BY JUDY BRINKMANN
For the Republic-Times
While the tractor pulling events may not have been the driving force that brought record crowds to the fairgrounds, many found themselves looking over that way to see what all the commotion was. In fact, tractor and truck pulling events filled the 2013 Monroe County Fair Schedule Monday, Tuesday and Saturday evenings. Antiques, Farmers Class, Pro Stock, Super Stock, Limited Pro Stock and Modified Tractors, Pro Stock Diesel and 2-Wheel Drive Trucks all passed through the hallowed pulling grounds of the Monroe County Fair.
They weren’t the first, they won’t be the last, but where did this event begin?
According to long-time Monroe County Fair participant Butch Sparwasser, “Pautler Park was the site of the fair for years.”
Sparwasser said he was influenced to get involved in the fair by Harold Drake, his Waterloo High School ag teacher. Drake influenced many kids to participate in the fair by assigning projects that he would inspect and help with, first hand.
Sparwasser speculated that most of the Monroe County Fair Board had probably been influenced by Drake.
After graduating in 1967, Sparwasser got involved with the Jaycees and met Henry “Chick” Mentel. That year a group of men got together and built Monroe County’s first pulling sled, at Chick’s house. Once it was finished, they realized they had to move it from Chick’s house on Hamacher to the Fairgrounds we know today.Steve Yearian of Fults pulled his JD510 in the 8,200 Super Stock class Saturday night in the ITPA Tractor and Truck Pull. (Judy Brinkmann photo)
Sometime between sunset and midnight, Chick hooked the sled to his Jeep and pulled it right down Main Street and over to the Fairgrounds. It was a “step-on” sled, meaning it had platforms for men to stand on as weights, rather than the chunks of metal we see being loaded to Roger Lowry’s motorized sled today.
Every 10 feet, two more people would step on the sled until the pulling tractor couldn’t pull anymore. They’d start with the lighter weight guys at the beginning and add on the biggest guys last.
Sparwasser drove a Minneapolis Moline G5 and Vista G1,000. He said at one time, they even had a “tandem” class where they backed one tractor on to the sled, removed the front wheels and then backed another tractor on to the sled, hooking it to the one they’d taken the front wheels off.
He and Roger Stumpf pulled in this class. Sparwasser said it was “kind of crazy” because two guys would be on their tractors, but only one could steer. That was until Adolph Hirsch designed the hydraulics that combined the steering of both tractors.
Sparwasser recalls Vernon Matzenbacher and Robert Scheibe also helping with the development.
“Everybody helped each other in tractor pulling, and it was fun,” Sparwasser recalled. “You got out there to beat each other, but when it was over, you shook hands and drank beer together.”
Roger Taake and his wife, Vicki, have been involved with the fair for years; Roger works on the grounds crew and Vicki in the tower keeping the pulling classes documented and organized. Roger remembered the “step-on” sled, he said, “the later it got, the more amusing it got. Chairs were on the track for the ‘steppers’ and back then they didn’t have rules about beverages, so some of them would be drinking beer and stacking up their cups. The higher their cups got, the higher they would have to step over them to get on the sled and it got pretty comical. Those guys couldn’t just step on, if the tractor was pulling fast, the ones already on the sled had to bear-hug the next guy to keep him from falling off.”
In the early days, track officials stuck a screwdriver in the ground to mark the pulling distance and they’d count the guys on the sled. It didn’t take rocket science, just “know-how.”Jim Matzenbacher took third place in the Antique Class tractor pull. (Judy Brinkmann photo)
Guys like Chick Mentel, Kenny Hartman and Roger Stumpf had the “know-how” to come up with that sled.
Roger recalled one year, Chick had a Minneapolis M5 with a high-speed rear end that could go 25 mph and everybody had heard about it. He was taking his tractor to the fairgrounds one day and the cops pulled him over and gave him a speeding ticket for going 25 in a 20 mph zone; it was a joke the police played on him for being so vocal about his speed.
Roger said, “The thing about tractors back then is they’d be in the field working one day, go pull at the fair and then back to the field the next day.”
Roger never pulled. He has always worked the track, and he says he probably always will. Roger mentioned Paul Brinkmann, Floyd Niebruegge and A.G. Rippelmeyer as guys that stand out in his memory of Monroe County tractor pulls.
Sparwasser and Taake also recalled the Powder Puff class the fair had in the 70’s. Stumpf’s wife, Ethel, pulled one year, and had never driven a tractor before.
“Roger kept telling her to ease off the clutch, ease it slow,” Sparwasser recalled. “She didn’t and she popped a wheelie, right off the bat,” he chuckled.
“I don’t think she got back on that tractor after that.”
Many events are the same today as they were years ago. One change that has been well accepted is that women now compete in any truck or tractor pulling class they choose, right alongside the men.
For more tractor pull and other photos from this year’s fair, click here.