While the current pandemic crisis is at the root of the Barton County Fair Board nixing most of the in-person activities and events happening this year, one heritage event, the Antique Tractor Pull, got the green light to continue as usual.
Saturday afternoon, July 11, tractor hobbyists and farmers met on a field north of the Expo grounds where staff of the Barton County Road and Bridge Dept. scraped a path near the west end of the parking area a few days ago to provide a level pulling surface. After the fair, the crew will return to repair the strip and allow grass to grow once more until next year.
“This is the biggest turnout for several years,” Dennis Trapp, one of the pull organizers said.
He credited the recent rainy weather as a contributor to the turnout. That, and the fact that many of the other pulls around the region were cancelled this year. “Harvest is over and it’s been raining around here. So what they have left to do, they can’t do.”
In normal years preceding this one, the tractor pull has attracted pullers from all over Kansas and into Oklahoma. This year, most didn’t travel as far. Contestants were mostly from Barton, Pawnee, Ellis and Stafford counties, as well as from McPherson and Hutchinson. Still, with plenty of outdoor seating, and family groups sitting under widely dispersed awnings, social distancing wasn’t an issue.
Trapp announced each of the races Saturday, as he has for the past several years. He was also named the winner of the 2020 Gary Foster Memorial “Good Old Boy” Award. Sponsored by the Foster family since 2001.
According to family members, while Foster collected old tractors, he never had one fixed up enough to compete with. In 2001, the family started the award to recognize “good old boys” like Foster, and family members have been fixtures at the Barton County pull for years.
The Great Bend pull utilizes National Antique Tractor Pullers Association rules, and with eight weight classes competing. Some tractors compete in more than one weight class through the addition of dead weight to the tractor. They compete one at a time to pull a special sled across a track, and the one that pulls the furthest in that weight class wins. A sled is a contraption that progressively moves a heavy weight across a conveyor as the tractor pulls. Resistance begins to build making it progressively more difficult for the tractor to pull, until the tires spin and dust and dirt fly.
According to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History museum website, the word “tractor” was first coined by the Hart Parr company, to describe the two-cylinder gas engine they created to help with field work. Many innovations would be made, however, before farmer’s were ready to commit. They wanted something smaller, more general purpose and versatile. Deere and Co. and Ford each brought something cheaper and more versatile to market, and in later years, they were joined by other manufacturers with names like International Harvester, J. I. Case, Allis Chalmers, Massey-Ferguson and more. Tractor pulling got its start back in the mid to late 1920’s, and likely provided farmers not only with entertainment, but also an idea of which tractor of the many that were on the market were truly worth having.
Many enthusiasts have owned their tractors for many years, some even work in the field with them despite the machine’s age.
Each year, promoters of the tractor pull design a t-shirt that contestants receive with their registration. Twenty-five years ago, Gerald Mauler, long time member of the local club, started the fair’s tractor pull, and in the early years, trophies were awarded to the top three placers. In later years, all contestants received a t-shirt, and the top three placers received a cash prize.
Results for the antique tractor pull can be found in the Tribune’s Wednesday, July 22 edition in the Barton County Fair Results special section.