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What is tractor pulling?

Mark Hailes - John DeereSorry ladies, it's not big burly men pulling a tractor down a track. In fact it's BIG BURLY tractors pulling a sledge down a track!

It all started many years ago in the USA (where else) when neighbouring farmers argued about which had the most powerful tractor. These debates were finally decided by contest in the farmyard, chaining the tractors to a large weight, and seeing which tractor could pull it the furthest. It was soon found that the amount of weight required to provide a good test of strength was too much to allow the tractors to get moving in the first place. A system of progressively increasing weight was needed. This was developed first into spectators stepping onto a barn door, and, later into the sled similar to that used today. Tractor Pulling crossed the Atlantic in the early 1970’s and is now seen across Europe, both at stand alone events and agricultural shows.

Tractor Pulling Today

And now for the cunning bit (so cunning you could pin a tail on it and call it a Weasel - Baldrick in Black Adder). As the Pulling Tractor moves the sledge down the track, a weight-box is moved up the sledge from the back to the front, therefore increasing the pressure on the skid pan under the front of the sledge resulting in a massive increase in friction. Have a look at the sequence of illustrations at the bottom of the page which should help explain what happens.

SeeSaw Easter Egg 1 Easter Egg two

Technically the Sledge is known as a weight transfer device... The best way I can explain how the process works is to use the See-saw analogy. Put your toes under the end of the See-saw and get someone to stand on the on the board at the pivot point (fulcrum). No pressure on your toes yet and no pain. Now ask the person to walk towards you and the closer he or she get the greater the pressure on your toes and the higher the pain level. By the time the person gets to the end the pressure (effective weight) on your toes is so high the pain will probably be unbearable!

The larger (heavier) the person, the greater the effective weight: this is weight transfer in action! The actual weight of the See-saw and person never changes throughout, it is just the position of the person (weight) relative to the end of the See-saw which makes all the difference.

NTTO's 'Keep Moving Orange' Sledge

Most of the Pulling sledges are based (sometimes loosely and sometimes literally) on a 40 or 44 foot articulated (semi) trailer, usually with twin axles at the rear. At the front of sledge is a skid-pan which supports the body, to which the Puller is attached, normally by means of adjustable chains. At the back of the sledge is the weight-box mounted on runners to enable it to be moved forward as the Pull progresses.

Peat Vale's 'The Stinger Mk II'

In the majority of cases the Sledge's are 'ground-driven' which means the weight-box is moved forward by chains, driven from the front axle via a transmission shaft and gear-box. this means the box always moves forward the same amount for a given distance over the ground, which is essential for competition Pulling. The further forward the box goes the more weight it is applying to the pan (making it effectively much heavier) which generates more friction between the pan and the track.

At the start of the PullThe Tractor Pull starts at the end of the track (normally about 100-metres) with the weight-box at the back-end of it's track (in other words, at the back end of the sledge).

Middle of the Pull

As the Pull progresses the weight-box is moved forward thereby increasing the downward pressure of the skid-plate and increasing the drag (friction) of the sledge.

End of the PullBy the time the sledge has reached the end of the track the weight-box will be fully forward. In Competition this will stop the Puller.

In a Demonstration event the brakes on the rear wheels may well have been applied (assuming the sledge if fitted with brakes) to ensure the Puller comes to a halt.

BTPA's 'Eliminator'

Competition v Demonstration Tractor Pulling

Competition Pulling is strictly controlled and highly regimented with the machinery classified by built type, engine size and/or weight. Demonstration Pulling is, as its name suggests, Pullers simply showing off their Tractors and their ability to pull the Sledge for the entertainment of the spectators. This comparison table gives you the principal differences between the two types of Tractor Pulling in the UK.

Competition

Demonstration

Pulling organised by the Association or Club staging the Pull under either ETPC rules or the rules of organiser both of which will be very similar. The Sledge or venue applies their own rules to the Tractor Pulling. By far the most comprehensive are those of the Peak Vale Tractor Pulling Club.
Pullers divided into Classes according to build type, engine size, weight, etc. Normally no classification of the Pullers
The construction of Pullers is very tightly regulated within each of the Classes to ensure consistency and safety. Whilst safety is always to the fore, the exact method construction and components used in the build are up to the individual.
The Track bed is prepared prior to the event using cultivators, graders and rollers and is de-stoned. The track is re-seeded after the Pulling finishes. The Pulling Track is native top-soil which occasionally has the turf removed mechanically before Pulling starts.
Track is rolled and graded before each Pull to ensure consistency. Track will only be graded and/or rolled if necessary.
Sledge is set up before each individual Class and there is a Test Pull to ensure all competitors are happy with the setting. Sledge weighting (normally) never changes - 'one size fits all' so to speak.
The weight-box is 'ground-driven' and always moves at the same rate relative to the ground to ensure consistency within the Class. Each Pull is exactly like the last. Most Sledges are 'ground-driven' but the movement of the weight-box will be controlled by the operator to enable the Puller to reach the end of the track if at all possible. Occasionally the weight-box is actually moved backwards to ease the friction.
Angle of the pan never changes from Pull to Pull within a Class. Pan angle may be changed to either help or hinder the Puller. Some Sledges are fitted with additional friction devices.
Sledge brakes are only ever used in an emergency. Sledge brakes may well be used to stop the Pull at the end.
Pullers will run at their maximum power output because they are competing against the other Pullers in their Class. Because there are no winners or losers, Pullers may not necessarily give the Puller everything its got.
Each Pull is measured to a very high degree of accuracy, normally using a laser. Pulls are not measured as there is no competition involved. The only thing at stake is personal pride.
In most cases, the Pullers are towed on and off the Track. Pullers move on and off the Track under their own power.
The Pull is under the control of not only the Sledge driver but the Flag Marshals as well. The Sledge driver is in total control of the Pull.

One of the UKTP contributors has pointed out that the SWTPA has a rule which expressly prohibits Pulling on grass, and for that matter any other recreational drugs...