Tractor Implements and Their Use

Submitted Article
Tractor Implements
by Curtis Von Fange

Dad was raised during the depression years of the thirties. As a kid he worked part time on a farm in Kansas doing many of the manual chores. Some of the more successful farmers of that day had a new time saving device called a tractor. It increased the farm productivity and, in general, made life easier because more work could be done with this 'mechanical beast'. My dad dreamed that some day he would have his own tractor with every implement he could get. When he reached his early sixties, he got his dream.

The tractor he ended up purchasing was loaded with attachments and implements. As time went on he kept increasing his inventory so he wouldn't have to do much of the hard physical labor he remembered as a young man. This article is to share some of those tools and procedures that will, hopefully, help the reader the save some sweat at the cost of a little fuel.

Probably the most universal implement that came with dad's tractor was the front end loader. The uses for this unit were endless. In the winter he would clean the snow off the driveway and make huge hills that the kids would play on for days. In the summer it was used for work projects such as digging out sections of dirt for extending the driveway or making a place for some fuel oil barrels. The bucket was great for carrying tools around the property, trash to the street, or taking grandkids for a ride to the mailbox. When using the loader for carrying loads it is best to have some sort of counterweight on the rear of the tractor. The weight will keep the rear of the tractor on the ground when lifting or digging under extreme conditions. It will also provide greater traction in wet soils and help in braking when going down hills with a load on the front. Some operators use a poured concrete block with eye bolts or anchors cast into it and then attach this weight to the three point hitch. Others might put a heavy implement like a bushog on the rear of the tractor. Make sure when driving with a load on the front that the bucket is kept as low to the ground as possible. An elevated bucket will create an instability in the tractor that might not be recognized until the tractor tips over. One little tip when using the bucket for lifting, moving and loading heavy objects is to place two small marker flags at the bucket edge corners. This lets the operator 'see' the bucket edges from seat and will keep him from hitting objects out of his view when moving the tractor in tight areas. One might also weld a couple of hooks to the back of the bucket. It makes a spot to hook up a chain.

It seems like the grass never stops growing in the spring. Dad could usually keep up with it, though, by using his bushog. It's amazing what this five foot diameter unit can do when it is properly matched to the tractor size, weight, and horsepower. A bushog too small will waste fuel and give a rough cut if the mower deck is greatly narrower than the tractor wheelbase. If it is too big it will make the tractor unstable and overload the engine. Most small tractors, thirty to forty horsepower, will operate best with a five foot bushog. It usually takes an extra pair of hands to get the unit installed on the three point hitch. Make sure the helper stands to the side when installing the lift arms and the anti-sway bars. When operating the unit make sure for safety reasons that there are no 'sightseers' close by. Bushogs can throw debris quite a distance with considerable force. Some units have little sections of chain that drape across the exposed front and rear sections of the deck which, hopefully, will slow down any ejected debris. When cutting the field or yard grass the deck can be set for a reasonably close cut. The deck height will depend on a few variables: grass thickness, unevenness of the terrain, scalping potential. Most hogs have an adjustment at the rear wheel for the type of cutting planned. The rear of the deck is adjusted by moving the rear wheel assembly up or down depending on the desired deck height. At the tractor the third member of the three point has an adjustable link. This in or out adjustment can change the length of the drag link thereby controlling the height of the front of the hog when cutting. Most tractors have a third adjustment on another one of the third members. It is a crank which makes the implement cut level. Adjust it while the bushog is at the desired cutting elevation; when rotating the crank you can watch on side of the front of the hog come into level in relation to the ground. Of course, if your bushog is the pull type used for tractors without three points hitches the adjustments would be somewhat different. A visual check as to cranks and adjustable links will give direction for making the proper settings. The basic premise here is that you want to hog to be level in relation to the type of cutting being done. When cutting briars and small brush it is best to keep the deck higher so as avoid engine overload, bushog damage, and/or stumps and invisible debris. Regardless of the type of cutting it is important to keep the blades sharpened, the gearbox full of 90 weight gear lube, and the universal joints in the propeller shaft well lubricated. After cutting, clean the debris and grass clippings off the top of the hog as this will greatly retard rusting of the deck due to retained moisture. Over the winter months if no inside storage is available put the hog on some concrete or wooden blocks to keep the deck off the ground. It's amazing how fast the underside will rust if in contact with wet soil.

