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By Emily Bontrager
Richard Courtney, 75, has been participating in tractor pulls since 2010. Richard was born on his family farm north of Luray, Missouri and his parents were Annabelle and Alva Courtney.
After graduating from the Kahoka Public School, Richard spent two years in the army. After serving in the army, he returned home and began driving a truck for Delbert Harper.
Richard then drove a truck for the Mid-West Wax Paper Company in Fort Madison, Iowa for five years. He then started working at Griffin Wheel, where he worked for 32 ½ years and in March of 2010 he retired.
“When I retired, I got interested in tractor pulling and I also joined the Fox Valley Two Cylinder Club here in Kahoka. I’ve been a member for ten years and I’ve been the Vice President for five years,” Richard said.
Richard’s interest in tractor pulling started when his two nephews, Jerry and Ronnie Graham competed in the sport.
In 2010, Richard purchased a W9 Standard International and competed in his first tractor pull.
“He retired in March, bought the W9 in April and after that, it was tractor pulling mania,” his wife, Betty said.
Betty has attended Richard’s tractor pulls for years and she enjoys watching the competitions.
“Until Covid, I don’t think I missed any he went to,” Betty said.
“She is just as into it as I am,” Richard replied.
Tractor pulls are broken up into certain classes, which include farm, antique, open, and modified.
Each class is also broken up by weight. Once you weigh your tractor in, you are placed in a class and when your class’s turn comes, the tractor is hooked up to the sled on the track.
“You start to pull and as it goes forward, the weight progresses and then at a certain point, a plate comes down and that starts dragging too. Usually, you are going to stop pretty quick, and it’s pretty fair for every tractor,” Richard said.
The tractor also has weights placed in specific areas to help balance the tractor while it pulls the sled down the track.
“Each track is different; you might have to have more weights on the front of the tractor for one track and the next you might not. You kind of judge it yourself,” Richard said.
The tracks can be different at each tractor pull, but most of the tracks have closed gates, which is a certain stopping point on the track.
“What they call a closed gate, is if you go to a certain point, they stop you because you are out of the gate. Some of them run an open gate and wherever you stop is your footage,” Richard explained.
When you enter a class for tractor pulling, there are also many specific rules and requirements set for each class.
“We pull farm stock. You have certain regulations of the heights of the drawbar and you can only go so high with it, like 18 inches,” Richard said.
There are also regulations on the size of the tires in the farm class. According to Richard, older worn-down tires do the best pulling, rather than the newer tires.
Another rule for tractor pulling, is the type of engine that you can put in a tractor.
“We have regulations on the farm class, where you can only use an engine of the same color. I mean, if it’s an International engine you use an International engine. You can maybe put a bigger engine in, but it has to fit in. You can’t extend the frame or modify anything, it has to fit in the tractor,” Richard explained.
“In the modified, they can use just about any kind of engine.”
At the tractor pulls, the participants also use certain types of fuel to run their tractors.
“You should use a high octane, depending on the compression of your tractor and how hot a tractor it is. We use at least 91 octane and some people use more than that,” Richard said.
Richard Courtney has participated in tractor pulls for many years and has traveled to multiple counties in the area.
He has competed in Shelbina, Memphis, Kahoka, Downing, Williamstown, and Wyaconda in Missouri. Richard has also been to Donnellson, Houghton, Drakesville, and Blakesburg in Iowa.
Since 2010, Richard has won around 150 trophies at tractor pulling competitions and he has only pulled with Internationals.
Richard owns five pulling tractors in total.
“I have the W9, the 560, the 460, and two M International Farmalls,” Richard said.
Richard enjoys working on his tractors and he loves tractor pulling for the competition.
“I have fun whether I win or lose, but I try to win every pull I go to, even against the young people. I want some of them to beat me, but I will beat them if I can. That is part of the fun and doing your best to win,” Richard laughed.
Richard and Betty have made many memories over the years, but the one that sticks out to them the most is a tractor pull that took place in Stockport, Iowa.
“He won every pull in his class and he was doing well. In his last one, he went further, and he got right up where the weights on the front went into the cornfield a little,” Betty said.
“The weight bounced off, so it disqualified me, and I always laughed because it cost me 40 bucks, because that was a cash pull,” Richard said.
“Everyone is still teasing him to stay out of cornfields,” Betty laughed.
Tractor pulling is fun, but it can also be a lot of hard work. Richard advises anyone who is interested in tractor pulling to find the right tractor.
“If you are going to pull, check with some of the old pullers to find out what tractor works for the classes you want. Then, you will need to make it run well and build the engine if you want to do much good pulling and of course get the right tires on that will hold the ground,” Richard said.
“Dozens of people will help you, but you kind of learn as you go.”
Tractor pulling has been an activity for the whole family to enjoy and Betty has been there to watch Richard work hard on his tractors over the years.
“Betty has supported me pulling all the way through. She went with me to the pulls, always has something to eat and drink when we go, and likes the pulls herself,” Richard said.
“We’ve also met a lot of good friends on the circuit where we pull. We usually go sit with a group of them and go visit while we are pulling, then after you visit, you go out and try to beat them,” Richard laughed.
“We’ve made some super friends. I call them our pulling family,” Betty said.
The one thing that makes the tractor pulls possible is the promoters and Betty and Richard are grateful for each person who works to put these events together.
“I appreciate all of them guys and we always thank the guys before we leave, because most people don’t think about how much work it is,” Richard said.
Whether it’s the farm, antique, open, or modified class, each participant works hard on their tractor to perform their best. At the end of the day, tractor pulls are fun events for families to attend, and they also showcase how tractors have changed over the years.