September 5, 2017 at 3:32 p.m.
"Honestly, it's a disease," Doug said, describing his love of the sport.
Today, Doug and his son, Collin, travel to and compete in over 25 tractor pulls a year throughout Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa. Along with their hobby, the Birkholzes milk 65 cows on their dairy near Wilton, Wis.
The Birkholzes are involved with Tri-State Truck & Tractor Pullers, LLC, and compete in the Hot Farm class. Their dedication and hard work has paid off, as they have won the points championship the last four years.
The tractor they are pulling is an IH-1456. John Udulutch from Wilton built the tractor in 2007. Before each pulling season, Doug confers with Mondovi Tractor about possible modifications they can make to the tractor to make it that much better.
"We try something new each year," Doug said. "Sometimes it works in our favor, and other times we strike out."
As a thank you, Doug does not hesitate to allow those who have helped him drive the tractor. He said it is the least he can do.
"I owe everyone who supports us a big thank you. We've put in a lot of late nights in [the shop] together," Doug said.
Tractor pulling has become an entire family event for the Birkholzes. Before each pull, Doug looks over the tractor's hoses, tires and oil to make sure it's running at full capacity. Doug's wife, Dawn, polishes up the tractor for each pull before Collin loads it up to head to their next event. To them, it's a fun way to stick together.
"We all like to go," Doug said. "We've made many friends by tractor pulling through the years."
Collin, who has driven the tractor for nearly every pull since the age of 16, said he is glad to be a part of a growing family tradition.
"I'm thankful to have been born into it," Collin said. "It basically feels like it is in my genes."
Collin had his first taste of tractor pulling at the age of 14. He and Doug recalled the event as a favorite memory of theirs.
"We were in Norwalk getting ready for the pull. If I told him he was pulling the day before, I knew he would be frantic," Doug said.
Remembering his reaction, Collin said, "My dad walked up to me and said I would be driving about fifteen minutes before I had to be on the track. I just suited up in my gear, told my friends and got into the tractor before I could even comprehend it."
Having a hobby that they both share a passion for is something Doug and Collin value. Collin enjoys having something in common with his dad that is so unique.
"It's a great feeling to do this with my dad. It gives us something to share and talk about all week," Collin said. "When the seasons over, we have something to plan for all winter, too."
"Honestly, it's indescribable to share this with my son," Doug said. "I'm happy we are able to do it and both enjoy it as much as we do."
As one can imagine, running a dairy farm and having a time-consuming hobby such as tractor pulling has led to many long days in the Birkholz family. With 65 cows, 210 acres of corn, 320 acres of alfalfa and a custom baling business on the side, Doug has a full plate that doesn't slow him down.
"We've lost a lot of sleep over the years," Doug said, "But I have never missed a morning milking."
Doug said he is fortunate to have a great group of individuals who fill in during the evenings for him when he is at a pull. His success on the track would not be possible without the help he receives in the barn.
"I definitely worry a lot about what is going on at home when I'm at a pull. When there's a sick cow or a sick animal on the farm, you worry that they are getting taken care of," Doug said. "I couldn't pull tractors without the ones helping me at home."
On the day of a pull, Doug and Collin load up the tractor to leave as soon as morning chores are done. Once the pull is complete, they head for home, oftentimes arriving in Wilton shortly after midnight. On the nights where pulls are farther away, they sometimes don't make it back until three in the morning.
"Five in the morning definitely comes really fast," Doug said. "But, once you've done it long enough, you know it just has to get done."
In the next few years, Doug has plans for both his farm and his tractor. He is working towards growing a beef herd while remaining at the dairy's current size. As for tractor pulling, Doug plans to go up a class while attending less pulls.
"We will probably go to at least a few less pulls than we do now. Going up a class will mean more horsepower, but it also makes reliability go down," Doug said.
Collin is currently attending Western Technical College in La Crosse, Wis., where he is studying machine tool operation. Much like his dad, he hopes to find a future with pulling tractors.
"My dream job is to build parts for pulling tractors," Collin said. "I hope to one day have a tractor of my own or to own one with my dad."
Collin said it's a hobby he, too, has become addicted to.
"Like my dad says, it's a disease," Collin said. "It's a disease with no known cure, and it's not leaving me any time soon."
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