PEORIA — A line of one quarter-scale student-made tractors lined up Sunday at Expo Gardens to compete in their final event.

Their goal? To see how far their tractor can pull a heavy load.

More than 20 universities spent four days competing in the 23rd annual International ¼-Scale Tractor Student Design Competition.

Kent Thoreson, one of the competition co-chairs, spent four years helping organize this college student engineering event. Four universities competing were from Canada and one college is in Israel. The rest of the teams come mostly from the Midwest or the South and a few others are scattered around the country, according to Thoreson.

As Thoreson walked around Expo Gardens there was a constant noise of tractor engines. Thoreson has been involved with the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers, which hosts the event, for the past 10 years, four of them as a competitor from Iowa State University. Now, he works as a systems engineer at Vermeer Corporation in Pella, Iowa.

There are numerous stages of preparation and competition in the student design competition. It begins with an oral presentation on the tractor as well as presentation of the student’s tractor design.

“We also do a design-specific presentation so they (the judges) will actually stand around the tractor and judge it on things like serviceability, manufacturability, ergonomics, safety and the test and development process,” Thoreson said.

After that, teams face off in physical challenges such as a maneuvering event, an endurance test, and finally, the well-known tractor pull.

Jonah Bolin, a graduating senior from the University of Nebraska in Lincoln, says that most college teams begin their preparation for next year just a couple of short months after the end of their last event.

Bolin’s older brother, who was a part of the same team, persuaded him to join the team his freshman year.

"Our captains this year are all younger brothers of former captains,” Bolin said. He carries fond memories of the event, which brings engineers from all over the country into a creative environment.

The event hosts over 40 judges, either volunteering their time or being paid by their company, who will analyze the college student creations. It's also a great opportunity for networking, according to Thoreson, who says that his company regularly hires students from this competition.

Ann Pille, senior/captain of the team, and Chloe Wells, sophomore, are students from McGill University in Montreal majoring in bioresource engineering. Every team competes to win the $1,500 grand prize, but that doesn’t mean teams keep to themselves.

“The teams here are incredibly supportive,” Pille said.

Wells spoke of one team helping put up string lights in their tent area knowing they had to stay into the night.

This is Wells' first year competing at the tractor design competition and it has been a worthwhile experience.

“It’s so cool,” Wells said. “I have learned so much just in this week about adapting in the moment and being resourceful. It sounds so corny, but teamwork has been a huge thing to develop our roles and knowing how you can be useful. I definitely want to come back."

Pille said her team has grown from 25 to 40 students, of whom 13 came to Peoria.

“One of the most exciting things for me is the team is half female,” she said. “It’s not super common in agricultural engineering. It’s exciting to see a lot of people involved.”

Pille’s team brought a tractor that was 70 pounds overweight, for the 900-pound limit, and they had to cut a lot of weight off.

“Everything is on the tractor for a reason,” Wells said. The team from McGill worked overtime to redesign components of their tractor to maintain their four-wheel drive capability, that is unique to their tractor in the competition according to Pille.

“We had to take off the seat and we ended up using a school chair we brought to replace it as our seat,” Wells said. “We had to get very creative with a lot of things.”

Such situations make this event important to student engineers.

“It gives students an opportunity to practice their skills in a real-life scenario,” Thoreson said. “All of these students sit in classrooms all day long and that’s great, they learn a lot. Being able to take those things and apply them to the world and get hands-on experience makes a huge difference.”

Bolin spent his final day at the event enjoying the environment and people. Bolin will be starting his full-time job this week at John Deere in Waterloo, Iowa. Bolin described his experience at the ASABE event as being a huge part in securing his John Deere job. Bolin thinks events like tractor design competitions are a vital part of becoming a professional engineer.

“It’s incredible (that) kids will stay out here in the gravel lot all night long grinding and welding and fixing on their tractor trying to make sure that something they put their lives into the last year can compete and participate,” Thoreson said. “They don’t have any quit in them, these students. They work hard.”