Students build tractors for international competition

Building a tractor from scratch is part of a typical day for members of the RSO Illini Pullers.

“Our purpose is to design, create and promote a quarter scale pulling tractor,” said Dave Murphy, senior in ACES and president of the club. “It’s a very in-depth project.”

The Illini Pullers aim to maximize horsepower and get their tractor to move the farthest distance. A sled with a weight box is hooked up to each tractor. As each tractor moves further down the track, the weight box gives more resistance, making the sled harder to pull.

A.J. Metzler, junior in Engineering and chassis chairman for the registered student organization, said he first became involved when he took a class that required him to work with a club, and he chose Illini Pullers.

“I like actually, physically designing it myself,” Metzler said. Metzler assists with designing the frame and mountings for the engine. He said this is “pretty much what keeps it together.”

“It kind of looks like a riding lawn mower, but it has multiple engines, and it’s a little bit larger,” Metzler said.

Throughout the school year, the club dedicates their time to building a one-fourth scale tractor pull and in June, 25 schools from around the U.S. and Canada compete against each other.

The competition is judged by employees of many agricultural equipment companies including John Deere and Caterpillar. The team whose one-fourth scale tractor pulls the sled the furthest claims the $1000 prize. For the past two years, the University of Illinois team has won this competition.

“It’s bragging rights mostly,” said Murphy. “You get the opportunity to do this while you’re still in college. It makes you a very marketable employee.”

Every year the tractor starts from scratch, Metzler said. Each team must abide by limitations on their design. There is a weight limit of 800 pounds, a choice between two 16-horsepower engines or one 31-horsepower engine, as well as width, length and safety restrictions. There are certain parts that are supplied for every team.

“We get an engine and tires we have to use, and we design everything else in between it — the frame, the operator station, the powertrain,” said Jordan Pitcher, senior in Engineering and last year’s powertrain chairman.

The one-fourth scale tractor pull is designed on the computer, which is used to assist members make it a reality.

“I like the experience you get — in-depth design experience and camaraderie,” said Pitcher. He added that most members of Illini Pullers have a farming background, although it is not required to be part of the club.

Metzler enjoys the club because it is a good environment for teamwork. There is always something for somebody to do. There are two parts of the club — the A team is comprised of the more experienced members who work on the new design. The X team works on the previous year’s tractor, improving it and getting experience needed, Metzler said. Old Illini Pullers tractors are used for class demonstrations.

Illini Pullers has about 30 members and meets twice a week. Sometimes practice pulls occur on the weekends. The club is open to students of any year and any major. Each member can choose how much time they want to put into the club.

Illini Pullers is sponsored by the Engineering Design Council and ACES Council, among other sponsors.

“We’re not just engineers,” Metzler said. “We’re pretty much open to anyone who wants to come and get their hands dirty. That’s basically what we do — have fun and get our hands dirty.”