BELOIT, Ohio — After 50 years, one Ohio man’s heart still races when he gets behind the steering wheel on his tractor.
John Stanley still remembers the first time he saw a tractor pull. It was around 1958, and he went to a pull in Wooster with his uncle and his brother. Just like that, he was addicted to the motor sport.
A couple short years later, and Stanley started pulling tractors himself. He and his brother would get their chores finished, hop on their dad’s tractor and head to the Mile Branch Grange for a pull.
No one used trailers and trucks back then to move tractors. You just put them in gear and went to your destination.
That same fall, Bunker Hill began holding its pulls.
“Back then, besides softball, that’s what you did. You didn’t go to town. You didn’t have much money,” said Stanley.
That was 1961. Fast forward 50 years, and Stanley can be found doing the same thing: tractor pulling.
The one thing Stanley wants to make sure that doesn’t get forgotten about tractor pulling is the history.
He can recall starting out pulling with a dead sled and pulled until about 1963 when the area saw its first western style sled with a weight exchanger.
Stanley said the East Rochester Ruritans were the first group to have it.
“A lot of tractor pull history in this part of Ohio. A lot of firsts around here in Columbiana County,” said Stanley.
Stanley said Glenwood Sanor built the first weight exchanger in the area. Then Dick Burton, a Ruritan member, and others would take the sled to various pulls in order to make money for the Ruritan club’s projects.
Years passed and Stanley continued to pull as his job commitments allowed.
The wall in Stanley’s garage is scattered with pictures and awards from pulls he placed in, but one stands out to him.
It was from 1970, when he placed second in the Stock 5000 class at the Ohio State Fair during a pull held by the National Tractors Pullers Association. He pulled with an Oliver 88.
Stanley didn’t limit himself to Ohio pulls, he also pulled in Canada and Pennsylvania.
One of his best memories was with his brother, Jeff, at Portage County’s Randolph Fair in 1969. He said the tractor they took pulled in six classes that night, ranging from the 4,500 weight class to the 12,000 weight class, and they won every class.
“It’s always been my hobby. I just love to do it,” said Stanley. “But it takes a lot of help. A lot of help, and that help has to work hard.”
Eventually, the antique pulls would lead to another class for Stanley. Between 1995 and 1996, he began building a brand new tractor with the help of Sam Kitzmiller and Kevin Wartluft — the first edition of the classic superstock.
Stanley’s entry was one of the first tractors in the class. Now it is considered by many tractor pulling enthusiasts to be one of the fastest-growing classes — Stanley knows of four tractors being built for the class right now.
The first Classic Superstock class pull was held in Millersburg, and from there, Stanley started pulling all over the state. He would spend half the weekend on the road traveling to pulls that were holding the class until it caught on. Even up until five years, it still wasn’t considered popular, but that has changed.
Four years ago, Stanley was a crossroads of whether to continue pulling, or hang up his keys. Then, Jimmy Pollock of nearby Westville expressed an interest in tractor pulling and it pushed Stanley into rebuilding the tractor and moving on. Now, the next generation of that tractor was created with the help of Jimmy and his son, Ryan.
Ryan will be 16 next June and Stanley said he is anxious to have him pull the tractor next season.
One thing Stanley has learned is that if you don’t have the right equipment, “you can’t do it right.”
Stanley said he has made many modifications to his diesel John Deere 3010 over the years to ensure it gets a good run down the track.
“I know how to make things to make them go, but it has to be perfect. There is a lot of competition at these pulls,” said Stanley.
It’s that competition that helps the motor sport grow.
“You can change the pistons, liners, the turbo chargers, and even the colors, but it’s the competition that keeps it going,” said Stanley.
“If you would have asked me when we built this tractor if we thought the class would be like it is, we would have told you no way. We never would have dreamed it would get as big as it has.” Stanley said.
Stanley said he couldn’t keep pulling without the support of his wife, Direne, through the years. He also gives credit to his stepson, Dustin Donahue, for helping him with the tractor.
He said his brother Jeff pulled with him when they were younger and still enjoyed watching an occasional pull up until his sudden death in July. But he said the honor of his number one fan goes to his brother, Bill, the oldest brother in the family. He is at every pull Stanley performs.
Stanley said he likes pulling the classic superstock for many reasons, but the major reason is “the smoke.”
“I like to watch them go down the track as much as I like to be going down the track myself,” Stanley said.
“Tighten down the chain, bring the throttle up, watch the RPMs go up and slam down the track.”