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SDSU repeats as quarter-scale tractor champion

Durability contest - SDSU
Sam Meyer drives Rabbit Force 1 through the durability course at the International Quarter-Scale Tractor Student Design Competition In Peoria, Illinois, June 3. South Dakota State University placed second in the durability contest and first overall, repeating as national champion.

South Dakota State University has pulled out another national championship—this one in the field of quarter-scale tractors.

While the football team grabbed a lot of attention with its first-ever Football Championship Series national title in January, the students on the quarter-scale tractor team brought home national honors for the second year in a row and third time in the past five years.

They were competing in the International Quarter-Scale Tractor Student Design Competition organized by the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers, which held the annual contest June 1-4 at the Expo Gardens Fairgrounds in Peoria, Illinois.

In addition to topping 18 other teams in the overall competition, SDSU finished first in performance, presentation and design judging; second in durability and third in maneuverability, tractor pull and defense of design as well as winning the craftmanship and ergonomics awards.

Instructor Douglas Prairie, adviser of the 20-member club, said, “This year’s winning team is a testament to a goal that was set a year ago by the team to bring home another national championship and then strategically executed on that goal this year. The team put in thousands of hours outside of class along with some extra late nights at the competition to bring the championship trophy back to Brookings!”


Team ‘pushed boundaries’ in design

Phillip Black, an incoming senior from Gibbon, Minnesota, served as president of the SDSU Quarter-Scale Tractor Club in 2022-23.

“Last year was a tractor that was in our comfort zone. This year’s tractor we really pushed the boundaries on what we could design,” he said. A lot of the additions were related to electronics, such as having the transmission shift with actuators rather than linkage and using electric actuators for power steering.

Other new developments were the addition of an air ride seat and adjustable shocks as well as a digital screen to display gauges for readings on RPM, engine temperature, fuel and air pressure in the tires and shocks.

While this year’s model (RF-1 for Rabbit Force 1) bears many resemblances to the 2022 model, it was built from the ground up, Black said.


Same engine, tires; different designs

All teams are given a 31-horsepower Briggs & Stratton engine and a set of Titan tires. The design of their tractor is up to them. A panel of industry experts then judge each design for innovation, manufacturability, serviceability, safety, sound level and ergonomics. Teams also submit a written design report in advance of the competition, and on-site, they must sell their design in a formal presentation to industry experts playing the role of a corporate management team.

Finally, machines are put to the test in three performance events—three tractor pulls, a maneuverability course and a durability course.

The durability course is a timed event through an oval course of bumps and loose soil while towing a weighted cart. Teams compete in the timed event by individually completing eight laps on a 250-foot course in less than 20 minutes. 

Performance at the contest makes up 40% of the scoring with the remainder focused on various facets of design and the teams’ presentation to judges. Black noted the contest is sponsored by major ag equipment manufacturers, which also provide judges. They’re interested in what students can do in terms of design, and a lot of contest participants end up being hired by the firms, Black said.


Members come from several majors

SDSU’s prior success has made the club an attraction for ag-oriented students from a variety of majors—agricultural and biosystems engineering, mechanical engineering, ag systems technology, precision ag and even computer science. “Because we’ve been successful, we’ve built up a big team, and that allows us to do more,” said Black, who has been on the team three years.

“I wanted to get involved with something on campus. I was always a little interested in tractor pulling. I grew up on a farm. I like to wrench on things and hang out with a group of cool guys,” he said of his quarter-scale involvement.

Team members left Brookings for Peoria May 31. “We were going in there knowing we had a real shot of winning the competition because we had spent so much time engineering all the advanced features, and we knew we would be good in performance because of how we have performed in the past,” Black said.

The team had the tractor ready to drive by spring break (early March) and then tore it apart to send it out for painting. It was reassembled in April and ready for testing during finals week (early May), he said.


Planning for another title in ’24

While the contest ran June 1-4, there is no continuous scoring. So teams don’t know exactly where they sit even at the awards banquet, when placers in the various judging categories are announced. Based on that, Black and his teammates knew their hard work and dedication would bear some fruit.

Overall placers were announced last, going from fifth place to first.

“When second place was announced and it wasn’t us, we got pretty excited,” Black said.

In addition to winning the 2022 and 2023 titles, which included a large trophy and a $1,500 cash prize each year, SDSU also won the title in 2018 and was runner-up in 2017 and 2019. COVID-19 canceled 2020’s contest. The 2021 contest was a hybrid adventure with SDSU only competing online and finishing fourth.

Black expects to be back with the team for the 2024 contest and would love to see his college career end with another quarter-scale tractor title.

“We’re hard workers. We’re dedicated and the department pushes us to do our best,” he said.


Team members and their hometowns:
Cameron Bennett, Bronson, Iowa;

Phillip Black, Gibbon, Minnesota;

Theodore Carlson, Janesville, Minn.;

Jaydon Estebo, Redwood Falls, Minn.;

Dawson Gulizia, Gretna, Nebraska;

Mark Hague, Highmore;

Brock Hansen, Good Thunder, Minn.;

Carson Kahler, Sherburn, Minn.;

Isaac Knobloch, Lester, Iowa.

Evan Madsen, Okabena, Minn.;

Andrew Mairose, Kimball;

Samuel Meyer, Fargo, North Dakota;

Samuel Nilsson, Warner;

Kade Rupp, Freeman;

Trevor Sieberg, Minnesota Lake, Minn.

Joseph Stumpf, Wabasha, Minn.;

Logan Turgasen, Richland Center Wisconsin;

Ryan VanPelt, Austin, Minn.;

Jarrett Wildman, Farmdale, Ohio.