Perspectives Online

Pullers' Progress. Biological and Agricultural Engineering students' tractor-design team moves up in the ranks of national competition. By Suzanne Stanard

On the N.C. State campus, BAE students assembled their tractor.
Photo by Becky Kirkland

The N.C. State Pack Pullers love tractors, plain and simple. And these students in the College's Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering are serious about the business of designing and building tractors that win competitions. This year, they have reason to celebrate.

The Pullers came in 12th among 29 college teams participating in a June national quarter-scale tractor competition, climbing their way up from a 20th-place finish last year.

The N.C. State students proudly parked their quarter-scale alongside professionally built tractors at the competition site.
Photo courtesy Grant Ellington
The competition, presented by the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers, challenges engineering and technology students to design and assemble a quarter-scale tractor from scratch.

The real-world experience enables students to supplement their formal engineering course work and develop professional skills through teamwork, communication, financial planning and time management.

Each university team must use the same 16-horsepower engine and tires, but all other tractor components are determined by the students. The teams are judged on everything from the tractor's maneuverability and design to a written report and presentation. And the competition is stiff.

"Our team started with an engine and four tires, and they had to accumulate everything else," said Dr. Mari Chinn, assistant professor of biological and agricultural engineering and one of the team's faculty advisers. "By collecting sponsorships, they're better able to buy the parts they want and build a more attractive, efficient tractor."

On the N.C. State campus, BAE students assembled their tractor.
Photos Becky Kirkland
After a 16-hour drive to the competition at Expo Gardens in Peoria, Ill., the Pack-Pullers - and their tractor - endured a number of tests.

First, the weight: They cleared the scales by four pounds after finding clever ways to shave weight from their tractor. Next, they sailed through the brake inspection. After the technical competition, the tractor moved on to static design judging.

"The judges gave us great feedback on the spot, which will really come in handy for next year's project," said team member Bobby Boaz, a BAE graduate student.

The Pullers also racked up points in the marketing presentation, impressing the judges with their unique machine geared for wildlife management use - a cross between a tractor and an ATV.

The highlight of the week was the pulling competition, where the quarter-scale tractors pulled a progressive weight sled, a piece of equipment that weighs up to 5,000 pounds.

"I was sitting up on that tractor, and the stands were packed," said Joe Wright, a senior and one of the drivers in the tractor pull competition. "It's a lot of pressure, but I knew that this is what we'd worked hard for, and I just did my best."

Despite a few mechanical mishaps during practice runs, the team fine-tuned their tractor and ended up pulling their best distance ever, 184 feet, more than doubling last year's top run.
"I've waited three years to see the tractor go that distance," said Pullers adviser and Extension associate Grant Ellington. "It was worth every bit."

A few weeks later the team and the completed tractor (top photo) were in Peoria, Ill., where they competed in tests including the brake inspection (bottom photo).
Photos courtesy Grant Ellington
The Pack Pullers scored 1,701 points out of a possible 2,225 - also their best ever.

So what will happen to this year's tractor? "It's going in a glass case," Wright joked.

The team would like to use the tractor as a basis for next year's design, but that will require them to source all new parts. Finding sponsors will be key to their success.

"We know what we need to do for next year," Wright said. "We have a great foundation."

This summer's outcome and a high percentage of returning team members will start the next quarter-scale tractor off on the right track.

For more information about the Pack-Pullers and the quarter-scale tractor competition, visit