WARREN, Ohio — Get over it, Rita Kibler says.
Get over the fact that she’s a female tractor puller, one who frequently tops the competition, and one who happens to sit atop a custom-painted pink Farmall.
Get over it, she says, because it’s not just a tractor. It’s a healing tool she uses to get over an obstacle of her own: breast cancer.
In a quick glance over a sea of antique tractors at a pull — usually painted in traditional reds, yellows and greens — Rita Kibler’s Farmall H is sure to stand out.
Affectionately nicknamed Pinky, the tractor is drenched in paint the color of Pepto-Bismol and is dressed up with chrome rims, cut tires and burgundy lettering spelling out Rita’s Hope, Pullin’ for a Cure.
You’re sure to notice the tractor everywhere it goes, and that’s just what Kibler wants.
“Everywhere I go, there’s major attention,” she admits. “People know me now as the lady with the pink tractor. I never dreamed I’d get that response.”
“In a parade, you’ll see all these people waving and cheering for us. It gets emotional,” Kibler admitted.
It’s emotional because the tractor isn’t just a novelty: It’s a very, very personal statement.
Kibler, who was first diagnosed with breast cancer in the early ’90s, is currently running full-bore through her second round of treatments.
The cancer came back about three years ago, right before she and husband Garry added Pinky to their pulling fleet.
No strangers to antique tractor pulls — Garry and one of the couple’s sons, Cory, pull other Farmalls on the circuit — the Kiblers didn’t think twice when Mom asked for a tractor of her own.
She teased them that this tractor would have to be pink — with breast cancer’s pink ribbon painted on the front for good measure — and as a family, they made it happen, building the machine from three or four other Model H’s in time for its 2007 pulling season debut.
Rita used to drive truck, help in the barn and clean up after milking the family’s 300-head dairy herd. She can’t do that anymore, thanks to nasty side effects and pains the cancer has given her.
The Kiblers leave their Trumbull County dairy farm every couple of weeks for a trip to the Cleveland Clinic, carrying hopes that the cocktail of drugs Rita’s given can kill the cancerous cells that have spread to her lung this time.
The family carries Rita’s Hope with them, too, to pulls across the region, plus festivals, fairs and Relay for Life events that put the tractor in the spotlight.
“It’s cool to be noticed, but sometimes it gets overwhelming, you know? I have this tractor because I have cancer,” she said.
“I get so mad when people laugh, when they don’t even know why it’s pink,” she admitted. “Don’t laugh at it. It’s not pink to be funny, it’s pink for a reason.”
All worth it
The biggest thrill of all comes for Rita when her tractor’s hooked to the sled at a pull.
“She pulls really well,” Rita admitted, noting a factory-standard Farmall H runs about 25 horsepower, but hers is souped up at more than double that.
She’s got several full pulls under her belt, including those that earned her multiple first- and second-place finishes in the B classes.
“I’ll get her all reared up and steer with the brakes. She really goes,” Rita said.
Rita has come a long way since she first started pulling, when she took “a lot of razzing” for being the lady on the pink tractor.
But as the tractor earned better finishes, and Rita found the right combination of gears and throttle and clutch, her antique tractor friends fell in line behind her as some of her biggest supporters.
“They’re all behind me in this [chemotherapy],” she said, noting the group pitched in to host a tractor exhibit at the local Tractor Supply Company store, and donated the proceeds to a cancer awareness group in her name.
“They’re my biggest supporters, but those guys still get mad when the lady on the pink tractor beats them,” Rita joked.
“But they’ll get over it.”