Attendees at Keg Creek Days in Glenwood may be familiar with watching children pedal Ken Myers’ small tractors down a stretch of sidewalk.
The event is known as pedal pulling, and it isn’t simply about driving a toy. Myers, of Malvern, is the owner of Myers Pedal Tractor Pulls LLC.
“If you’ve ever seen a regular tractor pull, it’s essentially the same thing,” Myers said.
A tractor pull is a competition in which people drive tractors down a stretch of road as they pull a weight transfer sled. As the sled is pulled down the track, the weight (linked with gears to the sled’s wheels) is transferred from the rear axles towards the front of the sled. In front of the rear wheels, there is a weight bucket and as the weight moves over this the resistance builds. The further the tractor pulls the sled, the harder it gets.
In a pedal pull, kids from ages 4 to 12 use their own power to pedal the tractor like a bicycle in order to pull the sled, which can pull up to 750 pounds.
Where does one acquire a pedal tractor?
“You can buy pedal tractors, and then they are modified,” Myers said. “We put bigger chains on them and real bearings. A lot of them come with nylon bearings. We use axles that are 3/4 of an inch instead of 5/16.”
Myers and his family have been interested in pedal pulling for the past seven years, since Myers’ younger daughter, Kayla, was 7 years old.
“There was a celebration in Canistota, S.D., and we thought we should go,” said Ken, who was a school principal in South Dakota at that time. “Kayla got into this and competed in four or five rounds that day. We knew right away she was good at this.”
Because Kayla was good, she went to the South Dakota state competition, and that first year, she finished in fourth place.
Throughout the next two years, the family traveled around South Dakota as Kayla and her older sister, Kendra, competed in pedal pulls. With more than 50 pulls sanctioned by the South Dakota State Pedal Pull Association, it was easy for the family to participate in this activity in that state.
Then Ken made the decision to change jobs, and in 2007 he became a math teacher for East Mills High School in Malvern. He noticed a difference in the number of pedal pulls between the two states.
“There were almost none here that were sanctioned at that time,” Ken said. “We came to the conclusion that if we were going to have pedal pulls that were of good quality to get people ready for nationals, we needed to do it.”
With that mindset, Ken, his wife Willo, and their daughters formed a pedal pull business that helped introduce this activity to people in southwest Iowa.
They travel to events in Missouri, eastern Nebraska and Iowa up to 40 times a year.
“We travel more than most pullers, partly because we had to find pulls when we started,” Ken said. “I’ve put 50,000 miles on my truck. I’m excited that so many of these pulls are century pulls, meaning there are 100 or more kids at a pull. In Rock Valley we had the biggest pedal pull in the state of Iowa – 152 kids were there.”
The family tries to give as many kids a chance to pull as possible by bringing seven or eight tractors with them.
“We try to have a tractor for each division,” Ken said.
There are nine divisions by age, ranging from 4 to 12. The 11- and 12 –year-old divisions can use the same tractors. Girls and boys may be mixed, but they do compete separately at state and national levels. At this time, there are 17 sanctioned states for this event.
Partially because they are one of the few pedal pull businesses with a web page, Myers Pedal Pulls has thrived.
“I was one of the first ones to take advantage of the Internet,” Ken said. “I developed the web page in 2007. I would get pulls and put up schedules. People started suggesting places to have pulls. We also started putting pictures and results online. That really helped our base.”
The company gets Internet hits from Scandanavia and Finland. They were invited this year to go to Six Flags in Texas, but it was over Labor Day Weekend, and the family was already scheduled to go elsewhere.
Myers Pedal Pulls is also known because of their unique tractors. One class is done with a pink tractor to support breast cancer. Willo has suffered from breast cancer, and while the family isn’t collecting donations at pedal pulls, the pink tractor is a silent symbol of their cause.
They work with historical societies and a lot of chambers of commerce. They go to small town festivals and county fairs. They are so busy sometimes they get help from the Demanett family of Randolph.
“They are a tremendous help,” Ken said. “Symone Demanett is a great puller herself – she was fourth in the nation last year.”
The Myers want as many kids as possible to experience this event about which this family is passionate.
“We never want to have to charge a child for this,” Ken said. “It is hugely important that someone sponsor the events to keep it that way.”
The Myers’ girls competed as long as they could, and were quite successful.
Kayla, at age 10, won the Iowa state championship at the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines. That same year she also won nationals, which are held each September at the Corn Palace in Mitchell, S.D.
“That was a pretty big moment,” Ken said proudly.
Kendra, now 16, and Kayla, now 14, are too old to compete in pedal pulls, but the family continues to bring this activity to people.
“Kendra is particularly good with keeping paperwork straight,” Ken said. “Kayla is my tower of strength. She can pull the sled back to the beginning for me. The sled is about 90 pounds.”
Because of his participation and love of this event, Ken was named to the board of directors of the National Pedal Pullers Association Board of Directors in late September. The board helps make sure everything runs smoothly at nationals.