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Profits from tractor competition help woman fighting cancer

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Fans were pulling for someone other than the drivers at this year’s antique tractor pull at the Bartholomew County 4-H Fairgrounds.

About $3,500 in profits from the Sunday afternoon event will be donated to the family of Kristie Wessel, a Columbus woman who is undergoing treatment in a Texas hospital that specializes in Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

Some additional funds are coming Wessel’s way after several tractor-pull winners signed over their prize money to the former 10-year 4-H member.

When they were younger, Jeanne Lienhoop said she and her sister Kristie both used to compete in the antique tractor pull with their father, Don Schroer — a regular at the antique pull for decades.

Once Wessel started having children, she no longer had time to participate. But Lienhoop and her father have continued to compete together for the past 10 years.

Friends demonstrated their loyalty to the Schroer family with their generosity over the weekend.

“We are just very blessed that they have shown us this support,” Lienhoop said.

Tractors had to be made in 1959 or earlier to be eligible, divided into seven weight classes including two exclusively for Bartholomew County residents.

Today at the fair

10 a.m.: The 4-H Barrow Show and showmanship competition open at the Pavilion.

2 to 4 p.m.: Community Day at the midway, with the midway closing to the public to allow disabled fair visitors to enjoy the rides for free.

5 p.m.: The midway reopens at 5 p.m. with Canned Goods Night, earning one free ticket for each donated can of food.

6 p.m.: Let’s Bake a Pie Contest in the Family Arts Building. Registration gets underway at 5 p.m.

6 p.m.: The Chordlighters barbershop quartet will be featured at the David Boll Theatre.

Schroer won the 6,000-pound class for local pullers, and Don Murphy won the 5,500-pound event for county residents.

Competition this year drew about 40 antique pullers, with a total of 164 entries because of multiple-class participation.

Antique tractors are judged on the distance they are able to pull a weighted sled, split into two speed groups — 3 mph and 5 mph — based on their size and weight, event coordinator Mark Mesendiek said.

Mesendiek and some friends brought the antique tractor pull back to the Bartholomew County 4-H Fair 22 years ago after it had been absent for a few summers.

Mesendiek said his father had competed in earlier years, and he had always enjoyed watching the competition, so he worked to bring the tradition back.

Tony Harden pulled in the event for 40 years — most recently using a 1952 model A John Deere — and said it has long been a favorite for the family and friends of those participating.

Five years ago, Harden sold his antique competition tractor to his son Zane for $20, in order for him to take over as the family’s main entrant.

Harden said his cousin, Mike Yeley, is one of the main reasons why he started pulling and also one of his toughest competitors over the years.

Yeley, who has participated in all but two county antique pulls and primarily uses a 1948 Farmall model M, said the event has always had the feel of a family reunion.

At one point, the antique pull had been one of the biggest events at the fair — big enough to need two nights to complete it, he said.

“The farmers always got together on those two nights and the grandstand was packed,” Yeley said. “It’s kind of how the demo derby is now.”

Reduced to one night during the fair in recent times, Yeley said that antique tractor pull schedule still keeps the tradition alive.

“Now it’s just time to keep the heritage going,” Yeley said. “It gives them (younger participants) a chance to do what their dads and grandpas had done.”

At recent fairs, the Farm Stock Tractor Pull joined the lineup to allow pullers to compete using newer and larger models of tractors.

Though the new models generally pull more weight and garner more attention, Yeley has a clear-cut opinion on which models perform the best.

“Old fiddles play better and old tractors pull better,” he said.

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