Jim Houtz was 8 years old the first time he attended the tractor pull competition at the Centre County Grange Encampment and Fair.
Now 66, he’s part of the track crew for the same competition.
“It’s been going on so long, it’s a tradition here,” Houtz said. “I remember going when they were just pulling big weights in the mud.”
The tractor drivers’ objective is to pull a heavy sledge attached to what’s called a motorized “sled” the furthest.
Houtz was among at least a dozen volunteers who made sure people were staying away from the track when the tractors took the course.
“We want everyone to be safe,” Houtz said.
On Saturday morning, the fairgrounds hosted the farm tractor pulls that lasted all morning and early afternoon, and then again that night.
Ryan Newman has been involved in tractor pulling for four years. He started just because he “wanted to try it.”
“It always looked fun and there is a really nice camaraderie among us,” said Newman, of Centre Hall.
He has seven tractors, but only one that’s rigged for pulling.
On Saturday, Newman used his Allis-Chalmers tractor to pull the sledge 137.30 feet — a length that didn’t qualify him for a top spot, but gave him perspective on how he needs to perform next time to do a little better.
Newman said he’ll try another tractor next year.
Kevin Stitzer, of Spring Mills, was a little more successful. He drove a John Deere tractor and placed sixth overall, dragging the sledge 206 feet.
His cousin Sam Stitzer, of Aaronsburg — a first time tractor-puller — had a length that was promising to take him to the top, 261 feet.
“That’s real good,” he said. “Maybe the best all day.”
But the event wasn’t just about winning. The Stitzers said it was a chance to learn.
Sam Stitzer said drivers usually survey the mud and dirt they’ll be driving through, estimate the tire pressure that’s best for the condition and add the appropriate weight to the tractor that would allow it carry the sledge the furthest.
“You don’t just go in and wing it,” he said. “You got to prepare yourself and your tractor.”
The tractor pulls were just the start of the weekend that gives visitors a plethora of things to do.
The day’s first show at the Grandstand started with a two-baton twirling competition, with 10 girls ages 10 to 17 from around Centre County.
The competition was started three years ago by Shirley Heidrich. This year, she passed the baton off to co-chairs Mindy Meyers and Gregg Stimer.
“It’s a chance to bring awareness about the sport and showcase the talent we have locally,” Meyers said.
Ariana Hoy’s hands were like magnets to her batons.
Every time she tossed the batons in the air, spun around and then caught them, a crowd of a few hundred would cheer. She performed a two-minute routine to “Wings” by Little Mix.
Hoy, 12, of State College, has been twirling for 11 years. She got into the sport because her mother was a twirling coach.
And the years of training paid off, as she placed first in the pre-teen category.
“It’s fun,” Hoy said. “You just need to put your nerves aside and keep smiling though it all.”
Grange Fair events will continue at 8 a.m. Sunday.