By Doug Berger
Douglas County resident Don Kapraun has been involved in the sport of tractor pulling for 50 plus years, and recently had a championship finish at a nationals event held in Lincoln, Neb. in the 8500 Division 2 Antique class.
Kapraun started his interest in tractor pulling while living in Illinois. His family were row crop farmers.
“My father pulled some, and we had a neighbor who was kind of my mentor. He always tried to see how much power he could get out of his John Deeres. So as a teenager I used to hang out at his farm. He used farm tractors for pulling,” Kapraun stated.
“When I built my first tractor, it was a FFA project. I worked for a neighbor doing part-time jobs and he had an old tractor sitting in the weeds and he noticed I always liked that tractor. One day he came over to our farm and he said I’m going to take that old tractor to the junk yard. If you want it you can have it. So that started my FFA project. We took it to school. The motor wasn’t any good. I had a neighbor and he had a junk yard. He told me if I would help him work cows one Saturday, he’d give me a motor out of a performance car that was wrecked. So we took all of this to the FFA shop and we made a tractor pulling tractor,” he said.
“To pay my way, I had to bale hay, clean hog barns, do a lot of odd jobs to be able to afford to build the thing and tractor pull.”
Kapraun worked on the tractor his junior and senior years in high school. He competed in the 5000 pound modified class with his first tractor. He stayed with his first tractor for about five years, and then did farm stock, and pulled with these tractors for a number of years.
“College came along with the kids and I set out for about a year. My wife said I was hard to live with, so I went to Oregon and I bought this old tractor and totally rebuilt it. I couldn’t ever get the thing to run the way I wanted. I got acquainted with a fellow by the name of Roger Marlin from Conway and he helped me with the tractor and there was a company in Sioux City that helped me as well and Josh Friend from Hartville helped me put the final touches on it,” Kapraun explained.
The John Deere 830, a 1958 model, is a two-cylinder diesel that Kapraun built after his short break and continues to compete with at tractor pulls. When the tractor came from the factory it had around 84 HP, Kapraun indicated.
“We had one out on the farm when I was growing up and of course dad traded it for a bigger and newer one. That was one of the earlier tractors that I started out on as a kid,” Kapraun said.
Kapraun explained that in the class he pulls they are limited on how they can modify the tractors. He indicated that they can upgrade their fuel systems and can do a little internal work, but not a whole lot.
Tractor pulling takes Kapraun to several mid-west states including Michigan, Iowa, Nebraska and Missouri. He competes with the Southwest Missouri Antique Tractor Pullers Association and also on the national circuit. Everything in the Southwest Missouri and National Association is on a point system, and when you get to the national championships you have to have a designated number of points to be able to pull, he explained. He stated that he tries to stay within about a 550 mile radius, if he can get in the points.
“I love the challenge. The horsepower I guess, and you meet really neat people. People that you meet are more down to earth. They’ve all got agriculture type roots. Maybe it’s the man that retired from the MFA store or a retired bank executive that grew up on a farm,” he said.
It had always been Krapaun’s goal to compete in the high level events.
“I farmed and I had a small trucking business, and I could never participate in the big ones, because they always fell at the wrong time of the week. So that was the goal of my life, to try and go for it, and just the honor to know your accomplishment,” he said.
He laughs that you don’t do it for the money.
“In the big leagues you can make money, because of sponsorships, but here in antique stuff we really don’t have sponsors. We do get a pay-back, anywhere from 20 to 25 percent of the purse,” he stated.
He indicated that fees in Nationals can be between $30 and $35, and you might have 10 tractors in a class.
All the tractors in his pulling class, must have been manufactured in 1958 or earlier, and he stated that you do see a couple of guys with 1930’s tractors, Allis Chalmers, older Olivers, Case and even a couple of Hubers.
“There is a peculiar tractor that is in the circuit. It’s made by Massey-Harris. It’s all Massey-Harris parts, but it was assembled in Australia and the fellow bought it and brought it back here. It looks like an old Massey-Harris tractor that’s got a Perkins diesel engine in it, that is really weird. Most of them are domestic, American made tractors, except for that particular one and the only reason he’s allowed to pull is because the castings and everything was made in the United States,” Krapaun stated.
The interest in the sport has been increasing, Kapraun said. This year the national antique tractor pullers association had over 4,000 hooks in competition, and were up about 200 more tractors from last year, he stated.
“Every season we see new people.”
Kids can pull with parents’ consent, and there are a couple of fellows in their 80’s in the Southwest Missouri bunch, he stated.
Safety is a big issue in the sport. Krapaun pointed out that insurance for a tractor pulling event evidently is astronomical, so they have had to come up with all kinds of safety devices. He pointed out that if a tractor were to break away from the sled there is an automatic shutdown system on the tractor. In some classes they have to run side panels if something flies out of the motor and scatter blankets over the clutch housing area, he added. They all have to run with wheelie bars.
Krapaun stated he was considering building another tractor a couple of years, but opted not to do this.
“I’ve become attached to this tractor and I thought I’m going to go out and buy this other tractor and go through the same growing pains as I have with this tractor. So I decided to stay with this tractor and try to make it better,” he said.
Krapaun stated he does have a special attachment for John Deere tractors, besides growing up with one like the tractor he uses for pulling contests.
“Another reason I stayed with John Deere is because of the John Deere dealer in Illinois. I got out of high school and I went into the dealership, and I asked him about buying a tractor. He said, I’ll tell you what, if you want that John Deere 4020 over there, just take it home. He asked how you going to pay for that tractor. I said, I’m going to do custom plowing and anhydrous. He looked at me and got on his telephone. He owned a fertilizer plant too, and he said, go down to the plant and they’re going to hook you up to a tool bar and you start putting on anhydrous. He said we need tractors. So when I got ready to buy a plow, I came out of church one Sunday, and the fellow that managed a seed corn company approached me and he asked if I would be interested in doing some custom plowing for them. I said yes. So I went back to the dealership and I told him I needed a plow. He said just go out there and get you one, and I said how do you want me to pay. He said just pay as you can. And that’s how I got started, the local John Deere dealer backed me up and I paid for the tractor and plow in two years doing custom work. So that’s the reason I stay with John Deere, just because of the dealer,” Krapaun stated.
Tractor pulling has become a three-generation activity for Krapaun’s family. Both his son and daughter pull. His son uses one of his previous pulling tractors for competition in Illinois. Krapaun stated his wife has also participated in pulling contests, but she has told him that when the floor board gets to shaking and the noise gets bad that she will stick to riding horses. Krapaun says it’s still kind of a rush for him.