Stone brings pulling to the people
Eudoran’s rusted truck proves sport accessible
It sets in a driveway looking forgotten, having seen some better days as old cars do. Rust creeps out of nearly every hole from its cab to its bed, and many of its original parts have been gone for quite some time.
For all intents and purposes, Ron Stone's 1979 Chevy pickup should have seen the car graveyard long ago.
But this pickup has had a new lease on life. And Saturday, the pickup --affectionately dubbed "Rusted Thunder" -- showed it still has some life left in it.
Stone, who lives in Eudora, entered the truck in the Douglas County Fair tractor pull. An event that for all outward appearances, the truck had no business competing in.
In the midst of other trucks that cost upward of $100,000 with engines that are akin to World War II fighter planes, Rusted Thunder pulled its nearly 40,000-pound sled 157 feet.
It wasn't nearly good enough to capture a victory in Saturday's event, but to its owner, that wasn't really the point.
"I knew I wasn't going to win," Stone said. "I just wanted to see what it could do."
Stone participated in the tractor pull with his beloved truck in order to further a different cause. It's a cause that could be considered the "average guy factor."
"I run this truck in order to help some of the people in the stands see that you don't have to have a ton of money in order to do this sport," he said.
Stone's truck and others like it are part of the super street four-wheel drive class of pullers. It's a group of vehicles that aren't designed to compete with the alcohol fueled big boys that highlight the tractor pull circuits.
The former volunteer firefighter has loved the sport of tractor pulling since his earliest days. But it has only been recently that he has been able to get involved in what can be an extremely expensive enterprise.
"When we lived south of Emporia, everyone had a 'toy,'" Stone said. "Everyone had a mudding truck. So I decided to do something with mine."
Stone used the truck his father used for a daily vehicle since it was brand new (the original engine boasted a staggering 650,000 miles before it started billowing smoke) in his endeavor to make the sport more accessible.
The result of that endeavor is the Flint Hills Truck Pullers Association. It is a group founded by Stone as an alternative to the high-dollar horsepower game offered by others.
The association, which like many groups relies a great deal on sponsorship, has grown since its 2002 inception. The group now boasts nearly 30 members across the area and schedules events throughout the summer.
The growth of this more accessible alternative in the tractor pulling realm can be heard when Stone attends the various events.
"It's nice when the people in the stands clap for the truck after they've seen the real expensive trucks already," Stone said. "Hopefully it makes them think that it could be them out there."
The Flint Hills Association is not only interested in accessibility for the average guy; its primary concern is safety.
Even vehicles such as Stone's Rusted Thunder are subject to stringent safety upgrades.
For example, every vehicle must sport a transmission blanket, literally a blanket wrapped around the transmission, and a blow proof bell housing to surround the clutch on manual transmissions.
Both safety measures are there to prevent erupting debris from threatening the driver, but the bell housing is particularly important when it comes to the clutch.
"We need these in case the clutch explodes so it can be contained," Stone said. "It could be deadly if the clutch parts break without it. The parts could come tearing through the floor board under a lot of pressure and really do some damage."
But even with the safety measures the association champions, there is still room for some performance improving creativity, even on vehicles like Rusted Thunder.
Under the hood, there are the gleaming valve covers of a new engine (the truck now sports a 305 instead of its original 350 engine) and all of the trappings of a motor designed for power. Resting to the right of the engine is a piece of equipment that probably isn't on any shelf of an automotive store: a coffee can.
The can is what Stone calls a "cooling can." A length of fuel line runs from the engine to the can where it is coiled around inside.
The purpose? Power.
"You can put ice or dry ice inside this thing and it will cool the fuel," Stone said. "This makes the fuel more dense and more explosive when it reaches the engine, making more power."
With the growth of the smaller class of tractor pullers, the future is looking good for the likes of Rusted Thunder. That is if it remains rusted at all.
Stone plans to restore the truck further by replacing the cab and bed, which gave the vehicle its moniker. This would leave the truck's frame as the only original part of the truck.
But the refurbishment has left Stone with a bit of a problem.
"People want me to keep the name," Stone said. "I was thinking about calling it the Underdog because there won't be any rust left. But I don't know, it will be one of those two."
Whatever the name, the goal will remain the same for Stone, to help get people aware of the opportunities in the smaller classes of pulling.
As he looked at his rusted-out piece of tractor pulling fury, another reason for the tractor pull came quickly into the picture.
"I love it," he shrugged, "I just love it."
For Information on the Flint Hills Truck Pullers Association e-mail Ron Stone at firstname.lastname@example.org.