What is a tractor?
John Deere Review
New Holland Review
Utility / ATV
A tractor is a vehicle specifically designed to deliver a high tractive effort (or torque) at slow speeds, for the purposes of hauling a trailer or machinery used in agriculture or construction. Most commonly, the term is used to describe a farm vehicle that provides the power and traction to mechanize agricultural tasks, especially (and originally) tillage but nowadays a great variety of tasks. Agricultural implements may be towed behind or mounted on the tractor, and the tractor may also provide a source of power if the implement is mechanised.
The first powered farm implements in the early 19th century were portable engines – steam engines on wheels that could be used to drive mechanical farm machinery by way of a flexible belt. Around 1850, the first traction engines were developed from these, and were widely adopted for agricultural use. The first tractors were steam-powered plowing engines. They were used in pairs, placed on either side of a field to haul a plow back and forth between them using a wire cable. Where soil conditions permitted (as in the United States) steam tractors were used to direct-haul plows, but in the UK and elsewhere plowing engines were used for cable-hauled plowing instead. Steam-powered agricultural engines remained in use well into the 20th century until reliable internal combustion engines had been developed.
In 1892, John Froelich invented and built the first gasoline/petrol-powered tractor in Clayton County, Iowa, USA. After receiving a patent Froelich started up the Waterloo Gasoline Engine Company, investing all of his assets which by 1895, all would be lost and his business resigned to become a failure.
After graduating from the University of Wisconsin, Charles W. Hart and Charles H. Parr developed a two-cylinder gasoline engine and set up their business in Charles City, Iowa. In 1903 the firm built fifteen "tractors". A term with Latin roots coined by Hart and Parr and a combination of the words traction and power. The 14,000 pound #3 is the oldest surviving internal combustion engine tractor in the United States and is on display at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History in Washington D.C. The two-cylinder engine has a unique hit-and-miss firing cycle that produced 30 horsepower at the belt and 18 at the drawbar.
In Britain, the first recorded tractor sale was the oil-burning Hornsby-Ackroyd Patent Safety Oil Traction engine, in 1897. However, the first commercially successful design was Dan Albone's three-wheel Ivel tractor of 1902. In 1908, the Saunderson Tractor and Implement Co. of Bedford introduced a four-wheel design, and went on to become the largest tractor manufacturer outside the U.S. at that time.
While unpopular at first, these gasoline-powered machines began to catch on in the 1910s when they became smaller and more affordable. Henry Ford introduced the Fordson, the first mass-produced tractor in 1917. They were built in the U.S., Ireland, England and Russia and by 1923, Fordson had 77% of the U.S. market. The Fordson dispensed with a frame, using the strength of the engine block to hold the machine together. By the 1920s, tractors with a gasoline-powered internal combustion engine had become the norm.
Farm tractor design, power and transmission
Tractors can be generally classified as two-wheel drive, two-wheel drive with front wheel assist, four-wheel drive (often with articulated steering), or track tractors (with either two or four powered rubber tracks).
The classic farm tractor is a simple open vehicle, with two very large driving wheels on an axle below and slightly behind a single seat (the seat and steering wheel consequently are in the center), and the engine in front of the driver, with two steerable wheels below the engine compartment. This basic design has remained unchanged for a number of years, but enclosed cabs are fitted on almost all modern models, for reasons of operator safety and comfort.
In some localities with heavy or wet soils, notably in the Central Valley of California, the "Caterpillar" or "crawler" type of tracked tractor became popular in the 1930s, due to superior traction and floatation. These were usually maneuvered through the use of turning brake pedals and separate track clutches operated by levers rather than a steering wheel.
Four-wheel drive tractors began to appear in the 1960s. Some four-wheel drive tractors have the standard "two large, two small" configuration typical of smaller tractors, while some have four large powered wheels. The larger tractors are typically an articulated center-hinged design steered by hydraulic cylinders that move the forward power unit while the trailing unit is not steered separately.
In the early 21st century, articulated or non-articulated, steerable multi-track "tractors" have largely supplanted the "Caterpillar" type for farm use. Larger types of modern farm tractors include articulated four wheel or eight wheel drive units with one or two power units which are hinged in the middle and steered by hydraulic clutches or pumps. A relatively recent development is the replacement of wheels or steel crawler-type tracks with flexible steel-reinforced rubber tracks, usually powered by hydrostatic or completely hydraulic driving mechanisms. The configuration of these tractors bears little resemblance to the classic farm tractor design.
