Friday, September 14, 2012

Tractor Pulling For A Purpose

Submitted by Mike Palmer (Ed. note - I get emails and regular mail all the time and sometimes they stand out more than others. This email sent to me by Mike Palmer about the young boy and his battle with cancer is one of the most memorable I've received. Please take the time to read the letter in full and the PS at the end. If anyone has anything to add or wishes to help initiate what Mike's proposed in the PS, LET ME KNOW. Kudos to Mike for his efforts on Jayden's behalf. Thanks. Dear Bryan, Recently, I had the pleasure of witnessing and participating in a pulling event that reminds me why we enjoy this sport so much. This past Monday, July 30th I had the privilege of pulling with a young boy of 4 years old who has truly touched me to the depths of my heart. His name is Jayden Barber and like me he is in love with tractors particularly those green and yellow ones, but just about any color tractor will get his attention. I met Jayden about a month ago, when I learned about him from my girlfriend. To give you a quick history, Jayden is a 4 year old boy who has fought for every day he has on this earth. At the age of 2, he was diagnosed with bone cancer. After a long fight and countless chemo therapy treatments the family was all smiles as they thought Jayden had beaten the odds. Unfortunately, the odds were entirely against him, Jayden is one of the few cases where his body actually reacted to the chemo and developed and extremely rare form of terminal leukemia. Again the family was hopeful, but after a bone marrow transplants and T-cell infusions the doctors delivered the crushing blow that Jayden’s body just wasn’t reacting to the treatments and so he was sent home to spend the next six weeks with his family and enjoy their time together. Despite all of this, upon meeting this little boy for the first time, you would have no idea he is in a battle for his life. He has always had a smile on his face and is as happy as can be. He is in pain, has limited use of his right arm from the bone cancer, and still never complains or "asks why me?". I spent only a few honors with Jayden, but I can tell you they were life changing hours at that. Here I am complaining about a bad day at the office, horrible customers, being tired, and yet in front of me is a 4 year old with a death sentence who is smiling and laughing as if nothing is wrong, even though I know he has to take a pain pill every 3 hours just to function. So it didn't take me long to look for a what can I do to help solution........ The answer, I learned that Jayden and his 3 year old brother Carson are in LOVE with tractors which is great because so am I ! So last week we arranged for the family to come out and drive some tractors around the farm, we ended up driving anything that ran! Apparently, Jayden had a good time, because he was so excited to come back that he was trying to arrange another play date for the very next night. He kept asking to drive bigger tractors next time, and then it hit me, what about a tractor pull! Now, this may seem like a small request to some, but for those of us associated with pulling, think of all the red tape, insurance, safety concerns, etc.! Well, through the big hearts of the Columbiana County Fair in Lisbon Ohio, Steve Knizat fair board vice-president, Reesman Farm Supply, Trophy Works, and various others we were able to put together a special Exhibition pull on Monday Night July 30th 2012, at the Columbiana County Fair. I am not sure who was more excited Jayden or myself, I later learned that Jayden had prepared his wardrobe for the pull a day ahead of time just to be sure everything was perfect! The pull itself, was special in so many ways. I used one our Farm Stock pullers and retrofitted it with a special seat, fenders, and safety belt for Jayden and I to make this once in a lifetime voyage down the 300’ track for a Full Pull. We may have only been idling along, but to Jayden we were full speed ahead on a mission to pass that 300’ cone!
As special as it was for Jayden, it had an even bigger impact on the spectators and of course me. I have been to countless pulls in my lifetime and I have NEVER seen a crowd that overwhelmed with the event. The announcer gave a quick background on Jayden’s history and then asked for the crowd to rise to their feet and support this little boy as he made his first ever pull. All eyes were on Jayden, there wasn’t a single engine running, no one was speaking, and of course there wasn’t a dry eye in the whole place. The moment was incredible for anyone who had the pleasure of witnessing it. I have never seen an entire arena go silent so quickly and then erupt so loudly with cheers and applause. Finally to top it all off, as Jayden reached the 300’ mark, he raised his little hand and fist upward in celebration as crowd roared to life in approval!!!! Afterwards a trophy commemorating the event (donated by Trophy works) was presented to Jayden for his accomplishments. It all was worth it as I heard him tell his mom “this was the best day ever!”
Now if all this generosity wasn’t enough, I came to learn later that evening that a few pullers had taken it upon themselves to donate their class winnings back to the Barber family in support of Jayden’s cause to help with medical bills and any other expense. I know there are some people out there, who question what this world is coming to, and heck I am just as guilty at times, but after Monday night I was overwhelmed with the generosity, kindness, and compassion people still have. I have never been more honored to be at a pull and could not be prouder of my fellow pullers. This was truly a pull for a cause that won’t soon be forgotten by anyone in attendance and it reminds me just why I love this sport. Sincerely, Michael Palmer PS: Since then the idea of starting a foundation of “pulling for a cure” or “tractors for therapy” where sick kids get to come and drive tractors as a therapy or impromptu make-a-wish. Something that seems so simple, but just the idea of being able to put a smile on a child’s face, seems worth it. Do you know of any such organizations? Also, do you think there are people out there who would embrace this idea as well as maybe help me build a wheel chair accessible tractor? I think it could be a great thing for kids, teens, and adults alike, but in order to get it off the ground I may need a little support! (Ed. note: Here is the follow-up I received in recent days. I for one thought the room got a little dusty reading the follow-up given the situation initially faced. Proof of the dramatic blessings that God does bestow, and keep him in your thoughts and prayers! Just to share some great news, I found out late last night that while at the hospital for his weekly transfusions and checkup, the blood work came back negative for cancer. Thinking there was a mistake the doctors did some scans and more test and Jayden is now deemed to be 99% cancer free. He's not totally out of the clear yet, as he is still fighting a graft vs host disease from all the transfusion but things are on the up and up. Best of all, the doctors have no explanation what so ever. However, if you asked Jayden, he'll tell you without a moment's pause that it was Jesus who told him he would be ok. All this from a 4 year old...WOW. This is the type of miracle that just shows you how the power of prayer can work, sometimes we may not understand why things happen but there is defiantly a plan at work much more powerful than I can understand. Thanks again for the article and I would love some feedback on the non-profit idea. I have some plans in the work to find an orchard tractor for a fully hydraulically controlled wheelchair tractor, and have been talking with some friends who are lawyers to find out just what it would take to make this idea become a reality. Any and all feedback is welcomed and appreciated. Thank you so much! Michael Palmer

