Farm Horizons, Aug. 2015

How tractors have changed over the years

By Gabe Licht

Allen Glessing, of Waverly, remembers when tractors had 20 horsepower and weighed about 4,000 pounds. Now, four-wheel drive tractors can churn out more than 600 horsepower and can weigh up to 60,000 pounds or more.

“The price has also changed,” Glessing said. “You could buy a (Farmall) Model H for $800. That same horsepower in a lawnmower is $8,000 to $10,000.”

Now, tractors cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.

For example, Glessing bought a 200-horsepower tractor new in 2001 for $125,000, and said the list price for a comparable tractor would be $150,000 to $160,000.

His four-wheel drive tractor that churns out 300 horsepower was built in 1996 and cost $60,000 used.

Just as the price has increased exponentially, so has the amount of work that can be done with modern machines.

“A guy with a 300-horse tractor can do 150 acres a day,” Glessing said. “Back then (50 or 60 years ago), if you plowed well into the night, you maybe plowed 10 acres a day.”

Not only can tractors do more than they could decades ago, but they are also more precise, due to GPS capabilities.

“With GPS, you don’t even have to have your hand on the steering wheel,” Glessing said. “It makes it so people don’t have to think any more.

“It used to be an art to have straight corn rows,” Glessing continued. “Now, you just push a button and it comes off a satellite and the rows are straighter than the best guy could have done before.”

Soon, farmers may not need to be in their tractors at all.

“They have prototypes where you sit in the house and it’s in the field doing its thing,” Glessing said.

He’s not so sure that is a good idea.

“I wonder if the tractor is smart enough to go around a mud hole or plow into it,” Glessing said.

While Glessing is a fan and user of red tractors, such as Farmall, International, and Case, Norman Duske prefers green tractors. Green being Olivers, not John Deeres.

He said his dad bought his first Oliver in 1946. His newest Oliver is from 1975, one year before Oliver made its last tractor. His newest tractor overall is a 1985 Iseki.

“We don’t have anything that drives itself or anything like that,” Duske said.

He describes the new tractors as “unreal.”

One aspect that seems unreal is how problems with tractors can be diagnosed.

“When there’s something wrong, they come out and plug a computer in to tell them what’s wrong,” Glessing said.

New tractors can do more work, but he does not believe they will last as long in the end.

“They’ll do so much more work, but they won’t be around like the old ones,” Glessing said. “If you get a mouse in a tractor, it can do a lot of damage chewing wires.”

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