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Last updated: Mon. Jun. 23, 2014 - 07:36 am EDT

Arcola celebrating 60 years of tractor pulling

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Pull time

What: The Arcola National Truck and Tractor Pull will feature drivers from Indiana, Michigan, Ohio and Illinois competing in six classes: Mini Rods, Modifieds, Pro Stock, Heavy Super Stock, four-wheel-drive trucks (Friday) and two-wheel-drive trucks (Saturday). A MICHINDOH event will feature grassroots-level drivers from the Tri-State area.

When: 7 p.m. Thursday-Saturday. MICHINDOH event Thursday, and regional competition Friday and Saturday

Where: Branning Park in Arcola, about 5 miles northwest of Fort Wayne

Cost: Adults, $10 Thursday and $15 Friday-Saturday. Ages 6-12, $5, all nights, and ages 5 and younger, free all nights. Proceeds benefit the Arcola Volunteer Fire Department.


Note: An antique tractor parade will take place Friday evening in Arcola. Lineup begins at 6 p.m.


To volunteer for the Arcola Tractor Pull or for the Arcola Volunteer Fire Department, call 625-3474 or go to


The safety folks at OSHA would have had a cow.

Tractors chugged down the pulling track dragging a weighted sled. Every 15 feet, four people — two from each side — would jump up out of chairs and hop on the sled to add weight.

By the end of its run, the tractor could be pulling 28 people on the sled, said Ron Bultemeier, who started driving in tractor pulls at about 10 years old.

That was back in the 1950s and 1960s. You can see the modern, supercharged version of tractor pulling at the 60th annual Arcola tractor pull Thursday through Saturday at Branning Park next to Arcola Elementary School.

The event, now known as the Arcola National Truck and Tractor Pull, serves as a fundraiser for the Arcola Volunteer Fire Department, said Ken Kurtz, the chairman adviser for this year's pull. In a good year, officials have reported raising $40,000, which is about a third of the fire department's budget.

The first night will feature grassroots-level competition by pullers from Indiana, Michigan and Ohio. Friday and Saturday nights will roar with four-wheel-drive and two-wheel-drive trucks, upgraded stock tractors and modifieds that look more like drag-racing machines.

The event also will have plenty of food, including popular whole-hog sausage sandwiches and a beer tent, Kurtz said. Festival food includes elephant ears and nachos, Kurtz's grandson, Logan Kurtz, 12, said.

Tractor pulling has changed dramatically since pulls began in Arcola.

Back in the 1950s and 1960s, competitors used farm tractors rather than the powerful modified machines they use today, said Bultemeier, who helped found the modern Arcola pull and remains a regular volunteer.

"Nobody had time to do that. They were farming all of the time," said Loretta Butts, Arcola fire department secretary.

The pull track was about 100 feet, and the tractors moved about 3 or 4 mph, said Bultemeier said. The people serving as added weight for the sled had to get up out of their chairs as the tractor passed by and jump on the sled.

It wasn't exactly a level playing field.

"If a guy got on 1 to 2 feet later (than others), you went 1 to 2 feet farther," said Bultemeier, who also had a successful career as a modern tractor pull driver and builder.

They didn't have to worry about Occupational Health & Safety Administration rules, however. The agency didn't exist until 1971.

"It was just a fun deal, and everybody had a good time," he added.

"There was a little competition between different makes of tractors," Butts said. But the tractor pulls were just a way for the Arcola community to get together.

The sport began to change in the late 1960s and early 1970s as pullers started installing V-8 car engines on their tractors, Bultemeier said. Today, pull tractors competing at the top levels can cost $150,000 and much more, he said.

About the same time, the sport shifted to using a weight-transfer sled, which gradually shifts the sled's weight load toward the front so it puts more pressure on the skid pad at the front.

"It made it safer, for one thing, and it was a whole lot more accurate," Bultemeier said.

The high costs to compete and the limited prize money mean most tractor pullers don't win enough to cover their costs, he said.

But, as in the old days, it's still fun.

"The competition to beat the next guy," Bultemeier said. "The people you meet. They are farm people. They are just good people."

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