Tractor pull the strategy of tractor pulling is straightforward: Shift into 4Lo, wait for the all-clear, then shove the right pedal through the firewall and, as Storey says, “Drive it to the kitchen!” That metaphorical cookhouse is 300 feet away. Make it that far and you’ve found the tractor-pull end zone, achieving what’s known as a full pull. Before we started, Storey dialed in how quickly the weight-transfer box would move and determined when the Pioneer’s hydraulic arms would engage to keep the full pull within reach. We made three runs with each truck and used the best pulls to determine the finishing order.
On paper, the Ford has what it takes to be a champion-grade puller. It’s the most powerful truck here, with the sharpest claws to tear into the soil and a lockable rear differential and limited-slip front diff.The Power Stroke turbocharged 6.7-liter V-8 makes 475 horsepower and 1050 pound-feet of torque, and a 10-speed automatic handles the shifting duties. Setting expectations high, this F-250 is the quickest diesel pickup we’ve tested, with a 6.1-second sprint to 60 mph and a quarter-mile run of 14.6 seconds at 94 mph—1 mph shy of its top speed.
But those blistering acceleration times occur with the transfer case in 4Hi and using a big brake torque to pile on the boost from the start. Moving the drag sled requires 4Lo, and Ford doesn’t allow brake torquing in 4Lo, presumably to save the 8120-pound behemoth from turning its axle shafts into rotini pasta. Without that preload, the F-250 is already 1.7 mph off the Silverado’s pace at the 50-foot mark. It never catches up. The Ford runs out of steam about three and a half feet short of the coveted full pull having yanked hard enough to bend the pin in the trailer hitch. There’s no doubt in our minds that with a little more oomph at the start, the F-250 would have made it to the finish line.
Ram may be the current torque king among heavy-duty trucks, but the high-output Cummins (420 horsepower, 1075 pound-feet of torque) is available only in the 3500. We also had to pass on the dirt-hungry 2500 Power Wagon because it comes exclusively with the gas 6.4-liter V-8. With a luxurious interior blanketed in rich leather, the Night Edition’s painted bumpers, and black 20-inch wheels wrapped in Firestone Transforce AT tires, this isn’t your average work truck.
Even though it’s the least powerful engine here, there’s a lot to love about the Ram’s 370-hp turbocharged 6.7-liter inline-six. The old adage “Six in a row, ready to tow” still rings true. When deadlifting 14 Mazda Miatas’ worth of weight, the Ram flexes its muscle. The peak torque of 850 pound-feet occurs just off idle, at 1700 rpm, and the Cummins pulls with a semi-truck clatter that had us reaching for a nonexistent air horn. With four fewer gears than the Chevy and the Ford, the Ram spends less time shifting and more time in the boost. It is quicker than the competition to the 200-foot marker by nearly two seconds. But as the belly pan weights up and digs into the earth, the lightest-in-test Ram loses momentum quickly. Its run ends 15 feet shy of the Ford’s, at 281.4 feet.
Our third contestant, a $76,885 Silverado 2500HD High Country, came armed with the Z71 off-road kit, which includes Goodyear Wrangler TrailRunner AT tires. Chevrolet’s Duramax diesel, a turbocharged 6.6-liter V-8, produces 445 horses and 910 pound-feet of torque and supports the highest tow rating in the test. Chevy brands its 10-speed as an Allison, but the world’s largest manufacturer of automatic transmissions for heavy-duty commercial equipment merely tested and validated the gearbox. It didn’t design or build it. There are more similarities between this trans and the Ford’s than Chevy marketing would like you to know.
Where the F-250 limits torque in 4Lo, the Silverado is champing at the bit to be unleashed. The Duramax is making enough torque when we release the brake that all four tires threaten to spin.
The Chevy’s shifts are more assertive than the Ford’s, and the rev-happy diesel never comes off boil as it makes forward progress. The Silverado reaches 150 feet 1.7 seconds quicker than the Ford, hustling 1.6 mph faster at that mark. While that might not seem like much, when your top speed is 20.9 mph, it’s enough to get the job done. The heaviest-in-test Chevy makes a triumphant run, grinding to a stop 3.7 feet past a full pull. As we always say, it’s not the size of the torque output that matters; it’s how you use it.