By Garth Snow
They shouted to be heard over the the roar of trucks and tractors. Or they waited for a lull between pulls. Then fans of the Arcola National Truck & Tractor Pull offered their thoughts on three days of straining iron and flying dirt at Branning Park.
“We love it. It’s awesome,” said Jan Ruger of Fort Wayne, who was attending his third or fourth Arcola pull.
“Good times,” Amber Ruger shouted. “We brought the kids. The excitement. We called all our friends and told them to come out tonight, it would be fun.”
Like many fans, the Rugers sought earplugs, which sold for a dollar a pair here and there. “My truck is full of earplugs, but we drove the wrong vehicle,” Jan said.
Megan and Tyler Grube hoisted Henry, 2, who wore a full set of headphones. “Fun, loud,” Megan shouted.
Fun, loud, dusty.
Angel Williams, a Snider High School freshman recently from Angola, expanded a bit. “They’re big and smokey,” she said of the hulking machines that pulled weights down the clay track.
Sometimes the roar turned into a screech or ended in a clang.
Tractors that were the giants of another era pulled the wounded iron from the drag strip.
One puller withdrew from a three-way finale′ to avoid stressing an overnight $30,000 repair.
Justin Wise of Tiffin, Ohio, hoped his repair would be more modest, perhaps a $100 hose. Only some of the sheet metal is original on his Farmall 1066, which packs a Chevy engine. “We’ve got about a hundred-fifty in it,” he said.
“They don’t do it for the prize money,” said Lyn Wilson, longtime publicist of Arcola’s biggest spectacle.
Pullers compete for bragging rights and for National Tractor Pullers Association series points.
“It’s been going on here for many, many years,” said Tom Jackson, of Lodi, Ohio, the Region 2 director of the NTPA. “They’ve got Branning Park here. I remember back in the early days when it was just a grassy area. And it’s really nice to see all the add-ons that the fire department has done here. They’ve put a lot of stone down in the last year, and really upgraded the place. The number of competitors is really good at this event. It has a good tradition and the pullers enjoy coming here. There’s always a good track and the pullers feel welcome when they come to Arcola.”
Dave Reinking, of Decatur, has followed the pulls to Texas and Virginia and points in between. In the process, he has had some photos published in industry magazines.
He points his lens toward from the starting line, from near the corner of the NTPA big rig and mobile studio. He captures images of billows of smoke, rearing front tires, twisting chassis and judges’ flags.
“I love the speed,” the pull track veteran said.
The machines own the spotlight on the clay, but have competition for attention outside the arena.
Stan Sickafoose of Tri-Lakes waited atop a more modest tractor, a 1967 Farmall 806. Along with other members of the Mizpah Shriners Antique Power Club, he was ready to pull the big rigs quietly to the trailers or wherever. He’s been helping for about 10 years.
Sickafoose started farming in 1970, with a similar Farmall 806. That was when smaller tractors pulled smaller implements. “It’s not big enough today. I like to save it for things like this,” he said. “I have a lot of people say, ‘I had one like that.’ Or their father or grandfather did, and they relate to that. Every year one or two will try to buy it.”
The food tents, too, were popular. At Saturday night intermission, 50 people waited at the east side food tent. By then, the fried pickle chips were gone. Elephant ears continued to sizzle. At nightfall, volunteers still were lifting sausage patties onto the grills.
Alan Schuette of Arcola stood ready to slice potatoes or fry elephant ears. “Wherever they need me,” he said. Schuette has been volunteering for about 11 years. “It’s the least I can do. I’m a resident here,” he said Sunday night. He had bought a ticket and watched from the stands Saturday night. “I wanted to see all the vehicles,” he said.
At East Side Geller Popcorn Trailer, John Geller, his brother Joe, and fellow Arcola Lions Club member Dale Nierman handed $1 bags of popcorn and frozen candy through the trailer windows.
They used to operate from a tent, John said. “The food marshal kind of got his nose up at that, so one of our members bought this old camper trailer and brought it out and pulled it behind my barn and unhooked it and left,” he said. “So I got busy and reworked it and put the swing-out doors, stripped it so to speak and put in the countertops and rewired it. So the guys call it the East Side Geller Trailer. It’s very comfortable and it works out good. If you’re much over 6 foot tall that’s not gonna work out very good.”
Every evening is another round of community. Lions meet former neighbors or Arcola classmates who return each summer for the fire department’s sustaining fundraiser.
“At 7 a.m. Sunday we will clean the grounds so by next evening it’s nice and clean and all the trash and cans are picked up, and we sort the aluminum out of that and that’s part of the payoff for going in and cleaning,” he said.
The main purpose, though, is to support the Arcola Volunteer Fire Department. “The fire department is actually our closest ally,” Geller said.
Carroll High School FFA members also were busy, roaming the grounds with fundraiser tickets.
“We’ve done this every year that I can remember,” said Tyler Olinske, a Carroll FFA adviser and a former FFA member. About 20 of the chapter’s approximately 50 members help on any given evening. “It teaches good communication skills,” Olinske said.
Trebor Trahin was happy with the numbers Sunday night. The 20-year fire department member and former chief is now the assistant chief.
“This is our primary fundraiser for the fire department,” Trahin said. “We estimate about 300 or so volunteers a night come from the community to help us organize and run this event, to cook food.
“Right now the Knights of Columbus from Saint Patrick’s in Arcola are doing a great job with the overflow parking.
“We’re looking at replacing a truck in the next couple years, so we’re looking at putting money together for a new truck. This also covers insurance and fuel.”
Overflow parking was swelling onto the streets and as far as the fire station. Gate numbers were climbing. Lines for snacks, T-shirts and portable toilets were stretching and winding and tangling with other lines. Cheers were getting louder.
“It’s a very nice crowd tonight,” Trahin said. “Whenever our treasurer’s happy then we’re happy, and she’s very happy right now.”