When Harold Walliser took his tractor to a local pull in the early 1950s, he never imagined he someday would be an announcer for the National Tractor Pulling Championships and be recognized for his service by the Ohio State Tractor Pullers Association Hall of Fame.
Although he's no longer behind the microphone much, Walliser is at the national pulls in Bowling Green this weekend enjoying the show, visiting old friends and helping as needed.
His 40-some years as a state and national track announcer was recognized earlier this year when he was inducted in the OSTPA Hall of Fame.
PHOTO BY VICKI JOHNSON
Harold Walliser poses with his wife, Betty, in their Attica home. Behind them are some of the awards he has earned for announcing tractor pulls.
The Attica resident started as a tractor pull competitor with his brothers when they pulled a Farmall M in a deadweight division.
"In 1952 or '53, I actually pulled my first tractors off the farm, dead weight sled the same as horse pulling," he said. "I got hooked there. I still have a passion for tractors. I just love to talk tractors.
"We pulled for several years, but it got to be too expensive. I'm not one to use the grocery money."
That's where Walliser's story began.
In a written presentation at his Hall of Fame recognition dinner, Walliser's son, Ned, explained how his father got his start as an announcer.
"I remember when I was 6 or 7 years old, we were attending a local pull the Lions Club was putting on in my hometown of Attica, Ohio," Ned wrote. "My father was working the event, and he and my two uncles were going to compete that day. For some reason, the announcer was late. As the start time for the pull drew near, it was apparent that the announcer was not going to make it. My father volunteered and stepped up to the microphone that afternoon, and as they say the rest was history."
The next day, he was asked to announce a pull in Republic, and soon was asked by many other areas tractor pull coordinators.
"Then one day, he was approached by Ms. Ellie Wilson (a prominent member of OSTPA at the time) and was asked if he would consider announcing on the OSTPA circuit," Ned wrote. "My father, being his humble self, objected to the idea and told her that he didn't feel he was capable of doing that. Ms. Wilson adamantly disagreed and later convinced my father that, not only was he capable of announcing, but he was wanted."
Soon after, he attended the National Tractor Pulling Championships in Bowling Green as a club member of the Northwest Ohio Tractor Pullers Association.
"It was a very muddy day and my father, in his work clothes and rubber boots up to his knees, was approached by the president of the NWOPTA, Mr. Dave Chamberlain," Ned wrote. "Mr. Chamberlain told my father he wanted him to go to the 'crow's nest' and announce with Mr. Ed Johnson. My father immediately started chuckling and told Dave there's no way he was ready for that. In a very stern voice, Mr. Chamberlain told my father, 'You go announce with Ed. I'll decide if you're ready or not.' That day, he started announcing 'the granddaddy of them all.'"
Looking back, Walliser said he
hadn't even thought about working on the state circuit.
"I kind of declined because I didn't think I was ready for that," he said. "She (Wilson) called me later, and before she got off the phone, she'd convinced me I was more than capable, I was almost in demand."
He felt the same when Chamberlain asked.
"The state was pretty good, but that was the big time," Walliser said. "It doesn't get any bigger than that."
But he took on the job and enjoyed it tremendously, he said.
"I was always the announcer up there," he said. "I started in the early '80s."
During those years, he said he watched the national tractor pulls grow into the present size, which he said draws more than $40 million into the northwest Ohio economy.
"It's amazing how many people come to that thing and how many people compete," he said.
It started in 1997 as part of the Wood County Fair.
"After three years, it got so big that it was more than the fair board liked to handle," he said.
So the Northwestern Ohio Tractor Pullers Association took over. The group is limited to 200 members who assist with running the national pulls.
During the same years, he was announcing county events for OSTPA. The organization sponsors 43 events in the state each year.
"I probably announced 38 of them," he said.
There aren't many county fair pulls in Ohio he has not announced.
He said fair boards can request an announcer for their event, and he was most requested.
"They helped me a lot get to the hall of fame," he said. "I took a little different approach to announcing than most factual-type event announcers can relate to."
Instead of concentrating only on the actual events happening on the track, Walliser said he talked to the fans, the pullers and the fair board members.
"Neither one of the three can survive without being on the same page," he said. "I always tried to get a human relations story out of the fans."
He talked to the fans, and he said he learned to get information on the competitors from their children and friends because they didn't talk much about themselves.
When his son, Ned, was a child of about 10 or 12, he would go out and collect information for his father.
"He really did a lot," Walliser said.
In 1997, he and wife Betty decided to enter the National Hot Rod Association arena and toured the United States for five years working for MainGate, a merchandising company on the NRHA circuit that sells T-shirts and items from a traveling store.
"We're proud to say the MainGate company is owned by our son and two other people," Walliser said.
When they started working with the company, Ned was director of a division.
