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USING YOUR TRACTOR

This is primarily based on 9N/2N/8N tractors. A Ford 3000 was added to the fleet, then sold when a fresh rebuild proved to be too much power for our mostly-wooded property.

This is all about the FUN stuff!

Most of this web site is about tractor repairs, restoration, and maintenance. I do enjoy working on my tractors, but all this would be pretty pointless, if we didn't get to use them. Some tractors are fixed-up so pretty, they only come out for shows and parades. Not mine. One did make it to a show, once, but mostly my tractors stay dirty. Working tractors need IMPLEMENTS. "Implement" is just a fancy word for tool. Any excuse to buy more tools is a very good thing, and the root cause of my tractor addiction is finally revealed.

Most of my implements are used and abused. Older implements will generally be heavier and more durable than modern versions. In order to keep prices down, manufacturers are forced to try and do more with less. Expect newer implements to have thinner gauge steel with stamped steel parts rather than cast iron. When buying a tractor, always ask "What comes with it?". No telling what might be offered as part of the sale. Most broken and abused implements can be repaired and may work better and last longer than new ones.

Do not be embarrassed to ask questions and get a free lesson in tractor operation from the salesman or previous owner. They want to make the sale, and they should want to make sure you know how to operate the tractor. Walk around the tractor and ask about anything you don't understand. There may be lots of little knobs and levers in places you will never see just sitting on the seat. Most sellers will be eager to explain everything. Many vintage tractors will have custom accessories not covered in any manual. This walk-around may save you a lot of research later trying to track down the purpose of some one-of-a-kind whatsit. Expect to see more than one transmission shift lever, more than one brake pedal, controls for the 3-point lift and PTO shaft. Throttle controls are usually hand-operated. Some tractors will have both hand and foot throttle controls. If there is a front loader, there will be separate controls for that. The additional controls can be confusing. If you didn't get an operator's manual it is usually easy enough to download one. Basic operation is always right in the front of the operator's manual. Go over the various controls with a manual until things make sense.

Do not hook up an implement until you have driven the tractor enough to get comfortable just starting, steering, and stopping. It's ok if there is already something hanging on the tractor when you pick it up. Just let it hang back there while you figure out the basic controls. Try to find out if the rear tires are filled. How good are the brakes, steering, and clutch? Check the speed in a few forward and reverse gears. Most vintage tractors DO NOT shift on-the-fly like a car. Put it in any gear, then slowly ease the clutch pedal out. To change gears, come to a complete stop, then shift gears. Hey, this is the fun part, take the time to drive the tractor, and build confidence.

Some people cannot learn any way but the hard way. If you are one of those, this is where you oopsie thru the rose bushes, knock down the fence, or drag an implement down the side of the wife's car. Hopefully this phase will pass before the police or rescue squad are called. Try to be careful.

BRAKES

Try steering with the brakes. Tractors usually have separate pedals for right and left brakes. Separate right and left brake pedals allow the tractor to be steered with the brakes. That's a good thing when a heavy load has the front tires only touching the ground occasionally. Now is the time to find out if one brake works better than the other (or if the brakes work at all). Even with good brakes, don't expect a tractor to stop anything like your car does. On newer tractors there may be a way to lock the two brake pedals together. That is a feature I would only use for long drives on pavement.

TRANSMISSIONS

Very few tractors are designed to shift on-the-fly. In most cases you select what gear you want to use, then ease the clutch out to start the tractor moving. In higher (faster) gears this can seem like a lot of time "riding" the clutch. Second gear usually seems to be the main "working" gear for most implements. Start there, then try other available gears to see what works best for the job you are doing. All of my tractors have different sets of main gear ratios, and different auxiliary (overdrive and underdrive) transmissions. The 2N has an overdrive that provides a total of six forward gears and two reverse gears. The 8N has a Sherman combo that provides a total of 12 forward gears and three reverse gears. The 3000 had a dual-range 4 speed with 8 forward gears and two reverse gears. The V8-8N has a Howard step-down that provides a second range of gears approximately 1/3 the normal gear ratios. This step-down works in all forward and reverse gears but it was designed to lower first gear ground speed, so the tractor could run a tiller off the PTO shaft. The Howard was installed in the V8-8N because it is really cool to creep around with the V8 sound.

REVERSING (or The Art of Backing-Up)

Practice backing-up and lining-up with something that won't be killed if it gets run over. You do not want to discover a sticky clutch or bad brakes by running into (or completely over) the dog or something expensive. Stay far away from the flower beds. Learn how to back-up square and centered on an implement. Many implements are too heavy to be moved much by hand. Attempting to manually adjust the position of heavy implements has caused many injuries.

CONNECTING IMPLEMENTS

Hooking implements to the 3-point lift can be difficult, especially if you just drop anything anywhere. Implements are much easier to attach if they are parked on level ground. Wooden blocks will help keep them from getting buried in dirt and weeds. It's a lot easier to hook up if the rear tractor tires are sitting on the same slope as the implement. Try to leave parked implements next to a level stretch of driveway, or at the edge of a field.

