Bill Newlon | 1986
Bill Newlon | 1986
This year's Hall of Fame inductees both hail from Illinois, and both have made their biggest impact on the sport while pulling in the modified division.
"Wild" Bill Newlon, Prophetstown, Ill., and Lloyd McVey, Oakwood, Ill., both have enjoyed long and successful pulling careers. In marked contrast to past inductees, Newlon is an active competitor and McVey may be getting back on the pulling track, soon.
Newlon, 80, still pulls with the Allison-powered Minneapolis Moline he built in 1967. He began pulling in 1952 and continues as a familiar face on the Illinois State circuit. "I'm real fortunate," Newlon said. "The Old Boy upstairs has everyone on a schedule, and mine's been a long one."
Both expressed surprise at joining their sport's most prestigious circle.
"I know some of the other guys who have made it, and I didn't think I would," Newlon said.
"I haven't pulled the nationals that much, I couldn't afford to leave the farm and go run like a lot of the guys have. When the national first began I pulled a lot more, but recently I've pretty much stuck here in Illinois.
"It's truly an honor. Years ago I used to say that I'd rather just have the money, I didn't think that much about trophies and awards. But you always go out and spend the money, well I've still got my trophies.
"You remember the standing ovations, the crowds really turn you on."
Newlon never won an NTPA championship, but he's claimed his share of big ones, as well.
His first memorable pull came in 1952, at the M&W Gear Company World Championships, in a soybean field outside Colfax, Ill.
Newlon won that day, driving a gas-powered Minneapolis Moline model U that he farmed with every day.
For winning the biggest pull of all, he cashed a grand prize check for $100. Second place won a set of M&W pistons and sleeves, which Newlon said may have been worth more than the winner's purse.
He went on to win the M&W pull five times in the 1950s, always at the wheel of a Minneapolis Moline tractor.
"There were just too many red and green ones out there," Newlon said, explaining his choice of tractor. "It was pride, I just had to show them who ate the cabbage."
As the records attest, Newlon ate a lot of "cabbage" over the next 30 years, keeping his big sun-yellow ride in the winners circle more often then not.
As competition improved, Newlon kept pace. He moved up to a 600 cubic inch industrial motor around 1960, then put an 800 cubic inch turbocharged diesel in a MM G1000 around 1964.
"That's when they wouldn't let me pull in the stock classes anymore," he recalled. "They'd started turbocharging the International Harvesters and I just couldn't keep up without the big motor."
Working with the originators, Newlon put a 1,710 cubic inch Allison aircraft motor in the tractor for the 1967 season. He ordered that first Allison from California. It arrived completely overhauled and with freight charges the bill was about $350.
"I knew all the guys with the old 'Allison Team.' We're still good friends. We'd travel around together some, they were tough competition."
In 1976, Newlon hooked 49 times in the Unlimited class, winning 40 events.
He'd travel all over the Midwest to pull, to find competition that could push him to improve.
"I could win too easy, sometimes. Pulling at brush pulls you can't learn anything," he explained.
Newlon remembered winning the first big tractor pull ever held in the Houston Astrodome.
"Some of the boys down in Texas got the thing organized, and they asked us to come down and make sure it was a big show.
"The people who ran the Astrodome were really worried when they saw what we were going to pull with. They had electrical wiring under the turf and thought we'd dig right down through the dirt.
"We hooked out in left field somewhere, went right over the pitcher's mound and wound up at home plate. The people stood and cheered, because we'd shown them what could be done."
Newlon's wife of 54 years, Helen, and his daughter, Neva Jean Emery, always helped and supported the family pulling team. Though Neva Jean married and has raised her own family, Helen still goes to all of the pulls with Bill. She's the unofficial road manager and crew chief, keeping records and making sure Bill had someone to help load and unload the tractor.
"Well, to tell you the truth, when he goes pulling there just isn't much to do around here without him.
"We have a lot of fun together," she explained. "We've been married 55 years this coming March. You don't make it together that long without a little give and take.
"We've made so many friends, so many memories together. Pulling is so consuming, it's not all pleasure. But we've both enjoyed it.
"The people love Bill because he's such an honest man. People love him and cheer for him, and I cheer, too."
Newlon doesn't just sit around the farm reminiscing with Helen about the "good old days." He's kept his tractors competitive by making improvements, and this summer was no different.
He mounted two turbochargers on the motor last winter. They feed directly into a supercharger to make 30 lb. manifold boost pressure. At an easy 3,000 horsepower, the current Newlon ride is the strongest ever.
"The first time I pulled with it," he said, "I couldn't even feel the sled behind me, it just hooked up and went."
If Newlon had known what he knows today, he'd have built a new tractor 10 years ago.
"If I'd had any idea I'd still be pulling today, I'd have built a new tractor when the multiple-engine tractors started passing me. But at my age, you have to think about it, first."