Weight no problem for Illini Pullers

When Drew Schilling entered the University of Illinois four years ago, he knew little about tractors. However, through his time at Illinois he was able to develop tractors that would win an international competition two years in a row, most recently on June 6.

“You learn a lot throughout your time and pick up a ton of new information,” the recent graduate in biological engineering said. “Year after year you are just able to build off of the previous ideas and make things better than before.”

Schilling was the president of Illini Pullers, the tractor design team which took first place overall at the 13th Annual American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers International Quarter-Scale Tractor Student Design Competition. The event was held June 3-6 in Peoria, Ill.

“This competition was very important to us, because it was something different than just sitting in the classroom all day,” Schilling said. “We were able to apply the skills we learned but do something hands-on.”

Around 30 people worked on the tractor, including a regular group of around 15 members.

“It was good experience that you don’t get in the classroom and it seemed like a lot of fun, and you were able to make a lot of good friends,” said Stephen Corban, recent graduate in agricultural engineering.

After finding the rules for the competition in September, the students averaged 15 hours per week working on the tractor but worked nearly 90 hours per week as the competition drew nearer.

“All of that time, it’s intense, but it’s really worth it,” Schilling said. “You make a lot of friends when you are pulling those all-nighters and working so late.”

In the competition, students are given only an engine and a set of tires. They then must design and build a one-fourth-scale tractor.

The teams are judged in four categories: tractor design, including maneuverability, safety and sound level; a written report with the team’s budget and development of the design; an oral presentation to a mock corporate management team; and a performance competition where the team completes four tractor pulls, two each in a 1,050-pound and 1,550-pound weight class.

Illini Pullers adviser Alan Hansen said this year’s team dominated the tractor pull.

“We won all four pulls easily,” Hansen said. “The one I like most is the ‘guts pull,’ where you add as much weight as you want. The students added no more than 2,000 pounds, but they still won. So we even did pretty well in the fun class.”

Corban and Schillings’ favorite part of the experience was actually going to the competition, where they met all the other teams and saw their tractors.

There were 20 other teams in the competition. Rounding out the top five were Kentucky, Nicholls State, Saskatchewan and Purdue.

The teams work on their tractors until the very end, trying to fix anything that may go wrong, Hansen said.

“What is wonderful is the teams aid each other,” Hansen said. “They are competing against each other, but if one team is having a big problem other teams will rally and help them with parts, which is really great, having the underlying values of helping each other.”

Not only did the Illini’s first-place A-team perform well, but the Illini Pullers second team, the X-team, competed in a separate class and placed second. Instead of constructing a brand new tractor, they modified a tractor used in a previous competition.

One of the Puller’s reasons for success was the ability to build off the year before, Corban said. Next year, they may not be as lucky, as the committee is hinting at a major rule change.

“They may not be able to use as many of our parts if the rules are drastically different,” Corban said. “However, we have worked on instilling as much knowledge as we could into the underclassmen so they will be ready.”