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February 15, 2012

HOOKED UP: Floyd County family pulls its weight

Father and sons to compete at Broadbent Arena in tractor-pull competition

FLOYDS KNOBS — Joseph Batliner Sr. said he has bought and sold tractors for most of his adult life.

It is from Joe Sr. that the Batliner family gets its love for “hookin’.” He became interested in tractor-pulling in the late 1970s when he took an antique tractor to the annual Heritage Weekend farm show in Lanesville. While Joe Sr. was on the heritage grounds, he heard a commotion and saw clouds of black smoke billowing into the air from up on the hill above. He investigated, and that day was caught up in the excitement of tractor-pulling.

The next year, Joe Sr. entered his vintage Case tractor fitted with the original steel wheels in the tractor-pulling competition.

“We never did any good.” Batliner said. “But I sure had a lot of fun pullin’.”

Today, a well-seasoned Batliner team will once again compete in the prestigious Championship Tractor Pull at the annual National Farm Machinery Show in Louisville.

To many people, the pull is the top tractor event in the nation. It is a sanctioned event and pullers are accepted only on an invitational basis. Only top performers in each of the sanctioned classes with winning records are taken.

The third-oldest son of Jean and Joseph Batliner, David will drive the team’s famous Super Hick tractor this year in the 9,300-pound Super Farm class. David, also a mechanic, keeps track of how much horsepower he is getting from the Hick when he opens the throttle. It is horsepower that moves the dead weight sleds that are hooked to the back of the tractors, he said.

Son Joe Jr. is the crew chief of the Batliner team and is the top mechanic. He also is licensed to drive.

The Super Hick is a Massey Ferguson model 8160 that Joe Jr. and David built from scratch. It has been modified with a beefy Agco Sisu diesel engine that had once been used to run an irrigation system. Some Massey Ferguson reps offered the “Sisu” to the Batliners because of the great reputation they had previously earned as pullers in their modified 1150, 1130 and 1155 Massey Ferguson tractors.

The five Batliner sons have all “hooked” since the 1980s when Joe Sr., who is retired owner of Batliner Implement in Floyds Knobs, bought the first model 1150 for Joe Jr. to drive in farm stock class action at Lanesville. Jeffery, Thomas and Doug no longer drive, but pulling helps keep the family together. Everyone still lives relatively close to the original farm.

Joe Sr. said if pulling wasn’t a lot of fun, he wouldn’t be in it. There is lot that can go wrong, and in competition, you only get try at it.

“We blowed ’em up several times,” said Joe Sr. “Throwed the crankshaft on the ground and everything else. One time we lost a transmission down in Kentucky,” he said.

Joe Sr. confessed he got angry about that one and said some things he shouldn’t have.

The way tractor-pulling works is each tractor in its particular class pulls a weighted sled as far as it can down a dirt track. Pulling the full length is called “full pull.” If two or more drives in a class achieve full pull, more weight is added to the sleds. The driver that pulls the farthest distance wins.

The pulling competition opens tonight with preliminary runs of the Pro Stock, Super Stock and Modified Tractor classes. The Super Hick’s first preliminary performance will be on Thursday night. Finals for all classes begin at 7:30 p.m. Saturday.

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