Fred Mende | 1985
Fred Mende | 1985
The 1985 Hall of Fame inductees hail from the early days of NTPA pulling. The Allison Team's Fred Mende and Bob Bend built the first Allison powered tractor. Ralph Chamberlin and "The Honker" modified helped take pulling from its agricultural roots to the point it's reached today, with sell-out crowds in metropolitan areas.
Ed Hart, the NTPA's first executive director, acknowledged the pulling pioneers importance to the early growth of the sport in America.
"In the early years, when these guys rolled in the pull could begin. They were the show and they would go anywhere they were needed to help promote tractor pulling," Hart said.
The idea to build an Allison-powered tractor came from an idle moment of wishful thinking. As Mende and Bend recalled it, they we sitting around with friends, discussing the problems of pulling with farm tractors.
"Someone said, 'it would be nice to have a tractor with unlimited power,"' Mende said.
"You could just never get enough power from a farm tractor. Everyone thought it would be great to be able to just open the throttle a little more and go," Bend said.
"We had heard of the Allison motors being used in the early drag racing days," Bend said. "One of the neighbor kids was interested in airplanes and he brought a magazine over with an ad in it where you could order an Allison motor from California.
"It cost $382. I said 'go ahead and order it, I'll pay for half."' Larry Buland, the neighbor who brought the ad over; Bob's brothers Dave and Steve Bend; neighbors Richard and Dave Larson, two brothers with a local farming operation; and Harold Boston formed the original team.
When the crated engine arrived two months later, the men weren't quite sure what to do with it.
"The first couple of weeks we just walked around it and looked at it," Bend said. "It's kind of comical, looking back on it, now."
The original plan was to put it in a Massey Ferguson 55, but they discovered that the motor ran backwards from the way most do. They hadn't considered that another set of gears sat between the motor's out-put shaft and the airplane propeller.
They decided to use a Minneapolis Moline instead because they could turn the ring andpinion around to match the motors rotation. They had to run the transmission backwards.
Machinist Bill Wade joined the effort, and they tore into a "UB" Minneapolis Moline, stretching it out to accommodate the 1710 cubic inch powerplant.
"The first time we started the motor we caught an oat field on fire," Bend said. "We hooked it to another tractor with a couple of log chains and pulled it in a big circle to start it. All the gaskets in the carburetion were shot and raw gasoline came pouring out. When the motor finally started gasoline was all over the ground and soon ignited. "I'll never forget it. · We had the whole oat field on fire and we couldn't get it to shut down."
They had to smother the fire with a rug before it melted the whole tractor.
Though the engine made a "guesstimated" 500 horsepower, it kept breaking the stock tractor drivetrain. The first season was mostly spent fixing it when it broke.
But the next year, they took the tractor and won a class with it at Bowling Green.
Soon, word began to spread throughout the Midwest. And local pulling groups started writing rules aimed at keeping the airplane motors out of their pulls.
"It took a year or two," Mende said. "But Ohio wrote a rule limiting motors to nine cylinders.
"Illinois adopted a 14-foot length limitation that was meant to keep the tractor out, but the team adjusted to meet the rule.
"The feeling that we were unbeatable locally helped us to go national with it," Mende said. "Every year we went further and further. We were always being disqualified for passing the pace tractor or for some other reason."
By the end of the 1960s the Allison Team were considered the top modified pullers in the country.
Then along came another puller with a new Allison, and the originators found themselves trying to catch back up to Ralph Chamberlin and his "Honker" tractor.
Chamberlin won the 12,200 lb. Unlimited class two of the first three years for NTPA competition. He won the prestigious M&W World Championship three times in the same area.
"We had a real friendly rivalry going," Chamberlin recalled. "We traveled to a lot of the same pulls, sometimes we would travel together, going wherever there was a pull.
"We'd make it a point to go to the newer pulls to help get them established. The tractors were huge compared to what the people were used to seeing."
The Honker was the first sponsored tractor. Year-A-Round cabs helped Chamberlin meet expenses, in addition to awarding one of their enclosed tractor cabs to the NTPA point champions each year.
With long white exhaust pipes swept up high, Chamberlin's Oliver 1850 was an impressive and distinctive appearing tractor.
"We had a lot of fun pulling," Chamberlin said. "We got a reputation for working hard, and playing hard when the work was done.
"I can still remember Marshall Myre's wife saying that it was a shame Harry Boston hung around with us because he seemed like such a nice young man."
"It's changed a lot since those days," Chamberlin said. "I can remember the first pull John Shaul and his crew showed up at. John had a pony tail and they all looked so scruffy we decided that we had better chain everything down before going to bed.
"I guess it just shows how wrong you can be, judging someone before you really know them."
The Allison Team stopped .competing in 1974. Chamberlin quit the next year.
"In my opinion," Bend said, "those were the fun days. We could do our own work and run with anywhere in the country. We never really thought much about being successful, we were just having fun."
Mende said he and Bend might have kept going, but the rest of the team didn't want to spend the kind of money it would take to stay competitive. "It reached the point where we were going to have to go with a planetary rear end and the guys decided to just keep the tractors and stop pulling," Mende said.
"I've still got the one I use to drive," Bend said. "The other one's over at Harry's place. That's the one we take to the Bowling Green museum every year."
Chamberlin sold the motor out of his tractor to Ron Barga. He said he had no regrets about quitting competition, because he'd enjoyed it and when the game changed he didn't want to get caught spending money he didn't have to keep on winning.
"It's just an honor to have you people think enough of us to put us in the Pulling Hall of Fame," Bend said.