It is our sad duty to report the passing on Tuesday, May 29 of John Hileman, 77, of Rockford, Ohio. Mr. Hileman won five NTPA Grand National championships across the Modified and Two Wheel Drive divisions between 1978 and 1996 and was inducted into to the Pulling Hall of Fame in 2000.
Mr. Hileman's name first appeared in The Puller magazine in 1974 atop the results for the 5,000-lb. Modified class at the Indiana State Fair. His home base on the Buckeye and Hoosier state border lent itself to competing in both as well as on the Regional and Grand National circuits with his 454 Chevy/Cockshutt 40 combination, and over the course of his NTPA career he was named "Hooker of the Year" (i.e., the sport's most prolific competitor) four times.
In 1976, Mr. Hileman added a triple 427 Ford-powered Modified to the trailer to pull the heavy classes and would enter both tractors at 7,000 lbs. The next year, he and his brother Dave teamed to claim Region II titles at three weights---5, 7, and 9---with the single-engine tractor. Eventually, the brothers each competed with their own twin 454-powered Mods: Dave with "Buckeye Special" and John with "Old Red."
In 1978, John broke through for his first Grand National title, which came in the 7,200-lb. class. After taking second to good friends Dave and Ralph Banter in 1979, he reclaimed the 7 MOD in 1980. Then came a switch to triple-Rodeck power and with it back-to-back GN championships in the 7 in 1983 and 1984 and three straight in Region IV from 1983 through 1985. In all, Mr. Hileman laid claim to eight RN titles as well as three (two summer and one winter) TNT Pulling Circuit championships.
In 1988, he retired the "Old Red" name in favor of another color: "Ohio Gold." A Levi Garrett sponsorship changed the name for 1989, but it returned in 1990 and for the balance of his Modified career, which ended in 1995.
A decade earlier, Mr. Hileman had added "The Sultan," a Thunderbird-bodied Two Wheeler, to his arsenal. It, too, assumed Levi Garrett badging through 1989, when it was renamed "Golden Thunder." With it, Mr. Hileman won his fifth and final championship and Puller of the Year award in 1996.
The Hilemans' contributions to pulling extended well beyond the track. John served on the Association's Executive Board for several years, while his wife Ann wrote a monthly column for The Puller throughout the span of his pulling career. John was honored with the Mechanic of the Year Award in 1983, and the Hilemans were named the first-ever NTPA Family of the Year in 1985. Mr. Hileman's Hall-of-Fame inductee profile, which includes many personal reflections from Ann and from John on a bygone era in pulling, may be viewed here.
Son Johnny posted his thoughts on Facebook on his father's passing, which we have reprinted here. Also, amid a request for prayers after a recurrence of Mr. Hileman's brain cancer, Mr. Hileman's granddaughter Jacquee Eicher wrote to us in March. There, she explained what tractor pulling and its people meant to the man:
"I grew up attempting to count the hundreds of trophies and plaques that adorn my grandparents' home, proving that this was more than a hobby or job, this was a way of life. My grandfather still talks so fondly of the people he met throughout those years and I can tell the deep love he still has for the sport and the community."
Surviving in addition to Ann are their two daughters and three sons: Debbie (Jay) Julow, Janice (Michael) Stephenson, John II (Tammy), Rick, and Jim (Elena De La Rosa Blanco); grandchidren Scott Bowman, Jr., Steve (Maya) Bowman, Anna (Doug) Roolf, Jacquee Eicher, Ray Julow, Nathan Hileman, Nicholas Hileman, Alyssa Hileman, Santiago Hileman, and Marina Hileman; and great-grandchild, Melia Olry. Also surviving is his brother David (Barb) and a sister-in-law, Cindy Hileman Alspaugh and her husband Ed. Mr. Hileman's complete obituary may be found here.
Memorials may be directed to the Rockford United Methodist Church Kids’ Club, the Youth Group, the Henderson Project, the Memorial Fund, or the Building Project. Condolences may be expressed at ketchamripley.com.
We extend our deepest sympathies to Ann, Dave, Johnny, Jacquee, and entire Hileman family in their time of sorrow.