By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer
If you want to see a tractor pull, why not just go to your nearest farm and wait? Something will get pulled eventually.
But if patience is not among your virtues, you would have done well to attend the Lucas County Fair yesterday afternoon. Dozens of tractors – some looking straight off the farm, others with racing stripes and gaudy engines – plodded up and down dirt tracks, pulling thousands of pounds of weighted sleds to prove their power.
And while the fans seemed to focus on the largest rigs, a tractor-pull purist might find more interest in a small Northwest Ohio group called the Round Bottom Garden Tractor Pullers.
That’s because the Round Bottomers, formed in March, don’t spend tens of thousands of dollars turning their tractors into finely tuned, 20-foot-tall racing machines. They take your basic garden tractor – the kind often used by rural homeowners – and bring it to the fair.
“It feels like you’re on the big ones,” said puller Dale Sprow of Napoleon.
Tom Bortz, 31, of Holgate, participated in his first tractor-pull at 13 but hadn’t competed in years. Last year, when a group of friends were thinking about starting a new pulling club aimed at smaller tractors, he decided to try it.
“I thought it would be fun to do it again,” he said.
The appeal for Mr. Bortz?
Buying a small tractor is cheaper than fixing up a big one. For $1,200, you can compete. It might take 10 times as much to get into the big-rig game.
Certainly the attraction isn’t prize money. Awards for the garden tractor-pulls are $7 to $19.
The pullers’ common quest is the “full pull,” which yesterday meant dragging a weight ranging from 800 to 1,200 pounds 125 feet. The weights are attached to the tractors’ rear ends, and the drivers push their engines as far as they will go.
There are rules, of course.
Drivers must have a driver’s license or wear a helmet. That loophole allows 13-year-old Ron Patton, Jr., to take part.
Describing his technique, Ron said, “I pretend I’m in a car.”
The seventh grader from Defiance already is considered a veteran puller; yesterday was his fourth competition.
Recalling his first ride, Ron said, “I was afraid it was going to tip over.”
“It’s just fun. [And] it’s unique. Nobody else does it.”