Most little boys grow up wanting to follow in their father’s footsteps when they get older. For many, they experience life on a farm and dream of nothing more than one day doing their own farming and driving tractors daily to make a living.
For Justin Hopkins, his dream was a little different when it came to driving tractors when he got older. Growing up in Maryland, Hopkins father didn’t have a pulling tractor, but once he experienced the thrill firsthand at county fairs and festivals, he knew found something that sparked his interest that he would one day pursue himself.
“When I was 13 years old I began pulling antique tractors,” Hopkins began. “My dad would haul a tractor to a pull for me and he would just sit back and watch from the side.”
Being from the state of Maryland, several years back Hopkins father had money he wanted to invest and decided farmland in Iowa was just where he wanted to do it.
“He had money to invest and wanted to do it in land, once he came to southern Iowa he fell in love with it here and really liked the people,” said Hopkins. “Still to this day I believe he will end up moving here eventually when he retires because he just really liked it here.”
“When I got out of high school I came out in the spring and planted crop and I told my dad I was going to move out here myself,” he continued. “I moved here in August of 2004 when I was 20 years old.”
“I came out here by myself and stayed for a month and a half in a camper planting all the crops,” Hopkins went on. “I knew I would be back soon after.”
Once here and settled in, Hopkins didn’t have a tractor so he began working on building his first one in 2008. The name of his first tractor was The Dirty Hooker.
Hopkins took this tractor to several pulls for three years, winning the points championship before eventually selling it. With his tractor gone, he took five years off from the pulling circuit before deciding it was time to jump back in again.
In 2014 he began building a new tractor from scratch. Putting in a year’s worth of time to make this tractor better than his previous one.
The first year in Just Gettin’ Started didn’t get off to a good start as he had hoped.
“That first year in my new one I did horrible,” said Hopkins. “I knew then I had to make some changes.”
Disappointed in how it ran, Hopkins decided to build a bigger engine that could possibly change how it would run the second year.
“With the bigger engine it caused me to jump up in classes.”
“Actually when I built Just Gettin’ Started, there wasn’t a class for it,” he continued. “The class I built it for didn’t exist out here, but now they made one for it. It was a really popular class back home out east and I really liked it so I went ahead and built one and pulled wherever I could fit in and the last two years I have done really well.”
Running in the Light Prostock class, it seems to be growing here in the Midwest with now eight pulling in that class. Tractors in this class have specifications such as 540 cubic inches, only allowed to run one turbo but it can be as large as they want, they run on tires sized 24.5 by 32, 8,500 pounds and over 2,500 horsepower.
Hopkins runs with the Pro Pulling League that has pulls across the Midwest including Iowa, Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska and Illinois. He has also traveled to Wisconsin as well that is not connected to the Pro Pulling League.
Two years ago Hopkins came out on top winning the Rumble By the Refuge pull in Mound City, Mo.
“There were 33 tractors in my class from a total of nine states and I won,” Hopkins began. “It was a western series and it was the biggest pull I had been at and to win it was a big highlight for me.”
Following that win, he won again at the Missouri State Fair held in Sedalia, Mo. with over 25 tractors entered from seven states.
“After that win I got kicked out,” Hopkins laughed. “My tractor was the only one set up like it is and I beat everybody.”
With the track being removed and replaced with a new grandstand at the Iowa State Fairgrounds, Hopkins no longer has the chance to pull in Des Moines.
“It used to be a pretty big pull there and we would get there at 7 in the morning and park the hauler and we could easily go into the fair but also have access back to the trailer and it was the best day to go,” he added.
With the amount of time it takes to build a pulling tractor, Hopkins admits he couldn’t do this all on his own.
“Troy Trzpuc and Cole Alley have gone with me quite a bit to pulls and have been a lot of help and Shawna (Justin’s girlfriend Shawna Allen) goes with me whenever she can,” he added. “All my friends are pullers including my best friend from Eddyville that is my engine builder, and it is like a big family whenever we get together.”
“I can’t even start my tractor by myself,” Hopkins said. “It takes one person spraying the ether, one person sitting on the seat and it usually takes at least three cans of ether just to get my tractor started.”
When asked if that was a normal process to need so much ether, Hopkins laughed saying, “for one little car usually if you give it one little sniff then it can start but my tractor takes a full stream running through three cans worth before it will start up and run on it’s own.”
“I buy John Deere ether by the case and they don’t ask me anymore what it’s for now like they used to.”
In years past, to purchase such a large amount of ether at once a person had to sign a registry, as it has become a main ingredient in several different illegal drugs now.
Hopkins plans to travel to Lincoln, Neb. for an indoor pull on March 22 and he is already planning ahead knowing this will be a cold one.
“Even though it’s an indoor pull it will be cold and I bet it will take me six or seven cans of ether just to warm the tractor up for a pull,” said Hopkins. “They do not like the cold. I pulled in January and it was 30 degrees below zero at an indoor pull and it was rough.”
As if the cans of ether aren’t enough, the fuel the tractors go through is even more impressive.
“I burn two gallons of fuel in 10 seconds and two gallons of water in 10 seconds,” said Hopkins. “It burns just as much water as it does fuel because the engine gets so hot there is water continuing being sprayed to keep from melting.”
“Building a pulling tractor there is a big difference between one that pulls and one that is used on a farm,” he added. “It really is an art.”
An art that Hopkins has tried to walk away from more than once, but he admits he couldn’t stay away. With his collection of hats and t-shirts his father bought him at a young age he knows he has been mesmerized since childhood.
“This usually isn’t a young man’s sport so I guess I was an exception to the rule,” stated Hopkins. “I only have one toy, but it’s a pretty big one.”
With Hopkins and Allen expecting their first child together later this summer, he knows he may not make it to the 20 pulls a year he averages now, however he is looking forward to eventually involving his son or daughter in the process just as he currently does with Allen’s son Presten.
Hopkins noted he is looking forward to pulling here locally this year at the Wayne County Fair this summer.
“The Fair Board is doing a good job with the Tractor Pull event here and they have as good of a pull as any bigger fair,” he noted. “Our pull here at the county fair is bigger than it ever has been and they added a class this year for my tractor to pull in.”
“I have had a lot of guys locally and in the pulling system help me through the years in this sport and whether it was giving me parts or ideas, I couldn’t have gotten this far by myself,” Hopkins added.
Hopkins does have a Facebook page titled “Just Gettin’ Started Pulling Team” created for those interested in following him as he travels from pull to pull.