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All-girl team gets down and dirty for tractor competition

By KBell
Oct. 6, 2011 at 5:06 a.m.
Updated Oct. 8, 2011 at 5:08 a.m.

Sara Pnacek, 15, Shanna Whitfield, 17, and McCalley Cunningham, 15, work to remove the paint and grease from a 1951 Ford 8N tractor. The girls have worked since the summer to take apart the tractor and will refurbish the parts and reassemble it for competition.

Three slight, pretty girls in trendy jeans each slipped on a pair of decidedly unflattering safety goggles and approached their baby.

"Ain't she a looker?" 17-year-old Shanna Whitfield asked, reaching out to graze the bare bones of an old, rusty tractor.

Within seconds, Shanna, along with 15-year-olds McCalley Cunningham and Sara Pnacek, would delve their dainty fingers into the tractor's fragments, their whole hands emerging sloshed with black grease.

The girls from Goliad High School have spent the last several months deconstructing the 1951 Ford 8N tractor down to just the transmission and final drive. They'll spend the next several months refurbishing its decrepit, oily parts and putting it back together in time for the Goliad County Fair and Livestock Show in February.

Their ag teacher, Trey Psencik, said all-girl tractor teams are a rare occurrence at statewide competitions, but the trio of ladies is well on its way to competing with the big boys.

"The girls are really into it. They really enjoy seeing how things mechanically work. It's something new to them," he said.

McCalley was the mastermind behind the all-girl team, and she brought her friend Sara on board over the summer.

Sara, clad in a dangling necklace and a bracelet of bling, said mechanics was never really her thing, but she's warmed up to the nitty-gritty.

"You feel like you're accomplishing something and learning something new," she said.

With Psencik's help, McCalley and Sara worked during the summer to not only learn how to take apart the tractor, but also identify its parts. The girls can now rattle off the mechanical terms like the lyrics to their favorite song.

"I didn't even know what a ball-peen hammer was when I first came here," McCalley said, as if that's so appalling.

For Shanna, who joined the action during the school year, the tractor team was a more natural fit. The self-proclaimed tomboy, petite and adorned with eyeliner, said she's always wanted to be a mechanic.

She admits her size and gender don't always earn immediate confidence in the male-dominated industry.

"I think they underestimate how we can get down and dirty. We're not scared to do the hard things or the messy things, and that's really what it takes to get it done," Shanna said.

Of course, that characterization didn't apply to the Goliad boys, the girls said. The male tractor teams, against which the girls will compete, are respectful and have even helped the gals out, they said.

The girls were quick, too, to give each other credit for all the hard work they've done so far.

While Sara and Shanna bragged on the after-school hours McCalley has put into their project, McCalley jumped in to praise her teammates' competitiveness and initiative, calling herself a "blind bat" without them.

Bonding over the grease and grime, the three young women have become close girlfriends, they said.

They're looking forward to a girls' night in, when they'll watch movies and work on the record book they're required to keep for competition. The girls are hoping Sara's scrapbooking skills will give them an advantage in that department.

And during the hours spent in the ag shop, another side project fit for their talents emerged. What used to be a neglected women's bathroom, Shanna, McCalley and Sara transformed into a pink paradise - complete with rose-colored rugs, towels, air fresheners, plastic containers and body spray "so we don't stink."

The pampering station will contribute to what Shanna joked would be the team's secret weapon during competition season.

"We got the looks," she said, laughing.



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