The story of Don Harness, Dana, Indiana, is one of color and competitiveness in the modified ranks. He pulled for 10 years from 1972-1982. During that time, his multiple engined tractor “Loud Mouth Lime” collected some of pulling’s most coveted awards, winning four Grand National titles in the modified division, plus nabbing five wins at the Indy Super Pull. Those wins earned him the distinction as one of the winningest pullers ever to compete at Indy. Only the Banter Brothers and Danny Dean have more wins at Indy, with 12 and 7 respectively.
He was also voted “Modified Puller of the Year” in 1978. This is an especially prestigious honor because it is a vote of his peers.
Just recently, he capped off his long and illustrious career in pulling when he was inducted into the NTPA Pulling Hall of Fame at the 1992 NTPA Awards Banquet, held in December in Cincinnati.
During the evening’s induction ceremonies, we sat down for a long talk about his career.
The first question was what he missed most about pulling. Without hesitation he answered, “the people.” He said that he made so many friends while traveling the circuit, competing in the sport, friends he would not have made otherwise. “They were like a family to me,” he concluded.
Let’s back up. Let’s find out how this very competitive, very successful puller got into the sport. The stock answer most pullers give when asked is that it’s something they just wanted to do. Harness had a slightly different response.
“I got into tractor pulling to learn how to be a mechanic.” Harness explained that he got a bill from a mechanic that wasn’t’ what he thought it should be. He made a decision right then to be his own mechanic instead of paying someone else.
He got into pulling with a $600 investment, with a F-20 (Farmall) tractor, powered by a Chrysler, and built to run in a 5000lb. economy class. The year was 1972 and the Illinois Tractor Puller’s Association had just created the class.
When asked what his investment finally topped out when he left the sport 10 years later, he smiled and said, “My investment was never as steep as I was accused of. My nickname, “High Dollar Harness” never really fit. That was a special John Hileman cooked up. The most I ever had invested was about 30 Grand.”
Harness said that his theory about pulling was to use the prize money and whatever else he could get, to “build up” as people do with houses, using one house to get a better one.
As far as return on investment is concerned, Harness said his single engined Oliver 1650 and his twin engined tractor held their own, but his triple engined puller was not as successful.
In talking to Harness we could tell that his twin engined tractor was nearest his heart.
“It was fun to drive,” he said. “It was a ball, mainly because you didn’t know where it was going to go. It had a mind of its own. When you tripped the hammer, you’d better look out.” He paused a minute, then said, “I don’t mean it was unsafe; just unpredictable.”
Harness said that when he gout out of pulling, four engines was the limit. Was there ever talk of setting limitations?
“Yes there was. We came within one or two votes of instituting a plan of doing just that, but the plan was not well thought out, so it failed to catch on.” As a result, modified pullers continued to pile on engines, until 1980, when NTPA mandated limitations.
Harness has an interesting footnote to this aspect of pulling. He was using nitro when it was banned in 1975 and that irritated him. In retrospect he said he’s still convinced that “the multi-motor thing would have been avoided if nitro had not been outlawed.”
Pressed on this, Harness said that if nitro would have been permitted, “two engines would have been the limit, as to what a driveline could handle.” He made it clear that he not an engineer, and did acknowledge some safety concerns. Yet he still sticks to his original position against banning nitro.
When he used nitro, he used it at about 40%. He fed it to a “tired” Rodeck and it became “a bear instantly!” In retrospect, he said he wished he would have used it all season, but he was chasing a national championship and played it cautious. Only when he had the title sowed up, did he start to experiment with nitro methane.
We asked him if there were two or three accomplishments in his career in pulling that stand out the most.
“I won an Indy Super Pull when I shouldn’t have. I was next to last hook. It was the 12,000 open. The class was beyond winning. The track was tore up, but I was able to run it out the end and nobody else got within 50 feet. To this day I still don’t know how I pulled it off.”
Harness won his Grand National crowns in the 5 class in 1975, ’76 and ’78, plus the nine class in ’77. He won two 7 classes and two 9 classes at Indy, in addition to that mystifying win in the 12 back in 1981 with his triple 481cid Rodeck tractor.
Who proved to be the stiffest competition?
When I was running, Bruce Hutcherson, Ralph Banter, John and Dave Hileman, and Ronnie Reed, were tough to beat.
Yet in his next breath he said his theory was not about any particular competitor, but about the sled. The key to pulling back then was that “you don’t beat the competition. You beat the sled. You’ve got to make that sled do what you want it to do. That makes the sled the competition, not the other pullers.”
Behind every puller is his crew. He made special mention of Ken Hutchins, who now lives in Houston. Harness said Hutchins did not drive, nor adjust anything on the tractor, but when there was work to do, Hutchins was there to help. He was involved until the end.
Another man Harness said that he had to mention was Duck Lewis, who was the welder and fabrication man.
One final man on his list who helped is David Hintzman, who was his engineering consultant and tech expert. He helped build his last tractor, the triple engined Rodeck.
According to Harness, these men deserve to be in the NTPA Hall of Fame too. They earned the honor as well.