Special to Mustang Daily
First they build it. Then they try to break it — again and again.
Cal Poly’s PolyBuilt Quarter Scale Tractor Design Team builds a tractor for the annual American Society of Biological Engineers’ International Quarter Scale Competition each academic year. And they constantly face the same problem.
Almost every year, Cal Poly’s tractor breaks down during the competition, Quarter Scale adviser and bioresource and agricultural engineering (BRAE) lecturer Keith Crowe said.
But this year, the team is determined not to repeat the mistakes of earlier teams, they said.
This year, the tractor is going through tests to find where the weak parts are, Quarter Scale Design Chair and agricultural systems management senior Sam Terpstra said.
“We keep on pulling it to try to break stuff,” Terpstra said. “So that’s how we keep things from breaking is by trying to break them.”
Last year’s tractor had many parts that broke, Quarter Scale President and BRAE senior Weston Soto said. That tractor had brake failure, a jammed belt and a broken steering cable.
To prevent the tractor parts from breaking, the team advanced the schedule so it can have an operable tractor by mid-March, Crowe said. That way the team can test the tractor thoroughly and put it through its extremes before it arrives at the competition.
Cal Poly is one of the few universities that fabricate almost all the parts used for the tractor, which creates a drawback, Crowe said.
“It really puts us at a disadvantage in the competition; you can tell we fabricated it,” Crowe said. “And the judges like really fancy looking things. Ours isn’t fancy looking.”
The time and energy put into the creation of the tractor is unbelievable, Terpstra said. The time spent on the tractor last year was well more than 3,000 hours. That number is larger than the other universities whose teams only put in a few hundred hours, he said.
“It’s pretty incredible,” Terpstra said. “That’s on top of us being students.”
Working on a tractor can be difficult, but the members have a special resource they can use if they have issues. The team can turn to the professors in the department for support and help to improve the tractor because they are tractor pull gurus, Terpstra said.
The American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers puts the competition on every year, Terpstra said.
The competition prepares students for things they might face in the real world and the industry, Soto said.
“You learn what industry is like,” Soto said. “We’re practically running a business here. You learn how to work in the environment.”
Cal Poly has created many different designs compared to its competitors’ tractors in past years. The team plans to keep it simple, Soto said.
“We will still do things that are unique but be as simple as possible with it,” Soto said. “We want to think outside of the box but not be too crazy.”
The team works on the tractor in the Bioresource and Agricultural Engineering Shop during the winter quarter to prepare for the competition. The team has been designing and working since the end of the last competition from the past year, Soto said.
The team even has a class that lets members work on the tractor, Crowe said.
“I go into that shop and watch these guys work and I’m picking up my jaw, watching these guys work,” Crowe said. “It’s just absolutely amazing what these guys do.”
The total cost of the tractor ranges from $25,000 to $30,000, Crowe said.
The funds for the project come from the state as well as the fundraising that the team does. The Instructional Related Activities provide approximately $12,000 because the team is viewed as something that benefits the university and the department, Crowe said. The rest of the money is brought in by Quarter Scale fundraising, which is heavily supported by those who donate from the agricultural industry, he said.
There are 10 returning and five new members on the team, Soto said. There are also new people in different positions from last year. This year is a building year, he said.
“We’re definitely trying to make a foundation for the club,” Soto said.
The team members are confident in building the tractor, Soto said.
“This year, personally, is absolutely the strongest team I’ve ever been with,” Soto said. “And they’re the smartest group of guys and girls that I’ve ever worked with.”
The team members call the tractor “Dark Horse” because they are usually the underdogs in the competition, Terpstra said. The team is the farthest away from the competition and does things its own way which makes it looked down upon, he said.
Because the other competitors do not take Cal Poly seriously, the team is working to surprise all the universities at the competition, Terpstra said. There has already been so much more productivity compared to last year and the team is very dedicated, he said.
“We think we are a lot stronger of a team than we were last year,” Terpstra said. “We are hoping to show up and catch people off guard.”
Dillon Payne contributed to this article.