Cyclone Power Pullers hope revamped transmission will allow their quarter-scale tractor to charge to victory

Clayton Hamilton works on a tractor component in a workshop

Clayton Hamilton, team leader of this year's Cyclone Power Pullers, works on the team's quarter-scale tractor in a workshop in Sukup Hall. Larger image. Photo by Christopher Gannon.

AMES, Iowa – Students at Iowa State University building a from-scratch miniature tractor have pinned their hopes to a radical redesign of a critical component – but you might not notice it at first glance.

The Cyclone Power Pullers, a long-standing student organization at Iowa State that designs and builds a quarter-scale tractor for an annual competition, soon will complete construction of a tractor that closely resembles last year’s model, at least on the outside.

Its internal workings, however, will differ from last year’s tractor in one crucial way, said Clayton Hamilton, a recent graduate in agricultural and biosystems engineering and this year’s team leader. Rather than build a hydraulic transmission, which is the industry standard, the Power Pullers opted for an electronic one.  Hamilton said the change should yield improved efficiency while reducing the cost and difficulty of production.

The only problem:  no one on the team had much experience with electronics. That meant a lot of problem solving and learning on the job, Hamilton said. The team ended up consulting faculty in the ISU electrical and mechanical engineering departments for guidance.

Another challenge the team hadn’t anticipated was finding electronic components that met the size requirements for the project. Not many engineers are building quarter-scale tractors with electronic transmissions, meaning the right parts are scarce.

“There were a lot of points when I wondered if it would work or if the decision would turn out to be a big mistake,” Hamilton said. “But we feel pretty good about it now. It’ll be great to see the tractor go down the track.”

About eight ISU students contributed to the project throughout the course of the school year, and a handful of students has remained on campus to finish up construction of the tractor in a workshop in Sukup Hall.

The competition, organized by the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers, starts on June 2 in Peoria, Illinois. The entrants are judged on a range of criteria including performance, safety, ergonomics, manufacturability and maneuverability. In addition to showing off how the tractor performs, the team will also be judged on a written submission and oral presentation.

Last year, the Cyclone Power Pullers took home top honors for the team’s written report and for tractor appearance. This year, the team members hope their unorthodox decision to go with an electronic transmission will get some attention.

“This was a way for us to try to get ahead of the industry and maybe lead it down a new path,” Hamilton said.

Soon after the tractor competition wraps up, he’ll begin applying his problem-solving skills and penchant for innovation to a professional setting. Hamilton, a native of Bloomington, Illinois, said his experience with the Power Pullers contributed to his ability to start his career after graduation with Vermeer Corp., a manufacturer of agricultural and construction equipment, in Pella, Iowa.