Colorado State University’s two quarter-scale tractors, this year’s model and one from 2000, are back at the Fort Collins campus after being transported stolen, damaged, repaired and entered in this year’s National ASAE Quarter-Scale Tractor Design Competition in Moline, Ill.
Despite the mishaps, the team came in fourth of 27 entries in the quarter-scale tractor contest, sponsored by ASAE — the Society for Engineering in Agricultural, Food and Biological Systems.
Some of the students and team advisor Doug Whitt, laboratory coordinator in the Civil Engineering Department, were transporting the tractors in a closed Colorado State trailer towed by a truck loaned by a parent of one of the team members. They stopped at a motel in Council Bluffs, Iowa, Wednesday night, May 30. A student noticed the truck and trailer missing about 7 a.m. the next morning.
Council Bluffs police put out the word, and a local television station interviewed students and aired the theft. A food store manager in Omaha, Neb., about 10 miles away, noticed the truck and trailer parked in his lot Thursday morning, the 31st; police recovered them.
The team proceeded to Moline Friday, determined to give their design presentation as best they could.
Engineering development official Carol Bernard, traveling with the group, contacted colleagues, who put together discretionary funds from the College of Engineering, civil engineering department and Alumni Association to offer a $1,000 Crime Stoppers reward.
A tip led to the stolen tractors, hidden in a backyard a short distance from where the stolen truck and trailer were recovered. The tractors were damaged. At least one man was arrested.
Council Bluffs police called the team, now in Moline, about 10:30 p.m. Friday night, June 1, to say the tractors had been found, and three students took the truck and trailer back to Council Bluffs, driving all night to complete the 600-mile round trip about 10:30 a.m. Saturday.
After spending most of the day repairing damage, students were able to make test pulls Saturday evening and enter four different pulling events on Sunday. Based on an advanced written design report, the on-site design presentation and the competitions – the quarter-scale tractors pull progressive weight sleds of varying loads – Colorado State earned its respectable fourth place finish. The team has finished third the past two years.
"We were pretty emotional about this, because we’d spent hundreds of hours building the new model," Irvin said. "It was a real emotional roller coaster ride."
Irvin and some of the team members came a day later, arriving at the Moline hotel only to hear about the theft. They assumed it was a practical joke – not unusual humor for the tractor team.
"I thought they were joking at first, and I went back to the room for three hours and let it blow over, thinking they’d come and tell me they were ‘pulling my chain’, but it never happened," Irvin said. "The nightmare just continued."
Without the theft, Irvin believes, the team would have scored even higher.
"Most of the design presentation judge evaluations said ‘excellent’-you just need a tractor," he said.
Whitt was grateful to Council Bluffs police officer R. G. Miller, who refused to let the tractors be impounded. He watched over the recovered vehicles for several hours and then was relieved by a friend so that the students could pick them up promptly.
"He and his friend deserve a lot of credit for their compassion and assistance," Whitt said. "He knew what two years of work meant to these students."