Italian-made CAST tractors featured four-wheel drive to navigate hill country.
Last month we looked at the rare Bullock tractor. In this issue we’ll look at another rare, but more modern, machine. Many years ago I attended the Mad River Steam & Gas Show held at the Champaign County Fairgrounds in Urbana, Ohio. The first exhibit to catch my eye was a pair of squat and colorful four-wheel drive tractors owned by Carl Nawman of South Charleston, Ohio. One was painted yellow and white and the other turquoise and white, with both bearing the name “CAST” on their hoods.
Over the years I’ve found a couple of pieces of CAST sales literature, one of which tells me: “Italy is the home of beautiful bodies, such as those of Gina Lollobrigida, Sophia Loren, Ferrari ... and the fabulous CAST, the superb tractor.”
As anyone who has visited the Mediterranean area knows, vineyards and olive groves are established on some pretty hilly terrain while flatter fields are used for other crops. To safely negotiate those steep hills, the CAST tractor’s four-wheel steering and drive and its low center of gravity were ideal.
In 1919, Cesare Donati and Carlo Regazzoni established a company called Officine di Casaralta (Workshops of Casaralta) in Bologna, Italy, to repair railway freight wagons and passenger cars. During the worldwide depression of the 1930s, the failing company’s assets were acquired by an agency of the Mussolini government, saved from bankruptcy and put to work helping “make the trains run on time.”
After World War II, the Casaralta firm was kept busy repairing the wrecked Italian railroads, but work dried up when the job was finished and again the company went bust. Reorganized in 1955 to manufacture new railway rolling stock, electric locomotives and signaling equipment, Casaralta built the streamlined E.404 locomotive for the ETR, Italy’s fastest train.
Although I can find no mention of tractors in the company history, CAST tractors were built in Bologna by a company called CAST S.p.A., which was apparently an offshoot of the Casaralta firm with the name CAST derived from the first letters of the parent firm and “T” for “trattori,” the Italian word for tractors.
The little tractor was advertised as, “... low in profile, to work easily under the low-branching olive trees. It (is) narrow and compact, with plenty of traction and stability to till the narrow-row, steep hillside vineyards of Italy. The four-wheel drive, independent wheel suspension and low center of gravity make it maneuverable without wheel strain. And it has a turning radius of only 40 1/2 inches.”
The CAST was powered by an air-cooled, 4-cycle, 2-cylinder diesel engine with electric start made by engine and tractor builder Slanzi (which was later bought out by Lombardini). The engine had a 3.6-inch bore and a 3.9-inch stroke, displaced 81.16 cubic inches and was said to put out 32 hp, which seems like a lot from such a small powerplant.
The tractor’s outstanding features were listed as: four-wheel drive with all wheels of identical size, all independently suspended and steerable; a differential lock that permitted all four wheels to turn at the same speed in turns as well as straight ahead; four-wheel hydraulic brakes; a wishbone radial-arm suspension with shock absorbers; six forward and reverse gears with shuttle shift that provided speeds of 1.8 to 14 mph; and a swing-around seat that pivoted 180 degrees around the vertical steering wheel and that, along with dual foot controls, allowed the driver to always face in the direction of travel.
The CAST had a fixed drawbar on the front (or engine end), a standard category one 3-point hitch and a swinging drawbar on the rear. It could be equipped with a mounted loader that would lift 1,200 pounds as high as 9 feet, a backhoe with a reach of 9 feet, 4 inches or a forklift that would lift just over a ton to a height of 8 feet. It could also use any category one 3-point implement. The overall width of the CAST was 46 1/2 inches, the length 101 inches and the basic weight was 2,500 pounds.
The CAST is a neat-looking little machine and it seems as though it would be handy for a lot of jobs, although, on an Italian tractor forum, one owner, who goes by the name Buto and who has had his CAST for 35 years, tells of its pros: The Slanzi is a good engine and the tractor’s compact dimensions allow it to operate in a very small space and, although power steering would be nice, it has a great steering system. And cons: The four shock absorbers don’t allow the tractor to adapt to the ground and every ditch becomes a danger, while traction is easily lost. The hydraulic lift is not that good. The brakes are mediocre and there are continuous oil leaks from the shackles (sic).
He goes on to tell of plowing with the CAST: Nose up in the air, wheels going around and no traction. In principle, it’s a great machine, but not that good here on the hills of Liguria where the steep slopes are the ‘fear.’ Work carefully with the cutter or the tractor and trailer, but don’t try to plow. Now I use the CAST only with a log splitter and keep it because we are very fond of it. (The above is my interpretation of the Google translation of Buto’s comments, which were in Italian.)
The number of CAST tractors made isn’t clear; according to a Mr. Dozza, an Italian ag historian and writer, the first CAST tractor was registered in 1967 and 250 were made before production ceased in the early 1970s, while Carl Nawman heard that 500 CAST tractors were imported into the U.S. by RECO Sales of Indianapolis, which advertised the machine as ideal “for all types of businesses — farms, nurseries, cemeteries, schools, parks and golf courses, to name a few.”
As I’ve seen very few CAST tractors in my travels, it seems likely that they never really caught on and that very few were sold, probably due to the reasons cited above by the Italian owner.
There have been a lot of good tractors made in Europe since 1945, and one occasionally turns up at a show here in the U.S. FC
Sam Moore grew up on a farm in western Pennsylvania. He now lives in Salem, Ohio, and collects antique tractors, implements and related items. Contact Sam by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Read more in Rare Tractors Common for Collector.