August 9, 2023 at 6:00 a.m.
The Stearns County Fair is over, but there are more fairs and summer events happening throughout the state, many of them featuring tractor pulls. It is in those competitions that Sauk Centre area resident Jacob Gamradt is in his element, keeping an eye on every detail of his tractor so its power can be leveraged for victory.
“I’ve been driving tractors ever since I was tall enough and heavy enough to push the clutch down,” Jacob said. “I think I pulled the first time when I was about 13, and I’ve been pulling every year since (for about 11 years).”
Many of Jacob’s cousins participate in the sport; he often does tractor pulls with his cousins Jeff, Connor and Logan Gamradt.
“It goes back a long ways,” Jacob said. “Our uncle Mark (Gamradt) has tractor pulled forever; my uncle Dave (Gamradt) has tractor pulled since all the way back in the ’60s, so it’s been in our family for a long time.”
While sometimes competing against each other, the family will often help each other out. Recently, Logan was in a tractor pull in Cambridge when he damaged his engine; he worked through the night to replace a head gasket and a piston, and Jacob helped him with it.
“I was still at home at the shop,” Jacob said. “(Logan) asked if had the parts to get (his tractor) back together, and I said, ‘Probably; if not, we’ll have to change the motor overnight to make Sauk Centre the next day.’ He got it back here about 1:30 (a.m.), and we turned wrenches and got it back together and made it to Sauk Centre the next evening.”
A previous year, Jacob wrecked an injection pump and replaced it in time for the competition in Cambridge, but after coming off the line, the tractor quit because the replacement injection pump had died.
“Sauk Centre was the next day, and we sat around until 3 o’clock in the afternoon (that day), sitting in the shop, staring at it, wondering what we’re going to do. … We found another pump the neighbor had. It was about a quarter to 6, and the pull started at 7 in Sauk Centre, and we ended up running to get (the pump). We got it back on and pulled into Sauk Centre about 7 o’clock, finally got it running and made the pull. … I ended up taking three firsts with it then, so it was great fun.”
For Jacob, there are plenty of similarities between tractor pulling and farm work. It comes down to an attention to detail and minding all the little things – and both activities can sometimes be expensive.
“Every little thing you skip, a lot of times, it’ll come back to haunt you, so you learn to pay close attention to what’s going on,” Jacob said. “It’s definitely an unseen thing, how much time and money get put into this.”
In the days when he would compete with out-of-the-field tractors, Jacob would prepare one of them by basically unhooking it from its attachments and making sure it had enough weights. Now, he pulls in the hot farm class, and some of his relatives pull in the improved farm class, so they have tractors set aside for pulling.
Jacob’s favorite tractor is an International Harvester 966.
“The motor is one of the toughest things around,” Jacob said. “You can definitely make things happen with that, and all in all, it’s just a tough old tractor.”
The Gamradts have been to about eight tractor pulls so far this year, and they try to go to about 10 to 20 of them each year, depending on how busy they are. Most of the pulls they go to are in Minnesota, but they have been to Wisconsin before as well.
For those interested in tractor pulling, Jacob’s top pieces of advice are to keep a cool head, pay attention to the details and just have fun. His favorite part of tractor pulling is picking on the green tractors, but the competition itself is a lot of fun, and Jacob enjoys meeting the other competitors and making friends.
“Motors and tractors, it’s in our blood,” Jacob said. “It’s my sport.”