History of the Tractor Pull

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The history of the tractor pull does not begin with the tractor. In fact, in order to understand the origins of the tractor pull, you need to go back nearly 70 years before the tractor became adopted widespread, to the 1860s.

As the story goes (and is quite easy to imagine), farmers would often brag about the strength and endurance of their horses. In typical competitive fashion, farmers devised a way to test these bragging rights, initially, just as you might imagine they would saddle up their horse and attach something heavy—like a wagon—to it, and whichever horse pulled it the farthest won.

Horse Pull

These contests evolved over time, and in their early rudimentary form, farmers would lay a barn door on the ground, hitch it to their horse, and as their race began, people would jump on the door at certain intervals to test the horse’s strength and endurance. While horses no longer pull barn doors, the sport of horse pulling still exists in good form today.

In the early to mid-part of the 20th century, tractors began to replace horses, and this is where we see divergence and evolution in the horse pull. Sports are always continuously evolving with the addition or subtraction of new rules here and there, but seldom do you see a sport that has undergone an evolution as drastic as the tractor pull. The goal—which is to pull as heavy a load for as long as possible—still remains wholly untouched, yet the method of pulling is hardly recognizable compared to the sport’s early beginnings.

Tractor Pull

If you’ve recently seen a tractor pull competition, then you know what I mean. While there are still tractor pull contests featuring antique tractors, most commonly you’ll see tractors that have undergone heavy modification. These modifications became more common after 1969 when the National Tractor Pullers Association (NTPA) was formed. Over time, as the NTPA began creating a more formalized league with rules and regulations, enthusiasts began customizing engines by adding things like more engines, intercoolers, and turbochargers to increase power. In the 1980s these began to take the form we know today, which is tractors that almost seem to resemble a dragster rather than a tractor itself.

The tractor pull, even in its modern form, represents a rare and unique evolution of sport over a long period of time, and, perhaps, what’s more, its origins and continued existence represent something that’s distinctly American.

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