Engine and fuels
The predecessors of modern tractors, traction engines, used steam engines for power. Since the turn of the 20th century, internal combustion engines have been the power source of choice. Between 1900 and 1960, gasoline was the predominant fuel, with kerosene and ethanol being common alternatives. Generally one engine could burn any of those, although cold starting was easiest on gasoline. Often a small auxiliary fuel tank was available to hold gasoline for cold starting and warm-up, while the main fuel tank held whatever fuel was most convenient or least expensive for the particular farmer. Dieselisation gained momentum starting in the 1960s, and modern farm tractors usually employ diesel engines, which range in power output from 18 to 575 horsepower (15 to 480 kW). Size and output are dependent on application, with smaller tractors for lawn mowing, landscaping, orchard work, and truck farming, and larger tractors for vast fields of wheat, maize, soy, and other bulk crops. Liquified petroleum gas (LPG) or propane also have been used as tractor fuels, but require special pressurized fuel tanks and filling equipment so are less prevalent in most markets.
Most older farm tractors use a manual transmission. They have several gear ratios, typically 3 to 6, sometimes multiplied into 2 or 3 ranges. This arrangement provides a set of discrete ratios that, combined with the varying of the throttle, allow final-drive speeds from less than one mile per hour up to about 25 miles per hour (40 km/h), with the lower speeds used for working the land and the highest speeds used on the road.
Slow, controllable speeds are necessary for most operations that are performed with a tractor. They help give the farmer a larger degree of control in certain situations, such as field work. However, when travelling on public roads, the slow operating speeds can cause problems, such as long queues or tailbacks, which can delay or annoy motorists in cars and trucks. These motorists are responsible for being duly careful around farm tractors and sharing the road with them, but many shirk this responsibility, so various ways to minimize the interaction or minimize the speed differential are employed where feasible. Some countries (for example the Netherlands) employ a road sign on some roads that means "no farm tractors". Some modern tractors, such as the JCB Fastrac, are now capable of much higher road speeds of around 50 mph (80 km/h).
Older tractors usually have unsynchronized transmission design, which often requires that the operator stop the tractor in order to shift between gears. This mode of use is inherently unsuited to some of the work that tractors do, and has been circumvented in various ways over the years. For existing unsynchronized tractors, the methods of circumvention are double clutching or power-shifting, both of which require the operator to rely on skill to speed-match the gears while shifting. Both of these solutions are undesirable from a risk-mitigation standpoint because of what can go wrong if the operator makes a mistake – transmission damage is possible, and loss of vehicle control can occur if the tractor is towing a heavy load either uphill or downhill – something that tractors often do. Therefore, operator's manuals for most of these tractors state that one must always stop the tractor before shifting, and they do not even mention the alternatives. As already said, that mode of use is inherently unsuited to some of the work that tractors do, so better options were pursued for newer tractor designs.
In these, unsynchronized transmission designs were replaced with synchronization or with a continuously variable transmission (CVT). Either a synchronized manual transmission with enough available gear ratios (often achieved with dual ranges, high and low) or a CVT allow the engine speed to be matched to the desired final-drive speed while keeping engine speed within the appropriate rpm range for power generation (the working range) (whereas throttling back to achieve the desired final-drive speed is a trade-off that leaves the working range). The problems, solutions, and developments described here also describe the history of transmission evolution in semi-trailer trucks. The biggest difference is fleet turnover; whereas most of the old road tractors have long since been scrapped, many of the old farm tractors are still in use. Therefore, old transmission design and operation is primarily just of historical interest in trucking, whereas in farming it still often affects daily life.
Hitches and power applications
The power produced by the engine must be transmitted to the implement or equipment in order to do the actual work intended for the equipment. This may be accomplished via a drawbar or hitch system if the implement is to be towed or otherwise pulled through the tractive power of the engine, or via a pulley or power takeoff system if the implement is stationary, or a combination of the two.