Back up to the implement. Make sure the PTO shaft is not turning! Set the parking brakes. Connect the non-movable lower lift arm first. That is usually the left arm. Look for a thing on one side (usually the right) with a crank handle. That is the leveling box. Turning the crank will raise or lower that lift arm. The other lift arm is the non-movable one that you want to hook up first. Hopefully, if you backed the tractor perfectly, all you have to do is crank the leveling box a turn or two, to align the second arm with the pin. If not, try hooking up the top link, and crank that in or out to get the second lower link to line up. A long pry bar comes in handy when aligning implements.

Image showing two leveling boxes

Note the second leveling box in this photo. This is a standard leveling box, modified to fit on the left side. This provides twice as much adjustment, and either arm can be hooked up first. This is a very handy modification that I make to all my tractors.

LYNCH PINS

lynch pins

Always use the correct size and type lynch pins. Most are 7/16 x 1-3/4" usable length, inside the loop. Buy a supply of these and keep a few in the tool box on each tractor. You may think you only need 3, but they are always getting lost. Insert the pins from front to back, or from top down when you can. When the bail closes from front to back or top down it may help keep brush and branches from flipping them loose. If lost pins become a frequent problem, they can be secured with tie wire. This is a last resort since cutting tie wire loose to remove pins may be more inconvenient than losing a few. Some suppliers sell assortments of various pins and clips. Having an assortment of sizes and types handy is much better than using bolts, wire, string, and other rotten things I've had to remove.

STABILIZER BARS

lpins

Get a set of stabilizer arms (bars). Stabilizer bars keep the implement from swinging freely from side to side. Most tractors just have short chains that stop the swing just before the lower arms hit the tires. This still allows a lot of room to swing from side to side. A heavy implement will break those chains. There is no need to go around leaving deep gouges in the wife's car, knocking corners off the house, or ripping the new gate off its hinges. In addition to keeping the implement centered. The stabilizer bars make a triangle with each lower lift arm which greatly helps to stiffen things when pushing in reverse. The lift system and lower arms were designed for pulling, not pushing. Stabilizer bars should be used with every implement, except the plow. Make sure the front pivot point for the bars is directly across from the front pivot for the lower lift arm, or they will bind when the lift goes up and down. Stabilizer brackets should already be installed under the axle using the fender bolts. Original cast iron brackets only have one hole. There is a Right and Left version that must be installed on the correct sides. Aftermarket steel brackets usually have several holes, so they will work with different tractors and go on either side. Install pins for stabilizer bars in the holes directly across from the lower lift arm pivot point. Some implements such as a bottom plow should be allowed to run free with just the chains.

STAY BARS

No, "stay bars" isn't an abbreviation for stabilizer bars discussed above. Stay bars are a set of adjustable bars that go from the top link to the lower lift arms. Stay bars are used to lock the lower lift arms down low when using a draw bar to tow or drag. The lift is gravity down, with no down pressure. Without stay bars the arms will rise up when pulling. This is very unsafe. Never pull anything with the lift arms raised. Never hook anything above the centerline of the rear axle. Stay bars usually come with a chain and tag to lock the touch control lever in the down position. This is just a reminder not to try and raise the lift when the stays are attached. Stays and Stabilizer bars can be used at the same time with a drawbar.

TOP LINKS

tlink

There are at least three different category 1 top link lengths, and unless you only use one implement, you will eventually need all of them. Some people buy a top link for each implement, so they can leave them set to a specific length. That's a little extreme for me. The original 9N tractor top link was a sliding-type with two clamp bolts running in a slot. If you find one of those just hang it on the wall as a historic curiosity and use the modern screw type.

"STANDARD" CATEGORY 1 IMPLEMENTS

The N-Series tractors had the first ever 3-point lift. There were no standards when these tractors were designed. Manufacturers did not agree on a standard until the 60's. Refer to the table below. The N-Tractor lift matches up best with Category 1. We should be able to use most Category 1 and 2 implements. If pins are the wrong size they can be replaced. Adapter sleeves are available for pins that are too small. It is usually better to replace pins with the correct size than using adapters that are easily lost. Unfortunately, "standard" Category 1 and 2 implements are not very standard. Some are almost too wide for the lower arms, or the top link is at an odd location.

THREE POINT LIFT STANDARDS

CATEGORY TRACTOR HP Top Link Pin Diameter Lift Arm Pin Diameter Lower Hitch Spacing
0 Up to 20 hp (15 kW) 58 in (16 mm) 58 in (16 mm) 20 in (510 mm)
1 20 to 45 hp (15 to 34 kW) 34 in (19 mm) 78 in (22 mm) 28 in (710 mm)
2 40 to 100 hp (30 to 75 kW) 1 in (25 mm) 1 18 in (29 mm) 34 in (860 mm)
3 80 to 225 hp (60 to 168 kW) 1 14 in (32 mm) 1 716 in (37 mm) 40 in (1,000 mm)
4 More than 180 hp (130 kW) 1 34 in (44 mm) 2 in (51 mm) 48 in (1,200 mm)
The full standard includes additional information, dimensions, and geometry.

