The Combine Demolition Derby at the Jackson County Fair is just about as epic as it sounds. Drivers smash multi-ton farm machinery into each other, until only one is left running.
On the first day of this year’s Jackson County Fair, Bill McNulty and his family were named the Outstanding Farm Family of the Year. On the last day of the fair, this 64-year-old grandfather from Black River Falls will be climbing up into a combine—not in his cornfield, but in front of a packed grandstand. McNulty is a long-time competitor at the fair’s Combine Demolition Derby.
The Combine Demolition Derby is an annual event where drivers 16 and up, typically with some connection to agriculture, resurrect old combines and armor them for a few minutes of destruction.
“It’s a rush!” McNulty said. “You get out there and you want to hit someone, but you can’t have a plan, because a lot of other guys have plans too!”
Sam Kling of Taylor, Wisconsin helped draft the rules as manager of the derby. He said safety is, of course, a top priority.
“Fuel tanks and batteries are moved to the interior,” Kling explained. “All glass, including headlights and taillights, is removed. They have to put a seatbelt in and brace up the cab.”
The harvesters are 16,000 to 18,000 lbs and go about 15-18 mph. The trick is to pop one of the front tires or break a rear axle–something that makes another machine immobile.
“With the bigger combines, it gets a little vicious–they’re heavy and powerful,” McNulty said. Four of his family members are also participating this year. “I tell everyone yes, it’s a competition, but let’s keep everything safe.”
McNulty has participated in all but one of the fair’s combine derbies.
Where do the combines come from?
Drivers are always on the lookout for old combines. At an auction, they might pay a couple thousand dollars for a 30 to 50-year-old machine that first cost a farmer $80-90,000.
“It doesn’t take too many years and it’s obsolete,” McNulty said.
Kling, who also competes said, “We usually get five or six runs out of them, then part them out, and then scrap them.” He expects around 17 combines this year, the most ever for the fair.
“It’s the thrill!” Kling said. “How many people can say they go out and smash up combines?”
Know Before You Go
Fair board president Paul Anderson appreciates an event that brings in money, as there are many other expenses around the grounds that aren’t thought about, like jugglers, magicians, judges, equipment, software, and computers.
“It’s the biggest day in terms of attendance,” Anderson said, of combine derby day. “Three-thousand to 3,500 people buy tickets for the derby.”
“I’d make the argument that we have one of the biggest combine derbies in the state, and it’s what we’re known for,” Steve Boe, treasurer of the fair board of directors, added.
The winner of the combine derby receives $2,000, with other prizes totaling about $3,750.
Drivers say it’s not about the money though.
“It takes a little stress out!” McNulty said. “The competition is something, it’s really about putting on the show!”
[Editor’s Note: Bill McNulty won the 2023 Combine Demolition Derby on August 6, 2023. You can learn more about the fair on the Jackson County Fair’s website.]