RANTOUL, Ill. — If it’s antique tractors pulling that you want to see at the Half Century of Progress Show, they have that.
If it’s the legendary pulling tractors and drivers from “back in the day,” the Half Century of Progress tractor pulls have that, too.
And if it’s remote-control tractors powered by weed-whacker motors, yes, they will have those, as well.
“We will have everything from weed-whacker tractors to full pro stocks. The pulls will include the full range of tractors,” said Andy Buhr.
Buhr, who, along with Derek Harms, coordinates the three nights of tractor pulls at the show, has been around not only pulling tractors and vintage tractors since he was a kid, but the Half Century show, as well.
His dad, Russell, co-chairs the Half Century of Progress Show, to be held Aug. 24-27 at the Rantoul National Aviation Center.
“The first time I went down the track, I was 7 years old on an old Minneapolis Moline R that my grandpa bought back in the 1950s,” Andy Buhr said.
The tractor remains in the family and driving it remains a family tradition. His son and daughter have driven the tractor at the Champaign County Fair tractor pulls.
While getting the three nights of pulls put together and attending to every detail is now a fine art for Buhr and Harms, having a variety of pulling organizations and pulling classes represented is a delicate balance.
“Over the past few years, we rotated some classes and some groups in and out. That is done in an effort to give everybody the opportunity to pull with us at the Half Century show with different sanctioning bodies and different groups,” Buhr said.
“We’ve had some groups in years past that we don’t have this year. This year we have the Legends. So, we have changed a few things around to keep it fresh and to have something for everyone.”
The National Tractor Pulling Legends Series is based in Bowling Green, Ohio. The group aims to preserve and protect tractors built before 1980.
The tractors in the series are the original tractors that started the modified tractor pulling class in the 1970s and 1980s.
Tractor names such as Heart Breaker, City Slicker, Mother’s Worry and Bosse Project will ring a bell for many fans at the Half Century show.
A New Voice
A new voice will be added to the lineup of announcers calling the pulls.
“Alan Washburn from Indiana has been the voice of the National Tractor Pulling Association for a long time. He’s going to come help us and he is very excited about the Legends Series,” Buhr said.
Washburn will be joined in the announcer’s booth by Art Downs, Carl Downs and Brian Neukomm.
“I try to get multiple people to help with that because it is a lot of talking, but there’s also some clerical work that goes with that so it helps to have multiple people,” Buhr said.
Buhr said one improvement that pullers will notice is to the track.
“We hauled in about 70 loads of dirt to try to improve it and we had drainage done under our track. The last time, we had rain the week of the show and it was muddy underneath and we had to deal with that all week. So, we decided to build it up,” he said.
The antique tractors will get a turn, as well.
“During the day, Don Ward will be bringing his sled and we are pulling antique tractors in the morning every day. They will pull for fun all morning,” Buhr said.
The horsepower fires up at 4 p.m. on Thursday, Aug. 24.
“I’ve got the show tractors, the 4,500 pound through 8,500 pound classes. Then I’ve got the Central Illinois Brush Pullers group who are going to come in and do some mile per hour classes and a 5,500 pound antique class,” Buhr said.
The Legends Series will kick things off on Friday.
“The National Tractor Pulling Legends are coming in and they will pull first on Friday. Then I have the Illiana Pullers Association coming in with a couple of sanctioned classes, then the Indiana Pulling League is coming in with three classes,” Buhr said.
Saturday evening is “the big show,” he said.
“I have the Illinois Tractor Pulling Association and we will have seven classes. We will have two tracks every night and somewhere over 100 total hooks every night,” he said.
On Saturday morning, a unique pulling association will make its debut at the Half Century show.
“I have a group that has weed-whacker pullers coming in. They make small, remote-control tractors out of weed whacker motors. I think it will be neat to see these. They are the WWPA, the Weed Whacker Pullers Association,” Buhr said.
Buhr said there will be plenty of seating at the tracks, including additional bleacher seating.
His advice to those who are planning to attend any or all of the evening pulls is to get there early.
“The best thing I could tell people who want to see the show is that it’s best to get there early and get your seat claimed. We will have people getting there on Thursday to claim their spot for the Saturday pulls,” he said.
Buhr said trailer parking will be available around the north/northeast side of the track and there will be areas for golf cart parking.
“By the time Saturday night rolls around, there will be golf carts seven, eight deep,” he said.