SALEM, Ohio — For 36 years, the trophy has sat in James Wood’s kitchen. He walks by it every day, rarely taking any notice of the dusty award. Sure, he’s proud of the feat that earned him that trophy, but after three and a half decades, the novelty has worn off a bit.
If you look closely, you can read the inscription on the faded gold plate decorating the front of the trophy:
National Farm Machinery
Tractor Pulling Championship
First — 9,000 Pounds Hot Rod
That year was the first and last time Wood pulled at Louisville.
The 61-year-old bulldozer operator said he’s been pulling tractors for more than two-thirds of his life. It’s been his passion, his hobby, his escape from day-to-day life. But Wood says he’s run his course with pulling — 2009 is going to be his last hurrah.
He’s not going out quietly, though. Sitting in a garage in Salem is Wood’s final masterpiece, a John Deere 5010 named Last Ride.
Wood, of East Rochester, Ohio, has built six pulling tractors throughout his life. He’s pulled at Louisville, Bowling Green and Harrisburg, to name a few. But Last Ride isn’t about money or fame or placing at the top of big pulls.
It’s about having some bragging rights at home, in Columbiana County.
“That’s all it is, is bragging rights,” Wood said.
A regular at local county fair pulls, Bunker Hill, Mile Branch and Dover, Wood is planning to tour the local pulling circuit this summer with Last Ride.
Tractor pulling has never been a lucrative endeavor — in 1973 Wood spent $3,000 on his tractor and won $900 in Louisville — but his competitive spirit keeps him going back for more.
“It’s bragging rights that I whipped them all,” he said.
These days, Wood doesn’t have much to say about his big win in Louisville. He sold the tractor — which had a Cockshutt 40 rear end with a V12 Continental tank motor — to a man in Arkansas. He’s still got the trophy, of course, and a black-and-white photograph of himself accepting the prize. There are also two faded photos that show the tractor sitting on the back of a flatbed truck, but that is all there is of Wood’s accomplishment.
He recalls that he won in a pull-off, easily sailing past his opponent’s mark to a full pull.
“I hauled it right out the gate again,” he said.
Wood has been working on Last Ride for three years, although the past seven months have been spent just waiting for the head. It’s his most expensive tractor to date, but it’s fitting for his last project to be the most elaborate.
And, as Wood is quick to point out, pulling is his sole pastime.
“It’s the only hobby I have,” he said.
It’s been a successful one, as Wood estimates he’s collected about 500 trophies over the years. But he’s ready to make his finals rounds with Last Ride.
“There ain’t going to be no more after this.”