With Homemade Designs, Penn State Pullers Succeed In International Tractor Competitions

The Penn State students know and love today has roots extending deep into the history of agriculture in Pennsylvania. Originally founded as the Farmers’ High School in 1855, Penn State has always prided itself on its agricultural sciences. With 17 undergraduate majors currently in the College of Agricultural Sciences, high school students interested in the study of this science still flock to Penn State to pursue a degree.

On top of the interesting majors of the college, students can also find intriguing clubs to get involved with. At a crossroads between the College of Agricultural Sciences and the College of Engineering, the Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering sponsors a club called the Penn State Pullers. The Pullers consist of a group of students made up of various majors who compete in the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers (ASABE) Quarter Scale Tractor Student Design Competition.

The ASABE Quarter Scale Tractor Student Design Competition attracts college students on a global scale looking to find out who can design and build the best pulling tractor. Lizz Wagner, the secretary of the Pullers, talked about how big of a scope the competition has and how large of an event it is. “Out of 38 registries, 34 actually took place in the competition,” Wagner said. “That included three countries: the United States, Canada, and Israel. It was Israel’s first year.”

“[The ASABE] gives us a 31 horsepower Briggs and Stratton engine,” said Jake Colega, captain of the Pullers. “They tell us what back tires we have to use, and they provide the back tires. Everything else is us.” The team designs and machines just about everything on the tractor. The team utilizes SolidWorks, an engineering design program that also sponsors the competition. “Last year was the first year we did everything in SolidWorks, which we’re doing again this year,” Colega went on to say. “So, everything is done on the computer, tested, and planned before we make it, so we’re not wasting precious dollars and precious time.”

Colega did not exaggerate when he said everything was done on the computer. He explained that designs for everything from the dash and the wheelie bars to the transmission and battery are created in the team’s shop. The team doesn’t outsource the design or build of the tractor, only the build of the frame itself which a sponsor does for them.

Not only does Wagner act as the secretary of the Pullers, she also has some of the most experience on the team, and she knows the ins and outs of how to make a good tractor and how to place highly in the competition. “Three times total we’ve come in fifth, all since the year 2000,” Wagner said.

While placing fifth deserves respect in any international competition, the Pullers placed fourth in last year’s competition, and placed first in a few of the categories judges analyze about the tractor. “Last year, we also won maneuverability, best appearance, and most improved,” Colega said.

While Penn State has a top-tier agricultural school, it still has trouble competing with heartland colleges such as Kentucky, Nebraska, and Kansas in attracting students to its programs. The same is true for the Pullers, who usually have one of the smaller teams in the competition.

“We took six members to competition last year,” Wagner said. “We were one of the smaller teams there. The biggest team last year was Nebraska. They took 38 students and four faculty members.” Another difference between Penn State and the bread basket universities, Wagner and Colega explained, is colleges like Kentucky and Kansas have all of their parts manufactured, while the Pullers machine all of their parts in their own shop.

“We can spend four or five hours machining a pin,” Wagner said, “while Kentucky just has it sent out to be manufactured.” Even with a small team and a need to machine all of their own parts, Wagner insisted there is a drastic difference between the attitudes of the schools in the competition. “Talking to the kids from Kentucky and Kansas, they have a different mindset of what’s going on than we do,” Wagner explained. “It’s not really the size of the team, it’s how you articulate ideas.” In the case of the Pullers, designing and machining their own parts made for a more rewarding experience, especially in last year’s competition in placing fourth overall.

Building a quarter scale tractor doesn’t come without costs, and the Pullers aren’t just handed money because of what they do. Although the Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering supports the team, and considerable funding comes from the University Park Allocations Committee (UPAC), much of the finances come from sponsorships the team has gained over the years. “We get most of our funding from sponsors,” Colega said. “Logue Industries actually builds our frame for us as well.” Obviously, sponsors don’t just give money to the Pullers. The Pullers have earned their investments since the club started 20 years ago.

Along with earning funding from companies, the Pullers also make themselves known to future employers through their efforts. “It gives us a big introduction to companies and talking to producers,” said Tyrel Kling, agricultural engineer and team member. “The experiences of hands-on activities and learning, design in SolidWorks, all of that is highly valued by future employers.The fact you not only know how to design it, but you know how things go together, and you’ve seen it before, it’s a big plus when companies are looking for employees.”

Some members, like Paul Arena, who majors in agricultural systems management, simply enjoy the club because it goes hand in hand with what they will be doing in their career. “It applies a lot to my major, so a lot of the stuff I’m doing here, I get the experience for what I’m learning in class,” Arena said.

Whether an interest in agriculture or engineering drives the members to join, or wanting to build an award-winning tractor persuades them, the team members of the Penn State Pullers continue to excel in the ASABE Quarter Scale Tractor Student Design Competition despite being such a small team. As Colega put it, the biggest part about joining the team is learning.

“Anybody is welcome to join as long as they want to learn,” Colega said. “Last year, I honestly didn’t know how to put a drill bit in a drill.”

Through a positive learning environment and a desire to be the best, the Penn State Pullers have positioned themselves as one of the top student designed tractor pulling teams in the world. They will continue to carry on Penn State’s long history of agriculture and engineering in this year’s contest and in competitions to come in the future.

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About the Author

Matt Coleman

Matt Coleman is a writer for Onward State. His hometown is North Huntingdon, Pennsylvania, a little under an hour from Pittsburgh. He is a sophomore majoring in Natural Resource Engineering in Biological Engineering. Please e-mail questions and comments to [email protected] Also, follow him on Twitter @cole_man2.

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