Until the 1950s, plows and other tillage equipment usually were connected to the tractor via a drawbar, or a proprietary connecting system. The classic drawbar is simply a steel bar attached to the tractor (or in some cases, as in the early Fordsons, cast as part of the rear transmission housing) to which the hitch of the implement was attached with a pin or by a loop and clevis. The implement could be readily attached and removed, allowing the tractor to be used for other purposes on a daily basis. If the tractor was equipped with a swinging drawbar, the drawbar could be set at the center or offset from center to allow the tractor to run outside the path of the implement.
The drawbar system necessitated that the implement have its own running gear (usually wheels) and in the case of a plow, chisel cultivator or harrow, some sort of lift mechanism to raise it out of the ground at turns or for transport. Drawbars necessarily posed a rollover risk depending on how the tractive torque was applied. The Fordson tractors (of which more units were produced and placed in service than any other farm tractor) was extremely prone to roll over backwards due to an excessively short wheelbase. The linkage between the implement and the tractor usually had some slack which could lead to jerky starts and greater wear and tear on the tractor and the equipment.
Drawbars were appropriate to the dawn of mechanization, because they were very simple in concept and because as the tractor replaced the horse, existing horse-drawn implements usually already had running gear. As the history of mechanization progressed, however, the advantages of other hitching systems became apparent, leading to new developments (see below). Depending on the function for which a tractor is used, however, the drawbar is still one of the usual means of attaching an implement to a tractor (see photo at left).
Some tractor manufacturers produced matching equipment that could be directly mounted on the tractor. Examples included front-end loaders, belly mowers, row crop cultivators, corn pickers and corn planters. In most cases, these fixed mounts were proprietary and unique to each make of tractor, so that an implement produced by John Deere, for example, could not be attached to a Minneapolis Moline tractor. Another disadvantage was that mounting usually required some time and labor, resulting in the implement being semi-permanently attached with bolts or other mounting hardware. Usually it was impractical to remove the implement and reinstall it on a day-to-day basis. As a result, the tractor was unavailable for other uses and dedicated to a single use for an appreciable period of time. An implement generally would be mounted at the beginning of its season of use (such as tillage, planting or harvesting) and removed only when the likely use season had ended.
Three-point hitches and quick hitches
The drawbar system was virtually the exclusive method of attaching implements (other than direct attachment to the tractor) before Harry Ferguson developed the three-point hitch. Equipment attached to the three-point hitch can be raised or lowered hydraulically with a control lever. The equipment attached to the three-point hitch is usually completely supported by the tractor. Another way to attach an implement is via a Quick Hitch, which is attached to the three-point hitch. This enables a single person to attach an implement quicker and put the person in less danger when attaching the implement.
The three-point hitch revolutionized farm tractors and their implements.
Almost every tractor today features Ferguson's 3 point linkage or a derivative of it. The three-point hitch allows for easy attachment and detachment of implements while allowing the implement to function as a part of the tractor almost as if it were attached by a fixed mount. Previously, when the implement hit an obstacle the towing link would break or the tractor could flip over. Ferguson's genius was to combine a connection via two lower and one upper lift arms that were connected to a hydraulic lifting ram. The ram was in turn connected to the upper of the 3 links so that increased drag (as when a plough hits a rock) caused the hydraulics to lift the implement until the obstacle was passed.
Other manufacturers copied Ferguson's invention, or developed variations of it. For example, International Harvestor's Farmall tractors had a two-point "Fast Hitch" and John Deere had a power lift that was similar but not as flexible as the Ferguson invention. Recently, Bobcat's patent on its front loader connection (inspired by these earlier systems) has expired; and compact tractors are now being outfitted with quick-connect attachments for their front-end loaders.
Power take-off systems and hydraulics
In addition to towing an implement or supplying tractive power through the wheels, most tractors have a means to transfer power to another machine such as a baler, swather, or mower. Unless it functions solely by pulling it through or over the ground, a towed implement needs its own power source (such as a baler or combine with a separate engine) or else a means of transmitting power from the tractor to the mechanical operations of the equipment.
Early tractors used belts or cables wrapped around the flywheel or a separate belt pulley to power stationary equipment, such as a threshing machine, buzz saw, silage blower, or stationary baler. In most cases, it was not practical for the tractor and equipment to move with a flexible belt or cable between them, so this system necessitated that the tractor remain in one location with the work brought to the equipment, or that the tractor be relocated at each turn and the power set-up reapplied (as in cable-drawn plowing systems used in early steam tractor operations).