QUICK HITCH DEVICES

Seems like a great idea! Just back up to any implement, click, click, and drive away! What I discovered is that some of my implements would not attach to the Quick Hitch. Removing the heavy Quick Hitch attachment to use those implements just added more work and busted knuckles. The only way a Quick Hitch device will work as advertised is if all your implements will easily attach to it. Measure your implements. How far apart are the lower link pins? Are all the top link connections the same height from the lower links? Are all three pins arranged so they can be hooked from below? Having to modify or remove the quick hitch for each implement completely defeats the purpose. Maybe one of these will work for you. Great if it does. If not, don't say I didn't warn you.

Top Link Rocker

The Top Link Rocker is where the top link connects to the tractor. ALWAYS use a top link with all implements. Most N-Tractors will only have one place on the rocker to connect the top link to the tractor (no confusion with those). Near the end of 1949, the top link rocker was changed from single hole to a 3-hole design. The new rocker provides two additional connection points that are higher than the original connection. Always use the lowest position for plowing. Use the higher mounting points only when a light ground-engaging implement does not provide enough feedback to the draft control mechanism. This should only be the case with something like a cultivator in loose soil. Be careful! If the implement should hit an obstruction, the higher mounting points allow a LOT more force on the spring and lift control mechanism. You are much more likely to break something.

BACK BLADE

blade

The main reason I started looking for a tractor was driveway maintenance and snow removal. Maintaining the driveway is still the primary work for my tractors. Both of my back blades are 5-feet wide and have seen many years of hard use before I got them. Better blades will have more options to adjust the angle and position of the blade. One of my blades can be offset 2-feet to one side. At a minimum, any back blade should include the ability to angle the blade or turn it completely backwards.

GRADING GRAVEL

Don't automatically decide to buy a load of gravel without first working the driveway. In most cases there will already be plenty of gravel near the surface. Gravel doesn't evaporate or wear out. The ideal gravel driveway surface is a mixture of gravel and dirt that will quickly pack down into a tight, stable driving surface. Loose dirt and smaller stones will settle down into the gravel as it is packed and help lock the larger stones in place. Done right, this surface can become nearly as hard and stable as pavement.

Some people do a lot of blade work in reverse gear. The main part of our driveway is over 750 feet long. I can't imagine what my neck would feel like if I tried to do much of that in reverse. Running in forward gears is much faster, and with a blade no wider than the tires, there is little need to watch what the blade is doing.

If the driveway is in good shape, don't get carried away digging up the packed gravel base. If all it needs is a quick touch-up, see if your blade can be rotated all the way around backwards. This will turn the edge, so it cannot dig-in. Set the blade angled just one position from straight across. Run fairly fast, in second gear, with the forward end of the blade at the edge of the drive, so the blade pulls a little loose gravel from the edge to the middle.

If the driveway is heavily rutted, the blade needs to dig-in and move a lot of material. The best time to do this is right after a good rain. The water helps loosen the driveway, but mostly because a damp driveway will make much less dust. Set the blade angled just one position from straight across. Use a long top link, so the leading edge of the blade can really dig-in, and pick-up material. Cranking the leveling box so the leading tip end of the blade is slightly lower will also help. The intent is to dig-up material from the edge and move it slightly towards the center of the driveway. Run in first gear with the leading tip of the blade at the edge of the driveway. It might take 2 or 3 passes to loosen enough material to completely fill deep ruts. Adding weight to the blade may be necessary.

Once you have enough loose material to make the ruts disappear, the best way to smooth it out evenly is to shorten the top link until the leading edge of the blade is straight up. Run in 3rd or even 4th gear, so the angled blade can throw material over the crown of the driveway. If the tires are slipping, shorten the top link more. Continue to run with the leading edge of the angled blade at the edge of the drive. This is how we create a crown, so water will run off the driveway. The final passes can be done with the blade turned around backwards as previously described.

Gravel comes in many sizes and types. Experiment with the top link to find the length that works best for your gravel. Too much speed will get the blade bouncing, and dump whatever it is carrying. This makes rumble strips. That is not usually what we are going for. The ideal driveway surface is smooth with a slight crown, so water will run off. Done right, the driveway should pack down into a stable surface that only needs a touch-up when you feel like doing something with a tractor.

One reason to avoid digging deep is when there may be more than usual rainfall. This requires the ability to predict the future. Do not thoroughly loosen and regrade a gravel driveway just before a hurricane. Heavy rains will turn a freshly-graded loose driveway into an impassable muddy mess that will not pack down.

PLOWING SNOW

plow1

Front Blade or Rear Blade? Is it better to push or pull snow?
The answer depends a lot on your equipment. First, we have to answer a whole list of questions like:
How good are the tires?
Are the tires filled?
Do you have tire chains?
How wide is the blade?
What do you consider DEEP snow?
How long is your drive?

