Antique doodlebug pulling challenge Sunday

A doodlebug driver attempts to pull a heavy load at a pull held last year at the 2010 Dover Fair.
Courtesy of the Piscataquis Observer
A doodlebug driver attempts to pull a heavy load at a pull held last year at the 2010 Dover Fair.
Posted Aug. 03, 2011, at 6:18 p.m.

ORRINGTON, Maine — Doodlebugs — homemade farm tractors made decades ago from old automobiles — will be arriving in town on Sunday for an old-fashioned weight-pulling competition.

“Most people around here call them jitterbugs,” said Bruce Bowden, museum director for the Curran Homestead Living History Farm & Museum, which is hosting the event.

The antique machines were commonplace during World War II, when U.S. factories were making items in support of the war instead of farm machinery, and recently have gained in popularity in New England, said doodlebug owner Randy Chapman of Troy.

The homemade farm vehicles start out as some type of old motor vehicle. “You basically tear the cab off and try and gear it so it goes a little slower, so it has a little more pull,” Chapman said Wednesday. “It’s just a bunch of old automobile parts thrown together.”

Chapman, who is a member of the Maine Antique Tractor Club, will have two doodlebugs at Sunday’s competition in Orrington, which begins at noon at the living history farm at 372 Fields Pond Road.

He said he’ll have his Model-A Ford from the 1930s pull in the smallest class, 3,000 pounds, and a 1940 International that has been repowered with a later-model diesel in the largest class, 4,000 pounds. There also is a 3,500-pound class. All vehicles must have been manufactured before 1950 and cannot be made from any tractor parts.

“There is a wide range of machines out there that people have built up here in Maine,” Chapman said.

The circa-1890s Curran Homestead was a subsistence farm that utilized crops, animals, wood and local resources, such as ice from Fields Pond, to provide food, shelter and cash for the Curran family.

A group of local volunteers decided 20 years ago to take the 30-acre dilapidated farm and turn it into the Curran Homestead Living History Farm & Museum, which provides visitors a glimpse into the area’s past.

“We’re excited that the drivers have agreed to schedule their next meet here in the Bangor region as a special event during our 20th anniversary year celebration,” said Irv Marsters, Curran Homestead’s treasurer.

Doodlebug owners joined the Maine Antique Tractor Club three years ago, said Robert Clark, a leader in the tractor club from Smithfield.

“They are a part of the agriculture heritage,” he said. “A lot of folks had them.”

In the last year, three new doodlebug owners have joined the club, Chapman said.

After Orrington, weight pulls are scheduled for Dover and Harmony and other locations around the state, he said.

Doodlebug owners are interested in old junk and iron — “stuff that is cheap to put together and repair,” Chapman said. “It’s not a big spending type thing. Everyday working people who‘ve got an old truck out back who want to rework it a little bit can get involved.”

Gates at the Curran Homestead will open at 10 a.m. Sunday for those interested in farm tours, Model-T or tractor-driven rides or live music. Admission to the noontime doodlebug pull is $2, with a maximum family admission cost of $10. Hot dogs, hamburgers and chicken will be available for lunch at a cost and visitors are encouraged to bring lawn chairs.

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