ALS won’t stop a tractor puller in McLeod County

Woe to any person who challenges one particular Farmall Model M tractor in this Saturday’s McLeod County Fair Truck and Tractor Pull in Hutchinson. In a perfect world, only one entrant should win: retired Hutchinson dairy farmer Robert Dobratz.

He’s been a passionate tractor puller since 1996, the Hutchinson Leader reports.

He had his eye on restoring the tractor, adding power, and winning the competition. Then he was diagnosed with ALS, the Leader says.

That was 2015.

“We pulled it out of the shed, and it looked terrible,” his daughter, Beckey Puckett, tells the paper. “But it got down the track, and we watched it go. Dad got to watch it one more time. We brought him to the fair so he could see that.”

He can’t speak now. He’s lost much of the power of his muscles, which stands in sharp contrast to the power he’s added to the tractor.

“The toughest change for him is the loss of speech,” Puckett said. “He loves to talk to people. If a person wants to know a history of Hutchinson, my dad is the guy to talk to. He’s always wanted to know what’s going on, make connections with people, and what I’ve heard over the last three years from people visiting is that he’s such a good man.”

Dobratz, using a laser pointer to communicate, has been directing the tractor’s improvements for the competition. His kids have been doing the work on his behalf for the last few summers.

“We did a ton of work to it that summer,” Puckett said. “The McLeod Truck and Tractor Pull was rained out in 2016. I was devastated, thinking that he would never get to see it again. Our thinking has always been so short-term that we never thought he would have another year.”

Dobratz can’t drive the tractor on Saturday. The chairman of the fair — the fair begins today, by the way — is going to give it a go.

If there’s any real fairness in the world, Hutchinson will be the center of a perfect one on Saturday.