The correct answer will vary depending on your equipment, and what you are asking it to do.
If I just want to move 4-6" of typical Virginia snow/slush, so it won't pack down and turn into ice, I turn the blade backwards, angle it to the second or third setting, shorten the top link, and drag it in 3rd gear (8N 4-speed tranny) so it spills the slushy stuff to the edge of the drive. Dragging the blade backwards won't disturb the gravel nearly as much. If the blade rides up on top of the snow/ice, slow down, or lengthen the top link.
For a heavy 8 to 10-inch Virginia snowfall, I prefer to use the 2N. It has filled tires for better traction. Typical Virginia snow is very wet, heavy stuff. It makes great snowballs but is hard to plow. I turn the blade around the right way, extend the top link as far as I can, and put skid shoes on the blade, so it can't dig-in. I'm running forward in 2nd gear (3-speed tranny), with the blade angled as much as it will go. This set-up will use the curved shape of the blade to lift and roll the snow off the drive. Clean the blade and spray a little PAM on it to help the snow roll and slide along the blade. There are some products that may work better and last longer than PAM.
Even with filled tires and chains there is a limit to how much snow you can plow before the tires are slipping too much. Control tire slip by raising the blade slightly. It should be possible for the blade to do this automatically using DRAFT mode. In draft mode, move the touch control just far enough that the blade drops, and leave the touch control at that position. This should allow the lift hydraulics to raise the blade as drag increases. To be honest, I've never had much success with that. I suspect the top link needs to be in one of the upper holes to generate enough feedback with a blade in snow. I hope we never get so much snow I get good at setting the lift to plow snow using DRAFT mode, grin. With the 8N in position control mode it is possible to control wheel spin manually using the touch control lever. My 2N has the Zane Thang position control device so it operates basically the same as the 8N.

plow3

A few years ago I was wishing for a set of tractor tire chains. Virginia doesn't usually get back-to-back 12" plus snowstorms, but we did that year. The snow I'd already plowed was blocking the edge of the drive, and I couldn't get enough traction to plow the whole mess further over. All I could do was turn the blade backwards, plow in reverse, and use the lift to push snow up and over what had been plowed earlier. I gradually worked my way down the driveway, 20 feet at a time. We have family in Minnesota who just shake their heads when their southern relatives talk about a big snowstorm. People who live in Virginia have never seen a real snowstorm. OK, if you live where snow falls more than a foot deep, every year, the best advice I have is to move further south. For advice on dealing with snow measured with a yardstick, get tips from friends and neighbors who have been thru a few winters. It was March 2018 as I was writing this and looking like we would get thru the Winter season without a single major snowstorm. Perfect.

plow2

Here's a deluxe snow removal machine. Maybe one of your neighbors is named Matt?

plow3

Some rear blades have additional adjustments. One of my blades can be offset 2-feet to either side.

BOX BLADE

boxblade

The box blade is probably a better implement for working a badly rutted driveway. The teeth loosen material and the box helps lay the material smoothly. The box prevents material from spilling past the edges. I don't have a box blade, but I've used one.

THE PLOW

plow

This is a two-bottom plow, the main implement N-Tractors were designed to use. All N-Tractor Operator's Manuals have a section in the back on plowing. This has all the basic information necessary to set-up a plow. Other details are entirely dependent on your soil type, specific plow, and the crops you plan to grow. Talk to a few local experts.

All 9N, 2N and 8N tractors have Draft Control. Draft Control is hands-free for plowing. When the plow hits denser soil, the additional resistance would normally cause the tractor tires to slip. Without draft control, the operator would have to manually raise the plow slightly to keep the tractor moving forward. Draft control constantly varies plow depth in small amounts so there is minimal wheel spin. The operator can now concentrate on driving straight furrows. The correct way to operate the lift when you are plowing is to slowly push the Touch Control Lever down. The plow should drop to the ground. Immediately STOP moving the Touch Control Lever. Start moving forward and let the plow work. The plow should go into the ground a little and continue running at that depth. Continue to push the Touch Control Lever down in small increments until the plow is running at the depth you want. Loosen the wing nut and move the Touch Control lever stop to mark this position on the quadrant. Now, every time you lower the Touch Control lever to the stop, the plow will run at the same depth.

If your tractor is an 8N the lift can also be operated in Position Control mode. Move the small lever UP to use Position Control. In this mode the lift will move to approximately the same position the touch control lever is moved. Stop the Touch Control lever half-way and the blade stops about half-way. There are a few 9N and 2N tractors with an external Zane Thang accessory that provides position control for those tractors.

DISC PLOW

disc
disc2

This is an old single row pin hitch disc converted to 3-point. These tractors will also pull my 5-foot wide, two-gang disc. These are my favorite landscape and garden tools. For many areas, there is no need to go any deeper than a few inches. This is another implement that seems to work best after some rain. All of my disc plows are adjustable. The rows of discs can be set to run straight or angled. In the angled position they cut deep and turn top soil and growth over. Turned to run straight, the discs break up and smooth the ground to make it ready to plant. A tiller can make a planting bed in one pass, but I have more fun running in second or third gear with the disc plow.

TILLERS

A friend once gave me a tiller attachment for free. It was a Howard Rotavator, made to bolt directly to the N-tractor PTO flange. The big problem with any tiller is the 8N ground speed in first gear is way too fast. I tried every combination of gears in the Sherman Combo with no success. The Howard tillers were sold with a Howard step-down transmission that was installed in the drive-line between the transmission and rear axle. The Howard step-down transmission slowed the tractor without affecting PTO shaft speed. My free tiller attachment did not come with the transmission accessory. The Howard step-down transmissions are very rare and expensive. By the time I found one of the step-down transmissions, I was completely done with the tiller, and had given it away to the next victim. My conclusion is that a solid-mounted tiller attachment will beat you and the tractor to death, unless it is working soil so loose it doesn't need to be worked.

