Pack Pullers place high in international competition

They called it the Alpha Wolf, and rightfully so: Out of all the NC State University Pack Pullers’ team entries in the annual International ¼-Scale Tractor Student Design Competition, it was perhaps the top one yet.

The Pack Pullers, a student team from the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences’ Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering, designed and built the tractor from the ground up over the past year. The team placed in the Top Five out of 28 college and university teams competing in the recent American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers’ contest in Peoria, Illinois.

The team also won top honors for “manufacturability,” the ease with which the Alpha Wolf could be mass-produced, explained Dr. Grant Ellington, assistant BAE professor. He advises the team along with Ed Godfrey, a research associate. Additionally, the team placed second in maneuverability, he said.

The tractors are also judged on five other characteristics in addition to vehicle performance: innovation, serviceability, safety, sound level and ergonomics. There’s a thick rulebook, with each tractor having to weigh less than 800 pounds and all teams must use the engine and tires that are provided.

Ellington said he couldn’t “overstate the competitiveness” of the annual event.

“It’s not just building the tractor, it’s the formal design report, the performance demonstrations and being able to sell the design in a formal presentation to a panel of judges,” he said. “To finish in the Top 10 is good, but to place in the Top Five is exceptional. It means you’ve excelled at all aspects of the competition.”

Judges come from major large, off-road vehicle manufacturers, such as John Deere and Caterpillar, and those who make related products. The event provides an excellent opportunity for students to meet and interact with members of the industry and to hone their hands-on skills, Ellington said. And some NC State students have started their careers with connections they’ve made there.

“Ultimately the goal is to better prepare the students for the workforce, which it does quite well,” he added. “And it does a really nice job of supplementing their formal course work. They see a lot of these things in class theoretically, and this gives them the chance to apply what they’ve learned.”

Recent graduate Benjamin Hobson, who was this year’s Pack Pullers team captain, agreed. “It’s real-world experience that a lot of time you don’t see in college,” he said.

Hobson is now working on his family’s diversified farm in Yadkin County. “The contest goes hand in hand with what I’m doing now,” he said. “I think what we did in fabrication will tie in directly to what we do on the farm, and the engineering experience will be important, too, in helping me make sure things are structurally sound.

In addition to Hobson, Pack Pullers who traveled to Peoria for the competition were Kenny Atkins, Josh Rudd, Helen Peel, Renae Luu and Steve Hall. The competition, held May 28-31, has taken place yearly since 1998, with the Pack Pullers participating for 10 years.

Pack Pullers is a part of NC State’s student ASABE chapter, and in the fall will be organizing a team for the 2016 competition. Students wishing to participate can contact Ellington at or Hobson at

–D. Shore