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Pulling-in crowds: Pioneer Fest draws nearly 100 entries for antique tractor pull in Perham

Hundreds attended Pioneer Fest in Perham on Aug. 13 and were treated to steam engines, a threshing demonstration and nearly 100 entries in the event's antique tractor pull.

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PERHAM — With the smell of dozens of antique engines running to their rhythmic random backfires, Pioneer Fest drew hundreds of spectators and dozens of historical tractors to Perham on Aug. 13.

The event showcased an antique tractor pull, featuring nearly 100 entries across various antique stock and open classes based on weight, a threshing demonstration and unique steam engine displays.

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Joe Samuelson participates in the antique tractor pull during Pioneer Fest in Perham on Aug. 13, 2022.
Michael Achterling / Perham Focus

Mark Sonnenberg, one of the tractor pull organizers, remembers entering the pull in 1987 and said the event has been a staple of Pioneer Fest over the decades.

"It's a reason to have some piece of iron that would sit in the weeds and rot, bring it out and do something with it," said Sonnenberg. "If your grandpa had some of that stuff and he showed you and let you drive it, it kind of goes from there."

Only original tractor components could be used on the machines for the pull's stock classes, which were then divided into weight classes, but the open classes gave the puller's some freedom to add their own modified components to seek an advantage while pulling the sled down the dirt track.

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Spectators watch an antique tractor pull during Pioneer Fest in Perham on Aug. 13, 2022.
Michael Achterling / Perham Focus

"You gotta decide how the track is today, what skid you're pulling, how long is the chain can be on that, do I need more, or less weight in the front, where to drive, are there some holes up there, don't drive in the same holes," he said.

Mark's father, Duwayne Sonnenberg, 84, said he remembers watching tractor pulls on the same grounds when he was a little kid.

"It's a challenge, but we're all friends," said Duwayne Sonnenberg. "We'll pull against each other, but we drink beer together, too. It's a challenge to build a little bit better tractor than the other guy's got."

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A 1959 TD24 bulldozer is started during Pioneer Fest in Perham on Aug. 13, 2022. The bulldozer was underwater for 43 years before being raised three years ago and refitted to working order.
Michael Achterling / Perham Focus

Before the antique tractor pull, event attendees were encouraged to participate in a series of pedal pulls with modified trikes.

George Sazama, 11, made it 28 feet during his pedal run. After the pull, he said he probably would've made it to the end of the track if the trike was a little bit bigger.

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George Sazama participates in a pedal pull during Pioneer Fest in Perham on Aug. 13, 2022.
Michael Achterling / Perham Focus

The pedal pull event was put on by Olson's Peddle Pull of Rothsay, Minn., — a business owned by 16-year-old Ethan Olson, who has been traveling around the region since 2018 putting on pedal pull events. He said they do about 20 events every year and the popularity of the pedal pull seems to be growing.

"When I was younger, we did it, and when my boys were old enough, at the competitive age of four, we started finding (pedal pulls) and going to them" said Rita Olson, Ethan's mother. "When Ethan turned 12, he was too old to compete for state, and there was a guy with his stuff for sale and we told Ethan, your brother is still competing, why don't you buy the equipment and we'll just keep on running the pull."

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She said Ethan then took over all of the equipment seller's pull events and kept adding more pulls each summer.

"We've been pretty booked every weekend starting in June all the way through September," said Rita Olson. "The kids love it, my boys loved it, we love it, and they are hard to find up here in northern Minnesota."

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Charlie Mayfield moves rye onto a conveyor during a threshing demonstration at Pioneer Fest in Perham on Aug. 13, 2022.
Michael Achterling / Perham Focus
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Charlie Mayfield moves rye onto a conveyor during a threshing demonstration at Pioneer Fest in Perham on Aug. 13, 2022.
Michael Achterling / Perham Focus

Event attendees were also treated to a threshing demonstration with bales of rye being processed on a conveyor that was powered by attaching belts to a vintage tractor.

Severin Thompson, 7, was also on hand to explain his model steam engines that he assembled with his father, Matt. One of Thompson's models, he said, was a replica of a water pump that would've been used in the late-1700s.

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Severin Thompson, 7, shows off his steam engine models during Pioneer Fest in Perham on Aug. 13, 2022.
Michael Achterling / Perham Focus
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Oakley Rose rides a mini-locomotive during Pioneer Fest in Perham on Aug. 13, 2022.
Michael Achterling / Perham Focus
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Carter Rose oils a component of a mini-locomotive during Pioneer Fest in Perham on Aug. 13, 2022.
Michael Achterling / Perham Focus
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A volunteer operates an antique saw mill during Pioneer Fest in Perham on Aug. 13, 2022.
Michael Achterling / Perham Focus
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Antique tractors are lined up for display during Pioneer Fest in Perham on Aug. 13, 2022.
Michael Achterling / Perham Focus

Multimedia News Lead Reporter
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