Columbia family eager for tractor pull at Boone County Fair

Thursday, July 29, 2010 | 10:31 p.m. CDT; updated 10:59 p.m. CDT, Thursday, July 29, 2010

COLUMBIA — When Steve and Lydia Bell celebrate their wedding anniversary it's usually not a big deal.

"We usually don't do too much with the fair going on," Lydia Bell said. "He likes to buy me a corn dog to celebrate."

For the past 11 summers, the Bells have traveled the Midwest entering their modified John Deere tractor nicknamed "$how Me the Money" in tractor pulling events. On Saturday, the Columbia family will be back home to compete Saturday at the Boone County Fair.

"We like the hometown pull," Steve Bell said. "I can't ever remember not going to (the Boone County Fair).  It's a major part of our hobby."

The Bells may think of tractor pulling as a hobby, but the family's dedication to the sport and the sacrifices they make to compete go beyond making their anniversary an afterthought.

Steve Bell, 50, took third out of seven pullers at the Pike County Fair on Wednesday in Bowling Green, Mo. His wife, Lydia, was not able to make the trip, though. She has been running the "Whoa Nelly" beer garden at the Boone County Fair. Of the nearly 20 events her husband participates in, she attends almost all of them.

"It's a good family sport, but we all have to help to make it work," Lydia Bell said.

Lydia Bell calls herself the "parts runner." In the offseason, she holds fundraisers to raise money for the fair, but she also works out deals to gain tractor sponsorships Without them, the family says they could not compete.

"It takes a lot of dollars to make this happen," said Steve Bell, who estimated the cost of purchasing and modifying a tractor for competition at between $ 75,000 and $100,000. He said maintenance, fuel and traveling costs can run an additional $5,000 to $10,000.  

Lydia Bell jokes that their tractor is the second woman in the family. 

"(Steve) spends all the money on her," Lydia Bell said. "If we didn't spend so much on the tractor, I would be able to get myself a nice digital camera."

Lydia Bell is known as "Photo Lyd" in the East Central Missouri Tractor Pullers Association, which the family belongs to. She takes pictures of tractor pullers at competitions and sends them to other members. The association has around 70 members. Their summer schedule lists 27 locations for tractor pulling. The Boone County Fair is the 16th stop on the tour.

"It's a great group we pull in," Lydia Bell said. "There are other groups we like to pull with, but this one is nice because we only travel to places within a few hours of (Columbia), so it's easier to plan around our work schedules."

Fortunately, as owner of Bell Excavating Inc., Steve Bell usually has time to build three to four competition tractors a year, selling them to friends and clients. He hasn't assembled one for his son yet, though. Matt Bell, 15, plans on competing next year when he will be 16, the required age to enter. If there is time left after the competition at the Boone County Fair on Saturday, Matt and others younger than 16 will be able to pull in exhibition runs.

"I drove (the tractor) around the driveway at the house and my dad's work, so I feel ready to go," Matt Bell said.

Preparation time for Saturday will be at at minimum with Steve Bell traveling to the tractor pulling competition Friday at the St. Charles County Fair in Wentzville.

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