New Hitches For Your Old Tractor

Contributed Article

New Hitches For Your Old Tractor

For this article, we are going to make the irrational and unlikely assumption that you purchased an older tractor that is in tip top shape and needs no immediate repairs other than an oil change and a good bath. To the newcomer planning to restore the machine, this means you have everything you need for the moment (something to sit in the shop and just look at for awhile while you read the books). To the newcomer that wants to get out and use the machine for field work, you may have already hit a major roadblock. That is the dreaded "proprietary hitch".

With the exception of the Fords, Fergusons, and a few machines of the late 50s, the older machines were outfitted with proprietary implement mounting systems that used proprietary implements that were carefully patented to insure that no one else would build something that might work with it. Proprietary in this case means that the hitch was designed by the company and would be incompatible with any other company's system. As with many proprietary systems, they frequently worked as well or better than their "standard" counterparts (though at that time there was no standard and few people would guess that the Ford-Ferguson system would end up being the official standard) and caught on with quite a following. Unfortunately now, in new millennium, the proprietary implements that were sold with the original machine somehow didn't follow the same course in life. It would seem that most took a wrong turn into the scrap yard some 10 or 20 years ago. If your tractor is similar to the majority, someone welded unusual looking pieces of metal to the back to lift or drag whatever they happened to have for implements (or worse ripped off the hydraulics and pulled a trailer around with it for 20 years). If your machine is one of these, you may be thankful to have a drawbar left yet alone any implements or hitch system.

So.. What do you do to get the machine working again. If it suits the intended use of your machine and if you can possibly find them, the ideal situation is to locate original implements and hitch components. I say this because from a collector standpoint your tractor will likely be worth more than you paid for it when thusly equipped. This is not as easy as it sounds due to the effort required to locate the pieces. On the other hand we have had excellent luck through placing classified ads in local papers, Ag papers, and especially those "Classified-only" type. Another place to look is with the tractor scrap yards. A word of warning, they usually have far too many requests to take your number and get back to you when they locate what you are looking for. Even if they do take your number with good intentions they will likely lose track of it by the time they get the needed implement or component. The best bet here is perseverance, call back often don't give up. You will eventually find what you need.

For most of us, the above solution is not acceptable because most of the implements we need hadn't yet been invented at the time the tractor was built. This leaves only one practical option. Update the tractor to a modern and standard hitch, the 3-point. This opens up a world of possibilities since all implements built now are of either the pull or the 3-point variety. There are 3 categories that are applicable to the tractors of this vintage. These are called the Category II, Category I, and category 0 (or "ought" as most of the tractor folks call them). Hitch kits fall into the Category I size range for most of the older machines but through shimming or pin replacement many Cat II and Cat 0 implements can be used. The major drawback with attempting to use the Cat 0 implement is that the PTO speed on your older machine will likely be 540 RPM while the normal Cat 0 tractor turns at 1000 RPM and the shafts use decidedly different PTO splined shafts. The Cat II implement can be a problem in that they are frequently heavy enough to exceed the weight limits of your older machine creating not only premature equipment failures but extreme safety hazards. This pretty much leaves us with Cat I implements but on the bright side, these are likely the most common you will find. Most likely if you have a requirement, there is a Cat I implement built to meet it.

The Cat I 3-point hitch is based on 3 mounting points for the implement. The lift arms are the 2 steel or cast arms that extend rearward and provide the lift and are the pull-point for the implement. The Top link is the 3rd mounting point and extends from a top middle position at the rear of the tractor. Comparatively very little rearward force is applied from the top link. The standards require that the pin sizes on the implement and corresponding lift arm holes be 7/8" (.88-.89). The top link uses a 3/4" (.76-.77) pin and hole. The distance from the tail of the PTO shaft to the lift arm ends is approximately 14 inches. The minimum spread between the lower lift arms will be about 26-27 inches, the maximum spread is normally out to 33 inches or more. The normal Cat I PTO connection will be a 1 3/8 inch 6 spline shaft designed to turn at 540 RPM.

Now the hard part. How do you outfit a tractor made in the 40s or 50s with this type of hitch. There are two options:

  • Make it - If you are handy with steel and a welder and have an engineering background, they can be made with using off-the-shelf Ford N-Series lift arms, standard implement jacks and a standard top link. The real trick is coming up with a design that pulls from the correct point and keeps the draft control functional. An example of a correct installation is with the Allis-Chalmers Snap Coupler proprietary system. If you build a 3-point for one of these, the basis should be the snap coupler bell as that was the carefully engineered pull point of the tractor. It is important to note that pulling from any point other than that designed by the manufacturer is foolhardy. On earlier machines, even the manufactured pull points would sometimes be dangerous. Unless you are certain you have the skills to design a 3-point safely, this option is not recommended.
  • Buy new - For most popular tractors the entire assembly is available through 3rd party manufacturers as long as you have your original hydraulics and in some cases the drawbar intact. For those machines that have sacrificed their hydraulics over the years, either a reconditioned or used pump and rams are usually available. For most individuals, this is the only safe and sane option. For most machines, a 3rd party 3-point will run from $250 to $600.

Once you have crossed that bridge and have a 3-point hitch, you are then limited only by your pocketbook, tractor horsepower and weight as to what implements you can obtain. While the pocketbook can be a significant factor, especially with new implements, the power and weight of your machine is usually not. Modern 3-point implements are made in sizes ranging from very small to extremely large so finding one that matches your specification should be possible. You need to seek guidance from the dealer when purchasing an implement because nothing is more frustrating and dangerous than attempting to drive an implement that is too large for your machine. A rotary mower is a good example. If the PTO horsepower rating of the mower is 45 and your machine has an original rating of 35, chances are you will not be able to use it effectively.

A couple of last minute warnings. If you have a very rare and collectable tractor, the addition of a 3-point will likely decrease it's value if installation requires any permanent modifications (fortunately most don't). The second warning is that if your tractor has survived this many years, it is likely to live into the next millennia and even if it is not rare now it may be then. Don't throw away any of the components that you may need to remove for 3-point installation. Someone in the year 2085 will be very appreciative.

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