Modern tractors use a power take-off (PTO) shaft to provide rotary power to machinery that may be stationary or pulled. The PTO shaft generally is at the rear of the tractor, and can be connected to an implement that is either towed by a drawbar or a three-point hitch. This eliminates the need for a separate implement-mounted power source, which is almost never seen in modern farm equipment.
Virtually all modern tractors can also provide external hydraulic fluid and electrical power to the equipment they are towing, either by hoses or wires.
Modern tractors have many electrical switches and levers in the cab for controlling the multitude of different functions available on the tractor.
Modern farm tractors usually have four or five foot-pedals for the operator on the floor of the tractor.
The pedal on the left is the clutch. The operator presses on this pedal to disengage the transmission for either shifting gears or stopping the tractor. Some modern tractors have (or as optional equipment) a button on the gear stick for controlling the clutch, in addition to the standard pedal.
Two of the pedals on the right are the brakes. The left brake pedal stops the left rear wheel and the right brake pedal does the same with the right side. This independent left and right wheel braking augments the steering of the tractor when only the two rear wheels are driven. This is usually done when it is necessary to make a sharp turn. The split brake pedal is also used in mud or soft dirt to control a tire that spins due to loss of traction. The operator presses both pedals together to stop the tractor. For tractors with additional front-wheel drive, this operation often engages the 4-wheel locking differential (diff-lock) to help stop the tractor when traveling at road speeds.
The pedal furthest to the right is the foot throttle. Unlike in automobiles, it can also be controlled from a hand-operated lever ("hand throttle"). This helps provide a constant speed in field work. It also helps provide continuous power for stationary tractors that are operating an implement by shaft or belt. The foot throttle gives the operator more automobile-like control over the speed of the tractor for road work. This is a feature of more recent tractors; older tractors often did not have this feature. In the UK it is mandatory to use the foot pedal to control engine speed while travelling on the road. Some tractors, especially those designed for row-crop work, have a 'de-accelerator' pedal, which operates in the reverse fashion to an automobile throttle, in that the pedal is pushed down to slow the engine. This is to allow fine control over the speed of the tractor when maneuvering at the end of crop rows in fields- the operating speed of the engine is set using the hand throttle, and if the operator wishes to slow the tractor to turn, he simply has to press the pedal, turn and release it once the turn is completed, rather than having to alter the setting of the hand throttle twice during the maneuver.
A fifth pedal is traditionally included just in front of the driver's seat to operate the rear diff-lock, which prevents wheelslip. The differential normally allows the outside wheel to travel faster than the inside wheel during a turn. However, in low-traction conditions on a soft surface the same mechanism could allow one wheel to slip, further reducing traction. The diff-lock overrides this, forcing both wheels to turn at the same speed, reducing wheel slip and improving traction. Care must be taken to unlock the differential before turning, usually by hitting the pedal a second time, since the tractor cannot perform a turn with the diff-lock engaged. In modern tractors this pedal is replaced with an electrical switch.
Levers and switches
Many functions that were once controlled with a lever have been replaced with some model of electrical switch with the rise of indirect computer controlling of functions in modern tractors.
Until the beginning of the 60's tractors had a single register of gears, hence one gear stick. Often 3-5 forwards and 1 reverse. Then group gears were introduced, hence another gear stick. Later on control of the reverse gear was moved to a special stick that controls direction and adding a gear stick or a lever attached at the side of the steering wheel. Nowadays with CVT or other clutch-free gear types there are fewer sticks for controlling the transmission, some replaced with electrical switches or totally computer controlled.
The three-point hitch was controlled with a lever for adjusting the position, or as with the earliest ones, just the function for raising or lowering the hitch. With modern electrical systems it's often replaced with a potentiometer for lower bound position and another one for the upper bound and a switch allowing automatic adjustment of the hitch between these settings.
The external hydraulics also originally had levers but nowadays often replaced with some form of electrical switch, the same goes for the power take-off shaft.
Agriculture in the United States is one of the most hazardous industries, only surpassed by mining and construction. No other farm machine is so identified with the hazards of production agriculture as the tractor. Tractor-related injuries account for approximately 32% of the fatalities and 6% of the non-fatal injuries in agriculture. Over 50% is attributed to tractor overturns.