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Running Full Speed, But in What Direction? An Examination of Pulling’s Fastest Growing Class, Limited Pro Stock 4.1

During the weekend of May 4th-5th, I attended two pulls that transcend The HOOK Magazine. During the evenings, I attended the MSPA H&R Agri-Power Pulling Series events in Ardmore, Tennessee, while during the day of the 5th I covered a local antique pulling event in Shelbyville, Tennessee. While at the antique event I crossed paths with a couple who field three antique tractors and enjoy the sport of pulling at all levels. We had spoken briefly the evening before as they had been at the Ardmore event, but we had opportunity for more conversation during the antique pull. In our conversation, without prompt or asking the gentleman remarked, paraphrasing here, “that was a good pull last night…but that Limited Pro Stock class was really good.” He continued on to reveal his understanding of the class and how good a place it holds within a given show. Basically the message I got from this was: The fans are watching…and keeping score. I was first introduced to LPS 4.1 two years ago at an event in Illinois. It certainly had a different feel and flair that Super Farm didn’t possess, but was still that diamond in the rough, ready to be polished so that it might shine brightly to the pulling world. Fast forward to the Missouri State Fair in 2011, where nearly 30 of these tractors made pass after pass, wheels up, with a sound and presence only eclipsed by a Pro Stocker. I too became a believer in that evening, recognizing that the class has some fantastic potential. With every up-and-coming class there is a certain new-kid-in-town novelty. The novelty here is that in many circles LPS is thought to be the class that Super Farm should have been all along, as well as the great show they provide. But as the headline suggests for this class that is already being booked heavily throughout the Midwest, what direction is the class heading in? As a person who has a deeply vested interest in keeping the sport of tractor and truck pulling alive and well personally and professionally, I think it’s important that history does not repeat itself so that LPS does not fall victim of the ills that other classes that have fell prey to in their formative stages. In short: 1) Align rules across organizations. It’s important that a tractor in Missouri or from any other state should be able to go anywhere in the pulling world and roll off the trailer without having to change their setup beyond those changes they normally make through the season. Uniformity of rules also saves money in the long run, plain and simple. If not, LPS pullers that travel will have to keep multiple setups to run given on the set of rules they’re running into. Diesel shops will make money still, just won’t have to develop different setups on their end, allowing them to focus on one for LPS. 2) To promoters and sanctioning bodies: overbooking the class makes for a long, hard summer. They are reliable, but they will break with enough pounding through the season. There’s also a certain responsibility on the part of the puller to say “when,” and “when” more often than not is when the parts funds dry up or the supplier’s ability to provide replacement parts becomes an issue. This is probably the hardest measure of all; it is truly hard to say “no.” 3) Maintain this class as a regional class only; The knock from many is that Super Farm isn’t a class for the national stage, and in the grand scheme LPS 4.1 is not either, even though it is more attractive to be at that level. There are already enough hooks to support this class with less travel, and it finally pushes Pro Stock into national-only status like the USS, Mod, and Unl Mod classes. It is indeed fun to sit back and watch this class when all is said and done. The speed, noise, and overall display of brute power is remarkable; where some classes might seem to bring a pack of sparklers to the show, LPS is a stick of dynamite; furious, loud and uncompromising. Every effort needs to be made to project the path of the class in the right direction, and I don’t think by any stretch I have all the right answers. I do know after a visit with a fan on a beautiful Saturday morning is that the fans are watching, and want more. Let’s give it to them. P.S. After initially writing this piece back early in the season I have had several more fans specifically come up to me and make note of the quality and speed of this class—even a promoter. Though some may grumble that the class is “too big” “broken” or whatever, it again ultimately matters what the fans are doing when LPS 4.1 is going down the track—they’re standing and cheering and evidently telling people about the class after they’ve seen it the first time.

