November 4, 2017
Written By Adam Buckallew
Whether it’s the thrill of competition, the fun of building custom machinery or the comradery found at the track, something about tractor pulling has captivated the Dohrman family for generations.
“The feeling you get when the tractor ignites and the wheels are spinning 70 miles per hour is sort of like being on a jet during takeoff. It pulls you back in the seat,” says John Dohrman of Sweet Springs, Mo., who’s been involved with pulling since the 1980s. “The rush it gives you is similar to racing. It’s almost like an addiction.”
John, 56, and his sons, Keith, 31, and Tyler, 25, devote many of their summer weekends to tractor pulling events, which are also known as hooks. The pulling season begins in June and lasts through mid-September. During that span, the Dohrmans typically travel to between 20 and 25 hooks in locations across Iowa, Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska.
The weekend-long trips have to be balanced with the family’s commitments back home. The Dohrmans own South Fork Farms, a family-run operation that includes John, Keith, John’s brother Dennis, and Dennis’ son, Adam.
Together, they raise 4,500 acres of row crops, 100 cattle and 300 farrow-to-finish sows. Tyler has a full-time job at a local equipment dealership, but will also sometimes help with the farm work.
The family’s love of tractor pulling traces back to John’s father, Forest, who started competing in the middle of the 1960s.
“My dad pulled with an Allis-Chalmers 190XT, which was also our old farm tractor,” John recalls. “It wasn’t until the early to mid-70s that Dad bought his first motor specifically for pulling. He would switch the motors in and out when it was time to pull or do farm work. We didn’t get our first tractor dedicated to pulling until 1978. It was a pile of junk, but we got a lot out of it.”
While John was heavily involved on the tractor pulling circuit in the 80s and 90s, Keith and Tyler watched from the stands and developed their own appreciation for the world’s heaviest motorsport. The boys would eventually join John’s pulling team, Livin’ Orange Pulling Team, named after Allis-Chalmers signature orange paint. The team was founded by their father and his partner, Jay Vogelsmeier. Keith and Tyler, along with Jay’s son, Matt, and Butch Hedgpeth round out the rest of the team.
The two younger Dohrmans built their light super stock pulling tractor, a customized Allis-Chalmers D-21, from the ground up over the winter of 2011 and christened it the Allis Express.
“After all the modifications we’ve made to it, calling it a tractor is kind of a stretch at this point,” says Keith. “It took us about 400 man hours to get it ready for competition, and we’re still constantly tinkering with it to this day.”
Keith serves as the team’s crew chief and handles most of the maintenance work during the pulling season.
“I love turning wrenches and the mechanical side of pulling,” Keith says. “The tractor never sits in the trailer between pulls. There’s always something that needs to be done.”
While many pulling aficionados purchase specialized racing oils for their tractors, Keith has stuck with MFA Oil’s 15W40 Premium Heavy Duty Engine Oil and GP Hydraulic Fluid, the same products they use in all their farm equipment.
“We see no reason to go (another) route,” he says. “We’ve never had any trouble, and the MFA Oil products have proven to be very reliable. We never had any problems with our bearings or the transmission.”
Whereas Keith handles a lot of the behind-the-scenes work, Tyler is front and center when the competition heats up. He’s the team’s primary driver and enjoys the adrenaline that comes with lighting the engine and watching the black smoke billow out of the exhaust pipe as the tractor takes off.
“There’s just something about seeing that smoke that gets me going,” he says. “You’re sitting there in the driver’s seat wearing your flame-resistant suit and preparing yourself for a potentially wild ride. It all happens so quickly. It’s normally over before you have a chance to think too much about it.”
The Livin’ Orange team has turned in some solid performances throughout their years competing in the Outlaw Truck and Tractor Pulling Association’s events; however, that’s not what keeps the Dohrmans coming back year after year.
“We’ve had some great years and some really bad ones,” Keith says. “We finished the 2013 season in third place in points, but we’ll never make enough of the money we’ve invested in pulling back with prize money. The thing all of us enjoy most about pulling is the social aspect.”
The weekend-long hooks are great opportunities for family time and meeting new friends.
“Some of my best friends are people I met while I was pulling back in the 80s,” John says. “It’s neat to see so many of the same families are still involved. In most cases, it’s passed from father to son, just like it has been in our family.”
Keith and Tyler don’t have any children of their own yet, but if they do, they are likely to extend the family tradition of tractor pulling to the next generation.
“It’s something that our whole family has been involved with and something we really enjoy,” Keith says. “I don’t see that changing anytime soon.”