The roll over protection structure (ROPS) and seat belt, when worn, are the two most important safety devices to protect operators from death during tractor overturns.
Modern tractors have rollover protection systems (ROPS) to prevent an operator from being crushed if the tractor overturns. It is important to remember that the ROPS does not prevent tractor overturns. Rather, it prevents the operator from being crushed during an overturn. This is especially important in open-air tractors, where the ROPS is a steel beam that extends above the operator's seat. For tractors with operator cabs, the ROPS is part of the frame of the cab. A ROPS with enclosed cab further reduces the likelihood of serious injury because the operator is protected by the sides and windows of the cab.
ROPS were first required by legislation in Sweden in 1959. Before ROPS were required, some farmers died when their tractors rolled on top of them. Row-crop tractors, before ROPS, were particularly dangerous because of their 'tricycle' design with the two front wheels spaced close together and angled inward toward the ground. Some farmers were killed by rollovers while operating tractors along steep slopes. Others have been killed while attempting to tow or pull an excessive load from above axle height, or when cold weather caused the tires to freeze to the ground, in both cases causing the tractor to pivot around the rear axle.
For the ROPS to work as designed, the operator must stay within the protective frame of the ROPS. This means the operator must wear the seat belt. Not wearing the seat belt may defeat the primary purpose of the ROPS.
Applications and variations
Farm tractor applications
The most common use of the term "tractor" is for the vehicles used on farms. The farm tractor is used for pulling or pushing agricultural machinery or trailers, for plowing, tilling, disking, harrowing, planting, and similar tasks.
A variety of specialty farm tractors have been developed for particular uses. These include "row crop" tractors with adjustable tread width to allow the tractor to pass down rows of corn, tomatoes or other crops without crushing the plants, "wheatland" or "standard" tractors with non-adjustable fixed wheels and a lower center of gravity for plowing and other heavy field work for broadcast crops, and "high crop" tractors with adjustable tread and increased ground clearance, often used in the cultivation of cotton and other high-growing row crop plant operations, and "utility tractors", typically smaller tractors with a low center of gravity and short turning radius, used for general purposes around the farmstead. Many utility tractors are used for non-farm grading, landscape maintenance and excavation purposes, particularly with loaders, backhoes, pallet forks and similar devices. Small garden or lawn tractors designed for suburban and semi-rural gardening and landscape maintenance also exist in a variety of configurations.
Some farm-type tractors are found elsewhere than on farms: with large universities' gardening departments, in public parks, or for highway workman use with blowtorch cylinders strapped to its sides and a pneumatic drill air compressor permanently fastened over its power take-off. These are often fitted with grass (turf) tyres which are less damaging to soft surfaces than agricultural tires.
Space technology has been incorporated into agriculture in the form of GPS devices, and robust on-board computers installed as optional features on farm tractors. These technologies are used in modern, precision farming techniques. The spin-offs from the space race have actually facilitated automation in plowing and the use of autosteer systems drone on tractors that are manned but only steered at the end of a row, the idea being to neither overlap and use more fuel nor leave streaks when performing jobs such as cultivating.
The durability and engine power of tractors made them very suitable for engineering tasks. Tractors can be fitted with engineering tools such as dozer blade, bucket, hoe, ripper, and so on. The most common attachments for the front of a tractor are dozer blade or a bucket. When attached with engineering tools the tractor is called an engineering vehicle.
A bulldozer is a track-type tractor attached with blade in the front and a rope-winch behind. Bulldozers are very powerful tractors and have excellent ground-hold, as their main tasks are to push or drag things.
Bulldozers have been further modified over time to evolve into new machines which are capable of working in ways that the original bulldozer can not. One example is that loader tractors were created by removing the blade and substituting a large volume bucket and hydraulic arms which can raise and lower the bucket, thus making it useful for scooping up earth, rock and similar loose material to load it into trucks.
A front-loader or loader is a tractor with an engineering tool which consists of two hydraulic powered arms on either side of the front engine compartment and a tilting implement. This is usually a wide open box called a bucket but other common attachments are a pallet fork and a bale grappler.
Other modifications to the original bulldozer include making the machine smaller to let it operate in small work areas where movement is limited. There are also tiny wheeled loaders, officially called Skid-steer loaders but nicknamed " Bobcat" after the original manufacturer, which are particularly suited for small excavation projects in confined areas.
