Mark Kirsch paced the concrete expanses adjacent to the runways at Seattle’s Boeing Field. Every few feet, he leaned over and placed a level on the ground.
The Tacoma resident and owner of World Strongman Entertainment was trying to find the perfect patch of ground, a perfect mix of hard asphalt and a favorable slope, to set a world record and complete the centerpiece event of a fundraiser for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Puget Sound on Saturday.
Three times he tried to pull a 200,000-pound Boeing 767. Two times, the jet didn’t move. A third time, it didn’t get very far – maybe 15 feet, and only after others pushed on the plane’s wheels. But he wasn’t going to give up.
"It’s frustrating," he said after his third attempt. "It’s really frustrating. I wanted to put on a show for everyone here."
The hundreds in attendance at the charity’s largest community of event of the year didn’t seem to mind. They cheered Kirsch, a 1998 graduate of Wilson High School, during his attempts. And after his three tries, he turned the fun over to them.
Twelve teams, most with about 10-15 people, took turns pulling on a tow rope attached to the jet. Each attempt followed the same form: The participants looked as if they weren’t making any progress for the first few seconds. Slowly, the jet began rolling. Once it did, the task became markedly easier.
"I was actually surprised how easy it was once we got that thing moving," said Puyallup’s Jeff Ernst.
The plane pull was the centerpiece event of the festivities. Families meandered among the planes, helicopters and heavy vehicles on display. Children played hopscotch and ate ice cream.
And, as visibly disappointed as Kirsch was, he stopped to admire the first team up: 24 people from Milton-based Cannon Construction Inc.
"That’s like a 6,000-pound man pulling that thing," he said.
Kirsch successfully pulled the 767 during practice earlier in the week, but he chalked up Saturday’s attempts to a lack of careful preparation. He should have realized – "and it was in the back of my mind the whole time," he said – that the jet sat atop concrete near ABX Air’s hangar. For the festivities, it was parked atop softer asphalt near the main Boeing Field terminal. The plane’s wheel sank slightly into the warm blacktop, and Kirsch said that was the biggest difference.
He also spent too much time and energy helping to set up the event, he said.
But it would be tough to question his desire after his first attempt. Amid cheers from hundreds lined up against a temporary wooden fence, Kirsch attached the tow rope to the back of his harness and began trying to pull the jet with the help of a rope secured to a motorized cart several hundred feet in front.
After about 10 seconds of trying, the harness broke.
Kirsch tried a few more times after each team had a chance to pull the plane. They moved it nearer to the runway and onto a harder surface, but Kirsch – visibly tired at this point – couldn’t make it budge.
But it was anything but a letdown for many participants, most of whom will most likely never find themselves pulling a jumbo jet again.
"Once the plane got rolling, I didn’t want it to stop," said 27-year-old Tacoma resident Doug Baxter. "I just wanted to pull this thing all the way to Sea-Tac."