Jim Lambert owns what may be the baddest garden tractor in Hernando County. With its single-cylinder Kohler engine capable of producing between 85 and 100 horsepower, a special two-speed transmission and deep-ribbed balloon tires, it's a sure bet that it could make any landscape job a snap.
However, Lambert's souped-up 1971 Cub Cadet isn't set up for yard work. It doesn't even have a mower deck. It serves only one purpose: to pull a 1,250-pound sled, which it does with ease.
"It's definitely got some power to it," Lambert said, standing next to his dark blue machine on display last week at the Coney Island Drive Inn. Throughout the evening, patrons at the Brooksville restaurant stopped by to admire Lambert's gleaming creation, which he plans to enter Saturday in the Hernando County Cattlemen's Association's inaugural garden tractor pull at the Hernando County Fairgrounds.
Lambert, a retired truck mechanic, has been involved in competitive garden tractor pulling for seven years. His first creation was a hand-me-down from a neighbor. The tractor's 14-horsepower engine then underwent several months of modifications and additions, including the installation of larger pistons, valves and crankshaft. At last, Lambert felt he had something that would compete with anything else in the quarter-size tractor class.
"The trick is getting as much power as you can get without blowing it up, " Lambert said with a laugh. "Lord knows, I've blown up my share."
Weekends find Lambert heading out around the state to attend tractor pulls, which are generally held at fairgrounds, horse arenas or drag strips. Although the sport is still relatively unknown in west-central Florida, he has seen a marked increase in interest the past couple of years.
The object of the sport isn't speed. Rather, competitors battle to see how far their machine can pull a sled before the engine conks out. Competition is held in several classes, depending on engine size and allowable modifications. Each tractor is also required to have wheelie bars to prevent it from tipping backward, a kill switch to shut off the engine in an emergency and a fire extinguisher.
Lambert thinks he's the only competitive garden tractor puller in Hernando County, but he hopes Saturday's event attracts other locals who might be interested in getting into the sport.
"It's not too expensive when you compare it to things like stock car racing," said Lambert, who estimates he spent about $3,000 to build his tractor. "The thing is, once you get started, it's hard to stop. That's how much fun it is."
Logan Neill can be reached at email@example.com or (352) 848-1435.