CULTIVATOR

cult

The cultivator can be used to prepare a seed bed before planting but is more often used to disturb and kill weeds between rows of crops. The tines should just scratch out the weeds without disturbing crops. Use of cultivators for weed control has been on the rise with the popularity (and premium price) for organic produce.

LANDSCAPE RAKE

rake

A landscape rake can be used to move rocks, roots, and trash after the ground has been worked with a bottom plow and/or disc. There are several powered rock pickers that will do a better job in a shorter time. Rocks tend to get pushed to the surface each winter as the soil freezes and thaws, so rock picking is an annual chore in many fields.

DIRT SCOOP

scoop

This attachment is hard to find. Many a farm pond was scooped out with a 3-point dirt scoop, but the modern tool for that type of work is a front-end loader. Most new tractors come with front-end loaders, so there is very little demand for the 3-point dirt scoops. Few implement dealers bother to have any in stock. Talk to them, they should still be able to special-order a 3-point dirt scoop.

The dirt scoop is filled by pulling it into the ground, or it can be mounted backwards and pushed in reverse gear. Pushing something like this in reverse is a great way to bend one or both lower lift arms. The N-Tractor lift was designed to pull, not push. Using stabilizer bars helps brace the lower lift arms as well as keeping the scoop centered between the tires. It took a few years for me to find a used dirt scoop. The dirt scoop works better than expected and holds about 1/4 cubic yard. That is digging much faster than any hand shovel, and a lot easier on my back. It is surprising how well the dirt scoop is balanced. A full scoop causes it to dump when the release lever is tripped. As soon as the scoop is empty, the back of the scoop becomes heavier, so it wants automagically to fall back and latch. Creative use of this feature while dumping allows using the lip of the scoop as a vertical blade to spread the dirt before allowing it to fall back and reset.

scoop
scoop

Flooding washed-out our little covered bridge that provided access to about an acre on the other side of the creek. Rather than try to rebuild the bridge across a much wider creek bed, it seemed better to cut a ramp down to the creek bed. This ramp was scooped-out in a couple hours by dragging the scoop from near the edge. Do not try to get so close that the bank can collapse. The scoop digs a big hole in a hurry and easily cut thru some large roots. Once most of the new ramp was scooped out, the dirt scoop was turned around, so it could be filled by backing into the last bit that was left at the edge of the creek. Running the Sherman in low range helped provide more torque to do this job.

CARRY-ALL

carryall
carryall2

The best description of these is a trailer without wheels. They attach to the 3-point lift and some have a trip lever to dump. Most of these are custom-built by the owner. I've never seen one at any implement dealer. Anything that can do more than one job is better. A set of pallet forks is always nice to have. These were welded together from 3x3 and 2x3 tube steel. The steel box from an old garden tractor trailer was bolted to the forks. The box could be quickly removed when the forks were needed.

Most of the time one of my tractors has a cutter attached. A 5-foot cutter is too heavy to be removed and reattached very often and cutting wooded trails often requires clearing downed trees. Simply stacking stuff on the cutter didn't work very well and was probably unsafe. A better idea was to weld some mounts for my steel carry-all box.

carryall2

Mounting the steel carry-all box on my cutter solved one problem but created another. Now I don't have a box for my pallet forks. Fortunately, this plastic box from another junked garden trailer was available. The plastic box is slightly larger and works better on the forks than the steel one. My next modification will be a hinge and latch for the top link, so this box can be dumped without leaving the seat.

carryall2

I've found that any 3-point carrier works much better than any trailer for hauling firewood outta the woods.
Why I no longer use a trailer in the woods:
1 - The small trailer tires get overloaded and often get stuck.
2 - It's another set of tires to go flat.
3 - The trailer would get hung up weaving around trees.
4 - Pulling a trailer is less safe than carrying a load on the 3-point lift.

FRONT BLADE

Some people like a front blade, but the N-Tractors are not well suited to having anything on the front. The front axle is weak, and the manual steering does not improve with additional weight on the front tires. There were some nice front blades made for the N-Tractors. Some of them use cables attached to the tractor 3-point lift to raise the blade. Other blades used a small winch to raise the blade. Having a winch available can be very handy for other things. Very few front blades for these tractors will have the ability to apply any down-pressure to the blade.

ROTARY CUTTERS

cutter

This cutter is a 5-footer that I rebuilt. The chains were added in front to try and stop it from throwing sharp sticks at me. Some cutters come with a similar front guard. These chains didn't work well and were replaced with a piece of used conveyor rubber. The reinforced rubber does a great job knocking down the missiles that a cutter launches. For its size this cutter is easy to maneuver on our woodland trails. The rear corners are cut on a diagonal. The diagonal corners slip past obstacles much better than other cutters that are just a big square box.

trailcutting

SET UP FOR TRAIL MOWING

My various "tree pusher" bumpers have worked well. This version used a couple pieces of Unistrut that were bolted directly to the cutter and braced a heavy piece of 2" x 3" tube steel under the factory front bumper. Something like this is much better than knocking down trees and brush with the grille, radiator, and headlights.

