Classic Tractor Engine Modifications

Manufacturers have made great advances in tractor engines over the years.

  • Thanks to its new Power Crater gasoline engine, the Allis-Chalmers WD-45 was the most powerful tractor of its size when it was introduced in 1953.
    Photo by Ralph W. Sanders
  • As part of a demonstration conducted by Purdue University and the Indiana Agricultural College, three 30-60 OilPull tractors were coupled to a 50-bottom plow. Together, they turned over nearly 60 feet of soil at each pass, or an acre every 4 1/2 minutes. Obviously, the demonstration caught the attention of everyone interested in power farming.
    Photo by Ralph W. Sanders
  • Available as an option on some models, special extension rims proved to be valuable for breaking up marsh ground in certain parts of the country.
    Photo by Ralph W. Sanders
  • Originally developed and marketed by the Waterloo Gasoline Engine Company, the Waterloo Boy became the tractor from which all John Deere two-cylinder tractors would evolve, following the purchase of the engine company by John Deere in 1918.
    Photo by Ralph W. Sanders
  • Often referred to as the "kerosene tractor," the International 8-16 Junior proved there was a market for a powerful, lightweight tractor, ultimately paving the way for the Farmall models that followed. Its overhead-valve engine with a bore and stroke of 4x5 inches provided 16 horsepower on the belt.
    Photo by Ralph W. Sanders
  • The 8-16 not only used the same engine as the G International truck, but it also borrowed the same style of sloping hood and the same fan-cooled radiator.
    Photo by Ralph W. Sanders
  • From John Deere to International Harvester, hundreds of farm tractor companies have built models over the years. Some have been innovative, changing farming for years to come and influencing other tractor brands. "Tractor Superstars" by Tharran E. Gaines focuses on these remarkable tractors, including technical and performance specifications.
    Cover courtesy Quarto Publishing Group

Many companies have built hundreds of farm tractors over the years, from the 1910 Case 110 steam tractor to the latest-model John Deere 8320R. The most innovative models changed farming for years afterwards and influenced the designs of other tractors. The most wildly popular tractors have sold in the hundreds of thousands.

Tractor Superstars (Quarto Publishing Group, 2015) by Thomas E. Gaines. focuses on these remarkable tractors, including technical information such as the engine, horsepower, rpm, top speed, and weight. A wide collection of detailed photographs makes this one book that no one interested in tractors, tractor collectors, or anyone nostalgic for farm life will want to miss.

You can purchase this book from the GRIT store: Tractor Superstars.

Engine Modifications

For as long as tractors have been designed and built, engineers have constantly been looking at ways to get more power out of the tractor or engine. As we learned in the previous chapter, engineers often used bigger engines to put more power through the powertrain. However, there were also numerous times when tractor engineers simply took an existing engine and beefed it up in one way or another. Sometimes it was as simple as adjusting the governor to increase the rated engine speed. Other times it involved making an internal modification to the piston or the valvetrain.

In other cases, a tractor company simply borrowed the engine from an automobile or truck division, modified it to some extent, and put it into a tractor. That was the solution for both Case and International Harvester on a few occasions. However, one of the biggest changes came when tractor manufacturers started offering a diesel engine as an option as early as the 1940s.

By 1960, of the 25 tractors tested at the Nebraska Tractor Test Laboratory, 14 had diesel engines. Fifteen years later, in 1975, all 30 tractors that were tested in Nebraska were powered by diesels. Today, engine modifications continue to improve fuel efficiency and boost horsepower. Consider, for example, that the Massey-Harris Challenger with its 247.7-cubic-inch engine cranked out just 28.58 horsepower on the belt when it was introduced in 1936. Seventy-seven years later, Massey Ferguson released the Model 5613, which is considered to be a utility tractor, rated at 125 engine horsepower and 100 horsepower on the PTO. In comparison to the Challenger’s 4.1-liter engine, the 5613 has a four-cylinder engine that is only slightly bigger at 4.4 liters.

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