Non-stop tractors in Warren this Labor Day weekend

Donald Douglas has a cloud of smoke and the front end rising as he competes in the lightweight class of the 2010 Labor Day Tractor Pull in Warren. The around-the-clock competition returns this Labor Day weekend, with pulls starting Friday evening, Sept. 2, and continuing through Monday, Sept. 5.
Donald Douglas has a cloud of smoke and the front end rising as he competes in the lightweight class of the 2010 Labor Day Tractor Pull in Warren. The around-the-clock competition returns this Labor Day weekend, with pulls starting Friday evening, Sept. 2, and continuing through Monday, Sept. 5. TAB file photo.

The tractors will be running non-stop in Warren this weekend.

The Labor Day Tractor Pull starts Friday evening, Sept. 2, and continues around the clock until the last heat is done sometime on Monday, Sept. 5.

“The drivers will try to get some shut-eye,” says Wendell Bradford, one of the organizers of this year’s event. “Somebody will beat on their pickup truck and say, ‘It’s your turn to drive.’”

You might even spot a driver napping on a ratty recliner or a beat-up couch, he says, as the competition goes on around them.

Spectators are welcome to come and watch at no charge.

“Bring your lawn chair and have a good time,” Bradford says.

Aficionados are also welcome to take a gander at the tractors while they’re parked between runs.

“People are welcome to come in and look,” he says. “We’ll have John Deeres, Farmalls, Allis Chalmers, Massey-Harris, Olivers — that’s a different color of green,” he says. “There may be a Ford or two down there, too.”

All the action takes place below the hill at the Knight Bergman Center, in Warren. Weigh-in for tractors is Friday at 5 p.m., and the competition starts about 8 p.m. that night.

Tractors are divided into two classes by weight, with the heavier tractors — 6,000 to 9,000 pounds — competing first. The lighter tractors, weighing between 4,000 and 6,000 pounds, will start their competition whenever the first group is done. That might be Saturday evening or Sunday morning, Bradford says.

Each tractor must pull a weighted sled for 15 feet. Tractors that accomplish that will move onto the next round, pulling a sled with even more weight. The rounds continue, with progressively heavier sleds, until a winner is determined.

Everything’s based on the percentage of the tractor’s weight it can pull. Some tractors end up pulling 220 percent to 225 percent of their weight, Bradford says; for a 6,000-pound tractor, that’s 13,000 or 14,000 pounds.

The mammoth event, featuring as many as 400 drivers (although not that many different tractors, since some drivers share tractors), has been going on each Labor Day weekend since 1949 — sponsored first by Kiwanis, then the Jaycees and, for the last 25 years, by Salamonie Active Men (SAM).

“Daniel Poulson won that first tractor pull,” Bradford says. That was with an Allis-Chalmers Model C. “In 1999, he won his class again in a different tractor.”

Poulson, who happens to be Bradford’s neighbor, doesn’t miss a pull.

“He comes down every time,” Bradford says. “Daniel will probably be driving, and his son will have a tractor there.”

Poulson’s nephew, Kenneth Poulson, is competing this year for the 49th year in a row.

“I think he’s going for 50,” Bradford says.

The Poulsons aren’t the only family involved in the pull.

“It’s a family thing,” Bradford says, with younger family members joining in along with their elders. “Normally, if they’re 15 or 16, they’re old enough to drive.”

Bradford is one of the drivers who was pulled in at an early age.

“I’ve been around the track since I was in first grade in the old school,” Bradford says. He also taught at “the old school” — the building now houses the Knight Bergman Center — until it closed in 1981, and proudly points out that the building is the only school of its era in Huntington County that was not bulldozed after being closed.

While the Labor Day Tractor Pull draws lots of farmers and tractor enthusiasts from the Warren area — including Bradford and the Poulsons — it also brings in competitors from Hartford City, Marion, Huntington, Fort Wayne, Bluffton and a host of other communities.

The tractors themselves are souped up beasts, dedicated to competitions. Their owners might sharpen the tires, or modify the tractors to get into a different weight class.

“These tractors may be 50, 60 years old, but they run like brand new,” Bradford says. “A lot of these are stored from one Labor Day to the next.”

In addition to competing, Bradford will be minding the concessions — biscuits and gravy every morning; other times,  SAMburgers (“big sausage patties with lettuce and onion and tomato”), roast pork sandwiches, homemade coleslaw, sweet sauerkraut, coffee and cold drinks. Food Alley will be set up in a tent under the big trees. There’s also a raffle for a $300 Yeti cooler.

All of the proceeds will go to SAM.