Big Tractors: Behemoths on the Farm

Bigger and better tractors met the needs of the American farmer.

| May 2018

  • The biggest of them all, the Big Bud 747 (weighing 95,000 pounds, plus ballast) is powered by a GM 16V-92T V-16 engine of 1,472 cubic inches. The engine was rated at 900 hp. The 747 had to be somewhat disassembled for transport to its various jobs, but actually did some farm work.
    Photo courtesy Robert N. Pripps
  • The International 4300 was made for International Harvester by their Hough Industrial Division and was based on one of their wheeled loaders. Designed to compete with the John Deere 8010/8020, the 4300 was powered by a 300 hp (PTO) 6-cylinder turbocharged engine of 817 cubic inches. It was not articulated, but had crab steering. IH built 44 of them, along with an optional 12-bottom 3-point plow.
    Photo courtesy of owner Jerry Mez via Red Power Magazine
  • The Versatile 1080 “Big Roy” was Versatile’s answer to the size race of the 1970s. The four-axle, 600 hp articulated machine weighed approximately 60,000 pounds.
    Photo courtesy N. Robert Pripps
  • The International Harvester 4186 was a successor to the giant Model 4300, but in a more practical size. It too used crab steering and had a 429-cubic-inch, 6-cylinder turbocharged engine.
    Photo courtesy Robert N. Pripps
  • The 130 hp Oliver 2150 is no small tractor, but it is dwarfed by George Schaaf’s 1911 Imperial 40 – 40 hp on the drawbar, but 70 on the belt. The big Imperial, made in Minneapolis, Minnesota, has a 4-cylinder horizontally opposed engine of 1,590 cubic inches of displacement.
    Photo courtesy Robert N. Pripps
  • The 1961 John Deere Model 8020 was about 20 feet long and 8 feet wide and weighed about 20,000 pounds. It was powered by a 2-cycle GM 6-cylinder engine of 426 cubic inches. It was an awesome machine with its mounted 8-bottom plow, but never achieved much popularity because of its $30,000 price tag.
    Photo by Andrew Morland
  • The Farmall 1468, probably the biggest and last of the two-wheel drives. Several manufacturers brought out big two-wheel drives in the late 1960s; many, like the 1468, were powered by V-8 engines. A unique feature of the 1468’s engine was its ability to run on only four of its cylinders at low loads, thus saving fuel.
    Photo courtesy Robert N. Pripps

When it comes to tractors, how big is big? Western and Great Plains farmers buy the biggest tractors they can find, justifying expensive purchase prices by the rate at which their massive fields can be tilled.

Midwestern, Eastern and Southern farmers are less interested in size, instead basing their tractor size and power on specialized needs like rice, orchard or high-clearance specials. But size is subjective: do you go by weight comparison, drawbar horsepower, tire/wheel size or price?

In the beginning, large tractors had a lot less horsepower than their modern counterparts, but that just meant they traveled more slowly, pulling the same number of plow bottoms. The weight of the biggest grew over time, beginning in the 1920s at about 20,000 pounds for an internal combustion tractor (double that for steam) to as much as 50,000 pounds in the 1970s, when weight and horsepower peaked.

Originally, high horsepower numbers came via steam, but steam ratings are often confusing and not always based on “torque times speed.” The need for traction in the days before rubber tires led to steel rear wheels 7 or 8 feet in diameter, and in some cases, crawler tracks. In modern times, four-wheel drives and articulated steering became the norm.

Massive early units

In the early days, Case led the way with steam. Their 110 hp monster weighed about 40,000 pounds. Case built several 150 hp engines, but it is thought that they were never used for farming. The Case 110 used a single 12-inch bore and stroke cylinder. Rated for a 12-bottom plow, it had 7-foot diameter drive wheels with a 3-foot face. Another big steamer of the time was the 90 hp Avery, which used two 7x10-inch cylinders. It weighed 40,800 pounds.        

Internal combustion (gasoline/kerosene) tractor manufacturers copied the big steamers, in some cases just putting a gas/internal combustion engine on a steam chassis.


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