Jaiden Dawes, 9, pursed her lips, hunched over the steering wheel of her tractor and began to pedal with all her might.
The crowd cheered, the weight on the back of her sled slowly shifted forward and, in a few seconds, she was at the end of the track.
“Full pull,” Bill Van De Creek shouted.
Dawes of Canton was one of many children who participated at the annual pedal pull competition at the Galva Old Empire Days Thursday during the Fourth of July holiday. Old Empire Days is a Fourth tradition at Galva that includes games, music and, of course, fireworks.
Dawes is no stranger to the pedal pull. She has been competing in the pulls since she was in preschool and has earned her way to the national competition twice.
Dawes won her age class Thursday, which means she will have another shot at qualifying for nationals during the Kansas State Fair this fall. The pedal pulls are a family affair. Jaiden’s mother, Joey, watched as her younger daughter, Kinsey, 7, also won her class.
The pulls are fun, Jaiden said, and she gets to meet other children.
However, leave no doubt in your mind, Jaiden is competitive.
Jaiden said she forms the thought in her mind she is going to get to end. The pull starts out easy, but as the children move down the course, a weight transfer mechanism in the back of the sled makes the pull more difficult.
Van De Creek of Abilene has been staging youth pedal pulls for more than 30 years. He’s been coming to Galva for about 25 of those years and also facilitates the pedal pull in McPherson during All Schools Day.
He was once a tractor pull enthusiast, but the sport was expensive with relatively little prize money. He wanted to offer an event for fairs and festivals that was relatively inexpensive to stage and fun for families.
He and his wife starting doing pedal pulls when gas was $1 a gallon, and the couple could travel to a pull and back for $10.
They attended as many as 72 pulls a year all over the state. But after his wife recently developed health problems, Van De Creek has tried to scale back, handing off his legacy to other pull organizers. He will probably officiate about 46 pulls this year.
Van De Creek, who is vice president of the National Pedal Pull Association, explained the principals of the pedal pull. The competition is divided into age groups, which range from 4 to 12. Girls and boys compete against each other in the local competitions.
Van De Creek builds his tractors from factory-made pedal tractors.
“You have to have the heart to take a hacksaw to them,” he said.
Page 2 of 2 - He also builds his own sleds. The sleds have a box on the rear, which can contain weights anywhere from 10 pounds to 350 pounds, depending on the age and size of the children and the surface on which the sled is being pulled.
Van De Creek started with 40 pounds of weight Thursday because of the slick cement floor on which the children were pulling.
As the child pedals, the weighted box moves forward on a chain system.
The pull starts off fairly easy. Van De Creek likes the children to be able to feel the sense of accomplishment of being able to get out to a quick start.
However, as the weight transfers up the sled, the pull becomes more difficult. The competition is judged on the distance of the weight transfer. A full pull means the child has been able to transfer the weight to the front of the sled.
All the children in the same age group ride the same tractor and pull the same weight. The track is usually about 30 feet.
The event is not timed.
Those children placing first, second or third in a sanctioned competition, qualify for the state fair. Those children placing first, second and third at state fair will qualify for nationals at the Corn Palace in Mitchell, S.D.
“The kids really get a lot out of it,” Van De Creek said. “Their grandmas and grandpas get to whopping and hollering. It can be pretty competitive. The girls and boys know that on the right day at the right time, anyone can win.”