By Rich Place
Amongst the busyness of a large working dairy farm and the huge collection of equipment it takes to run it, two tractors are parked inside one of the barns at the Gabel family farm on Genesee Road in Lawtons.
While some of the other vehicles at the farm are dirty from routine work they take on daily, these two tractors are kept under large white cloths to avoid the dust and dirt. And when they are uncovered, memories are immediately brought back to life.
With so much history woven into the family, these two tractors — one a 1947 Allis-Chalmers WD 45 and the other a 1967 Allis-Chalmers 180 — are almost like family members themselves.
“It’s an addiction, a serious addiction,” explained Mark Gabel, who will take the 1967 Allis-Chalmers to the East Concord Tractor Pull this weekend. “We put in a stupid amount of hours for a 15-second ride. We’ll drive anywhere from a half hour to about two hours from home for 15 seconds of glory — maybe.”
Gabel is a former club president and one of the founders of the WNY Pro Pulling Series, which has 20 events scattered throughout Western New York, Southern Ontario and Pennsylvania on its 2018 schedule. Among them are the East Concord Tractor Pull, scheduled for this weekend, two events at the Cattaraugus County Fair next week and the Langford Tractor Pull on Aug. 5.
Tractor pulling appears to be ingrained in the Gabel family as much as farming. Mark’s father, Bill, is now retired from the sport but is well known in the tractor pulling circles for his success.
“I was intrigued at a very young age,” said Bill. “My dad didn’t believe in tractor pulling so we spent about two months convincing him to let me take the tractor to Langford. And I was fortunate enough to win my first time out.”
He quickly added, “well, depends on how you look at ‘fortunate enough’ because then I had the bug and I’ve had it ever since.”
Bill began pulling with the 1947 Allis-Chalmers that’s sometimes used for antique pulling today. The tractor Mark pulls with now, the 1967 model named “Father’s Pride,” was one Bill began pulling in the early 1970s after it was originally purchased for use on the farm.
“At one point or another, they were all involved,” Mark said about his siblings participating in the sport. “Matter of fact, the antique tractor we have, everyone in my entire family — my two brothers, my sister and my dad — have all pulled and won with that tractor.”
The 1967 tractor expected to go to East Concord this weekend is part of the Light Limited Super Stock, which Mark said is one of the fastest growing classes in the United States today. He explained it’s kind of a “middle of the road” class that has good horsepower yet isn’t as expensive as some of the other classes.
“But there’s nothing cheap about it,” he quickly added.
Mark spent the winter waiting for parts, which didn’t arrive in time to catch the first few tractor pulls when the season started in mid-June.
“I got my parts last minute and, last week, I basically worked 40 hours in four days to get it ready to go Monday night (July 16) to (the Allegany County Fair) in Angelica,” he said.
Typically, he said, it’s a couple hours of week of routine maintenance — oil needs to be changed about every three passes, plus get changed slightly less often. And then it’s a busy schedule of pulling that dominates many summer weekends.
The WNY Pro Pulling Series is about 22 years old, Mark noted, and he was president for about 17 of those years. They work with local organizations — like the East Concord Volunteer Fire Department, for example — to bring a show that will entertain a crowd, be competitive for participants and also make money for the host group.
Taking a drive down Genesee Road in Lawtons to the Gabel family farm, Rolling Meadows Farm, where the tractors are stored, it should come as no surprise this is a hub of tractor pulling. Many farms dot the landscape, all with their own farmers looking for some competitive fun with their neighbors.
“There is a huge amount of pullers within 20 miles right here,” Mark said. “If you drew a 20-mile circle around Springville, you’d be shocked at how many pullers there are. It all started right here.”
Although they are all competitors during events, Mark said the comradery amongst participants is “really good.” It’s not uncommon for tractor pullers to stop over and help each other when they need it or offer friendly words of advice.
“There isn’t anyone who won’t help someone else,” he said. “If somebody breaks or somebody is working on the tractor all night, somebody will be there to help. I have five competitors who live within five miles of here in my class.”
And while it’s usually in good fun, when the competition arrives it’s time to focus on the task at hand. Mark said it’s not uncommon for a tractor puller to be nervous beforehand — he still is occasionally, he admitted — but when it’s go-time, those nerves are gone.
“Once you are focused and concentrating on what you are doing, you shut it all out,” Mark said about the fans and everything else going on at the pull. “You don’t know anybody is out there cheering, you are just concentrating on going from ‘A’ to ‘B’ as fast and as straight as you can.
“The calm is there, focusing on the task at hand. You kind of have to, because in 15 seconds there is no room for error.”
This is a wonderful time of year for tractor pullers, with plenty of events scattered throughout the region. The East Concord Tractor Pull is scheduled for 4 p.m. on Saturday; pulls at the Cattaraugus County Fair in Little Valley take place at 7 p.m. Aug. 2 and 6 p.m. Aug. 4; and the Langford Tractor Pull begins at 12:30 p.m. Aug. 5.
For additional information on these events, including which classes are participating at each venue, visit wnypropullingseries.com. The website also features updated points standings for all classes and profiles on many other competitors.