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Illini team battles it out in international tractor competition     Send a link to a friend

[JULY 10, 2004]  URBANA -- The Illini Pullers may not draw the kind of attention given to Fighting Illini football, but this team of University of Illinois students still competes in contests that call for similar displays of pure power.

However, this is tractor power -- quarter-scale tractor power, to be exact.

The Illini Pullers are fresh from an international quarter-scale tractor competition in June in East Moline, where they placed eighth in pulling and 12th overall. Entries were judged in a variety of categories, including tractor safety, appearance, maneuverability and pulling ability. Written reports, which detail the design and manufacturing process, and an oral presentation, which highlights the tractor design, are also major components of the competition.

The tractor competition was organized by the American Society of Agricultural Engineers and sponsored by companies such as John Deere, AGCO, Caterpillar, Case and Kubota. The event capped off an entire year of hard work.

At the beginning of the school year, each team in the competition is given a Briggs and Stratton engine and four Firestone drive tires. Teams cannot alter their engine in any way, and the remainder of the tractor has to be designed and manufactured by the students.

Requirements for the tractor change from year to year, said Scott Dixon, the electrical team leader for the Illini Pullers. This year's teams were forced to choose between low technology (manual power train, standard clutch) and high technology, which was the Illini team's choice.

Their tractor, named The Undisputed Chief, used electronically actuated hydraulics. It was also designed to use a computer, but that had to be scrapped due to weight limitations. 

Jay Peterson, president of the Illini Pullers, said the yearlong project is a major time commitment for the most active members of the team.

"The first semester is devoted to research and design, and the second semester is manufacturing and testing," said Peterson. "During the manufacturing phase, many of us would work from 5 or 6 p.m. until after midnight during the week, and 18-hour days on Saturdays weren't uncommon."


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If that seems a bit intense, another component to the competition allows new members, usually freshmen and sophomores, to get involved at a more basic level. Schools are encouraged to rebuild the tractor they entered the previous year, fixing known problem areas and taking it back to competition in a separate event called the X-team Competition.

Alan Hansen, faculty adviser for the Pullers, believes this is beneficial for everyone.

"You let the younger students, who don't have as much experience, get involved without having the responsibility of building a whole new tractor," he said. "And the more senior students can still help them a little bit with the older tractor."

Peterson sees the entire competition as a valuable way to introduce students to the new-product design process.

"Team members learn what goes into design of a product," said Peterson, "including research, manufacturing, communication, presentation, customer satisfaction and administrative skills."

Hansen believes participation in the small-scale tractor competition is excellent experience that could translate into employment opportunities down the road.

"If I were an employer like John Deere, and I saw the quarter-scale competition on an applicant's resume, that would take them up a notch in terms of their ability."

Peterson agrees. "Being a part of this team enabled me to put the skills I learned in the classroom to work in a practical, hands-on way before I enter the work force," he said.

[University of Illinois news release]

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