Girl tractor driver clears all-boy field


She beat the boys. North County High School senior Brandi Schwinn defeated 31 fellows this month to win second place in a state tractor-driving championship.

"It feels great," said Brandi, 17, who went on to compete in the national event in Richmond, Va., last week.

She grew up learning the art of maneuvering tractors around tight corners and through rough fields on her family's 5-acre plot in Brooklyn Park, just a few blocks from the urban rush of Ritchie Highway.

"Ever since I could reach the pedals I was always driving [a compact tractor] somewhere," said Brandi. But nobody wanted to teach her, she complained last week.

"Girls are supposed to wash dishes and wash clothes, that's what everyone thinks."

But her father is a tractor salesman and she insisted that he bring home books. "I read and read and read," she explained. And she borrowed books on machinery from her younger brother, Charles, who is in vocational-technical school.

She taught herself so well that in the compact tractor-driving state contest a week ago, she aced both the written test and the parts identification -- 25 tractor pieces spread out on a table. Then she drove the course, managing not to hit any cones, zig-zagging in and out among poles, backing up 50 yards, parking and pulling into a shed.

She drove the course in six minutes, two minutes less than the eight-minute maximum. Some of the guys were so slow they didn't make the time deadline, she noted gleefully.

"At first it was a big joke, guys asking if I was there for the bike contest," Brandi said. "When I won, they weren't laughing."

Her determination to win the state contest stemmed from an incident at the county fair three years ago when she lost a tractor driving contest to a fellow who "rubbed it in my face," she said. "At first it was just to get back at him, then I got really interested."

Brandi didn't place in the national contest, but said she enjoyed being one of seven girls out of 89 competitors in the small tractor division.

"As soon as I got on the bus to go with all these guys, I felt a little out of place," she said. "I thought, there got to be more girls! But it was a lot of fun."

And it isn't as if Brandi is just a grease monkey who knows pistons and hydraulic cables and wheel-bearings.

Just after competing in the tractor contest at the state fair, she had to switch roles and turn out as farm queen for the Anne Arundel County Farm Bureau.

"I had to go straight from the tractor to a dress and heels," she said.

Brandi plans to study agriculture at the University of Maryland or University of Wisconsin, both of which have good programs, she said.

And she would like to have a dairy farm "as a hobby," because you can't make much of a living at small farming, and get a full-time job in a related field.

Her background has prepared her, she says. Growing up on a small farm, complete with a dog, two horses, chickens, crops and three tractors, Brandi learned to combine country living with suburbia. In addition to their menagerie of farm animals, Brandi and her brother lease cows in southern Anne Arundel County.

In her spare time, she's president of Pacesetters, the local 4-H club, and president of the Anne Arundel County 4-H Team Leaders. She's also vice president of the State Teen Council and volunteers at the Maryland Science Center.

"People often have this attitude -- 'We'll see how good a girl can do,' " Brandi said. "I hope I'm showing them."

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