Editor's note: The Platte County Fair is scheduled to run through Sunday.
The Nebraska Bush Pullers will be returning to the Platte County Fair on Friday for another year of excitement and shiny chrome.
Competitors in seven different weight classes will try to propel their tractors or trucks across a long strip at the Ag Park as far as they possibly can. The noise will be palpable, as is the thrilling action taking place in the infield of the stadium.
“They should expect a little bit of action, speed and lots of horsepower,” said Joel Soulliere, president of the Nebraska Bush Pullers. “(We want to give them) an experience that they don’t see every day. A lot of people refer (to) a demolition derby or a drag race. (This) is something different than that.”
Although the format of bush pulling is similar to a drag race in terms of the style of track used, it’s an entirely different motorsport. This kind of tractor pulling is designed to measure distance traveled, not necessarily how fast someone goes. Speed is indeed important, but going as far as possible is the name of the game here.
“It’s not how fast you get down the track, it’s the measurable distance,” Soulliere said. “In racing, it’s all-time. Our deal’s not time, it’s distance. If you would take any one of our (seven) classes, the class may consist of anywhere from five to 10 vehicles. Everyone can pick their favorite position on the track (and) they see how far they can pull the sled.”
The Bush Pullers are incredibly popular in Columbus, and the events at the Platte County Fair have been well-received in years past. Soulliere noted that Platte County has been a good place to hold the events, with large crowds and a solid following.
“I think we have a large following (here),” Soulliere said. “I would say about 80 percent of our events usually happen during a fair. It’s just a popular fair activity.”
Despite being in his third year as president, Soulliere has never done tractor or truck pulling. However, there are plenty of people in Columbus who have found great success as members of the Nebraska Bush Pullers. Among them are Ervin Hake and Mike Langan Jr., both from Columbus. Hake’s tractor, Wild Fire, was champion in 2018 in the light super stock division (weighing 6,100-6,400 pounds). Finishing second was Langan Jr. with his tractor, Thundeere.
Hake has been doing this for more than 50 years, and even though he’s seen just about everything in his time pulling tractors, it never loses its appeal.
“When you sit in that thing, you put it in gear and the chain is tight, you get the bugs in your tummy like the first time you ever pulled,” Hake said.
“Everything else in the world goes away,” Langan Jr. said. “You hear that motor revving up, you let the clutch out and you sit back in the seat and the front end of the tractor goes up, it’s the best 12 seconds of the week.”
Both can speak to the popularity of the event locally. They note that it is one of the most popular events at the fair and that anticipation is high once again for this year’s edition.
“We get good attendance from the crowd,” Langan Jr. said. “A lot of vehicles show up in Columbus. People like our facility, they like our grandstands (and) our pullers like the atmosphere. It’s a good event.”
For those who have never experienced it, Langan Jr. encourages them to come out and watch a tractor pull for themselves.
“You really have to come out and experience it in person,” Langan Jr. said.
Zach Roth is a reporter for The Columbus Telegram. Reach him via email at email@example.com.