Implements such as blades and plows just attach to the 3-point lift, and get dragged or pushed, nothing fancy about that. Now we add a connection to the tractor PTO. If you plan to cut tall hay, with a 6-foot cutter, you will need more than 25 horsepower. My tractors so alright with a 5-foot cutter most of the time. Most of my cutting is thin stiff on wooded trails, some brush, and the occasional grove of saplings. Thick grass will bog my tractors down so bad I have to reduce the width of cut to around 40" for each pass. Those extra laps add up to extra time. If you want to get full use of a 6-foot cutter, more horsepower is required.

One problem running a cutter with the N-tractors is they do not have live PTO. There is no way to slow the tractor when you get into deep stuff that doesn't also slow or stop the blades. Riding the clutch does not help since it also reduces power to the blades. Another worse problem is the energy stored in rotating blades will continue to drive the tractor forward every time the operator tries to slow down or stop quickly. There is no way to describe the helpless feeling when we step on the clutch, apply the brakes, and the tractor continues to drive forward through a fence, up a tree, or into a ditch.

The solution is to use an overrunning clutch. The overrunning clutch allows power to be applied to the cutter, but when the tractor slows down, the clutch ratchets and allows the blades to spin free, rather than driving the tractor forward. This is a huge safety improvement! This overrunning clutch can also serve as the adapter needed to match up the 1-1/8" spline tractor PTO shaft to the cutter which is most likely going to be a modern 1-3/8" spline. There are PTO replacement shaft assemblies that have the newer 1-3/8" splines, or we could use a 1-1/8" to 1-3/8" adapter. I am using a 1-1/8" to 1-3/8" overrunning clutch adapter to run my cutters.

If you are considering the replacement 1-3/8" PTO shaft, buyer beware. There have been many cases where a cutter hit something and bent or broke the PTO shaft. A bent or broken PTO shaft can be a real bear to extract from the tractor innards. That project may require splitting the tractor to get the broken parts to come out. In every case that I've heard of, the bent or broken shaft was one of the modern 1-3/8" replacements. Some have said that the original shafts were higher quality steel or there was better quality control of the heat-treating process. Either or neither may be true. I don't know but used original 1-1/8" shafts always seem to be available on eBay, so I will keep using the original shafts in my tractors.

trailcutting

With the overrunning coupler in place, we can operate the cutter much more safely. We still have no way of momentarily slowing the tractor forward speed when we get into deep grass. Our only options are to raise the cutter a bit, steer to cut less width, or pick a slower gear for the whole job. This isn't exactly the end of the world, I use all of the above methods in different places on our property.

GET A SET OF LIMITER CHAINS These chains can be adjusted, so when we lower the cutter, it stops at the cutting height we want. This is far superior to trying to hold the proper height with position control. The 9N 2N tractors don't even have position control unless an external accessory has been added to provide it. Once the chains are holding the cutter, drop the touch control lever to the bottom and just cut. When the 3-point hydraulics were broken on my 2N, I used a floor jack to get the cutter hanging on limiter chains and ran the cutter that way for several months before bothering to fix the hydraulics.

limit chains in place

This is a typical set of limiter chains for the 5-foot cutter on my 8N. Cutting is MUCH easier once these are set at the correct cutting height.

8N cutting

This is the 8N paused after cutting the closest thing we have to a field, next to the neighbor's stock fence.

CUTTER SIZE These tractors will run a 4- or 5-foot cutter through most types of grass and brush with no problem. The 4-foot cutter is much easier to manage in tight quarters and may be the better choice for cutting hay. The 4-footer is lighter, easier on the tractor, and easier to hitch up. The 5-foot cutter will cover your track width better, so you can cut closer to things like fence lines. The 5-foot cutter will also store more energy in its heavier blades, so it may power through saplings better. Do your research and choose the cutter that will work best for you. Or you could do as I did and buy whatever you can find used. I ended up with both a 4-foot and a 5-foot cutter.

Hook the cutter to the 3-point as you would any other implement, but do not connect the drive shaft yet. Take the mower to a level spot and adjust the limiter chains. Once you have the cutter hanging on the limiter chains, kill the tractor engine, and adjust the tail wheel so the leading edge of the cutter will run about 1/2" to 1" LOWER than the rear. Adjusting the leading edge slightly low will allow you to cut just about anything with the least horsepower = less fuel used. Once the cutter is properly mounted and adjusted hook up the drive shaft. The overrunning coupler should be installed on the tractor PTO shaft first. Most have a pin that is captive inside the housing. That may require a hammer and punch to install. Caps or grease fittings usually cover the pin. Refer to the instructions for proper installation and lubrication. The implement driveshaft coupling will usually have a spring-loaded pin that is depressed and then pops out when the shaft is fully engaged and locked on the overrunning coupler. Make sure everything is properly attached. If this comes loose under power, it will flop around with deadly intent. Think about what a chunk of broken drive shaft might do if it hit you in the back of the head!

