The Rise of Orchard Tractors

Streamlined orchard tractors were designed to slip in and out of tight places.

| May 2017

  • A 1950 Massey-Harris Model 44GSV vineyard. This version of the basic Model 44 Standard had a much-reduced tread width. The Model 44 was Massey-Harris' most popular tractor, although the vineyard version is extremely rare.
    Photo by Andrew Morland
  • A 1945 Oliver 70 Orchard. Powered by a smooth-running 6-cylinder engine, the 70 was available in row-crop, standard-tread and industrial versions, as well as the orchard version shown here.
    Photo by Andrew Morland
  • A 1950 Case Model DO in full orchard trim. The basic Model D came out in 1939, replacing the previous C Series. Both were in the 30 hp class.
    Photo by Andrew Morland
  • A 1955 Case Model 400 Orchard. In addition to elegant sheet metal, there were many differences from the standard tractor required to lower the operator’s position.
    Photo by Andrew Morland
  • A 1954 Allgaier Porsche P312 Kaffeelug (coffee train), possibly the rarest of Porsche tractors: Only 300 were made. Most were shipped to Brazil. Based on the standard Porsche tractor with a 2-cylinder diesel engine of 100 cubic inches, the tractor was found to be underpowered and its use was discontinued. The French company Allgaier had taken over the Porsche tractor line, while Porsche concentrated on sports cars.
    Photo by Andrew Morland
  • The John Deere-Lindeman crawler was built for orchard work in the hilly western apple orchards. Deere & Co. sent basic tractors minus their wheels to the Lindemans’ Yakima, Wash., plant, where tracks were installed. This one is shown at The Two-Cylinder Days event at the John Deere Historic Site in Grand Detour, Ill.
    Photo by Robert N. Pripps
  • Sweeping rear fenders dominate the profile of this McCormick O-12, the orchard version of the McCormick 12 Series. Built from 1934 to 1938, the series consisted of the F-12 Farmall, the standard-tread W-12 and the Orchard O-12. This one is owned by Ralph Johnson, Waterman, Ill.
    Photo by Robert N. Pripps
  • An early John Deere Model AO, the orchard version of the standard-tread Model A. Only minor modifications were incorporated to prevent snagging extremities on low-hanging branches.
    Photo by Robert N. Pripps
  • A 1937 Caterpillar Model Twenty-Two with factory orchard accoutrements. The Twenty-Two had a 251-cubic-inch, 4-cylinder gasoline engine of about 25 drawbar hp.
    Photo by Andrew Morland
  • A 1946 McCormick Model OS-4, a derivative of the W-4, the standard-tread version of the Farmall H. There was also a Model O-4 equipped with “citrus fenders.” Both orchard versions featured air intakes and exhausts below the hood, a low seat and steering wheel, and a much reduced tread width.
    Photo by Robert N. Pripps
  • Although the John Deere Model 60 replaced the Model A with substantial upgrades, the 60-O (Orchard) was essentially the same as the AO under the fancy skin. Shown here is the extremely rare LPG version built only in 1956-57.
    Photo by Robert N. Pripps

In the last years of the 19th century, agronomists discovered that cultivation of orchards and vineyards with tools such as a spike-tooth drag pulled by a horse markedly improved the yield and quality of the harvest. The advent of the gasoline tractor occurred at about the same time. Like the steam tractors that came before, these early gas tractors were too big and cumbersome for orchard use.

Yet in 1912, Avery Co., Peoria, Illinois, promoted its new Model 12-25 for orchard work. The 12-25 was a 7,500-pound monster that only fit between the rows of orchards specifically designed for it, and it was much too tall to fit under limbs hanging with ripening fruit.

In the summer of 1914, Holt Mfg. Co., Stockton, California, introduced its Baby Caterpillar “18” crawler. This was the first tractor specifically tailored for orchard work and was built both low and narrow. Avery, realizing the shortcomings of its Model 12-25, came out with a new Model 8-16 that same year. It featured a short cooling exhaust stack, a low driver’s seat and fenders over the rear drive wheels.

Development of a new line

Over the next decades, most major tractor makers adapted their smaller standard-tread tractors for orchard use. Steering brakes, not usually found on standard-tread tractors, were added to these versions. Lowering the operator’s seat and narrowing the tread width were major modifications made by some manufacturers. Because of the relocation of the seat, foot clutches were sometimes replaced by hand clutches. Also, an “O” for orchard was added to the official designation.

Orchard tractors, as offshoots of standard tractors, but with fancy sheet metal capes, came into vogue in the early 1930s and continued into the 1960s. They were specifically tailored to slip through low-hanging branches and navigate the rows and steep hillsides typically found in fruit orchards and vineyards.

These machines had features that appealed to the fruit grower including a lower overall profile, underneath exhaust pipes, built-in or retractable headlights and sheet metal fairings that allowed branches to deflect and slide off rather than catch. Further, the operator’s station was lowered and a windshield-like fairing was usually added for operator protection.


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