Xander Smith had reached his limit.
His legs strained to push the toy tractor pedals forward. The crowd cheered him on. But it was to no avail. Try as he might, his wheels would not roll one more inch.
He was done.
It had been a satisfying run, though. Xander towed a wheeled sled with a weight plate, 60 pounds in all, for 26 feet, 7 inches — not too shabby for a 3-year-old.
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His effort Wednesday at the Centre County Grange Encampment and Fair earned him a first-place trophy for his age class in the 30th kiddie tractor pull. Amy Houser, of Lemont, couldn’t have been happier.
She wasn’t sure how her son would do in his first time, whether he would freeze in the heat.
“So I was very excited he went that far,” she said.
About 160 children ages 3 to 10 put their legs to the test along a concrete path at the competition track in a beloved fair tradition. Since the pull’s 1985 debut, 4,432 participants have pedaled toy tractors linked to weight transfer sleds for as far as they can go, extending the tape measure that records their distance.
Norm Wenrick III, of Aaronsburg, has seen it all — the long and the short, and everything in between.
For 30 years, Wenrick has been directing kiddie tractor pulls at fairs as he did Wednesday. He gave each rider his customary start.
“I always give him a little push to get them going, and I always know the kids who are going to do well,” he said. “They run away from my foot.”
The most Wenrick has ever seen pulled was 260 pounds, by a 10-year-old boy. Total weight starts at 60 pounds for 3-year-olds, then increases through the seven age classes. The 5-year-olds, for example, competed with 110 pounds.
For a “pull off,” such as a tiebreaker between contestants all completing a “full pull,” or going the entire set distance, the weight is increased.
On Wednesday, a few children turned in full pulls of 31 feet. Some came close, but most stopped far short of the chalk line, their legs grinding to a halt, their progress announced down to fractions of an inch over the public address system. Sometimes, that amounted to less than a yard.
Regardless of their results, most hopped off and walked away smiling, some even skipping.
“I enjoy watching the little kids because you never know what to expect with them,” Wenrick said. “They get older, they get a little more serious.”
In his first try, Colton Barto, of Aaronsburg, pedaled 16 feet, 111/2 inches for second place among 3-year-olds. Trophies went to the top three contestants, fair ribbons to the top five and lollipops and stickers to all.
“Was it heavy?” Chad Barto said to his son, holding him in his arms afterward. “Yeah, it was heavy.”
Peyton Rimmey, 5, of Bellefonte, burst out of the gate to travel 23 feet, 11 5/8 inches before her legs gave out. It garnered her third — not quite the full pull from last year, but pleasing nonetheless.
“She did terrific,” grandmother Ellen Rimmey, of Bellefonte, said. “We’re proud of her.”
Prompted by grandmother Barb Leathers, of Bellefonte, Peyton revealed her two secrets to success: going to bed early the night before and eating three pumpkin muffins at breakfast for energy.
Hours spent riding her bicycle and a toy tractor at her grandmothers’ houses probably helped. She arrived Wednesday brimming with confidence.
“She said, ‘I’m going to keep pedaling and not stop,’ ” Leathers said.
Siblings Lane and Rian Grubb, from Millheim, also attacked the pull with zest.
“That’s what they love to do,” said their father, Dave Grubb, who assisted Wednesday’s event.
Between the two of them, the Grubbs own six tractor pull trophies from various fairs — including the latest Lane, 4, took home.
He first turned in a full pull. Then he prevailed in a pull-off with Rylin Musser, of Centre Hall, pedaling 29 feet, 53/4 inches for first.
“I started going faster, then started going slower, then I went past the line,” Lane said of his full pull.
Rylin, who also did a full pull his first time, went 28 feet, 5 inches in the pull-off to earn second.
One round later, Rian, 6, climbed on her tractor, set herself and pulled with all her might. Her 22 feet, 5 inches garnered fourth.
Like her brother, she chose the red International Harvester replica over the green and yellow John Deere model because red is her father’s second-favorite color.
She compared the pull to riding her bike uphill — not that she and her brother, to be clear, owe their pedal prowess to practice.
“We don’t practice,” she said. “We just think hard and pedal hard.”