The most common variation of the classic farm tractor is the hoe, also called a hoe-loader. As the name implies, it has a loader assembly on the front and a backhoe on the back. Backhoes attach to a 3 point hitch on farm or industrial tractors. Industrial tractors are often heavier in construction particularly with regards to the use of steel grill for protection from rocks and the use of construction tires. When the backhoe is permanently attached, the machine usually has a seat that can swivel to the rear to face the hoe controls. Removable backhoe attachments almost always have a separate seat on the attachment.
Backhoe-loaders are very common and can be used for a wide variety of tasks: construction, small demolitions, light transportation of building materials, powering building equipment, digging holes,loading trucks, breaking asphalt and paving roads. Some buckets have a retractable bottom, enabling them to empty their load more quickly and efficiently. Buckets with retractable bottoms are also often used for grading and scratching off sand. The front assembly may be a removable attachment or permanently mounted. Often the bucket can be replaced with other devices or tools.
Their relatively small frame and precise control make backhoe-loaders very useful and common in urban engineering projects such as construction and repairs in areas too small for larger equipment. Their versatility and compact size makes them one of the most popular urban construction vehicles.
In the UK, the word " JCB" is sometimes used colloquially as a genericized trademark for any such type of engineering vehicle. The term JCB now appears in the Oxford English Dictionary, although it is still legally a trademark of J. C. Bamford Ltd. The term "digger" is also commonly used.
Compact Utility Tractor
A Compact Utility Tractor, also called a CUT is a smaller version of an agricultural tractor but designed primarily for landscaping and estate management type tasks rather than for planting and harvesting on a commercial scale. Typical CUTs range in from 20 to 50 horsepower (15-37 kW) with available power take off (PTO) horsepower ranging from 15 to 45 hp (11-34 kW). CUTs are often equipped with both a mid-mounted PTO and a standard rear PTO, especially those below 40 horsepower (30 kW). The mid-mount PTO shaft typically rotates at/near 2000 rpms and is typically used to power such implements as mid-mount finish mower, a front mounted snow blower or front mounted rotary broom. The rear PTO is standardized at 540 rpms for the North American markets, but in some parts of the world a dual 540/1000 rpm PTO is standard and implements are available for either standard in those markets.
One of the most common attachment for a Compact Utility Tractor is the front end loader or FEL. Like the larger agricultural tractors, a CUT will have an adjustable three-point hitch that is hydraulically controlled. Typically a CUT will have four wheel drive, or more correctly 4 wheel assist. Modern Compact Utility Tractors often feature a Hydrostatic transmission, but many variants of gear drive transmissions are also offered from low priced simple gear transmissions to synchronized transmissions to advanced glide-shift transmissions. All modern CUTs feature a government mandated roll over protection structure (ROPS) just like agricultural tractors. The most well known brands in North America include Kubota, John Deere Tractor, New Holland Ag, Case-Farmall and Massey-Ferguson. Although less common, compact backhoes are often attached to compact utility tractors.
Compact Utility Tractors require special smaller implements than full size agricultural tractors. Very common implements include the box blade, the grader blade, the landscape rake, the post hole digger (or post hole auger), the rotary cutter (also called a slasher or a brush hog), a mid or rear mount finish mower, broadcast seeder, subsoiler and the rototiller (also rotary tiller). In northern climates, a rear mounted snow blower is very common, on smaller CUTs some models are available with front mounted snow blowers that are powered by a mid-PTO shaft. There are many more implement brands than there are tractor brands offering CUT owners a wide selection of choice.
For small scale farming or large scale gardening, there are some planting and harvesting implements sized for CUTs. One and two row planting units are commonly available as are cultivators, sprayers and different types of seeders (slit, rotary and drop).
A row-crop tractor is a tractor tailored specifically to the growing of row crops (crops grown in rows, as in truck farming), and most especially to cultivating. Cultivating can take place anytime from soon after the crop plants have sprouted until soon before they are harvested. Several rounds of cultivating may be done over the season. A row-crop tractor essentially brings together a farm tractor and its cultivator into one machine, in the same way that motive power has been combined into other machinery (for example, horseless carriages combined the motive power into transport vehicles; self-propelled guns combined the artillery tractor and its gun into one machine).
