Thursday, August 21, 2008

time out: more on tractor pulls

For those of you who have not seen a tractor pull before, I have a short video plus three still pictures that I took at last night's tractor pull at our local County 4H-Ag fair. The video should be self explanatory. The pictures include a shot of the pulling sled, the pulling "track", and what I call a worker bee tractor.

The "worker bee" tractor in the picture, a John Deere pulling a load of concrete blocks, tamps down the track before and after each pull. In the photo here he is tamping down the track before the start of the evening pulls. After each pull, two worker bee tractors go out and prepare the track. First (not picture) a tractor pulling a "grader" smooths out the track after the pull. The tractor pulling the sled then tamps down the section of the track that the grader smoothed over. Graders, for those of you who are unfamiliar with this equipment, are used to smooth out dirt roads. Rural towns with dirt roads will have a piece of road equipment called a grader. That is, a grader does not have to pulled behind a tractor, it can come with its own engine.

Getting back to the tractor pull. Last night's pull was fun. It started a little late, and we stayed for about 90 to 120 minutes. It was a lot of fun, especially the "open" classes were the tractor engines were souped up, complete with dark smoke and in a couple of cases, some flames coming out of the exhaust pipe. These souped up tractors could pull much longer distances than there weight equivalent "stock farm tractors."

Between each pull, the two worker bee tractors came out while the next tractor was being loaded on the sled. By the way, the sled had retractable wheels. The chain link fence that you notice in my still images and the video is there for safety reasons as required by NJ State Law.

One of the things that I like about tractor pulls is that it speaks to the agricultural heritage of counties such as the one that I live in. While my county has been suburbanized for a couple of decades, with people commuting to near by office complexes as well as commuting longer distances to "older" towns and cities, it has a long agricultural heritage. Recently, a friend asked me what was the dominant industry historically? I said agriculture. By agriculture, I mean farms as well as supporting businesses. Of course, there were factories here and there, a paper factory along the Delaware River, an old beverage plant down the road from me, and the like. But when I read about the history of my county, I read about the importance of agriculture.

The late fall fair has important traditions in many agricultural areas, both currently as well as historically. Historically, the fair in a rural county was a place where local farmers could show their animals and possibly win prize money or perhaps sell a prize winning animal. Produce, baked goods and the like were also given prizes. Currently, one of the focus points of our local fair is on the role of youth in agriculture with much the same contests where the youth are competing. And then there are the fun and games, including the tractor pulls. A chance to play before going back to the fields.

So, when I see the tractor pulls, not only am I having fun, but I am also thinking about the celebration of my county's past and present agricultural tradition.

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