Why Midwest farmers are ditching newfangled tractors for old-school rigs

American farmers are seeking out older tractors, and not just as collectors’ items. The dated machinery is easier to use, less expensive to purchase, and cheaper to repair and maintain than modern tractors, so instead of early retirement the old workhorses are being put back into the field.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://www.hagerty.com/articles-videos/articles/2020/01/09/why-midwest-farmers-ditch-newfangled-tractors-for-old-school-rigs

There was an episode of the car restoration show based on the Guild Garage (show airs under different names in different markets) in the last couple of years where the owner (David…?) was being questioned by his other staff why he was filling the back parking lot with vintage tractors.

His reply was “getting in ahead of the market”. He cited that he had noted a discrepancy in what vintage tractors were selling for so he was picking them up to flip.

I thought that was interesting at the time, in the same way this article is interesting.

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I’ve seen Mr. Granger and his collection on “Restoration Garage”, which airs (or used to) on the Velocity channel.

Since moving to Colorado a couple of years ago, my wife and I have been going to the “Antique Farm Shows” out here, and the number and types of tractors is just staggering to me. The “Old Guys” who maintain them are a wealth of info, and many tractors made in the 1960’s, 70’s, and early 80’s are still in daily use here.


My Dad has three pre 1970 tractors and a 1993 Cat track hoe on the farm…bought at auction…they get the work done.

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My late 70’s International is not a beauty queen, but it’ll get just about anything done!

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“That modern software can be helpful—for instance, on newer machines the dealer receives a warning whenever something is about to break—but high labor costs can be prohibitive for many farmers, who traditionally take pride in fixing things themselves anyway.”

I like this article from the angle of celebrating older equipment and the robust market for it. However it neglects to mention a huge point for that market, which is the battle between manufacturers and owners about the right to repair your own equipment. The manufacturers have software terms of use and warranty agreements that force owners to use factory service only. This locks out the owner and all third party specialists from providing service. And even if you did decide to hack your equipment, you’ll have a difficult time because the manufacturers are not compelled to provide information and parts.



There is an interesting Youtube video called " Tractor Hacking: The Farmers Breaking Big Tech’s Repair Monopoly"

It discusses how the big companies don’t want their equipment repaired by outside interests and how farmers are circumventing that by purchasing bootleg diagnostic software from eastern europe.
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I inherited my dad’s last tractor,a 1986 John Deere 2550. He decided to go out in style,with the heated and air-conditioned “Soundguard” cab.While only a toy by today’s standards (it’s rated at 65 HP),it did the job on his 100 acre farm. I only use it for blowing snow out of my driveway.It has 2525 hours on it.

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I actually sought out an older, cheaper tractor to clear my land each year and found that most of them were being gobbled up by collectors and now demanding high prices.

I found this 1977 Ford 1000 that ran beautifully but was also driven hard and put away wet. I thought it would be perfect for my needs.


Alas, I couldn’t leave it alone and even while I diddled with it I never had it down for more than a week or so and even used it without its tin work complete. I found it had been rolled at least once as well.


I found also it was manufactured by Shubaura in Japan for Ford and everything was metric… but I could find all the parts I needed online or at Tractor Supply Company. All in with the box scraper, paint, decals, seat, glow plugs, etc. etc, I have around $4K into the entire build.

Its good enough for the work that needs to be done and also to show off in local parades!

Side Note… I just found out that New Holland tractors and equipment, which replaced the Ford brand, are now almost entirely built overseas!

Lots of fun for little money and everyone wants to take them for a spin!

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Major tractor manufacturers are playing hardball with farmers. They claim that even though a farmer has bought a tractor, the software to run it still belongs to the manufacturer. You are starting to hear that out of the big three as well. Farmers have alternatives. With those older tractors, if they can’t find the part, they can have it made at a machine shop and probably still be cheaper than what they would pay for repairs at a dealerships for a more modern tractor.