The earliest win from introducing tractors to mechanize agriculture was in reducing the heavy efforts of plowing and harrowing before planting, which could often be (almost literally) backbreaking tasks for humans and draft animals. Early tractors were used mainly to alleviate this drudgery. But they tended to be very big and heavy, so they were not well suited to getting into a field of already-planted row crops to do weed control. Row-crop tractors—light, affordable, and reliable—corrected this flaw.
Row crop itself refers to any farm crop that is cultivated in rows. The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) defines 'row crop' as an "Agricultural crop planted, usually with mechanical planting devices, in individual rows that are spaced to permit machine traffic during the early parts of the growing season"
Row-crop tractor history
The first tractors designed for the ability to fit between rows of crops were made by International Harvester (IH), with development beginning in the 1920s. The first row-crop tractors made by IH were called " Farmalls". The cultivator mounted in the front so it was easily visible. Additionally, the tractor had a narrow front end; the front tires were spaced very closely and angled in towards the bottom. The back wheels straddled two rows and it could cultivate four rows at once.
From 1924 until 1963, Farmalls were the largest selling row-crop tractors.
To compete, John Deere designed the Model C which had a wide front and could cultivate three rows at once. Only 112 prototypes were made as Deere realized that sales would be lost to Farmall if their model did less. In 1928, John Deere released the Model C anyway, only as the Model GP (General Purpose) to avoid confusion with the Model D when order over the then unclear phone.
Oliver refined its "Row Crop" model early in 1930. Until 1935, the 18-27 was Oliver– Hart-Parr's only row-crop tractor. Many Oliver row crop models are referred to as "Oliver Row Crop 77" or "Oliver Row Crop 88" etc.
Row-crop tractor safety
Many early row-crop tractors had a tricycle design with two closely spaced front tires, and some even had a single front tire. This made it dangerous to operate on the side of a steep hill, and, as a result, many farmers died from tractor rollovers. Also, early row-crop tractors had no rollover protection system (ROPS), meaning that if the tractor flipped back the operator could be crushed. Sweden was the first country which passed legislation requiring ROPS, in 1959.
Over 50% of tractor related injuries and deaths are attributed to tractor rollover.
Modern row-crop tractors
The Canadian agricultural equipment manufacturer Versatile makes row-crop tractors that are 250 and 280 horsepower (190 and 210 kW); powered by an 8.3 liter Cummins Diesel engine.
Modern row crop tractors have rollover protection systems in the form of a reinforced cab or a roll bar.
Garden Tractors (also called Mini Tractors) are small, light and simple tractors designed for use in domestic gardens. Garden Tractors are usually designed primarily for cutting grass, being fitted with horizontal rotary cutting decks. Visually, the distinction between a garden tractor and a ride-on lawnmower is often hard to make - generally Garden Tractors are more sturdily built, with stronger frames, axles and transmissions rated for ground-engaging applications. Garden Tractors are generally capable of mounting other implements such as harrows, cultivators/rotavators, sweepers, rollers and dozer-blades. Like ride-on mowers, Garden Tractors generally have a vertical-crankshaft engine with a belt-drive to a transaxle-type transmission (usually of 4- or 5-speeds, although some may also have two-speed reduction gearboxes or a hydrostatic drive). However, Wheel Horse (now part of Toro) garden tractors have horizontal-crankshaft engines with belt-drive, whilst Allen/ Gutbrod tractors had an automotive-type clutch and gearbox. The engines are generally a 1- or 2-cylinder petrol (gasoline) engine, although diesel engine models are also available, especially in Europe.
In the U.S., the term riding lawn mower today often is used to refer to mid or rear engined machines. Front-engined tractor layout machines designed primarily for cutting grass and light towing are called lawn tractors; and heavier duty tractors of the same overall size, often shaft driven, are called garden tractors. The primary differences between a lawn tractor and a garden tractor are the transmission torque handling capability, frame durability, the rear wheels (garden tractors almost always have multiple mounting bolts, while most lawn tractors have a single bolt or clip on the hub), and the ability to attach ground engaging equipment such as plows or disk-harrows. Craftsman, MTD, Snapper, and other major mowing equipment manufacturers use these terms.
