
Wunder, who lives down the road from Moody, is in his first year of competition after just traveling and watching for a year. Moody picked up the sport in 2007. This season is his fourth year.
But it isn’t all fun and pulling.
Wunder, who has three competition-ready tractors he can use each weekend, also takes a practical approach with his machines.
“I’ve still got attachments to go out and plow my garden,” Wunder said.
The pair also restore tractors and mowers, not just for competition but to sell to people looking for used ones. It’s a way for them to help fund their tractor-pulling itch.
Moody says he plays around with his tractors “about every hour I’m not eating or sleeping,” and has about eight or nine ready for competition. The two fabricate their own wheelie bars and hitches on their pulling tractors. Moody said a couple of the key components in getting tractors ready for pulling is to put good belts and tires on them and to make sure they run well.
Specific brands they target from the ‘60s and ‘70s as being particularly good for tractor pulling are Cub Cadet, Sears, Wheel Horse, Montgomery Ward and some John Deere models.
Moody and Wunder competed July 24 in a tractor pull at Everest hosted by the NEK Stock Garden Tractor Pullers.
Moody said the competitors are a “good bunch of guys” and are willing to offer advice to newcomers in the sport.
Art Wenger, of Hiawatha, is one of the originals who helped build the sled six years ago to start the group. Wenger, who also competed at Everest, said tractor pulling is a good, clean, wholesome family sport.
“I love all the friends I’ve made doing this,” Wenger said.
Wenger encourages anyone interested in tractor pulling to come visit one of the many events throughout the summer to get a taste.
Competitions are divided into separate weight classes. The July 24 event featured 91 pulls in several different classes and all ages competing. Wenger said a 6-year-old even took a run down the 150-foot track and did well. The NEK group charges $6 per pull down the track. Many competitors bring multiple tractors to a competition.
Wunder was primed to grab a first-place finish at the July 24 event in the 900-pound weight class with a pull of more than 116 feet on the second-to-last run in the class. However, Moody had the final say, edging out his friend by inches and taking the crown.
“Oh yeah, you got to keep him in line,” Moody said of Wunder. “You can’t let the kids show you up.”
Wunder laughed it off.
“You can’t be upset,” Wunder said with a smile. “That Wheel Horse has never done me anything good. That was the first trophy for that tractor.”
In the last class of the afternoon, the 1,100-pound weight division, Wunder pulled off a run of more than 143 feet, which he ended by hugging the out-of-bounds line with his tractor to squeeze out every last inch of ground he could muster. He needed it all as he edged Wenger out by only a couple of inches for the top pull in the class.
“Yes!” Wunder yelled, while parking his tractor after the run, with a fist pump that would impress Tiger Woods.
Moody finished the afternoon with first-, second- and third-place trophies. Wunder also hauled in three trophies — two second places and a first place.