Lamoille County Field Days – Johnson, VT
The county fair. The rides, the games, the animals, the farming exhibits, and the greasy-but-delicious food. You know them. You love them. And I’m betting that you haven’t been to one in a while.
The American county fair developed in the early nineteenth century when agricultural reformers in the northeastern United States organized local exhibitions to promote modern farming. Typical events included livestock judging, exhibits of new agricultural implements and techniques, and plowing contests. As the years went on entertainment became important, as fairs competed with national expositions and “World’s Fairs” of the time. Horse racing became a popular form of fair entertainment, as most county fairs began to feature trotting and pacing competitions. Bicycle races, balloon ascensions, and eventually automobile races and airplane demonstrations were common features, while plowing matches and evening lectures were replaced with pyrotechnic displays.
Beginning in the early 1900s, some cities began encouraging boys and girls to exhibit fair entries. A new national youth movement called 4-H, whose 4-leaf clover insignia with embossed H’s signified the emphasis on Head, Heart, Hands, and Health, began an important revitalization of livestock and domestic arts competition at the local level.
Nowadays county fairs are a mixture of all that. There are newer rides like roller coasters, Ferris wheels, and bumber cars, to go along with the livestock and agricultural exhibitions and contests. There are still plowing matches and horse shows, and even 4-H exhibits. Throw in games, food competitions, live music, and nightime fireworks, and county fairs offer enough entertainment and culture to please just about everyone.
To keep with our sports theme, our focus at the Lamoille County Field Days was the tractor pulling competition. Of course, we started our fair experience riding the Ferris wheel, the bumper cars, reviewing the agricultural ribbon winners, and sampling some fried delicacies. This being Vermont, we even had to review and test out many of their maple flavored treats, strictly for research purposes, of course. But after that it was all about tractor pulling.
What is tractor pulling, exactly? Well, it IS technically a motorsport competition, so we can count it. Tractors of all shapes and sizes, as well as antique ones, pull a heavy sledge (sled) along a 300 foot track, with the winner being the tractor that pulls the sledge the farthest. All tractors, in their respective classes, pull a set weight in the sledge. When a tractor gets to the end of the 100 metre (300 feet) track this is known as a “full pull”. When more than one tractor completes the course, more weight is added to the sledge, and those competitors that went past 300 feet will have a pull-off where the winner is the one who can pull the sledge the farthest.
Sounds easy enough, right? Pull a rolling sled as far as you can with your tractor. But here’s the tricky part: The sledge is known as a weight transfer sled. That means that as it is pulled down the track, the weight is transferred from over the rear axles and towards the front of the sledge. There is essentially a metal plate in front of the sledge, and as the weight moves over this the resistance builds. In essence, the further the tractor pulls the sledge, the harder it gets. The sport is known as the world’s most powerful motorsport, due to the multi-engined modified tractor pullers that some competitions feature.
One of the underrated fun parts about seeing all kinds of new sports is trying to find all of the little intricacies that make the sport what it is. In this case, each driver had their own technique for pulling the sledge. Some were slow and steady, while others went full bore. One lady even used a “pulsing” technique, pushing the gas pedal on and off almost rythmically, inching the tractor forward step by step. You could tell that each driver had a unique plan to try and maximize the pulling capacity of their tractors, taking the sledge as far as they could before the weight became too much and their back wheels spun in the dirt.
In the end, tractor pulling is probably best enjoyed by those who know first hand the joys of pulling a plow or some other agricultural device. Tractor men and women do it for the bragging rights and to show off their agricultural skills and technology, because just like the other judging competitions at the fair, it’s only for ribbons. And if tractor pulling isn’t exactly your thing, that’s OK. There’s no line over at the Ferris wheel.