I think it was mom who wanted the garden, but was dad who got to prepare it. Fortunately, his plow and disc made the job more enjoyable. The plow was a single bottom with a three point hitch. Pull type plows are also available but are a little harder to find. They both have basic adjustments for setting the body of the plow level. The trick in cutting with a plow is to set the draft or hydraulic lift lever so it doesn't cut too deeply. This depth depends on the weight of the soil; whether or not it is loamy or clay-like, has a heavy coat of sod or merely miscellaneous weeds in soil previously worked, and whether it is wet or dry. For the new gardener it is probably best to 'trial and error' your way through. Take a small pass with the plow taking a shallow bite at first and observe how the tractor responds to the load. By feeling the drag of the plow, hearing the engine loading, and watching the ease of the furrow, one can determine the depth and speed of the work to be done. One can keep the furrows relatively straight by sighting across the hood of the tractor, picking out a tree or fence post in the distance, and using it as a reference point. After the garden site is plowed remove the unit and install the disc. If it is a three point unit level it so it sits flat on the soil with very little tension on the top link. Disc up the plowed section keeping in line with the rows. Placing a few concrete blocks on the disc will help in up cutting heavier soil. The angle of the disc sections can be adjusted according to a shallow or deep cutting preference. The greater the angle, the greater the cut and the deeper and finer the end result will be. In loamy or sandy soils a shallower cut is desired as it reduces tractor load and fuel consumption in turning over already fine soils. Repeating the discing process over and over will reduce the coarse furrows to a fine granulated base ready for a garden. When the season is over take some steel wool and rub out any rust spots off of the plow cutting edge and the discs. A thin coating of grease won't run off during the winter and will protect the surfaces until the following year.

Fence was always a chore in the old days. Of course, it still is in some regards, but at least our tractor can take much of the work away. A three point post hole digger reduces pole setting time down to letting the kids retamp the holes. The auger for the digger comes in assorted sizes. Make sure that the posts being set are as close as possible to the auger size so there is not so much wobble in the posts after retamping. Again, safety demands that two people be used to operate the unit. One person running the tractor and the other holding the guiding rod of the digger. Make sure you both agree on common hand signals as the tractor noise tends to drown out verbal communication. If the power take off unit has two speeds, set it on the slowest setting. It is wise to take a shovel and remove the sod where the hole is going to be so the grass roots and fibers don't wrap around the cutting edge of the auger thus reducing the cutting ability of the bit. Set the auger down and start cutting, use the guide rod to hold the unit vertical until the hole gets started. Take a bite and then raise the auger out of the ground to clear out the excess soil; repeat the process until the hole is the proper depth. Depending on how hard the soil is, the auger may grab and/or dig too rapidly for the tractor to catch up; this could result in breaking a shear pin on the PTO shaft or stalling the tractor. Be aware and keep control of the digging depth speed by using the hydraulic control lever. If you dig too fast and the auger gets stuck try rocking the tractor back and forth a little to wallow out the hole and then try to raise the auger with or without the PTO engaged. If it's really stuck you may have to shovel out the hole to release it. It's best to take your time and listen to the engine load as an indication of the auger load. After the holes are dug hook up the wagon, load it with fence posts, and drive along the fence row with someone dropping the posts in each hole as you drive by. After the kid's tamp the posts in the ground park the tractor at one end of the row and use it as an anchor for your fence stretcher. Try not to use the tractor as a fence stretcher. It is hard to gage how much tension you are putting on the wire with a 2500 pound tractor and a grabby clutch. Chances are you will either break the wire or stretch it unevenly making it look ugly!

Some tractors have an option for a remote hydraulic cylinder. It is usually found near the front of the seat or in back by the draft control spring. If so equipped you have a real treat. You can use the remote for a hydraulic wood splitter, a pull type implement with hydraulically actuated wheels, or any other implement that requires hydraulic pressure. The PTO shaft can also be used for things. Dad has a three point wood chipper, a remote water pump, and power generator for emergencies. Other options would include anything that requires a motor or other power source to run such as a portable sawmill and related tools. Many of these suggestions can be purchased at farm supply stores or tractor dealerships. Some of the more common items, like the plow and disc, can be found at implement stores and/or auctions. If one is a jack of all trades many of these things, like a three point cherry picker or a hay bale stabber, can be built by hand with a cutting torch, welder, and a little creativity. The bottom line is that a tractor is a tool of many uses only limited by ones imagination. The foremost thing to keep in mind, though, is safety. As with any piece of machinery be aware of what going on, never work on it when it is running, and listen as it runs in order to hear anything odd or unusual that might signal danger. With those things in mind a tractor can become a good friend and a strong workhorse that gives enjoyment and makes jobs easier.

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