MOSES LAKE — It was a bit an endeavor for Keiren Cook to get the John Deere tractor going.
“I'm really short, and it's kind of a struggle to reach the clutch and the brake and the throttle at the same time,” she said.
In fact, the 16-year-old Wenatchee High School FFA treasurer needed a little help releasing the parking brake.
But she likes the struggle. And underneath a cold, November Columbia Basin sky, Cook took the wheel and drove the tractor and an empty trailer mostly backwards around a series of cones.
The goal was to test the skills and knowledge Cook has acquired driving tractors for the last two years.
“I like the struggle of getting around the cones at the right angle,” said Cook. “And the brainpower and patience it takes to learn all the techniques to do the course completely.”
Cook was one of scores of FFA students to gather at the Columbia Basin Technical Skills Center on Thursday for the FFA state potato judging and tractor driving competition.
“This is the first state contest of the year,” said Chad Utter, dean of students and manufacturing instructor at CB Tech.
They come to Moses Lake because it's almost smack in the middle of the state, Utter said, and the weather in the middle of November isn't usually terrible. The event was moved to CB Tech from the Grant County Fairgrounds three years ago, Utter said, because the campus lends itself easily to hosting indoor activities as well as having plenty of space for teenagers to hang out.
Utter said that students grading potatoes used industry standards, while tractor drivers were tested on their knowledge of the vehicle's parts, their driving skills, and the amount of time it took them to navigate the course.
“Considering I never drove this type of tractor with a trailer decent, I think I did pretty good,” Cook said.
Cook said she loves being in FFA, especially the competition and the organization's career development events.
“It teaches you responsibility, how to look someone in the eye. Nowhere else teaches that,” she said. “It's very professional. A lot of people spend their time looking down, but this teaches you to pay attention to another person. That's very appealing.”
Charles H. Featherstone can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.