SI Vault
Bil Gilbert
July 11, 1977
How ya gonna keep 'em down on the farm after they've seen tractor pulling, the hot new work-sport that has come trundling out of the south forty to tug at our hearts
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July 11, 1977

It's Shake, Rumble And Roll

How ya gonna keep 'em down on the farm after they've seen tractor pulling, the hot new work-sport that has come trundling out of the south forty to tug at our hearts

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Harness' comments are instructive. In the early going in the 5,000 mods, there are a lot of bucking starts, semiwheelies, spinouts and stop shorts along about the 200-foot mark. It does not require a lot of expertise to spot class performances. Don Harness' is obviously one of these. He comes across the starting line, the 30 tons of geared weight trundling along behind almost quietly, considering the horses involved. With the Lime under tight rein, he glides down the lefthand inside lane of the track, as though he were plowing a bean field back in Vermillion County, Ind. Then at about the 250-foot mark, the Lime gives a sudden lurch and fishtails toward the infield. Frantically, Harness fights the wheel and the weight machine, but has to pull up short only a few inches within the out-of-bounds line. (A pulling track is 30 feet wide.) Harness' pull is measured at 258 feet. It puts him in first place for the moment, but he is plainly unhappy.

"Darn," Harness says after coming off the weigh-in scales. "That's not going to stand up. The track's getting harder and there are some tough pullers coming up. I thought I had that one. a full pull all the way, but that was the 10% we were talking about—luck."

"How so?"

"I walked the track and I thought that strip along that side was going to run good, but while I was waiting on deck somebody spun out and dug a pretty good hole. When it was filled it left a soft spot. After I hit that and started to kick out, that was all she wrote."

As he predicted, Harness' mark did not hold up and his eventual seventh-place finish served to further tighten up the competition for national point leadership in the 5,000 mod class. In consequence, the last month of the grand circuit season was a hectic one for the Harnesses as they trucked back and forth across the midlands chasing points and purses. While some classes were still pulling at Bowling Green on Sunday afternoon, Harness loaded the Lime and started down the road toward the Indiana State Fair at Indianapolis, where he was to pick up a first. During the next three weeks the Harnesses pulled at Fort Recovery, Ohio (1st place); Indiana, Pa. (4th); Plainville, Ind. (3rd); Burton, Ohio (1st); Columbus, Ohio (21st); and Evansville, Ind. (1st). Then in Tomah, Wis. the Lime blew its engine and limped in 11th. Working through the night, Harness installed the spare 454 Chevy engine, which he had carried all summer for such an emergency, and drove on to Lake Crystal. Minn., for Ed Hart's Farmfest '76 and the $40,000 World Championship Tractor Pull. Going into the competition Harness led his nearest rival, Dave Hileman of Rockford, Ohio, by a single point in the national standings.

Tractor pullers and everyone else who got caught up or bogged down in the Farmfest remember the occasion vividly. On Monday when the extravaganza was to open as the vanguard of the expected million visitors was approaching, it began to rain and kept on raining as it had not for years in southern Minnesota. Within 24 hours, the Farmfest fields were turned into a swamp of rich, black prairie mud. How formidable the mud was is documented by the fact that the World Championship Tractor Pull had to be postponed for two days because the cream of the nation's pulling machines, all those jet aircraft, hemis and blown Chevy-powered monsters could not progress more than 50 feet through the mess. Lesser vehicles like maintenance tractors, 4WDs, pickups and ordinary autos bearing spectators were absolutely immobilized for a day or so.

After an earth-moving project aimed at dredging the worst of the mud from the track, the World Championship Tractor Pull finally got under way on Wednesday. Harness was the first puller to try to churn through the still-considerable quagmire. He slid, slithered and sprung 260.5 feet, stopping only when, for the second time in a week, the Loud Mouth Lime blew up, this time with three bearings and the crankshaft disintegrating. Harness' spectacular early-morning pull held up until almost noon when one of the last drivers, working on a by then much firmer track, surpassed it by five feet. Nevertheless, Harness' mark was good enough for second place and, more important, was 12 points better than that of his chief national rival, Dave Hileman, who also had severe mechanical problems and could do no better than 14th in the boglands.

Taking no chances, Charlene and Don Harness loaded up the spavined Lime and that afternoon began the 800-mile drive back to Dana. There they put together one functional engine from the parts of the two wrecked ones and headed off to Lancaster, Pa. for the final national circuit event of the season. At Lancaster the gallant Lime was the runner-up, guaranteeing Harness his second consecutive national championship. Thereupon, the Harnesses and the rest of the circuit pullers went back to their various agribusinesses to get in the corn and beans.

That is more or less where things stood at the end of the 1976 season. Last March, Harness sold his two-time national champion 5,000-pound pulling tractor and he has just finished building a new machine powered by two blown 454 Chevys.

This year the NTPA has divided the country into four regions and a nine-event Grand National circuit. In the East, Larry Fuhrman of Decatur, Ind. is leading in the 5,000 mods; Harness has just returned to the pulls in his new machine, which he also named Loud Mouth Lime.

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