De Leon, TX, has a population of a little more than 2,000 people and yet it hosts one of the largest and oldest festivals in Texas.
The annual Peach and Melon Festival began back in 1914 and has taken place the first full week of August every year since. In true Texas fashion, the Guinness Book of World Records recognized Jason Schaynot as the world record holder for the farthest watermelon seed spitting distance with a record-setting 78 feet 6 inches back in 1995.
But before all of the records were set, a small association, calling itself the Texas Tractor Pulling Association or TTPA, decided to hold its first tractor pull back in the early 1970s (`73 or '74, no one quite agrees) at this festival in De Leon, which is south and west of Dallas-Forth Worth.
"This was a three-night pull," Monte Stewart of the De Leon Peach and Melon Festival Committee said. "The first night, the tractors were straight from the fields. By the second night, we drained the water out of the tires and removed the governors and the third night; well, we were swapping tires, removing weight and having the local dealership rework the injection pumps to give us more power."
Ever since, there has been a pull at this annual festival, making it one of the longest continual running tractor pulling events in Texas. Over the years there have been many different organizations holding the pull, but it has always been through the hard work and dedication of the Peach and Melon Festival Committee volunteers that actually make this pull (and festival) happen.
"This is a must attend event for us," George Neaves, who has been here since the beginning, said. "We started with an Oliver 88 with a 454 Chevrolet and over the years we kept going bigger and bigger." This year Neaves, who no longer drives but supports his son Cameron, has entered Cotton Candy, a tractor with three blown Chevrolet engines in the Modified Tractors class.
At last year's festival, the new pulling facility was introduced. The Peach and Melon Festival Committee recently completed it with features like side by side tracks, concrete walls for safety and lots of bleachers. All of these features made it a fun and exciting time for fans. Since the inception of this pull, pulling has been an all-night event. In recent years, the pulling would start around 6 p.m. and go until 4-8 a.m. So with this new facility, the committee was hoping to make this a much shorter event and much more entertaining for fans.
De Leon has become such a big event, that two sanctioning bodies (Texas Truck and Tractor Pulling Association, TTTPA; and Outlaw Truck and Tractor Pulling Association, OTTPA) hold pulls on all three days of the festival. In addition to the two associations, the Peach and Melon Committee lets fans hook up after the two associations are finished each night. They have three classes for spectators: gas, stock diesel and modified diesel.
"We anticipate 55 to 60 hooks by the two associations and then another 80-plus after hours, each of the three days," Stewart said. "Last year, we actually had to close registration down at 9 p.m. because we already had 90 people sign up and that's about all we could really handle. This year, with the two tracks, we don't anticipate having to close registration."
Last year's event certainly didn't disappoint. The two tracks added excitement and constant entertainment. There were even a of couple times where they had competing pullers (usually semis) pulling at the same time. Even though it is a game of distance and not speed, it was quite entertaining to see two competing pullers pulling at the same time, almost as if they were drag racing.
Unlike the dedicated diesel-only events held by many of the national diesel organizations like National Association of Diesel Motorsports (NADM), most fairs/festivals have an assortment of gas tractors, gas trucks, maybe a few diesel tractors and a few diesel trucks. The TTTPA and OTTPA are both primarily made up of gasoline classes but do have some diesels.
In addition to the usual draw of a fair or festival, there were quite a few modified tractors pulling, thanks to the OTTPA. These 2,000 and 3,000 horsepower tractors, while not being diesel, were quite exciting to watch. As a photographer standing 10 feet away as they pulled towards the end of the track, it was truly an adrenaline-pumping experience, as the ground started shaking more and more as they got closer.
It is events like this one in the heart of America that make this country so great. If you are thinking about getting into pulling or just want to have some fun, look up your local fair, pull or come to De Leon, TX, in August.