Norwalk couple is fixture at Tractor Pull
Big events, such as the upcoming Budweiser Dairyland Super National Truck and Tractor pull, require a lot of helping hands to make it a success. John and Barb Ornes, of Norwalk have been volunteering at the Tomah pull for more years than they can count on both of their hands combined.
“I went to the very first pull in Tomah as a spectator in September 1976,” John said.
At that time, John would help David Schreier with his two pulling tractors at Schreier’s shop in Norwalk on occasion. It wasn’t long after the first Tomah pull that Schreier asked John to volunteer to drive tow tractor getting the drivers to and from the track.
By 1981, John was asked to run the scales, weighing each truck and tractor prior to entering the “hot pit” in preparation for their pass down the track; an integral part of the event.
By the mid 80s, Barb would sit at the scales with John, keeping him company and helping when John would get busy.
“John would disappear or get busy and a tractor would come up to get scaled and somebody had to weigh it. The drivers were a little reluctant to listen to a woman,” Barb said. “At that time the only place you would see a woman was inside the NTPA [National Tractor Pullers Association] entry trailers or making food.”
It didn’t take long until Barb was also “officially” a volunteer running the scales alongside John and the Tim Kortbein family. Now, it is a well-oiled machine; Barb is on the scales while John is directing traffic in the hot pit.
It takes two people to run the scales with two lines of pullers coming through to get weighed as quickly as possible. Oftentimes, a puller will be stuck at the back of the line that needs to be at the front.
The six-person crew has to pull them out of line and rush them across the scale to get them up on the track right away in order to avoid any delays in the show.
“Sometimes it is organized chaos,” John said. “It gets to be long days.”
The rigs must get weighed before they are parked in the hot pit where they wait for their turn at the starting line. Pullers cannot add or deduct weight once they drive off the scale into the hot pit.
John and Barb have to keep track of all 12 classes’ weight limitations with upwards of 50 rigs in some classes like the two-wheel drive trucks. The lightest class, the mini modified tractors, weigh 2,050 pounds and the largest class, the super semis, tips the scales at 20,000 pounds.
According to John, the weight limitations change as the NTPA creates safety rules requiring the pullers to add safety equipment and therefore creating additional weight.
“They want each vehicle to have some movable weight,” he explained. “That way they would be able to put a little more weight up front to keep the front end down.”
Over the years, the Orneses have seen a lot of changes not only in safety regulations and improvements in equipment but they feel the most notable is an increase in female pullers.
“Ninety-five percent of the pullers are what makes us want to go back,” John said. “Some of them can be difficult but most of them are really fun to work with and talk to.”
The Orneses have seen three generations of pullers drive across the scales. They’ve watched young kids, who came to the event with their puller parents, grow into pullers themselves.
John and Barb’s sons have also been heavily involved at the pull since they were young. In the early 90s, when they became teenagers, the boys started driving a golf cart, delivering water and soda to the other volunteers and officials.
“They were there to help,” Barb said. “They didn’t have specific jobs but if they came, there was a job for them.”
They eventually progressed to driving tow tractors on occasion and helped out in the hot pit when they could. In addition to working at the scales, Barb also helps in the 4-H food stand as a Norwalk Clovers leader.
The Ornes’ oldest granddaughter also helps out at the scales almost every year.
“She always looks forward to the pull,” John said, adding she may have to miss it this year since she has a new baby boy.
The Budweiser Dairyland Super National Truck and Tractor Pull begins this Thursday at 7 p.m. with shows on Friday and Saturday at 12 and 7 p.m. at Tomah Recreation Park in Tomah.