Cyclone Power Pullers boost horsepower, aim for big tractor pulls

AMES, Iowa -- "PestiCYde" carries more horsepower than the Cyclone Power Pullers have ever built into a mini pulling tractor.

And the team of Iowa State University students think that's going to make a big difference when they run their five-engine, 80-horsepower machine at the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers' 2008 1/4 Scale Tractor Student Design Competition May 29-June 1 in Peoria, Ill. The competition has attracted 18 teams from universities across the country and one team from Canada.

Jeff Langner, the team's vice president who just graduated from Iowa State with a degree in agricultural engineering and will be going to work as an engineer for Vermeer Corp. in Pella, said the team designed the tractor with the idea of solving some problems that led to an 18th-place finish in last year's contest.

Team members added an extra V-2 Briggs & Stratton engine for a boost in wheel speed and pulling momentum. They've replaced a belt drivetrain with gearboxes. And they've replaced some troublesome electrical systems with more reliable mechanical systems.

"We're doing pretty good," said Langner, who came to Iowa State from Storm Lake. "I think we will have a top five team this year."

Clint Recker, a senior from Arlington who's studying agricultural engineering and is the team's president, said the team's decision to jump from four to five engines has impacted a lot more than horsepower.

It meant the cost of the tractor has grown to about $50,000, he said. And that meant more fund raising and sponsorship for the team.

It also meant the tractor is more complex, he said. And that meant it took more time to build and test the machine.

And so members of the Cyclone Power Pullers were busy in the shop earlier this week for final assembly and adjustments.

Kyle Schropp, a junior from Crescent who's studying agricultural systems technology, was working to disconnect the engines' exhaust pipes so he could paint them a flat black.

Schropp is also the team's driver. He's comfortable sitting behind all those engines. He knows his job is to go full throttle and drive the clutch. But, he said just before the team left for competition, "I just wish I had a little more seat time."

In another corner of the garage, Alex Recker, a junior from Arlington who's majoring in agricultural studies, was polishing pieces of last year's tractor. The competition features an "X-team" division that allows teams to take last year's tractor and make it better.

"We had a lot of problems last year," said Andy Strobel, a sophomore from Northfield, Minn., who's leading Iowa State's X-team and is studying agricultural engineering. "And this will give us a chance to address that."

And so the 2007 tractor has had a makeover to its electrical system, its gear ratios and its ease of maintenance.

The annual competition is not just about which tractor can pull the farthest. There are contests in design, team presentations, serviceability, manufacturing, safety, maneuverability, ergonomics and sound.

Can the Power Pullers' scores in all those contests add up to a top-five finish?

"We hope so," Recker said. "We've worked really hard at the design and we feel we have a very good design."