PTO SHIELDS All modern cutters will have a PTO shield over the drive shaft. The shield should be connected to something stationary at both ends so the shield does not spin. Enclosing that dangerous rotating shaft is a very good safety feature. My ancient cutters did not come with shields. TSC sells a shield but attaching it to my cutter still left some rotating parts uncovered. Even so, my shield is better than nothing and will certainly help keep anything from getting wrapped around the spinning drive shaft. Regardless whether your PTO is shielded, ALWAYS STAY COMPLETELY AWAY from the shaft and cutter whenever it is turning. Even if it's just winding down. Never leave the tractor seat while anything back there is moving (PERIOD). Spinning PTO shafts are perhaps the most dangerous part of any tractor. The spinning shafts can instantly latch onto clothing and will wrap whatever is in the clothing around the shaft at 540 RPM, That's nine revolutions per second! Step a little too close to the side of a rotating cutter and a blade will ruin your foot.

Even a 4-foot mower puts the tail wheel a long way behind the back tires. Even if your property is mostly flat, you will need some flexibility in the top link. A rigid top link will try to hang you up with the rear tires spinning in air every time you drive through a low spot. Both of my cutters have some top link flexibility built-in. One has a 3" slot that the top link attaches to. The other cutter has the entire top link "A" frame hinged. Chains prevent the "A" frame from moving forward too far and allow it to move back about 6". The top link should float within its range of adjustment most of the time you are cutting. Do not ever completely replace the top link with a chain. If the front edge of the cutter should hook something, the entire cutter could rotate on the lower links and whack you on the head. Unless you are running way too fast for the terrain, the top link should prevent the cutter from flipping up far enough to be a danger to the operator.

TREE PUSHER Even if your tractor has a bumper, it likely doesn't offer adequate protection for cutting small trees and heavy brush. My 5-foot cutter can chop just about anything I can push over with the tractor. Pushing through small trees will seriously abuse your headlights and quickly wear all the paint off the leading edges of the tractor. I've tried several versions of my tree pusher. The bumper should be wide enough to protect the entire front end, but not stick out and hang on things when backing up.

One of the first things I noticed with my cutter was how much more stable the tractor felt with all that weight hanging down low. The cutter adds a tremendous amount of traction and stability. The only disadvantage is when running up a hill. The front tires can get very light. Be prepared to steer with the brakes. That is why you have two brake pedals.

Don't expect a nice smooth lawn when you finish cutting using a rotary cutter. The rotary cutter uses dull blades to bash and smash through brush and trash. They are not intended to cut clean. I've sharpened the blades a bit more than recommended on mine. It now does a better job on grass, but it will never come close to a finish mower.

FINISH MOWER

A finish mower is easy to spot. Rather than just the one tail wheel, they will have adjustable gauge wheels at each corner. The set-up and warnings for a rotary cutter also apply to the finish mowers. You won't want limiter chains; the gauge wheels take care of the cutting height. Just let your lift all the way down and go. A finish mower uses lighter blades that spin faster to cut better. The light blades store much less energy. It will take more horsepower to run a finish mower than the same size rotary cutter. How wide you can go depends on what you are cutting and how often you cut it. In most cases a 4-foot finish mower is going to be the best choice for these tractors unless you plan to cut often or take less than a full row each pass. There are people who say these tractors will run a 72" finish mower. Watch them work and they are probably only making a 48" cut with each pass.

POST HOLE DIGGER

This is another one I've wanted, but don't have yet. The N-Tractor lift does not have down-pressure, so we need an auger bit that will pull itself into the ground. Gravity helps. It also helps if the unit has a reverse gear, so the bit can be easily backed-out when it gets hung up. Twist a bit around a rock or tree root with no reverse gear on the post hole digger, and you might spend the rest of the afternoon digging with a shovel to make that hole big enough to pull the bit out.

FRONT END LOADER

Same comments as for the front blade. Some of the loaders that will work on the N-Tractors use the tractor hydraulics to slowly raise the bucket. Others add a front pump that runs directly off the engine crankshaft. Some pipe framed loaders make it very difficult to get on and off the tractor. Most loader frames make common maintenance much more difficult. All loaders add significant length to the tractor and greatly reduce rear wheel traction. Raising the bucket, especially a loaded bucket, raises the tractor center of gravity. It is much easier to tip the tractor with the bucket in the air. The weak front axle will require much more frequent maintenance. With no power steering the tractor will be hard to steer even with just the added front weight of the loader and bucket. The workout gets worse with each pound of material scooped into the bucket. Most loaders will be very difficult to attach and detach from the tractor. Loaders are not implements in the sense that they can be easily removed and replaced with something else.

There, that is all the reasons I don't want a loader on my N-Tractors. Why do most new tractors come with a loader? Because they are incredibly convenient! "Once you have a front loader you use it for everything and don't know how you ever got along without it." That may as well be a direct quote from the last 25 people I've asked. I don't have a loader, so I'm blissfully ignorant and don't have a clue what I'm missing.

BACKHOE

backhoe1

There were a few backhoes, such as the Sherman Power Digger, that were made for these tractors, and work well. Maybe you can find one of those. Most new aftermarket backhoe attachments will need a front loader to balance the package. Very few, if any, backhoes are truly "attachments". They are usually very difficult to attach and remove from the tractor. Some require making modifications to the tractor, such as removing the 3-point lift.

Another issue is the tractor hydraulics are only rated at about 2 GPM. The pressure is fine, but the flow is way too low to operate an attachment with 6 or 7 hydraulic cylinders. The tractor sump is also only 5 gallons. This may be barely adequate to prevent overheating of the fluid. The average backhoe sump holds more like 10 gallons. So, a backhoe should have a bigger pump and probably should have its own hydraulic sump. The pump can be engine driven as is often done for loaders, or a rear PTO pump can be used.

