A customer’s view, “Ten years of practical use with a high speed (50mph) tractor.”

“Firstly, I would like to thank the Institute of Agricultural Engineers (UK) for inviting me to talk about high speed farm tractors (Trantors) and for considering my experience as sufficiently relevant for this annual presentation, at the Royal Smithfield Show, when amongst the audience are some of the world’s most knowledgeable and experienced farmers and Agricultural Engineers.

I am a working farm manager for a private, 700 acre commercial farming company in West Sussex and occasions such as these are not my normal province, instead working, driving and managing the organisation are my daily farm tasks. I have been employed in farming since 1956, with time off to gain qualifications. My general knowledge of agriculture has been drawn from years of experience and the purpose of this talk is to provide you with some first-hand knowledge of that experience as it relates to conventional tractors compared to the new, high speed Trantors. My aim is to explain the unique design of the Trantor to you and to explain how it has been utilised to improve work methods in a typical farm situation. Whilst about 250 Trantors (high speed, suspended farm tractors) have been sold into 15 countries, it was over nine years ago that we, as a farm, decided to embark upon an untried method of speeding up our work practices in an attempt to improve our profitability. For a year prior to this, I had been following the efforts of an engineering group near to Manchester (UK), experimenting with a farm transport project. Their observations were very simple:

(1) Farm tractors usually spend more time on transportation & low-draught work tasks (see PDF Brochure E),

     than on heavy cultivation.

(2) Many work tasks can be speeded up and productivity increased substantially.

In order to achieve higher productivity in transport and increase speeds on the land a new kind of tractor was designed and built. Although it had similar features to conventional tractors, Trantors have additional features including a vehicle-like chassis and four suspension systems for axles, hitch and linkage.

Whilst members of the farming and agricultural establishment have largely ignored these designs, prototype versions of Trantors have been evaluated in 15 countries, including India, Nigeria, Zambia, Sri Lanka, Yemen, Australia, USA and South Africa.

One of the principles of the Trantor’s design is that it can be used with the existing, everyday farm machinery used on most farms. The Trantor is made from design adaptations of standard components from a range of automotive, truck and tractor parts. The designers created their own suspension system for both front and rear axles and a truly unique pick-up hitch and linkage suspension. It enabled them to produce a, high speed, fully suspended tractor unlike anything ever produced before or since which could be used on any farm with associated farm equipment for linkage and hitch.

How did our farms benefit from using the Trantor?

Substantial farm productivity improvements have been achieved in many areas, but firstly I will try to describe some of the findings, which could not be explained had the Trantor not been designed.

Fitting a high speed (50mph/80kph) tractor into a conventional system.

In order to fit the Trantor into our farming system and use its speed and, therefore, its suspension to the best advantage, some attitudes had to change. For example, because we had done our spraying at 5mph for the past thirty years, did not mean that it was impossible to increase the speed. A Trantor, along with some intelligent work on nozzle outputs, spray patterns and work procedures, enabled us to double daily output at a stroke. As to farm transport, it was obviously necessary to develop our conventional farm trailers, with regard to brakes, lights and tyres in order to maximise the full potential of the Trantor’s fast road speed (which was the fundamental reason for our buying the Trantor in the first place). As a result we have been using air operated, fail safe, simultaneous systems with simple automatic changeover to hydraulic operation for use with/by normal tractors, on all our tractors. We designed the trailer improvement system ourselves, using readily available components, since the task is very simple and a typical on-farm engineering task. Our tractor-trailer combinations, at harvest time, travel at 40mph, loaded with ten tonnes of wheat and our combine harvester is kept working with minimum time wastage and a small amount of supporting equipment, five trailers and one Trantor plus an old tractor.

During the first 12 months, after our first Trantor was delivered, we were farming over 1,000 acres and we were able to dispose of two ordinary tractors and a Land Rover. Two members of staff departed at retirement age and were not replaced. The speedy tractor proved to be a good investment and so we purchased our second Trantor, which worked alongside the first. Due to the cumulative savings achieved, mostly in the area of reductions in time taken to do the work, the output from our staff increased dramatically. We made some other policy changes which enabled us to sell off a further three ordinary tractors and our remaining farm pick-up truck and our efficiency increased even more.

