Made in the Tri-States: Cuba City business builds a name for itself

Josh Blackbourn is a co-owner of Blackbourn Racing Components in Cuba City, Wis. Photo taken on Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2019. PHOTO CREDIT: NICKI KOHL

CUBA CITY, Wis. — When Josh Blackbourn reflects on his childhood, he immediately recalls the wonder and joy that came with watching his father compete in tractor-pull competitions.

It wasn’t just the sight of the tractor or the sound of the engine. It was something deeper that drew him into the sport.

“One of the things that inspired me most is that (my father) was competing against these bigger teams that had more manpower and were better capitalized,” Blackbourn recalled. “But he was going up against these big teams and having success. It was easy for me to get attached.”

Blackbourn’s childhood fascination with tractor pulls — and close relationship with his father — translated into an unorthodox career and a burgeoning business.

Josh and his father, Terry, operate Blackbourn Racing Components in Cuba City’s Kaster-McClain Industrial Park.

The business builds tractors from start to finish, conducts extensive testing on vehicles and provides service on auto and agricultural equipment.

After settling into a new location, the business is beginning to draw attention in southwest Wisconsin and beyond.

HUMBLE BEGINNINGS

The origins of Blackbourn Racing Components dates back more than four decades.

Terry Blackbourn began competing in tractor pulls in 1978.

He quickly learned that the key to success lay in painstaking preparation.

“When you are pulling out there by yourself, you realize that most of it comes down to what you do ahead of time,” he said. “You need to go over your tractor and make sure it is good to go, be really thorough in making sure everything is ready.”

Shortly after he started competing, Terry began working on vehicles inside the garage of his Shullsburg home. In the 1990s, he built a shop on his property so he would have more space to work on the vehicles.

“It started out with just personal stuff — odds and ends,” Blackbourn said. “Then, I started doing work for a few other people. Really, it just evolved from there.”

While he long had been interested in tractor pulling, Josh didn’t seriously consider a career in that area until his sophomore year of high school.

That is when he started logging long hours in the shop and learning the intricacies of working on vehicles. He went on to earn degrees in engineering and computer numerical control operating.

NEW GEAR

Blackbourn Racing Components took a massive leap forward in 2017, when the Blackbourns purchased a building at 1010 S. Main St. in Cuba City. Terry estimated the building is roughly 20 times the size of the shop that they occupied in Shullsburg.

The sprawling facility includes multiple tractors in various stages of construction and a variety of machines capable of churning out the intricate, customized parts that make the machines hum.

The crew at Blackbourn Racing components sees tractors through from start to finish.

It all starts with Josh, who puts his engineering background to use.

“My favorite part is designing the components,” he said. “I love sitting at the computer and drawing every little part. But then you also get to apply them, test them in the field and make them better.”

When it comes to building competition-ready tractors, Blackbourn Components takes care of virtually every step: The company manufactures the entire engine and build the frames, fuel tanks and oil filters

The company also uses a Dyno machine, which Josh described as a “treadmill for the car.” The contraption allows tractors to run at full steam while remaining stationary, giving the Blackbourns and other workers a chance to test horsepower and torque.

In addition to assessing the performance, such metrics also allow clients to seek out improvements for their vehicles.

Ongoing success

Cuba City Economic Development Director Bob Jones is thankful that the Blackbourns chose the Kaster-McClain Industrial Park when it came time to expand its business

“That building had sat there for many, many years,” Jones said. “The roof was leaking. It was in terrible shape. We didn’t have high expectations of anyone going in there.”

Jones is particularly excited by the type of business that ultimately occupied the vacant structure. He called Blackbourn Racing Components a “high-caliber” company that uses a level of technology rarely seen in the region.

“What they do takes an incredible amount of expertise,” he said. “It is a fascinating business.”

The Blackbourns’ ongoing racing success only has heightened their reputation within the industry.

Josh and Terry continue to compete — and often win — truck- and tractor-pull events around the country. Through the years, the family has garnered dozens of honors.

Josh said the company employs six workers, and he expects that number to increase this year.

His father, meanwhile, is happy to see his son taking the reins of the business.

It makes Terry confident that the Blackbourn name will continue to have a presence in the tractor-pulling community for years to come.

“It is nice to work with someone who really knows you, and he really takes a lot of pride in the business you are building together,” Terry said. “I am 60 now, but I can see how much my son enjoys this kind of work. I know he will be here for the duration.”