Experience has a pull on team members
By Chelsea Carter
Purdue University students are pulling more than their weight at school. They're also driving quarter-scale tractors in pulling competitions against other universities for awards and pride.
Photo by Brooke Baker
Agricultural and biological engineering graduate students Michael Holland (left) of Noblesville, Ind., and Keith Harmeyer of Batesville, Ind., examine the Purdue American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers quarter-scale competition tractor.
"The challenge of trying to design the most powerful tractor from scratch is a great opportunity for a college student who is looking for some education outside of the classroom," said Cody McKinley, a junior in agricultural and biological engineering from Winamac, Ind.
Each fall, 20 students - from freshmen to graduate students - start work on the pulling tractor for the year's contest. The Purdue team is made up of members of Purdue's chapter of the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers (ASABE). But team members don't have to be agricultural and biological engineering (ABE) majors, and ASABE is open to any student on campus.
Each member of the tractor team brings a different perspective to the drawing board, according John Lumkes, an ABE professor and advisor to the group. He also said the team's work is important. "It's valuable for students to get this experience," Lumkes said.
The performance competition of each year's ASABE contest features a tractor pull and a tight maneuverability course that drivers must navigate for the best time. But the team's first task is to design the best pulling tractor possible by using a computer program that helps the team create a sound, efficient tractor design. After developing the best strategy to build the machine, team members collect the parts they need to assemble the tractor.
"Lots of skills are acquired during the design and construction of the tractor, but learning doesn't stop at the track," said McKinley, who also is the Purdue ASABE chapter president. For example, obtaining materials for building the tractor can be difficult. Team members learn how to write letters to companies to solicit donations and how to apply for grants to bring in money to pay for equipment. Often, companies donate needed parts as a result of team members' efforts.
Team members also hold an annual fund-raiser by fixing up lawnmowers. Club members work on about 200 lawn mowers in less than four days, said McKinley. Despite all the work, McKinley is glad he is part of the team. "The people that I have met and the knowledge I have gained from this experience have been well worth every minute of time spent on the tractor," McKinley said.
Even the contest is more than just driving a tractor. Among other things, teams must submit written reports that explain how and why they built their tractors the way they did. "The entire contest really builds on the overall business skills of the students," said Lumkes.
McKinley said the hours he spent working on the project have been worth it. "The quarter-scale tractor pull has been one of my greatest experiences at college so far," he said.