My backhoe works well with the N-Tractors. Mostly because it was specifically designed to work with them. My backhoe attaches to the 3-point lift arms, which help to locate it properly on the tractor, but it does not depend on the 3-point for lift or support. The backhoe has its own sub-frame that attaches rigidly to the tractor at three points. Unlike most others, my backhoe is no harder to attach and remove than any other large, heavy implement.

My backhoe attachment has its own web page, BACKHOE If you are interested, follow that link.

ACCESSORIES

Vintage and modern accessories that can make these tractors safer, more useful, or just more fun.

The 8N tractor may be the most heavily modified tractor ever made. Maybe not, but a lot of people have spent a lot of time modifying them. This is just a partial list of some accessories I like.

Lights - Head lights, Tail lights, and Work light are nice to have. Tail lights might keep someone from hitting you if you must use a stretch of road. Modern LED lamps use very little power and will light up the night even with the minimal power available from the original 6-volt system.

Foot Throttle - Drive it like a car with a foot throttle. This is really nice to have when running a blade or just hot-rodding around.

More Power - There have been 6-cylinder and 8-cylinder conversions. There's even a jet-powered N-tractor. Here's a link to my V8-8N project, 1951 V8-8N (work in-progress) . If you are really interested in engine conversions don't miss a visit to Marvin Bauman's web site at: marvinbaumann.com. He has done several different first-class conversions. All of the conversions are more expensive and less useful than buying the right tractor for the job. If you need more horsepower, the best advice I have is to step up to a small diesel tractor.

Cup Holder - An essential addition, no matter what your beverage of choice may be.

Live Hydraulics - Add a front pump and a couple of hoses and you have full time live hydraulics. Now the lift will go up even when you have stepped on the clutch pedal. Check out my page on Live Hydraulics.

Roll-Over Protection System - It is possible to build your own ROPS. NIOSH CROPS Somebody at USA.GOV saw the need and responded. Sadly, the result falls short of what should have been. Rather than using any of the existing simple, easy, factory-built designs the overly complicated NIOSH CROPS design appears to be based on a fear of welding. However, the NIOSH CROPS design still requires some welding and requires access to equipment capable of making 90-degree bends in 1/2" plate steel! Many people have managed to build safe, affordable roll bars for off-road vehicles. Most off-road vehicles are less weight than even a small tractor, but generally travel at much higher speeds. For more ranting on ROPS Click Here.

Parking Brakes - These tractors have tiny little parking brake pawls that you practically have to do a headstand to use. Some implements dropped on the ground make a more convenient and effective parking brake. Red Rock sells a reproduction of the Farmec lever-operated parking brakes. I bought a pair for my 8N, then decided to split the set and mount one of them on my 2N. I never bothered to set more than one of the original pawls, so saw no need to have brake levers on both sides.

Umbrellas, Canopies, and Cabs - If you work in the sun or plow lots of snow, one of these options may appeal to you.

Second leveling box, Auxiliary Transmissions - more gears is always a good thing, half-tracks, the 8N crawler version, etc...

MAYBE EVEN A WINCH?

Those big tires go thru a lot of stuff but eventually get stuck somewhere. Especially if you have to cross a creek (crick) to get to some of your property.

backhoe1

After a thunderstorm, it was looking even worse.

backhoe1

This is when it would be nice to have a winch. I have a winch but it's on the other tractor. No problem, except the tractor with unloaded tires is not going to be able to pull the heavier one uphill thru mud. We have some big trees near the creek. Tie-off winch to a big tree. Notice the wide strap to protect the tree and the heavy logging chain going under the tractor to the winch. Anchoring directly to the winch removes any possibility of damage to the tractor or implement (unless we pull the tree down on it).

backhoe1

Front wheels will not stay straight pulling thru mud. Lashing the steering is one option. In this case Sharon was happy to come run the winch so I could wade in and steer the tractor.

backhoe1

Normally, I would crank-up the stuck tractor and just use the winch to help keep it moving. This time the water shouldn't have gotten high enough to get into the engine, but until confirming that, this extraction will be by winch only. This winch is rated 8000 pounds. The tractor should be about half that but pulling thru mud is much harder. Using a pulley block and running the cable back to a hook on the winch creates a double-line pull and makes the winch capable of doing a 16,000-pound pull. That should make this look easy.

OUT IT COMES!

backhoe1

No, we didn't stop just to take photos. Even when a pull is dead straight, the cable tends to stack up in one place on the winch. A double-line pull takes twice as much cable for the same distance, so cable stacks up fast. This will eventually bind, jamb, and damage the cable. It could even destroy the winch. Sharon was watching out for that. In this case we had to stop twice to unwind and rewind the cable evenly on the spool (then snapped photos).

backhoe1

Once it was on mostly-level ground, pulling the dipsticks showed the oil levels expected in both the crankcase and combination sump. If either sump had been even half a quart over, that would be a clear sign that something else had gotten in there. Looks like this tractor is good to go. We fired it up and took them both back to the barn, completing another adventure for the scrapbook with no harm done to tractors or humans.

ntclubsticker

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