MILLINOCKET, Maine — If Mike Thompson says he learned anything from competing in the Northern Timber Cruisers Truck Pull on Saturday, it was this:
Next time, bring the wife’s pickup truck.
Thompson’s 2000 GMC Sierra is a nice ride, he said, but it’s not cut out for tractor pulls. His wife’s half-ton 2000 Chevy pickup would have done better.
“Everything is going to run a little bit above me, but you know, I did what I could,” the Medway man said after his first, and unsuccessful, heat Saturday.
“Had a good time,” he added.
Thompson’s run was one of the few things about the event that could be called unsuccessful: Organizers were bowled over that the first-time event drew at least 3,000 people to Millinocket Regional Airport.
“It’s a huge crowd,” said Brian Wiley, a member of the Northern Timber Cruisers Club, which co-hosted the event with the Pelletier family of “American Loggers” TV fame.
The Pelletier family built the track for free alongside one of the airport’s two runways to raise money for the club’s efforts to build multiuse recreational trails in the Katahdin region.
“We just wanted to help the community out,” said Eldon Pelletier, one of the stars of the Discovery Channel reality television show. “We just didn’t have the right spot to do it [truck pulls] in.
“This was worth taking the time to build,” he said. “Hopefully, we can have two or three events like this at the same location.”
Traffic to get into the airport was so thick that it stretched from the airport on Medway Road to Rice Farm Road, at least two miles away. It came in such a steady stream that vehicles were still pulling into the parking lot alongside the closed runway for an hour after the event’s 2 p.m. start. Crowds filled the bleachers and lined the opposite side of the track at least three deep.
The strong showing fits perfectly with Timber Cruiser plans, said David Moore, the club’s president.
“We’d like to develop the town more, get people here. The club’s not really a club anymore. It’s more like a business,” Moore said.
The event would have been impossible without help from the Pelletiers, Moore said. Gerald Pelletier Inc. logging crews dug the 500-foot-long, 60-foot-wide track near one of the local airport’s two runways for free, with the support of town leaders, as part of their plans to make the track one of New England’s premiere tractor- and truck-pull sites.
As a safety precaution, the crews placed desk-size concrete blocks along both sides of the track. Crews also smoothed the track between pulls and worked with about 30 club volunteers to set up temporary bleachers and concession stands for the event.
“They just show up and work,” Moore said of the Pelletiers. “Just the concrete blocks cost them $6,500 and that’s just the purchase, not the cost of the transportation and putting them in place.”
The crews and Wayne Lapierre of Lapierre Transportation Co. hauled about 1,600 yards of clay donated by Medway gravel pit owners John and Alan Levesque for the track. David Violette of Katahdin Shadows Campgrounds donated the sound system, and Aaron Spence of Advanced Construction Corp. donated cooking equipment.
The family also helped build the region’s first ATV trail and a multiuse trail, used mostly by snowmobiles, that runs from Penobscot Avenue near the new Pelletier Loggers Family Restaurant to a multiuse recreational bridge outside town.
According to several truck drivers, who rode everything from street-legal pickup trucks to monster tractor-trailers on the track, the volunteers’ efforts paid off.
“The track was in incredible shape, especially for a first-time event,” said Jeff Steeves, who came from Centerville, New Brunswick, for the event.
Held in memory of the late Gerald Pelletier, the event attracted major sponsors, including Dysart’s, Daigle & Houghton Inc., Mack Truck, Bangor Truck and Trailer Inc., and Freightliner and Western Star of Maine Inc.
During the event, the airport’s main runway was open as normal, and the secondary runway was open essentially to emergency landings only.