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History of Tractor Pulling in the UK

Tractor pulling history in the UK

Sorry, this page is still under construction... Richard ('Turbo') Vincent has agreed to give me the story of Independent Tractor Pulling in Southern England but due to pressure of work we still haven't managed to meet.

My thanks to Andy Udell from Cambridgeshire (they're a great bunch of Pullers and Fans in East Anglia) who very kindly scanned three pages from 'A Full Pull: History of British Tractor Pulling' by Geoff Ashcroft (Farming Press Books and Videos). Geoff has very kindly given his permission for this extract to be included on the site. If you want to know a little more about Geoff and his active involvement with Tractor Pulling at the very highest level, please visit the Clarke Pulling Team web site. It's a shame the excerpt finishes just when things start to get interesting...

Tractor pulling made its first public appearance in the United Kingdom in 1978, with a demonstration pull at the Royal Show at Stoneleigh, Warwickshire, although its real introduction occurred over 12 months earlier.

During 1977 Mark Osborne, son of Hampshire agricultural machinery dealer Tom Osborne of A.T Osborne, stumbled across an article on American tractor pulling in a car magazine. His enthusiasm and curiosity about this new and fascinating motor sport with farm tractors led him to convince his father that tractor pulling could be started in the UK.

Having sold his father some ideas, Mark, together with Steve Kelly an apprentice with A.T Osborne, set about building a pulling tractor from various parts of machinery in their yard. Shire Lady as the tractor was eventually named, was quite literally cobbled together using a Muir Hill rear axle and torque converter transmission, a Ford 360 cubic inch (5.8 litre) six-cylinder diesel engine, which was fully rebuilt for its new purpose and a Ransomes combine harvester which kindly donated one of its axles to give the tractor a pair of front wheels.

With his tractor in 'running order' Mark took to the fields to experiment, thinking about what he could pull to really test its ability. A sledge was needed, but with only a few photocopied pictures from a car magazine for reference, it looked as though this could be a long, uphill struggle.

The Osborne's business activities in-the agricultural industry meant that a forthcoming event such as the World Ploughing Championship at Flevohof, Holland, would not pass unnoticed. An advertisement for the event carried information on a tractor pulling demonstration which was to be held alongside the ploughing match and was to feature tractors and a sledge from the American tractor pulling circuit. So it was decided that Tom, Mark and Steve Kelly armed with sketch pads and cameras, would go to Holland.

At the World Ploughing Championship, the tractor pulling demonstration proved, at best, disappointing, as it was held on concrete which is the most unsuitable surface for tractors trying to get grip. However this gave Tom the opportunity to talk to the people involved—there was already a growing interest in the sport in Holland—and to take many close-up photographs of how the sledge was built. More importantly the group learnt how the weight transfer sledge worked and came away feeling more than confident that tractor pulling would soon be a recognised motor sport in Britain.

Back at their workshop, Tom and the lads set about building a sledge for use with the tractor After many hours spent burning the midnight oil, the first British-built sledge appeared. Like the sledge seen in Holland, this was based on an HGV trailer and comprised a skid pan at the front, a ballast box which could move, on rails, up and down the length of the trailer and a small auxiliary engine which could be used to reset the ballast box at the rear of the sledge (over the trailer's wheels) after a pull had been made.

Out in the field, Mark hitched his tractor to the sledge and then pulled. Fortunately, everything on the sledge worked exactly as it had been designed to do. So Mark pulled again, then again and again. The result was a positive breakthrough in the development of British tractor pulling.

The next step forward was to establish some basic rules on what could and could not be done while taking part in the sport. Tom got hold of a copy of the 1977 NTPA rule book and several issues of The Puller from the United States, which further helped an understanding of how tractor pulling should take place.

Not long after this, the BBC television programme Tomorrow's World' found out about the Osbornes' involvement in tractor pulling and went to Hampshire to investigate. With BBC personnel as the audience, the Osbornes put on a demonstration using their newly built tractor and sledge combination. As a result, they were invited to London—with tractor and sledge — to perform a live demonstration for broadcast by Tomorrow's World' on this new motor sport called tractor pulling.

In the weeks following the programme, Tom Osborne received countless telephone calls from people who had seen the programme and were interested to find out more about this new pastime. One call was from the Royal Agricultural Society of England (RASE) expressing an interest in demonstrating the sport at the forthcoming Royal Show As a result of that telephone call, Tom Osborne arranged to meet representatives of the RASE and Jimmy Harrison from Goodyear Great Britain at the 1977 Smithfield Show in London and, following this meeting, it was agreed that the Royal Show held at Stoneleigh, Warwickshire, would play host to a demonstration tractor pull in July 1978. It was now up to Tom Osborne: this was his big break, a shop window for the sport, but he had less than seven months to work on his sledge and to find the number of tractors which would make the demonstration work over the Royal Show's four-day duration.

Meanwhile, Lincolnshire tractor dealer Mike Hansard of the Holton Tractor Co Ltd exported tractors to the United States. His American business contact, Jay Forrester of Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, was already tractor pulling and introduced Mike to the sport while on one of his many business trips to the US in 1975. Mike frequently joined Jay at tractor pulls, but his personal involvement with the sport did not go any further until after the World Ploughing Championship at Flevohof, Holland in 1977

After Mike saw tractor pulling in Holland, he knew it was destined for the UK. And on more than one occasion, Jay tried to persuade Mike that he was the man to launch tractor pulling before a British audience, but Mike, because of work commitments, felt he was too busy to put in sufficient time to promote such a new and unknown sport to a traditionally reserved British public. Mike had enjoyed the tractor pulling he had seen with Jay in the US having driven Jay's tractor on more than one occasion—and was happy to dwell on his overseas experiences.

However not long after the World Ploughing event, Mike heard about Tom Osborne's planned demonstration of tractor pulling at the 1978 Royal Show Thinking back to his business trips to the US and the tractor pulling with Jay he knew what was about to unfold, so he decided to support Tom, and so set about preparing his own tractor for the event. Mike's first pulling tractor was a Ford 7000 — a four-cylinder turbocharged, factory-produced tractor complete with cab. With the help of Jay, Mike was able to apply some American tractor pulling technology to his tractor' a bigger turbocharger wider tyres and an uprated diesel injector pump. This would make the tractor rev to over twice its factory-set 2500 rpm limit and with an uprated fuel system would give Mike some real horsepower

Mike's tractor known as Lincoln Way named as a gesture to Jay Forrester whose business traded from Lincoln Way—was prepared for the big demonstration.
At the 1978 Royal Show Jimmy Harrison and Gordon Davies, supported 100 per cent by their employer Goodyear Great Britain, and helped by Arthur Phelps, a good friend of Tom Osborne, who later was to be known as Mr Rule Book, supplied flags and marked out a track on a piece of ground allocated by the show organisers. Goodyear also fitted new tyres to those tractors taking part in the event. This was the very first British tractor pull and comprised five tractors on the first day of the show Shire Lady driven by Mark Osborne, Lincoln Way driven by Mike Hansard, The Funky Gibbon driven by Tony Bourne, Eltrac Deutz owned by George Lyons and Foxy Lady owned by Dutchman Maurits Immink. Foxy Lady was an American tractor purchased by Maurits after its appearance at the World Ploughing Championship at Flevohof in the previous autumn.

People came from all over the show ground to investigate the noise and smoke being created and the event proved to be a... (damn, just when it was getting interesting).

If you would like to get hold of a copy of Geoff's book A Full Pull: History of British Tractor Pulling you can always have a look on Amazon. The ISBN numbers are: -