Changes like these, that is, reductions in the number of tractors and other light vehicles, reduction in acreage, removal of two small beef herds plus other policy changes became a continuous improvement process. Since then the policy and administration have stabilised on a system based on a 700 acre arable farm with three ordinary tractors, all four wheel drive and currently averaging about 400 engine hours per year, three members of staff including myself, one 17 ft. cut combine, no light vehicles of any sort and one of the newer and improved versions of the Series Two Trantor, which completes about 550 engine hours a year. It must be said that the other two staff members spend 20 to 25 weeks a year tending the farm owners more personal needs as chauffeur and working around the garden, house, conservation and estate areas which have, thankfully, averted further staff reductions.

The reason for this dramatic difference in the performance of Trantors over tractors is quite simply gearing and suspension. Logic shows clearly that an ordinary tractor at full engine revs per minute, in top gear, will bounce and lurch along the road at a maximum speed of 18 to 25mph and be dangerously close to maximum stability levels and safety limits. The Trantor, however, at full engine rpm, in top gear, will be cruising along the highway at 40mph (64kph) and well within the most stringent safety limits for commercial vehicles. The farm trailers must, of course, comply with similar legislation as to brakes and suspension.

A factor also clearly of advantage, not mentioned so far, is comfort. Any person having used a tractor at speed knows only too well how uncomfortable it is. This obviously reflects upon the work output of tractor driver and since Trantor’s suspension smoothes out 80% of this discomfort, a higher level of work output and a much happier driver are further benefits.

I have done much work using both types of tractors and know just how much better my posture and digestion is now that my back is no longer being continuously ‘hammered’ by the suspended seats and cabs, so much praised by tractor manufacturers, but which fail to insulate the human body from the abominable farm roads found on most farms.

Five times more productive than ordinary tractors.

When we produced 1100 tonnes of grain on 600 harvest acres we needed five men, five tractors and seven trailers to transport the grain to the drying plant. Ten years later, we produced 1800 tonnes of grain off 650 harvest acres and needed one full time driver (myself), using one Trantor, and one student (part time only), using an ordinary tractor and with four trailers between us. We completed the same task, taking the grain to the same drying plant and this equates to a five-fold increase in productivity, let alone the enormous fuel and labour savings.

Simple servicing at lower real cost.

Other savings made by us have been in the servicing and repairs areas. Whilst regular maintenance costs are marginally more for the Trantor, because of its suspension and air brakes, its method of construction causes the more expensive servicing and repair costs to be much less.

A clutch change on the Trantor for example, costs considerably less in parts and labour and lasts, in use, marginally longer than a conventional tractor. Tyres last longer - at higher speeds too, because they are made of tougher materials and to higher standards due to the extra speed expected of them. Both of these latter savings result from the Trantor’s weight and full suspension system, which reduces shock loadings and wheel slip normally associated with conventional tractors.

Trantors fit standard farm equipment used on all farms.

Over the years we have been impressed by the Trantor’s ability to master most tasks that we have attempted. Most encouragingly, the simple fact that no new or specialised equipment or implements have been bought specifically for the vehicle underlines, its versatility.

Reliability and durability.

The designers and developers of Trantor are a small group of highly innovative engineers who work in a company, which has partly chosen its customers on the basis that (a) no two are alike, (b) all are interested in tractor development and (c) all seek greater farm efficiency. The servicing system, adopted to date, partly as a means of keeping in direct touch with the user, has largely been an on-farm task with direct support from the design and development team.

Visits from design and development engineers, following up and recording wear, work rates, farming improvements are part of what we now call, ‘the Trantor system of product development and back-up service’. These visits to our farm have usually led to some direct product improvement or adjustment to the original detail of the design.

We have, of course, been something of a test market to the engineers of Trantor and it would be highly inaccurate to imply that Trantor designers were entirely responsible for all the improvements achieved. It would also be wrong of me to suggest that the Trantors were either 100% reliable or trouble free, or that some unforeseen problems have not arisen on some occasions.

The improvements in efficiency and cost savings, with regard to transport and spraying in particular, are the direct result of buying and using the high speed Trantor. The Trantor has also caused us to develop ‘fast’ techniques on our farm acreage and has enabled us to pioneer some important new ones.

High-speed tractors are essential for many farms in the future.

The savings in machinery expenditure and manpower are inseparable from our purchase of this first rate, high-speed tractor. I am personally convinced that many more farmers and farm operations would benefit from the adoption of this high-speed approach, given the right circumstances, encouragement and education.

I feel that it is up to people and organisations like yourselves to help remove the rather cynical attitudes some so called specialists seem to have about this subject. Some obviously have little ambition to improve their success in agriculture so that ‘more of the same’ begins to become the strategy of farmers and big farm machinery companies.