If you’ve read any of my car talks you’ve heard of how my truck is always failing me at the worst possible times. If not, its tendencies include: not starting, shutting off while going down the road, an outstanding ability to destroy alternators and problems almost weekly that I must repair. Am I crazy for wanting to enter it into a tractor pull? Possibly. It indeed would fail me again.

      ABAC is one of only two colleges in the nation to have a tractor pull track on campus. The goal of a truck and tractor pull is to pull a weighted sled down the track. The farther you pull the sled, the closer the sled’s weight gets to the back of the truck or the tractor. This makes it harder and eventually impossible to pull the sled. The person who pulls the farthest wins.

      Since I enrolled at ABAC, I had the goal of competing. However, every semester the truck would give me problems that made it unable to compete. This semester, the truck was acting okay. Lately, the transmission has been slipping. This is caused by a small leak on the transmission pan gasket—a leak I should have fixed several months ago.

      Since a transmission works on hydraulics, a low fluid level will make it unable to function properly. I could put the truck in drive and it wouldn’t budge. It still wouldn’t move until it had a few moments to warm up. To ensure that I wouldn’t burn up the transmission clutches and the converter, I had to add more fluid. A quick trip to the parts store and a quart and a half of dex/merc transmission fluid got the job done. While in the parts store, I also picked up a bottle of STP octane booster.

      As a broke college student, I tend to buy the cheapest gas available, 83. This gas is fine for daily use for the truck but isn’t as potent as 93. Because 83 octane’s rating is lower than 93, it takes less cylinder pressure to ignite the fuel. A higher rating will provide slightly more power. This benefit would be better used if I had the time to tune the engine’s timing curve to produce more power. The bottle of octane booster is a small benefit for now, but for a 27-year-old truck, any advantage I can have is a good one.

      I was almost ready to compete. The truck was running well, I felt a small difference in the truck’s power from the octane booster and the truck’s transmission shifted crisply. I parked the truck at the Branch Student Center. I went inside to change clothes to take pictures of the event after my pull. After changing, I went back out to the truck with a little over an hour before the event started. I turned the ignition switch to be greeted by the truck’s growl. The starter barely turned over the engine. I tried turning the key again, “come on you can do it.” The cylinders fired for a split second followed by the starters mechanical “click-click.”

      I laughed in defeat. I had no doubt something would happen. I honestly figured the failure would be the transmission blowing up or a driveshaft U-bolt snapping. But for it to fail even before I was hooked up to the sled, I guess I was too optimistic. I walked back into the Branch Student Center laughing at my bad luck. I must have seemed hysterical to the two students I met at the building’s doorway. After sitting in The Stallion’s newspaper office for about 30 minutes, I optimistically walked back out to the truck, refusing to give up on it.

      I tried the key again; no start. My next option was to call the campus police. They have battery jump boxes they use to jump off student vehicles. I know because this is neither the first nor the last time I have relied on their services. The officer that arrived asked me to sign a liability waiver and hooked the jump box to the truck. I turned the key in anticipation. The starter engaged and slowly turned the engine over. It wasn’t enough to start the truck. I waited a moment before the officer instructed me to try it again. I repeated the process six or seven times.

       The officer finally said, “You may have to call a wrecker, but we’ll try it one more time.” During the final key turn under my breath, I said, “Come on, come on, you can do it.” The starter turned slowly. I held the key down and the starter finally turned over as it should. The truck shuddered to life, wheezing and gasping for air like someone saved from drowning. It almost shut off; I encouragingly stepped on the gas pedal, providing the needed engine RPM to turn the starter faster and produce more electricity for the dead battery.

      I couldn’t give up, it’s off to the tractor pull. I arrived with 15 minutes to spare. I bought my pull pass and pulled it to the starting end of the track and parked. I was scared if I turned the truck off, I wouldn’t find anyone to jump me off in time for my pull. I left the truck running. I hopped down from the seat and grabbed my tire pressure gauge from behind the seat. For me to have the most amount of traction, I had to let some air out of my tires. This allowed the sidewall to deflate some, giving me more tire surface area to grip the dirt pull track.

Buck in his truck. Photo by Landon Rowe.

I waited about 20 minutes with my truck waiting for my class, the half-ton four-wheel drive, to be called to the start line. The wait was almost over as the National Anthem played, I felt my heartbeat race in anticipation. “Will I blow the truck up? Will I be able to even pull the sled? If I can pull the sled will it be a competitive pull?” These and many more questions raced through my head. Finally, they called us to the starting line.

     I was the third person in line in the class. There were only four of us, with one behind me. They were all Chevy pickup trucks. Two older and one newer than mine. The first two made their pass I couldn’t hear the announcer over the loud trucks in the arena making their way to the starting end of the track. It was my turn to pull out onto the track and into the spotlight. Before I pulled away, I put the truck in neutral and pulled the floor-mounted transfer case shifter handle back into the four low positions. I guess it was just from nerves, but I pulled harshly on the shift knob. The knob popped off the handle. I threw it into the seat beside me anxious to pull onto the track.

     I backed towards the sled, guided by the track official. Once I was hooked up, I waited for his approval to begin. He dropped the green flag. This was my signal to go. I eased onto the gas pedal and let the truck squat down and grip the track. The truck slowly moved forward. Now in motion, I pushed all the way down on the gas pedal unleashing the truck’s measly power. I felt the truck slowing down for more traction, and I turned the wheel slightly to the left and then right, fighting for the last little amount of traction left. I heard the announcer say, “The ole Ford just passed the 200 marks and is still coming. How far can he go?” Shortly after, the truck jerked to a stop. The sled’s weight caught up to me, making it impossible for me to go farther. I backed up and unhooked from the sled. I drove away happy to know the truck was still running.

     I placed fourth overall in my class out of four. The third truck only beat me by a few feet. The old truck did okay. I think it motivated me to fix more things wrong with the truck and make it better, in hopes of coming back next semester to pull farther than 209.04 feet.

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