10/04/13 — Teens show off tractor skills

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Teens show off tractor skills

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on October 4, 2013 1:46 PM

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Taylor Glover, 13, of Pikeville, backs her tractor and lime spreader into the 40-foot long alley as Kevin Johnson, Wayne County Cooperative Extension director, watches. The alley, lined with flags was only 12 inches wider than the spreader. Thirteen teens entered the Tractor Operator's Contest.

Bragging rights were on the line Thursday afternoon as 13 teenagers stepped onto a Kubota tractor to show just how skilled they are with the most common piece of farm equipment at the Wayne Regional Agricultural Fair.

And as he expected, having come in second last year, Rosewood High School senior Taylor Britt, 17, took home the trophy in the annual Tractor Operators Contest's senior division (ages 14 and up).

"I'm hoping to win," he said before taking his turn on the course. "It's all about staying focused."

To navigate the course, the operators must get on the tractor, demonstrate their knowledge and application of the proper safety procedures and then hitch an old-fashioned, two-wheeled lime spreader to the back. Their time starts when they drop the pin.

They then drive around to where they must back the spreader and tractor into a 40-foot long alley with six inches on each side of the spreader. Once in, they must then pull out and navigate through a figure eight -- also 12 inches wider than the spreader -- before bringing the spreader back to where it started -- a space only six inches wider than the spreader. Their time stops when they pull then pin. Points are deducted for hitting the flags outlining the course.

For many of the contestants it was a formal version of what they do nearly every day on the farm, but that didn't stop at least some of them from practicing.

Carter Jones, a 15-year-old sophomore at Southern Wayne High School, and Zach Pennington, a 16-year-old junior at SWHS, both had put some time in on a similar course earlier in the week and were hoping it would pay off.

For Zach, Thursday was his first time competing, though he said he's been driving tractors "all my life."

Carter had come in fifth last year and was hoping to improve.

"I messed up last year," he said.

This year, he said, his goal was not to "not over-think" it.

"Just drive," he said. "Don't try to get too technical."

Part of the challenge, though, they agreed, is the fact that the tractor they were using Thursday was a hydrostatic model -- one that shifts without a clutch and gear stick like many of the contestants are accustomed to.

But, Wayne County Cooperative Extension Director Kevin Johnson said, that's the kind of tractor that many farms are beginning to use.

"Finding a new tractor with a clutch is about like finding a new car with a clutch," he said. "It's hard to mess it up."

The challenge didn't scare off the competitions youngest contestants, though, with several entered in the junior category -- ages 9 to 13.

"I had fun last year and wanted to try to see if I could do better this year," said Daniel Dunn, 12, of Grantham.

And really, that's what the point of the whole event is, Johnson said.

"It's not only a fair competition, but it's the federation competition for the FFA, and we have some 4H participation, too," he said. "It's bragging rights, but it's also helping the kids.

"It's a fun time while still teaching skills."