Let's Talk Rusty Iron

Building on a Solid Foundation

| January 2005


Nebraska tractor tests continue today as farmer's advocate

When the tractor testing program began at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln in 1920, about 160 companies were building tractors in the United States. That first year, 69 machines were tested, a figure that hasn't been matched since. The 1920 tests included such names as Allwork, Coleman, Dart, Emerson-Brantingham, Frick, Gray, Heider, LaCrosse (the only "line-drive" tractor ever tested), Monarch, Parrett, Samson, Square Turn, Townsend, Uncle Sam and Wisconsin, as well as more familiar marques of Case, Fordson, Huber, International and Rumely.

Any manufacturer who wanted a tractor tested at Nebraska had to make application, pay a $500 fee, and wait until the test could be scheduled before shipping the machine to the university. Upon arrival of the equipment, a representative of the manufacturer unloaded the tractor, made sure it was running its best and then operated the machine during the "limber-up" run.

A UNL testing engineer then took charge of the tractor and belted it to a dynamometer. After warm-up, several tests were made, including a 100 percent maximum test, an operating maximum test, a rated load test, and a varying load test, all on the belt. In 1959, with the proliferation of PTO-driven implements and the demise of belt-driven machines, the belt tests were discontinued and a series of three PTO tests was implemented. During all these tests, horsepower output, fuel, oil and water consumption, and operating temperatures were closely monitored and recorded.

After the belt or PTO tests were concluded, the tractor was taken to the test track, which was dirt until 1959, when it was paved with concrete. The tractor was hitched to the test car, hitched behind (if necessary) additional heavy tractors to increase the load. The first test was the 100 percent maximum drawbar test, which was made in the rated (or plow) gear. Next was the operating maximum test, which measured the maximum horsepower the tractor developed in each forward gear. Finally, a 10-hour rated load test was run at 75 percent of the maximum load pulled in the earlier test.

After the tests, each tractor was taken apart to make sure every part matched specifications. Cylinder displacement was checked by removing the head and pouring a measured amount of liquid into the cylinder. This was a simple process on a vertical engine, but consider a different scenario: In a 1941 photo of a John Deere Model B with a horizontal engine, the front has been hoisted into the air until the tractor is standing upright on its drawbar, while technicians pour liquid into its cylinders. A later photo shows a Model B lying on its side, while the liquid is poured through the spark plug hole.

Occasionally, an irregularity was discovered during this process. One episode involved a tractor that was found to have polished intake parts. The tractor was rejected and the company had to submit a second tractor and pay an additional test fee.