The International Quarter Scale Tractor Student Design Competition - or IQS for short - provides agricultural engineering students with real-world experience. The program, now in its 17th year, starts the previous year with release of tractor design rules and culminates with a four-day event in Peoria, Ill., where Kentucky students pulled out top honors with their tractor.

To compete successfully, students design and build a tractor. Key parts of that experience include creating an in-depth written design report that's judged by industry engineers; they also build a tractor that gets a thorough technical inspection and design review during the Peoria event. The design review looks at the tractor for a range of areas including safety, ergonomics, manufacturability, serviceability and test and development. Students must also make an oral presentation to a mock corporate review panel which in the competition is made up of real-world engineers and a representative from sales/marketing (the author is a judge in the competition).

And the crowning glory of the competition is a tractor pull where the student-built machines work to complete four hooks, two in the 1,000-pound class and two in the 1,500-pound class. While a lot of work goes into getting the tractor to the pull, the students' eyes are on that sled almost from the beginning.

For 2014, the University of Kentucky walked away with top honors winning the overall competition. Part of that success included winning three of the four pulls during the event as well. Three other Southern schools were in the competition too: North Carolina State University, University of Tennessee -Martin and University of Florida.

Kentucky by the numbers

UK did win the overall competition with its Wildcat 3114 Blue Streak machine, but along the way picked up a few other prizes. UK members placed first with their written design report that details the work they did in creating their machine. The team placed second in the presentation competition where members had to tell the story of their tractor to a mock corporate management team.

The team tied with Ohio State University for the Safety Award. In this part of the competition, a team of safety engineers review each tractor for a number of factors from pinch points to other safety issues that can creep into a design.

The team was also one of only three - including Ohio State University and Kansas State University - who went through tech inspection the first time with no needed tweaks or fixes. Those tweaks and fixes are allowed, but the eliminate you from the First Time Through Award.

In the tractor pull, Kentucky took three of the four hooks during the competition. Advisers in the UK program include Tim Smith, Nich Rhea, John Evans and Mika Sama.