Ron Barga | 2022


Ron Barga | 2022

For our next Hall of Fame inductee, the vehicle names themselves set a high bar. After all, when you name your tractors "The Judge" and "The Jury," you'd better be prepared for the execution.

The greater pulling world became acquainted with Ron Barga (BAR-jee) via a magazine feature. "Most people were aghast that anyone would do this much work to improve the performance of a tractor," Barga told The Puller. "But, then, it's hard for a fella to tell his mother why he spent so much money souping up his car, either. We both have the same reason---we get our own kicks out of our own individual sports, and tractor pulling relates to my farming."

Those words were transcribed in 1972, by which time Barga had been honing his craft for a decade and a half. Beginning with an Allis-Chalmers WD and reaching, by the time of the interview, a Cockshutt 40 with a 427, the native of Ansonia, Ohio had in the interim served in the U.S. Air Force as a flightline mechanic, begun farming his family's Darke County acreage, and met and married a statuesque beauty named Doris Pohl with whom he would share his life and eight children.

And his passion for competition, as it turned out. One of Doris' first Christmas gifts to Ron was a display case for his burgeoning assemblage of pulling trophies. "For the first time I really surprised Ron; he really liked it," she confided in a feature of her own from 1974. One suspects, however, that the collection eventually outgrew that case---and likely the room in the house in which it was placed.

Barga's keen insight into the similarities and differences between racing and pulling allowed him to create horsepower on a budget. As he explained then, "People think that horsepower is the whole secret to strength. Our tractors are doing the same thing a high horsepower engine is with our smaller engines, but we know how to apply and control low-end torque." His first Modified was a Massey Harris 101 to which a 265 Chevrolet was mated. He graduated to a 327 and then to the Cockshutt rear, initially with a 409, in 1970 and began touring state-level events across the country. A lightly used tunnel ram manifold from a dragster provided the extra boost atop that 427 Bowtie.

That is, until eight cylinders were not enough. And so Barga sat out most of 1974 while he, welder Ron Bickel, and tool-and-die specialist Norm Smith teamed up to bring a different kind of power to the dirt runways of the Midwest: Allison power. The steel-sleeved, aluminum-cast heart of the P-38 fighter plane since the 1930s, the 12-cylinder V-style engine was working its way into drag car and speedboat racing. The quest for durable horsepower---correction, low-end torque---would invariably bring the 1,710-cubic inch behemoths into tractor pulling. Barga and Smith became some of the Allison's earliest test pilots with a pair of four-ton, single-engine machines that accounted for as many spark plugs as any six of their car-motor competitors combined.

One nod to Barga's automotive interests persisted, however. Among the hottest muscle cars of the era was the 1969 Pontiac GTO hardtop with the $337 option package known as "The Judge." Barga copied the name and Carousel Red-orange hue over to his pulling tractor, then found a complementary name for its trailermate: "The Jury." The monikers mattered to Doris, too, as she noted in her feature. "I believe the people remember the names of the tractors. I may not remember the tractors, but I recognize the names."

Fellow pullers would get to know those legalistic labels, too, by reading them at or near the top of results pages. After a successful start to the 1975 season across the southern circuit that was augmented by wins in Dayton, Pennsylvania; Circleville, Ohio; Hamburg, New York; and Evansville, Indiana, Ron and "The Judge" were heavyweight champions, tying the Banter Brothers' "Orange" in points in the 9,000-lb. class. And Smith won six times on the summer circuit to distance Art Arfons' turbine in the 12,000-lb. Open. In the Bicentennial year of 1976 came the sequels: A 44-point winning margin over the Banters in the 92 and a 10-1/2-point edge in the 12,2.

Though the 12-member "Jury" had acquitted itself well on high-octane gasoline, it got a new charge in 1977 in the form of alcohol, individually-ported fuel injection, solid state ignition, and a planetary rearend. That same year, Barga helped the Wilson family win the 72 MOD title with "The Little American." "The Jury" joined its brother as a double Grand National title-winner the very next year. That offseason, it was "The Judge"'s turn at the bench, as it was dieted to perform in the 72 MOD as well as the 92 and the 12. The achievement was acknowledged by Barga's contemporaries in the form of the Keith Underwood Memorial Award for the Mechanic of the Year. Then it was followed in 1980 by a second to John Hileman's "Ol' Red" in the light class and a fourth in the heavy.

In 1981, Barga got them buzzin' by adding another dozen, as a twin-Allison "Judge" was third in the 92 in its debut season. Though it did not achieve a GN title as had its predecessor or stablemate, it was stalwart throughout the first half of the decade until, in early 1985, after winning a world championship at Ahoy Stadium in the Netherlands, Barga sold "The Judge" to a German collector of World War II artifacts. But he didn't stay retired, instead partnering with Mike Holden and his Dusty Diamond Allison Team beginning from 1990 through 1994.
The bug bit again, and Barga returned to his roots in 1995, running where his farming commitments would allow at the state and regional level and filling that old case with new trophies. This time, "The Judge" was additionally badged with "Barga Family," as Ron and Doris' kids had become integral parts of the team, with eldest son Randy and youngest sons Ron II and Darrick sharing in the driving.

At the turn of the millenium, it was time for another revolution, when "The Judge" was newly constituted with turboshaft power. Three to five helicopter engines, depending on the weight class and rated horsepower allowance, were strapped to its frame for state, regional, and Grand National competition. Various configurations have followed, as well as a repurchase of the last twin V12---indeed, it's hard to kick that Allison habit---and a flirtation with the Super Stock Open division. There was even a year---2013---in which "The Judge" name was recused in favor of "Apache."

Today, as Ron Sr. has stepped back from on-track competition, sons Brad and Galen have joined their brothers in donning helmets in Region II action with a rebuilt "Judge" and "Jury: Next Generation" tandem, son Lee handles the videography, and grandson Isaac has taken several rides on the Super.
This year marks the 20th anniversary of the Barga Bunch receiving the Association's Pulling Family of the Year Award. And it's the 50th anniversary of the greater pulling world's introduction to the formidable competitor, innovator, and contributor from western Ohio. "With a race car," Barga then remarked, "you really have to imagine what horsepower and torque are all about. With tractor pulling, though, you can actually see it." That's also true of dedication---whether to a family, to a farm, or to a fascination with aircraft power---and it is visible in the life and career of our next inductee.

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