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Same with trucking
The new ones have so many computers and if any sensor goes bad, you’re stranded for days until you can get a replacement sensor .
The 18 wheelers made up to about 1992-95 don’t have any computers and while they do use more fuel, they are Much much more reliable than the new ones .
The new ones have particulate filters and exhaust fluid and exhaust gas recirculating systems that are very complex and very unreliable

I think a huge problem is the “Right to repair” issue where manufacturers are just not letting “owners” fix their own equipment. Combine that with ever tightening EPA regulations making farm equipment far more complex than it needs to be and I can see the desire to buy used. This is equipment that was designed to work hard and be reliable and easy to repair. I remember once trying to mount a snowblower on an Allice Chalmers and fighting with it until I remembered it was a piece of industrial equipment and should require no force and little time to assemble. I was out of the barn and clearing snow minuets later.

These days I run a 1984 Toro but with proper maintenance it performs like it should. Its no beauty queen but it starts when I turn the key and the mower works great. I was given this machine by a neighbor who was doing some clearing and was going to toss it, checked the oil, added gas, rolled the engine a few times and it started on the second pull after I turned it on. He said it hadn’t run in over 20 years, probably more. I think I put about $200 into it for fluids, belts, battery cables, a starter, and some odds and ends. I had to drive and adjust the carb every time I mowed for the first two Summers I used it but now it runs perfect. It still needs a seat and I have to use a bungee cord to hold the discharge chute up when I go into and out of the shed. I was going to replace the spark plug but decided not to because it still runs fine. With proper care equipment like this can remain useful for decades to come, if this disposable tractor can last a piece of industrial farm equipment should be no problem to keep running.

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The article is somewhat misleading. The new tractors are running the same engines as the over the road trucks, so the same onboard computers. The tractors I think they are talking about are from just before the computer systems were installed still 200HP+ tractors not the Farmall M and JD B most of us think of, these are all the new standards less the onboard computers, mid to late 1990s, great machines! $70K for this one

Are the manufacturers putting these “software locks” on all of their models, or only the higher-end models?

I’ve a local farmer in his 70’s that basically now farms for his farm stand. He did some of many things farming and is the son of another farmer. While he has multiple tractors and switches between them a bit with the attachment collection, the favorite of his is his 1st. While I did check it out with him and don’t recall the brand, it had been given to him by his father as a high-school graduation present. This 55 or so year old tractor is still used virtually daily in season.

But the entire episode is that Elizabeth Warren’s “Right-to-repair” is vitally important to all of us. it’s not the farmers that pay, although they do, but ultimately WE do. Just as we over pay for printer ink - as manufacturer’s find more ways to bilk the consumer.

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Those older tractors bring back great memories…however my oldest tractor is only about ten years old and all of my tractors have on-board computers. Unless it’s an emergency repair in the field I don’t do many repairs anymore. There aren’t enough hours in the day and the dealer is only three miles away. Great article…I really enjoyed it and the comments.

This is indicative of the “technology exhaustion” that seems to be a growing phenomena. Apps that are ridiculous ( but get billion dollar funding only to fail a few years down the road ), devices that challenge the skills of engineers with Phds. Programming a VCR, once a frustrating exercise is simple in comparison. The owner’s manual of the average new car today looks and reads more like a college text book. We see this regression in almost every phase of life and often it is the most adept at new technologies leading it. Think about choices; would you rather own a quartz watch or manual / automatic ? Better, no. More satisfying ? absolutely.
For the same reason you may have a classic car that you bought and restored to make it a daily driver, if only to open the windows, turn on radio and drive on down the road with your brain on hold, perhaps the tractor that does its job with a minimum of fuss is all that’s needed. Does this mean a rejection of technology? Of course not. What is means is each of us thinking about the technology we use and need. Just because it something can be done with our technologies, does it really need to be?

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It seems even those with smaller places (not just the 2000 acre farms) are also looking for the older, smaller and easier to work on tractors. My 8N Ford is parked in a machine shed but, passers by can see it and they often stop with the same question “is that for sale?”. Not yet!

Thank you yachtboy. Exactly my thinking. One of the reasons I enjoy the Hobby is because my cars are easy to own and generally simple to fix. Parts are less expensive and the Owner’s Manuals, when present, are not the first Five Chapters of Grey’s Anatomy, Unabridged. My girlfriend’s Hayundai has three Manuals of several hundred pages each. I have two for my Lincoln as an example, and one is a Shop Manual which didn’t come with the car in the first place. It’s very much technology exhaustion.

More tractors! More tractors! Love those old tractors!