They worked out of a trailer, or a super, which is a large truck, living in a motor home.
"Then, at the race, we set up a huge tent," he said. "Everything is on a hangar in there. You should see the magnitude of the merchandise they move at an event."
After the first five years, they lessened their load.
"Then we really slowed down," Walliser said. "We'd do six, eight, 10 (race events) a year instead of 25."
They recently worked their last event for MainGate.
"It's getting to be more work than fun," he said.
During those years, he also announced at other types of national events and for the Barrett Jackson auto auctions.
"That's high-dollar stuff," he said.
And he donated his time to the Susan G. Koman Race for the Cure breast cancer awareness effort.
In all, Walliser announced throughout the United States - from Louisiana to Maine and Minnesota to New York.
"I've announced indoor truck and tractor pulls in 26 different cities," he said.
He announced for TNT Motorsports, Louisville, Kentucky, and for the U.S. Hot Rod Association.
"Then, monster trucks started coming into view and the fans related more to a monster truck than a tractor pull," he said.
Walliser said he didn't keep track of a lot of statistical information during his years as an announcer, and he has no photos of himself as an announcer.
"When I was doing this, I never thought I'd have to answer these kinds of questions," he said.
He would fly out on a Thursday and get home Sunday to go to work.
Locally, he operated a Sohio distributorship and delivered home heating oil and fuel in the 1980s. Through the years, he also drove school bus and drove truck for another company.
"They were very good to me, allowing me to get off work early and sometimes get back late," he said.
During the early years when he started traveling, he didn't want to leave his family at home, so he and Betty bought a motor home and took their two youngest children with them.
"Ned was around 6 or 8, and our youngest daughter was 3 years old," he said. "The two older ones were on their own. But it was amazing the number of time we would go and the whole family would show up."
"I will cherish the days I heard my father's voice on the PA, especially those days I heard it on a noisy weekend in a quiet town in northwest Ohio," Ned said in the OSTPA letter. "I was always amazed at how my father was able to get the crowds more interested in the event or make a crowd roar with a few simple words strategically stated over the microphone at just the right time. My father's knowledge of the sport and his familiarity with the competitors brought a perspective to the microphone that has rarely been duplicated."
In 1981, Walliser received an Announcer of the Year award from the OSTPA pullers, and in 1989, OSTPA named the Wallisers its Family of the Year. In 1990, he received the President's Award from the Northwest Ohio pullers, and in 1991-92 he was vice president of OSTPA. His hall of fame induction was in January.
"It's been quite a ride," he said.
He said one of the most memorable events in addition to his first time announcing at Bowling Green was his first big indoor event at Richfield Colliseum, Cleveland, in front of 23,000 people.
"And there I was with the spotlight on me saying, 'Stand up for the National Anthem,'" he said. "Once you key the mic, if you have self-confidence, it'll just happen."
He remembers interviewing Art Arfons, the world land speed record holder three times in 1964 and 1965 with his Green Monster series of jet-powered cars. Arfons switched from jet-engined dragsters to Green Monster turbine-engined pulling tractors for a few years.
"He was a legend, going 600 mile per hour," Walliser said. "Then he went on to beat that, but then he had a crash. He quit that and started pulling tractors. He said he knew he was trouble when the horizon turned upside down. Then a legend like that came to our sport."
"There were so many other legends in pulling that have retired from pulling that just stand out," he said.
There was Wayne Rausch, who used to travel more than 30,000 miles, visiting more than 50 cities with his two-wheel-drive trucks on the NTPA and other circuits.
"He was a former OSU professor," Walliser said. "He retired from there and got into our sport. I got to rub elbows with him."
The Wallisers now are retired. Harold from his announcing duties and Betty retired as a postmaster in Attica after working at many area post offices through the years.
They now are "snow birds" and live in St. Petersburg, Florida, for six months every year.
"When we come home, we just hang out and do things we like to do," he said.
They're at Bowling Green this weekend taking in the sights and sounds of the national tractor pulls.
"I announced at Bowling Green, the granddaddy of them all, up until a few years ago," he said. "Now we're into the second generation of drivers and, sometimes, third."
When he requested to leave the announcing job, the president of the club asked him to stay.
But instead of doing the pull-by-pull announcing, he joined the announcer in the booth and added a historical perspective by talking about the club's history, the pulls history and the previous generations of pullers who used to run down the track.
"I don't do much tractor pull or racetrack announcing anymore," he said. "I wanted to leave on a high.
"I'm 77," he said. "I've watched others. They start going downhill. I didn't want to do that. I wanted to leave when I was the at the top of my game."
Other guys in the club have taken over now, but they ask him for advice, which he freely gives.
"Do not try to imitate me," he tells them. "Do not try to imitate any announcer. You have to be yourself. Have confidence in yourself and it'll happen."
That just might be good advice for anyone.