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Around The Grange
North Stonington Fair offers rides, tractor pulls

By Anna Isaacs, The New London Day (7/15/13)

  JULY 15, 2013 --

By late morning Sunday, the last day of this year's Agricultural Fair, dozens of tractors were lined up and ready.

A part of the fair since the formation of the Antique Tractor club in Hebron in 1983, the antique tractor pull brings in a full regiment of tractors - all made before 1955 - and a crowd of eager spectators in the risers to watch the machines exert to their fullest.

Archie Tanner, treasurer of the club and proud owner of about 40 antique tractors, arrived on Sunday morning in a Ford trucker hat and Ford Tractor T-shirt, framed by suspenders clipped to his jeans, with his red and beige 1955 Ford 960.

Tanner used to own a Ford tractor dealership in East Windsor, and once worked for the Ford Motor Co. He's now retired, living in Tolland - and, yes, all of his tractors are Fords.

Well, there's one John Deere bulldozer. An "outlaw," he said.

How does one get into a hobby like tractor pulling?

"All you have to have is a tractor," Tanner said.

On Sunday, 50 tractors participated in the competitive sport of tractor pulling - a hobby with a cult following that goes like this: Pull solid blocks of concrete at a couple miles per hour until you can't pull anymore.

Tanner said each tractor can typically pull about three times its weight; his Ford, a 4,000-pound tractor, usually tops out at 12,000 pounds. A full "pull," or drag of the concrete blocks piled atop a sled, is 20 feet. Sometimes a tractor can't make it that far; in that case, the longest pull wins.

Each tractor gets two attempts, all of them split up among seven weight classes between 2,500 and 6,500 pounds.

Andrew Zadora of Brooklyn, a high school agriculture teacher and president of the Antique Tractor club, said the club participates in seven pulls a year in eastern Connecticut and Rhode Island. North Stonington's event is the second pull of the year before fair season dies down.

Zadora said the club members enjoy coming to the fair here because of its visible historic and agricultural roots, where a lot of other places have gone more "commercial," he said.

Though a below-average crowd was reported for this year's fair - First Selectman Nick Mullane said the rainy spell and a still-dragging economy are at least partly to blame - the tractor-pullers certainly appreciated the venue. After all, the Antique Tractor club is in the business of preserving history.

"We try to keep history alive by pulling 60-, 70-year-old machines," Zadora said.

John Clark of Lebanon said he has been participating in competitive motor sports all his life. Tractor pulling is a more recent foray, something his son, John Clark Jr., talked him into about 12 years ago.

Having grown up on a farm, though, it was already in his blood.

"Probably the first thing I ever drove was a tractor," he said.

Just before the competition began, a bulldozer wheeled over the concrete blocks, lowering them gingerly onto the wooden platform in the middle of a cleared dirt path. Zadora called a drivers' meeting around noon next to the risers, where a small crowd of spectators had gathered. He introduced a couple of newbies, reviewed a few future pull plans, and reminded them to stay in neutral when backing up.

And, under a scorching sun, he reminded them to drink a lot of water.

"Have fun, stay cool," he said.

A woman named Lori kicked off the day's pull, driving a restored Allis-Chalmers tractor, painted purple over its original bright orange.

"Aaaand that's a full pull for Lori," Zadora announced, playing MC on the mic from a booth next to the pull path, occasionally filling in spectators on the machines' history - when they were made, where they were made, what areas they were prevalent in, what kinds of farming they were typically used for.

Behind each tractor, an entourage followed as each pull was completed - one holding a measuring tape attached to the sled like the delicate train of a gown, another smoothing over the dust with a rake like a Zamboni on an ice rink.

Some tractors reared up precariously in front with the effort, making it just a few inches; for others, it was smooth sailing.

"That's a full pull, Bob," Zadora called out. "Making it look easy."

In the minutes leading up to the start of Sunday's event, Clark waited under the welcome shade of a tree next to his 1951 Oliver 77 Row Crop, which he fully restored himself in about six months. The green, yellow, and red paint still looked fresh.

His son, a mechanic, stood next to his 1947 John Deere - also restored by his own hand. He was fully confident about their prospects.

"We win, of course," he said.

"We go to win," his father added. "However, we do go to have a good time."

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