Tractor pulling kind of snuck up on Larry Hilworth in terms of an interest, and has now become a major hobby for the Yorkton implement dealer.
"I remember being at a tractor pull in the early '80s in Yorkton," said Hilworth. "I was driving in the farm class."
Hilworth said a guy he knew had three Versatiles in the event, "and I jumped on one."
But the sport soon saw a decline.
"Then tractor pulling disappeared," said Hilworth, at least locally, and across most of Saskatchewan.
"Then it reared its head again three years ago," he said, adding that was when the Yorkton Exhibition Association hosted the first of what has since become an annual pull.
Hilworth said it was a natural for the company he is involved with, Maple Farm Equipment, to get involved with the local pulls in the capacity of sponsor.
But Hilworth said having the tractors pulling here reignited his interest, and memories of a couple of past pullers Bad Company and Moon Rocket got him interested in possibly finding an old John Deere style smoker tractor.
And that interest took him to the Internet where he came across a JD pulling tractor for sale in Ohio.
"We bought it," said Hilworth, adding they didn't even go south to look at it first.
The tractor is what is called a smoker, when it's under heavy load it spews clouds of black, crowd-pleasing, diesel smoke.
Hilworth said once it arrived in Yorkton they fired it up in his shop.
"We couldn't see because of all the smoke," he said with a grin.
For Hilworth, and fellow enthusiast Brad Bloodoff, who quickly joined him in his passion, the bug was set.
Bloodoff said his interest in gears and power started when he was about 10, and an uncle "took me to drags one weekend and tractor pulls the next."
They took the tractor to a few pulls and came away with a few plaques.
The tractor is a 1967 JD 5020 dubbed the Mapleizer. This tractor is still original in appearance. When they were first introduced they had about 95 horsepower. Today it has a 619 JD engine putting out over 1000 horsepower. This year the Mapleizer has captured First place in all the pulls thus far.
Hilworth said as a hobby it was an easy one to become involved with, not just because of a love of tractors and competing, but because of the people involved.
"We found this tractor pulling is like an extended family," he said. "If anybody has a bit of bad luck everybody is there to help out."
Then as fate is with such things, one of the guys involved with Hilworth's little crew of enthusiasts said "I'd sure like one of those minis."
Hilworth said initially he balked at the idea.
"But before I knew it I was on the Internet again and found this mini," he said.
That mini was soon his and has become the 'Mini Maplelizer'. It runs a 355 Chevy engine using 112 octane fuel and producing 550 horsepower. This one is piloted down the track by Gerald "Grinder" Muyzka, an old time friend.
Then came a second mini, as Hilworth again made an Internet discovery and making its second only appearance in Canada is the Punisher. This Ford powered alcohol burning tractor boasts 698 horsepower and makes for an interesting ride. Holding the reins of this is Geno "Skid Steer" Holowatuik again a friend and a colleague. But Hilworth wasn't finished yet. He made yet another Internet discovery, this one for sale in Alberta.
"This was Jet Blue part of the 'Boss Blue' pulling team. It was designed to look like a Labatt's beer can," he enthused.
Hilworth made a call, telling the seller he had no interest in buying the 1986-built tractor, but he was curious.
"Two hours later …," he said with a grin.
The latest addition, one which necessitated purchasing a second semi unit to haul, is a good puller, "but it's more of a spectator thing," said Hilworth.
The tractor is an 1869 horsepower Lycomming turbine engine.
"It's a helicopter engine," explained Bloodoff, adding it uses airplane fuel and windshield washing fluid, which provide "a cooling effect from the water and bit of added bonus from the 30 per cent methanol."
"Obviously we go to win (with it), but it is more of a feature," added Hilworth, adding it is one of only three turbine-powered pullers in Canada. Bloodoff will be commanding the controls in his first ever debut with Jet Blue in Yorkton.
The Yorkton show was the first run for Jet Blue for Hilworth and crew.
Hilworth said he never envisioned two semis full of gear and tractors rolling down the road.
"I wanted one just to sort of play with," he grinned.
Even with four tractors Hilworth said tractor pulling is not a money making venture.
"This is done as a hobby and a passion," he said, adding the sport is regaining popularity with three or four more additional communities in Saskatchewan expected to host pulling events in 2014.
As it is, across the Canadian Prairies, and a couple of neighbouring states "it would not be hard to find somewhere to go every weekend," said Bloodoff.
Hilworth said tractor pulling has quickly become a men's night out for him, whether at a pull, or tinkering with the tractors in his shop.
"It's just us guys getting together. That's what I enjoy," he said.