As well as dedicated manufacturers, many makers of agricultural tractors have made (or continue to make) ranges of garden tractors, such as Case, Massey-Ferguson, International Harvester and John Deere.
Although most people think first of four-wheel vehicles when they think of tractors, a tractor may have one or more axles. The key benefit is the power itself, which only takes one axle to provide. Single-axle tractors, more often called two-wheel tractors or walk-behind tractors, have had many users ever since the beginning of internal combustion engine tractors. They tend to be small and affordable. This was especially true before the 1960s, when a walk-behind tractor could often be more affordable than a two-axle tractor of comparable power. Today's compact utility tractors and advanced garden tractors may negate most of that market advantage, but two-wheel tractors still enjoy a loyal following, especially where an already-paid-for two-wheel tractor is financially superior to a compact or garden tractor that would have to be purchased. Regions where two-wheel tractors are especially prevalent today include India, China, and Southeast Asia.
Tractors tailored to use in fruit orchards typically have features suited to passing under tree branches with impunity. These include a lower overall profile; reduced tree-branch-snagging risk (via underslung exhaust pipes rather than smoke-stack-style exhaust, and large sheetmetal cowlings and fairings that allow branches to deflect and slide off rather than catch); spark arrestors on the exhaust tips; and often wire cages to protect the operator from snags.
Automobile-conversion tractors and other homemade versions
The ingenuity of farm mechanics, coupled in some cases with OEM or aftermarket assistance, has often resulted in the conversion of automobiles for use as farm tractors. In the United States, this trend was especially strong from the 1910s through 1950s. It began early in the development of vehicles powered by internal combustion engines, with blacksmiths and amateur mechanics tinkering in their shops. Especially during the interwar period, dozens of manufacturers ( Montgomery Ward among them) marketed aftermarket kits for converting Ford Model Ts for use as tractors. (These were sometimes called "Hoover Wagons" during the Great Depression, although this term was usually reserved for automobiles converted to horse-drawn buggy use when gasoline was unavailable or unaffordable. During the same period, another common name was " Doodlebug"). Ford even considered producing an "official" optional kit. Many Model A Fords also were converted for this purpose. In later years, some farm mechanics have been known to convert more modern trucks or cars for use as tractors, more often as curiosities or for recreational purposes (rather than out of the earlier motives of pure necessity or frugality).
During World War II, a shortage of tractors in Sweden led to the development of the so-called EPA tractor (EPA was a chain of discount stores and it was often used to signify something lacking in quality). An EPA tractor was simply an automobile, truck or lorry, with the passenger space cut off behind the front seats, equipped with two gearboxes in a row. When done to an older car with a ladder frame, the result was not dissimilar to a tractor and could be used as one.
After the war it remained popular, now not as a farm vehicle, but as a way for young people without a driver's license to own something similar to a car. Since it was legally seen as a tractor it could be driven from 16 years of age and only required a tractor license. Eventually the legal loophole was closed and no new EPA tractors were allowed to be made, but the remaining were still legal, something that led to inflated prices and many protests from people that preferred EPA tractors to ordinary cars.
In March 1975 a similar type of vehicle was introduced in Sweden, the A tractor [from arbetstraktor (work tractor)]. The main difference is that an A tractor has a top speed of 30 km/h. This is usually done by fitting two gearboxes in a row and not using one of them. Volvo Duett was for a long time the primary choice for conversion to an EPA or A tractor, but, since supplies have dried up, other cars have been used, in most cases a Volvo.
Another type of homemade tractors are ones that are fabricated from scratch. The " from scratch" description is relative, as often individual components will be repurposed from earlier vehicles or machinery (e.g., engines, gearboxes, axle housings); but the tractor's overall chassis is essentially designed and built by the owner (e.g., a frame is welded from bar stock—channel stock, angle stock, flat stock, etc.). As with automobile conversions, the heyday of this type of tractor, at least in developed economies, lies in the past, when there were large populations of blue-collar workers for whom metalworking and farming were prevalent parts of their lives. (For example, many 19th- and 20th-century New England and Midwestern machinists and factory workers had grown up on farms.) Backyard fabrication was a natural activity to them (whereas it might seem daunting to most people today).
Alternative machine types 'called' tractors
The term tractor (US & Canada) or tractor unit (UK) is also applied to: