JANESVILLE — They say everything is bigger in Texas. Those folks haven’t been to Clarion, Iowa, or Janesville, Minnesota, for that matter.
Paul Beckstrand has been to both and he has a tale to tell about the world’s largest tractor, the world’s largest tires and the largest thrill of his career.
Beckstrand is the owner and operator of Janesville Tire Service. He started the business 12 years ago — tucked away in a quiet part of a town about the same size as Clarion. Over the years he has developed a territory covering several counties reaching to the Iowa border.
“My passion has always been ag tires,” Beckstrand said. “But this isn’t just me. I’ve got a great crew. I wouldn’t be anywhere without them.” Janesville Tire Service has four full-time employees.
Beckstrand said he stocks most common sizes of ag tires, sells and services tracks, and even does some car and truck tire work. “My wholesalers are good to work with,” he said. “Getting tires is no problem.”
Not even the world’s largest tire.
That would be the Titan Goodyear LSW 1400/30R46. It is 52 inches wide and just a shade over 83 inches tall. It weighs in at 1,614 pounds and Big Bud (the world’s largest tractor) requires eight of them.
Officially called the Big Bud 747, the tractor was built in 1977 for cotton farmers in Bakersfield, California. It was then sold to a farm in Florida. After a period of disuse, Big Bud was purchased by Robert and Randy Williams of Big Sandy, Montana, in 1997. It was used on the Williams brothers’ farm to pull an 80-foot cultivator.
The United Tire Company of Canada, which made the tractor’s custom 8-foot tires, went bankrupt in 2000. The Williams brothers stopped using the tractor for regular work in 2009 and moved Big Bud to the Heartland Acres Agribition Center in Independence, Iowa. In 2014 Big Bud was moved again to the Heartland Museum in Clarion.
Beckstrand was visiting the Heartland Museum as a tourist where he ran across Clarion area collector Larry Maasdam. Many of the tractors displayed at the museum belong to Maasdam. The two men were admiring Big Bud when Maasdam said to Beckstrand, “I wish I could find someone who could put tires on it.”
Time had taken its toll on Big Bud’s tires. The tread was worn, the rubber cracking to a point where one tire had a distinctive split.
“I told Larry I had the equipment,” Beckstrand said, “but I just let it be. I didn’t pursue it. Pretty soon I got a call from Big Sandy, Montana.”
The call was from the Williams brothers and they wanted to talk tires.
“I went down (to Clarion) in the summer of 2018, tore it apart and dismounted one of the tires,” Beckstrand recalled. “It was bad.”
The Williams suggested, “Let’s put the world’s largest tire on the world’s largest tractor.”
If it were only that simple. The existing tires were mounted on John Deere wheels that would not accommodate the monstrous Titan rubber. New rims and wheels needed to be made. Enter Wold Rim and Wheel of St. Ansgar, Iowa — about an hour-and-a-half drive northeast of Clarion.
The Wold family has been manufacturing and refurbishing wheels and rims since 1963 and today serves clients throughout the United States and Canada.
Once the wheels were made they were shipped to Quincy, Illinois, to be painted. From there the wheels came to Janesville, where Beckstrand mounted the Titan tires.
Not just anyone has the ability to mount the world’s largest tire. Beckstrand said Janesville Tire Service has one of the only 10 machines in the world capable of handling the job.
But just as impressive is Janesville Tire Service’s mobile installation rig. “This is my arms and hands!” said Beckstrand.
The large, gleaming white truck is equipped with a hydraulic arm featuring two forks at the end which grasp the tire. The arm and forks can handle up to 4,800 pounds and extend that weight up to 16 feet from the truck.
The rig and the mounted tires made the trip to Clarion for the July 14 installation. Even though Big Bud resides in a special shed to hold its size, the tire mounting had to be done outdoors to provide enough elbow room.
“That’s a lot of damn tractor,” Beckstrand laughed, “24 feet, 8 inches wide!”
Adding a little more drama to the day’s events, a thunderstorm was barreling toward Clarion.
“I was so relieved when we put that first tire on and all the holes lined up with the lugs,” Beckstrand said. “I knew then we were good to go.”
It took four hours to install the eight tires. Each set of duals are held in place with 100 bolts. Beckstrand and his crew stayed dry through the whole process.
“We decided we didn’t want to publicize it too much because … well, you know, if something didn’t go right you’ve got all these people there watching,” Beckstrand said. “They shot video and put it on Facebook and it just blew up!” (Heritage Iron Magazine posted about 4 minutes of video on its Facebook page and it’s gotten millions of views. Welker Farms out of Montana accompanied the Williams brothers for the tire installation. Welker’s video is available for viewing on YouTube.)
Beckstrand seems unaffected by the internet fame and is busy bringing combine tires in for the fall harvest. But he is clearly thrilled with Janesville Tire Service’s role in getting Big Bud back on its feet … um, tires.
“It’s definitely the highlight of my career,” he said. “But it wasn’t just me. It was a team effort.”