News from the Tennessee Valley State, Local and National news
SUNDAY, JULY 22, 2007

Jesse Turner of Athens leans forward to keep his mower from tipping at the Oak Grove-Thach Volunteer Fire Department Lawnmower Pull on Saturday.
Daily photo by John Godbey
Jesse Turner of Athens leans forward to keep his mower from tipping at the Oak Grove-Thach Volunteer Fire Department Lawnmower Pull on Saturday.

This isn’t your mama’s lawn mower
Event raises money for Oak Grove-Thatch Fire Department

By Holly Hollman · 340-2445

OAK GROVE — During Jesse Turner’s childhood, he and his dad enjoyed hearing engines revving, watching wheels spinning and flinging red chips of Alabama clay at tractor and lawn-mower pulls.

Father and son planned to build a competition lawn mower but never had the time or the money.

Now, Jesse Turner, 17, drives a lawn mower for his dad and not with him.

In 1999, his dad, Ben Turner, died at age 62 from a blood clot in the lung.

“We never got to build one together, but I think he would enjoy seeing me build and ride my own,” said Jesse Turner, of Athens. “He was my best friend. I’ll never get over missing him.”

On Saturday, Jesse Turner competed at the Oak Grove-Thach Volunteer Fire Department Lawnmower Pull in the Oak Grove community south of Ardmore. White letters on the hood of his stock 10-horsepower red mower said, “In Memory of My Dad.”

At the pull, mowers like Turner’s were attached with a chain to a vehicle called a sled. Pullers had to pull the weight-laden sled down a dirt track as far as possible, up to 300 feet. The outlaw mowers pulled around a total of 6,500 pounds.

Refined technique

In some cases, a driver would lean back in his seat with one arm thrown up as if he were on a bull. In other cases, the driver just leaned back as if stretching. When the mower neared the end, its front wheels reared up like a bucking horse and the driver threw his upper body forward to get the mower to go inches farther down the track.

Jesse Turner spent $1,000 turning his ordinary mower into a pulling machine. With a John Deere ball cap pulled low on his head, he leaned back as the mower shimmied on its way down the track. He fell short of the 150-foot mark, the front end landing with a thud and then a bounce.

He didn’t win that race, but that won’t stop him. Jesse Turner has got pulling in his blood, and now he’s got to build his girlfriend a competition mower.

There are various stories like Jesse Turner’s among those drawn to the pulls, and just as many characters.

On Saturday, there was Jennifer Norris of Tuscaloosa, who wore a purple tank top to match her purple lawn mower.

There was a plastic foam cooler filled with Sun-Drop, sardines, crackers, hot sauce and peanuts, aptly called a redneck gift basket, that waited for some spectator to win it in a prize drawing.

There was a John Deere mower in the children’s division with a cocky phrase painted on its back: “Start engine. Pull 300 feet. Accept trophy.”

Big boys, big bucks

And there was 52-year-old Bill Sloan of Shelbyville, Tenn., who has been pulling for 18 years, working his way up from stock to outlaw division. The outlaw division is for the bigger boys, and a mower in that division can cost $5,000 to $6,000 to outfit for a competition.

Sloan got involved after his son watched a race in Tennessee.

“We built us one and have been doing this since,” Sloan said. “I like getting out and meeting people and seeing the sport grow.”

Sloan is president of a pull association in his area.

“The sport is more popular in Tennessee, but interest is building here,” he said.

More than 100 participants

Oak Grove-Thach firefighter Darrell Blankenship said that was evident Saturday. This was the department’s first lawn-mower pull, and it drew more than 100 competitors. The $1,500 raised goes to fund equipment for the department. Blankenship said it may become an annual event.

If it does, expect to see Jesse Turner pulling. Although the winnings can be a mere trophy, the trophies aren’t why pullers compete.

“When you get on something you’ve built, well, there’s a lot of pride in that,” Jesse Turner said.

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