CHILTON — For the past 25 years, Jim Meyer has provided countless children with their first hands-on tractor pull experience.
And he doesn’t plan on stopping anytime soon.
“I enjoy working with kids because it’s fun to see them go out there and give it a try,” said Meyer, who recently organized a kiddie tractor pull event at the New Holstein FFA Alumni’s 24th Annual Farm Toy and Craft Show.
Meyer, 61, is well-versed in tractors. He has been cash cropping for about 40 years with his siblings, Dennis and Ron, at Meyer Brothers Crop Farms in Calumet County. They farm about 3,000 acres, primarily growing corn, soybeans and green beans. He also operates a trucking business hauling feed.
Meyer’s interest in kiddie tractor pulls began decades ago while growing up on his family’s dairy farm and playing on his John Deere pedal tractor. The operation had more than 100 cows at that time and grew to about 250 cows before they were sold 12 years ago.
“As a kid I went to tractor pulls with my dad and liked watching them. I thought they were pretty exciting,” said Meyer, who tried the grown-up version of tractor pulls several years later and described it as “a big rush.”
Meyer and his wife, Julie, wanted their four children to experience that thrill, so when the kids were young Jim converted a standard pedal tractor into a kiddie tractor pull for their enjoyment on the family’s property.
About 25 years ago, he started building kiddie tractor pulls for other people.
“We went to Walleye Weekend in Fond du Lac and they had a kids’ pull there, so I took pictures of it and just built my own,” Meyer said.
He sold his first set of kiddie tractor pull creations to another person who wanted to help get children involved in the activity.
The set he recently brought to New Holstein includes three customized pedal tractors of different sizes for children, along with a custom eliminator, which is the weight-transfer sled pulled by the tractor.
“I took regular pedal tractors and stretched them and made them heavier so they’d hold up better,” he said. “The factory ones wouldn’t stand up because they’re not made for this. They’re just too light. So you’ve got to make the axles heavier, get bigger tires, make them easier to pedal and change the gear ratio.
“And this eliminator is better than the first one I made too. It’s longer and easier to operate.”
Each tractor took about a week to create and requires maintenance to stay in good operating condition.
Meyer brings them to about 10 events per year, such as tractor shows and farm breakfasts primarily in east-central Wisconsin. He also organized kiddie tractor pulls at previous Farm Technology Days.
At Meyer’s kiddie tractor pulls, children compete in different classes based on his or her weight. The amount of weights placed in the eliminator varies depending on the children’s weight category.
Meyer modifies only John Deere pedal tractors. “Is there any other kind?” Meyer said with a smile, proudly showing the John Deere logos on his clothing and business card.
Meyer said some of his eight grandchildren are starting to show an interest in kiddie tractor pulls.
Whether it’s his own family or a child he’s never met before, Meyer enjoys seeing the look on a youngster’s face when they’re pulling the eliminator.
“They give a big reaction, and that’s what it’s all about,” he said. “Once they start pulling, every year they’ve got to come back. I see the same kids and their parents the next year then. Once they pull a couple of years, they’re just hooked on it.”
That’s why, when he commits to being at an event, he sticks with it.
“Sometimes things can get busy with work, but I make sure to show up or there will be a bunch of unhappy kids,” he said.
Meyer’s interest in tractors extends beyond just kiddie tractors.
He also has built about 30 half-size John Deere tractors. And on July 21, the Meyer family expects that about 100 tractors will be showcased at the annual Meyer Antique Tractor Show, which will be held on the family farm at N1985 County Road G, south of Chilton.
“I’ve always liked tractors, and I think I always will,” he said.