"I always try to live by the Golden Rule, and the good Lord has richly blessed me. This award puts the cap on a long and wonderful career. Not in my wildest dreams did I ever think I could have such success. It is not true (that) the good guy (always) finishes last." -J.L. Hileman
John and Ann Hileman poured out their heart-felt gratitude as we talked about memories, triumphs, tragedies and love experienced over the twenty-four year pulling career of the Hilemans. The following is a feeble attempt to relay some highlights and events without betraying deep and private emotions.
Perhaps the headline should read..."NTPA Makes History Again". In this new millennium, an icon is added to the NTPA Hall of Fame roster. John Lewis Hileman has been selected as a recipient of the honor, ushering in the century. His accomplishments could fill a book: Securing NTPA National Championships in three separate decades; Overcoming serious injury; Making some dumb, yet funny, unplanned mistakes; Unbelievable travel experiences; and Showing kindness to fellow competitors, family and friends.
Let's start on a light note. Ann tells, with a chuckle, about the time John was putting the semi rig with pulling cargo into the barn for the night. John must have forgotten to tie down the funny car TWD pulling vehicle, because when he got out of the semi in the barn, the car was out too. "That was in the younger days," says Ann. (The incident happening a year or two before John retired from pulling). "I knew the time was close to retire because when John was younger, that never would have happened."
On another occasion, Ann and Ralph Banter happened to be in the Laundromat at the same time. Ralph, not knowing a thing about laundry, put so much soap in the machine that soap bubbles ran out the door of the building. He also used bleach in some loads that maybe he shouldn't have.However, he wouldn't dry without the softener sheets. He may have walked around with splotches on his clothes and the soap not completely rinsed out, but the clothes were soft. The rest didn't matter as long as the clothes were soft.
The road traveled was not always easy, Ann tells about the time John was severely burned from the waist up. He was lighting the BBQ grill. It didn't want to ignite, so John got the primer bottle for the tractor to give it a boost. Well, that didn't work too well. The flame went back up into the bottle instead of the grill and blew up. "We heard the noise," says Ann, "and when we looked out, all we saw was flames! We ran outside yelling for him to roll. Well, he was already doing that because when we got to him he was almost across the yard, and we have a rather large yard. What a mess he was. He looked so awful, and smelled like a chinged chicken. When we got him to the hospital, we were met by the nun who councils with terminal patients." Not a comforting feeling exactly. There was a long recovery period for John. He was fortunate that he had not inhaled any of the fire or it would have been the end. "This is the kind of thing that makes you realize how closely knit the pulling family is. I believe it was the Banter Team that kept things rolling. They made sure that John's tractor was at the events and someone to drive it." The most endearing memory of the career came during this time. Not only did the other pullers take care of the competition, they called and visited often, which was crucial to John's healing." It was a case of he had to keep fighting to live, and all these pullers taking the time to make him want to recover are the reason he is with us today. "That is also one of the reasons leaving was so difficult," say both John and Ann. "With those deep seated relationships one thinks carefully before making the decision we reached."
We tell you these tales only to demonstrate the closeness of the pullers. "The Banter team were closer than brothers to us," says Ann remarking on the 1999 NTPA Hall of Fame inductees. "That is part of the reason it was so hard to leave. The lessons learned, the close relationships with the other pullers, the opportunity to see what was around the next curve. The family traveling
and learning together has influenced our lives greatly. I would not trade those years for anything, but now it is time to move on. Many more experiences await us. It struck me (during) our last year (of pulling) that if going up and down the track and winning a championship was our only goal in life, perhaps it was time to do something else." Wise words from an admirable individual. "We are extremely grateful for our pulling growth and this award."
John speaks fondly of his years in this sport. The good times and the bad. The first NTPA Championship came in 1978 with his famed, Modified tractor, "Old Red". "The kids named the vehicles," said John. That tractor was sold to John Payne of Kentucky. "We had one or two more NTPA Championships with the replacement. (A three engined version). When that tractor was retired, I cut it up in pieces. The frame was in pretty bad shape and I didn't want anyone getting hurt, at least that is what I tell myself. Maybe the main reason I did what I did was because I couldn't stand to watch someone else compete with that vehicle."
In 1986, the Two Wheel Drive car was added to the Hileman stable. "(Pulling) had become such a major part of our existence that I felt I needed the added income from the second vehicle. In the beginning, we had such a full schedule that the tractor was enough, but as times changed, we needed to hook all we could." From 1986 to 1995, both vehicles were on the circuit and many more awards earned. Five various championships, four with the tractor and one with the car. Add to that NTPA "Modified Puller of the Year", "Two Wheel Drive Puller of the Year", "Mechanic of the Year'" and "Hooker of the Year" four times. One wonders where he found the time to sit on the NTPA Executive Board. So dedicated to the pulling sport, the Hilemans were also selected as the "Pulling Family of the Year" in 1985. During their time in the sport, Ann also wrote a monthly column for the PULLER magazine.
Friends and relationships were made worldwide, as the Hilemans visited the Netherlands to pull at the European Indoor Championships, returning home with a deeper appreciation of our freedom.
This is a "Reader's Digest" version of the Hileman reign. Maybe some day, Ann will write a book to share a broader picture of a truly remarkable family. Rockford, Ohio can be proud of the hometown boy who first made his appearance in the world February 2,1941, and will leave and indelible mark as a gentleman and true champion. "To be a true champion is difficult," remarks John. "Not only is it hard to back it up, it is also hard to be the same person. We are humbly grateful to be recognized in this way."
While being the hardest on himself, John says his toughest critic is his wife, Ann, who has been John's soul mate for over forty years. Without Ann, surely John Hileman's greatness would never had been shown to the pulling world. John is very thankful of his wife for her support, constructive criticism, and love. "Ann has held (our family) together," says John. "She's been there always, sometimes at the expense of her own health and wishes. She made us a family."
John wishes to extend a special thank you to Ron Barga, Bruce Hutcherson, Don Harness, the Banters Bros., and all those who were there when they were so desperately needed as well as the team sponsors over the years, especially Kendall Motor Oil. "They were so good to us." The fans, of course were a large reason that kept Hileman hooking to the sled all of those wonderful years. "To all the pulling fans, who are so faithful to our sport," says John, "and show their appreciation for what we do. Without you, there is nothing. Thank you."