Pedal-tractor pull draws big names and beginners

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN BOB WOELK
A world champion took care of business on the grounds of Goessel’s Threshing Days festival Saturday.

The morning’s parade was not in his honor. In fact, he didn’t even ride a float. But, the youngster from Newton quietly arrived, did what he does best, and disappeared into the crowd, virtually unnoticed.

His claim to fame? Nine-year-old Kendall Schmidt is the reigning international champion in his age division in the pedal power tractor pull, and he participated Saturday in the preliminary local competition put on by Jim and Leigh Ann Van De Creek of Abilene as part of Threshing Days.

Schmidt won the event with the only “full pull” in his division, and it was his second victory of the day. Schmidt took first in Newton at the Harvey County Fair before lunch.

“I started right here when I was 5,” said Schmidt, grandson of Arlo Schmidt of Goessel, who was instrumental in bringing the pedal pull back to the festival several years ago.

“I won that one. My dad and grandpa made me a tractor and sled. I use that to practice.”

In fact, the young Schmidt has never lost a Threshing Days pull.

Following Saturday’s competition, Schmidt was scheduled to travel to Lincoln, Neb., to defend his international title the next day. His win in Goessel began the process for another shot at the pedal tractor pull big time. He will compete at the Kansas State Fair Sept. 7.

Also qualifying for state competition were all the first- and second-place winners from the nine age divisions.

After the State Fair event, the top two finishers there are on their way to the nationals in Omaha, Neb., Sept. 20. Top five winners there qualify for internationals next summer. Schmidt finished second last year to earn his berth.

Schmidt always registers as No. 20 in pedal pulls, but not because of superstition.

“I get No. 20 all the time because it’s the last number in an age division, and that way I know what I have to beat,” he said.

Pedalers are given their numbers in the order in which they sign up.

Kansas is well represented in national competition, Leigh Ann Van De Creek said.

“Kansas has one of the biggest bunches of contestants,” she said. “There are pulls in 21 states, and Kansas is always right up there with winners. We take our tractors around a lot to lots of places. I think that’s why.”

Ten-year-old Benjamin Wirtz of Lost Springs bears out Van De Creek’s claim. He had already qualified for state competition with a second-place finish in the Tri-County Fair at Herington, but he took part in the Goessel event “just for the practice.”

We came to Threshing Days just to compete in the pull,” he said.

Wirtz said he prepared by riding his bike and walking the dog.

For the Van De Creeks, however, the preparation has been a bit more time consuming.

“It takes me all winter to build one of the tractors,” Bill Van De Creek said. “I’ve been doing this for 20 years.”

Bill Van De Creek is president of the Kansas Pedal Pull Association, and he has made all the tractors and sleds used in competitions put on by his crew.

It all started with an idea by family members.

“I had a couple of sisters-in-law who had heard about pedal-power tractor pulling,” he said. “They wanted me to conduct a pull in Hope since I used to compete in tractor pulls. They wanted me to take an old piece of plywood and put some bricks on it for a sled. Being I was a former puller, I didn’t want to sink that low. So, I built a sled. I still use it today for some pulls.”

The concept is simple. Kids pedal the tractors as hard as they can, pulling a sled with a sliding weight that makes the pulling harder the farther the sled travels. The sled also records the distance traveled.

If the contestant reaches the full length of the course, he or she has completed a full pull. If more than one pedal pusher achieves a full pull, the weights are increased, and each contestant pulls again.

“For some fairs, we can have as many as 190 kids,” Bill Van De Creek said. “With two tractors, we can run them all in 70 minutes.”

The amount of training for the pullers varies, said Leigh Ann Van De Creek.

“Some parents will load down the tractors with anything they can find, and then the kids take off. A lot of the kids swim, so they have strong legs.”

Five-year-old Alyssa Booten of Lehigh, who was competing with her sisters, Paige, 9, and Leah, 3, was not a veteran pedal puller in Saturday’s competition. But, she was planning to use experience of a sort to gain an edge, according to her mom, Jill.

“She has driven a real tractor with her dad,” she said.

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