The Thrill of Flying Mud and Roaring Engines

Antique tractor pulling contests allow busy pumper Josh Campbell to blow off some steam.

The Thrill of Flying Mud and Roaring Engines

There’s nothing that unwinds Josh Campbell more than the distinctive Johnny Pop putt-putt sound of an old two-cylinder John Deere tractor and the power he feels pulling a 15- to 20-ton weight transfer sled. Relatively new to competitive tractor pulling, he is already a two-time national champion in the modified antique tractor class using tractors built through 1959.

“It’s something that is so totally different than most people do,” Campbell says. “It’s therapy for me to hear and preserve the old tractors.”

He needs the therapy, he says, after a labor-intensive summer of farming about 400 acres and raising pigs with his father, and running Fresh and Clean Restrooms, a portable restroom and septic pumping business in Bismarck, Missouri. Plus, his role as a county commissioner eats up another day or two of each week. It’s a busy life and a good life, he says. But it’s also important to get away from it all. With seven dependable employees, it’s possible for him to take time off for the tractor pulling circuit during the slightly less busy months from November through April.

He’s a John Deere man

Growing up on the farm and working at the portable restroom business his parents, Charles and Kathy Campbell, purchased in 1986, there wasn’t time for vacations, Campbell says. But, the family loved John Deere tractors for farming and cheering on at county fairs. As a teen, Campbell restored a John Deere B tractor and won many show tractor competitions. Pulling didn’t come until much later, after Campbell purchased the restroom business from his mother in 2005 and bought out a septic pumping business in 2010.

“When I had money to waste (about seven years ago), I started wasting it on a pulling tractor,” Campbell laughs.

That tractor is a 1955 John Deere model 70, which was the largest row crop tractor John Deere built at the time. Originally, it had a 413 ci, 48 hp engine. With help from his mechanic friend, Jim Matzenbacher, the engine has been bored out and modified to be more than 800 ci and 150 hp. The steel wheels have been replaced with aluminum rims and the tire treads cut down to about 5/8-inch to kick up less dirt for maximum grip.

“You get the tractor as light (weight) as you can to get the most power in the lightest class,” Campbell explains.

Pulling the sled the longest distance involves more than just hitting the tractor’s gas pedal, he adds. Weights are added to the front and the back of the tractor to get the right balance to have the best traction. And there are speed limits set for different events: 4, 6 or 8 mph, though most tractors don’t have gauges to show the speed.

“You just have to know the revolutions per minute and gears and do your best to keep it there,” Campbell says. “You need to keep a steady speed.” The sled gets heavier the farther the tractor pulls it, so it’s a challenge to pull far enough to be in the top five in order to earn points.

Based on points accumulated at events with the National Tractor Pullers Association through the pulling season, Campbell won first place in two divisions (7,000 pounds and 7,500 pounds) in 2016 and third place in 2015 in the 5,500-pound division.

Supporting St. Jude

For Campbell, victory is extra sweet because his two-cylinder tractor out-pulls four-cylinder tractors.

“It’s always fun to beat a red tractor. A lot of the competition pulls with (red) Farmall and farms with John Deere,” he notes.

Campbell is 100 percent John Deere. This year, he’ll have a chance to prove that loyalty as part of a charity he supports — St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

“A group of pullers (Midwest Hellion Tractor Pullers) pitch in their time and money to build a pulling tractor to raffle off at the Tunica Southern Nationals in Tunica, Mississippi,” Campbell says, explaining the tractor is taken to pulls throughout the season to sell $20 raffle tickets. The value of the tractor can be as high as $15,000, and one past raffle surpassed $50,000 in contributions to St. Jude.

For 2019, a John Deere tractor will be the featured pulling tractor prize for the first time, so Campbell and Matzenbacher are contributing money and labor to create the tractor to raffle off.

Campbell values the friendships he has made on the pulling circuit.

“There are a lot of good people across the whole country; the majority of pullers are farmers, but not all,” he says. “It doesn’t matter if they have red or green (tractors).” If someone needs a part or breaks down while traveling, pullers pitch in to help each other.

When I’m not pulling …

Old tractors aren’t just for pulling, Campbell says. At 38, Campbell refers to himself as “a simple guy who likes old stuff in a house built in 1860 and collects antiques, and farms with 1950s and 1960s equipment.”

Due to low commodity prices, he’s converting much of his farmland to pasture to raise hay for beef cattle and horses and to feed the pigs butchered and marketed locally. He farms without chemicals, and he fertilizes with septic sludge from his business. He land-applies all of the septic sludge from his business and has been part of a green initiative since 2010, collecting rainwater to use as freshwater in his portable restroom trucks.

Campbell’s portable restroom trucks were built out by FlowMark Vacuum Trucks using aluminum tanks and National Vacuum Equipment pumps and Dodge chassis. His septic trucks have 1,500-, 2,500- and 4,500-gallon steel tanks (from unknown manufacturers), and use Masport pumps. Campbell and his crew have built out a few trucks on their own.

Fresh and Clean Restrooms has 650 units from Satellite Industries and PolyPortables, a division of Satellite, that Campbell purchased in two buyouts. He also plans to order Sansom Industries units next. The restrooms are transported using Liquid Waste Industries restroom delivery trailers.

With more than 30 years working on the farm and running the pumping business, and being able to count on dependable employees, the business operates on “autopilot,” Campbell says.

The crew works hard and puts in long hours during the summer to get everything done. Still, Campbell manages to squeeze in a few tractor pulls at local fairs and has the cash prizes to prove he is good at it.

It’s all good practice to keep him competitive at the national circuit where he likes to play as hard as he works. He travels to several events from Lincoln, Nebraska, to Wauseon, Ohio.

“I try to separate my personal life from my business life because I see people get burned out,” he says. “I want something to separate me from work. I go tractor pulling. That’s my time.” 


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