When the State 4-H Tractor Operators Contest was first held back in the 1950s, the majority of counties sent a junior and a senior participant to compete at the state contest. Participation in the state contest was still strong in the 1990s.
Through the 1990s, the state 4-H Tractor Operators Contest was held at the Wisconsin State Fair. Contest organizers ran out of space for the contest at state fair and the event was moved to Amherst.
In 2004, Dodge County began hosting the event at the fairgrounds in Beaver Dam. In 2007, the contest was moved to Racine County with the retirement of Ron Schuler, state Extension specialist and University of Wisconsin-Madison AG engineering professor.
Racine County 4-H volunteer Kirk Weese stepped forward and agreed to organize the State 4-H Tractor Operator's Contest and to host the event at the Racine County Fairgrounds in Union Grove.
Weese is quick to credit others for providing support for the program. "The Racine County 4-H provides printing and supplies and Case IH supplies us with tractors. Racine County AG Society supplies us with a building and the fairgrounds. The Southeast Wisconsin Antique Power and Collectables Society provides judges and volunteers for the contest and Melanie Miller at the state 4-H office makes sure we have trophies and ribbons."
Any 4Her may participate
This year's contest will be held Saturday, Aug. 20 at the south end of the Racine County Fairgrounds which is located one mile west of Highway 45, or 5 miles west of I-94, on Highway 11 in Union Grove. The contest is open to any 4-H member, 6th grade and up. Those who are currently in 6th through 8th grade will compete in the junior division. Those who are in 9th through 13th grade will compete in the senior division.
"By opening up the contest to all 4-H members in the state, the hope is to create enough interest so these kids who are interested in the tractor operators contest will push their counties to have a program," says Weese. "Some counties don't have a tractor program or operators contest, but they teach the tractor safety course to 12 year olds and up. We don't want to exclude those individuals from counties that only have that available to them."
Why the decline participation?
"I believe there are a lot of counties that don't have tractor leaders so they don't have the program or a contest in their county," Weese says. "I also think there are fewer kids living on farms. Although, most of the kids in our tractor program in Racine County don't live on farms. We have 28 kids in the program and less than a third of them live or work on a farm. The rest just have an interest in tractors."
If someone lives in a county who no longer has a 4-H Tractor Program and or Operators Contest and they would like to organize one, help is available.
"I would love to see other counties bring back their tractor program," says Weese. "All it takes is one person to step forward and say, 'Hey, I'll do that.' There are all kinds of resources out there to help an individual who wants to organize it. Antique tractor club's and AG equipment dealers are a good source for recruiting volunteers. That's where I got three of my instructors from was our local tractor club."
The winner of the senior contest and the first runner up will earn the right to represent Wisconsin at the National 4-H Tractor Operators Contest at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind., Sept. 25-27. The contest is held at the Tippecanoe County Fairgrounds during the National 4-H Engineering Challenge.
Weese helps organize the national contest as well.
"I am in my second year as vice chairman of the National 4-H Engineering Challenge, which include the National 4-H Tractor Operators Contest," he explains.
Weese says participation at the national contest is still strong. Currently there are only contestants from 12 states participating in the contest and all 12 of those states are east of the Mississippi River.
"At the national contest, participants get to tour Purdue University and a nearby wind farm, which is one of the largest wind farms in the country," Weese says. "They tour the Subaru plant where they make Subaru cars south of West Lafayette. They also get the opportunity to meet kids from other states, compete in the contest and attend the awards banquet on the last night."
How to register
Any 4-H member interested in signing up to participate in the State 4-H Tractor Operators Contest, may go to the State 4-H website at www.uwex.edu/ces/4H. Click on the calendar of events and then mechanical sciences the page will pop up for the state tractor contest and the guidelines and registration form for the event are there.
The cost of registration is $5 per participant and is payable at the event.
If anyone has questions or would like more information, they are welcome to contact Weese at 262-960-1302 or email him at [email protected].