Take 2 cities sitting across the Mississippi River from each other, add a 2,700 foot rope, and a healthy dose of competition and what do you get?
Tug Fest is a tug-of-war competition between LeClaire, IA and Port Byron, IL. The Mississippi River is closed to barge and boat traffic for 2 hours on a Saturday in August (the only time the river is ever closed). The ridiculously long rope is stretched across the river with a good chunk of it actually lying in the river.
Each town has a tug pit and a pulley system that the rope runs through. To be clear, the tuggers pull parallel to the river. There is no chance for anyone to fall in the water, which would be dangerous because the current is pretty darn strong!
(tug rope in the river and run through the pulley system)
Rules are as follows:
- Tugs last 2 minutes
- Each team must have 20 tuggers
- The teams in both towns start tugging and stop tugging at the same time (clocks are synchronized)
- After 2 minutes the rope is secured and the judges measure how many feet & inches were pulled in by each team
- Whichever town’s team pulls in more rope wins that tug
- To be fair, Illinios judges work the Iowa tug pit and Iowa judges work the Illinios tug pit.
There are 11 total tugs so whichever town wins 6, wins bragging rights for that year. This was the 25th annual Tug Fest and so far Illinois is beating Iowa 15-10.
I’ve lived in the area (okay, about 30 mins outside of this exact area) for 5 years and I’d never been in town for Tug Fest before so I wanted to see what it was all about this year. Each town turns this into a weekend-long festival complete with food vendors, rides, concerts, and more.
I had VIP seats right in front of the tug pit on the Iowa side and it was a blast. I never would have thought I’d get into it the way I did but I was standing up with everyone else and screaming and cheering for the tug teams like crazy. The announcer kept it going during lulls by saying “What do we need?” and the whole crowd would yell “More rope!”.
I was also blown away by how HARD it looked. These guys were buff and look at how hard they are working!!
If you’re ever in the area for this event, I would highly recommend it. It’s a truly unique and fun experience!