- Last Updated on Wednesday, 08 April 2009 20:28
- Published on Wednesday, 08 April 2009 20:28
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James Johnson personifies the American spirit
His passion for mechanical engineering has no boundaries.
For 35 years, King George resident, James T. Johnson has successfully competed in the sport of lawn and garden tractor pulling, finishing each year at the top of his game. Throughout the years, Johnson, a graduate of Ralph Bunche and a retired truck driver and engineering technician from Indian Head Division, Naval Surface Warfare Center, has placed first numerous times.
In fact, in 1998, 2005, 2006, and 2007 he celebrated first place four times in each season respectively, using two tractors, a weight transfer sled, that he built in his own backyard. Last year he was third in point production for the 1400-pound Eliminator Modified category. Most recently, at the Hanover County “Shuk N Pull” tractor pull competition, Johnson placed first in the 1200-pound class, using Southern Sample as his tractor. In addition, he placed third in the 1400-pound class, using Mighty Moe as his tractor. Although he competed in the 1850-pound class, he failed to place using Silver Shadow as his tractor.
The basics of tractor pull competition are simple; whoever can pull a mechanized transfer sled, carrying various amounts of weight the farthest on a 200-foot course, wins. This technical aspects may sound simple, but the reality of tractors failing to start, tractors blowing engines, picking the wrong surface to race in, and not having the weight set in the proper place on the sled could spell disaster for a novice or veteran competitor. The most Johnson has ever pulled was 9,000 pounds.
The primary difficulty in tractor pulling is carrying the weight-box that is attached to the sled. The weight-box will start out on the wheel portion of the sled, and as the tractor advances, the weight is transferred from the wheels to the drag part of the sled-bed—which eventually makes it harder to advance the tractor.
Johnson is an active member of the Shenandoah Valley Tractor Pullers Association. The organization has 75 active members who compete all over the country. Some of the states that Johnson has traveled include: Iowa, Indiana, Minnesota, Maryland and North Carolina.
As an official, a well-respected member of the tractor pulling circuit, Johnson is 1200 Pro Sportsman Super Modified and the 1400 Pro Eliminator Super Modified representative. Also, he is the head tech official at each event.
The urge to compete in tractor pulling has fascinated Johnson since the day a friend encouraged him to enter a tractor-pulling event in Fredericksburg in 1974. Although his tractor weight of 1,300 pounds prevented him officially entering as a competitor, race officials did allow him to showcase his tractor in an exhibition pull. Afterwards, Johnson had found an avenue that he could both pursue his lifelong interest in mechanics, while surrounding himself with competitors who shared the same interest in tractors that he has. “After the race was over, I told myself, ‘man, I like this,’” Johnson said. “Its really a good feeling to know you’re competing against people who are just as good as you are. I enjoyed the feeling of making a piece of equipment that would not break under tremendous pressure.”
In high school, Johnson amazed his classmates by building a motorbike, that he often road to school and work. Driven to build the bike at any cost, Johnson skipped lunch, and saved his money to purchase a three horsepower Briggs & Stratton engine, that cost $49.99, from Sears and Roebuck. The bike reached a maximum speed of 50-mph. Not only was the bike durable to handle street traffic, but also Johnson made sure the bike was covered by insurance, complete with license plates and title before entering the roadway.
Throughout Johnson’s life, he has found satisfaction from defying the obstacles that sometimes accompany life, and hurdling them with the desire to succeed using his natural talents. After high school, and several failed attempts at landing a job in Dahlgren at NSWC, he decided to build a career foundation by entering the military. He also served his country in the National Guard for a brief period.
Although the doors to employment at NSWC in Dahlgren remained closed, he was able to land a job at the Indian Head Division, Naval Surface Warfare Center, where he worked for 33 years.
When Johnson is not building tractors or competing against rival pullers in some far away region in Virginia, he spends time with his wife, Phyllis. All three of their children are now adults. He also proudly serves Antioch Baptist Church in King George in the capacity of a deacon.
The next tractor pull competition scheduled for Johnson will be on April 18, in Gordonsville, for the “Fun Pull” competition. Information pertaining to Johnson and the sport of tractor pulling can be accessed online at www.jamestjohnson.org.
While the thrill of victory will always have a place in Johnson’s heart, the real joy is the camaraderie associated with networking with fellow pullers. “I pull for fun of it,” Johnson said. “I am not going to pull and work myself to death.”