Monday, July 30, 2012

On the road again...

As I'm sitting here on this Monday afternoon in late July I've taken a moment to ask myself the question, "Where did the summer go?" Needless to say, it went, and went fast, in a hot and dry fashion unlike anything most of us have seen since '88. My memory suggests that '83 was pretty bad too especially here in KY. '88 was more widespread of course. Enough about the weather report. When I picked up The HOOK and started covering pulling aggressively I made it a point to go and see as many new and different clubs as I could. This year has been a great opportunity to do that, and I can say I've been to some pretty remarkable places this summer. Places like Western Pennsylvania, Eastern Oklahoma, and even in my backdoor in Battletown, Kentucky--all 3 stand out for the beauty of the country. In terms of my observations for this summer and a common thread for me is the stability and success of pulling at the grassroots level. Puller numbers and spectator numbers have been quite good at that level. Spectator numbers at a national level have seemed good, but puller numbers are down, be it because a desire to cut back or a more glaring issue of parts availability in some classes to get back out on the track. My good friend Dick Morgan touched on the issues at the National level, and my thought is that we're at a tipping point on vehicle numbers in some classes, Light Super for example. It's remarkable to me to see the numbers TWD and SF sustain, but as a rule--COMPARED to other GN classes--maintenance and breakage are not as common. For some of you that's a "no kidding" observation, but their success at making repeatable runs makes them attractive to promoters and a big reason why they have so many hooks. The fact also remains that even with lower numbers at that level of the sport, thats just natural design, no different than other forms of competition, where the national level of the sport by numbers is a small, minute percentage of what we see. Given the numbers we see in Tunica and Gordyville that is easy to see. The rise of the LPS 4.1 and Light Pro are also big news in my mind. I've had the unique opportunity recently to "advise"--and boy do I use that term loosely--a friend as they wanted to get in the game of "blowing smoke" and have done so after running antiques for a few years. I'll be following the process of getting the tractor up to spec in the Light Pro Class, and outline a new pattern I'm seeing, which is pullers moving on into more modern tractors. I also have a piece on LPS 4.1 I'll publish here soon. Well, the website is looking better. Finally. I'll be updating it as I can in the coming days. My event schedule is pretty much locked up through the first of November, but I'll keep updating my schedule to let folks know where Im at. Lastly, the pitch: If you're not getting The HOOK, give it a try. I have a great support system of contributors that help me with the magazine and I manage to hit a ton of events covering everything you don't see in The Puller, which I also work for. So, check out the new website: and follow our social media links if you don't already. Check out the photos and soon we'll have some merchandise up. Thanks for your time and thanks for reading.