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

There is some real misinformation in the article and comments. Tractors are not like cars. They have always been large, capital equipment purchases. Those built in the last 70 years have typically operated for decades. Farmers with smaller, less complex operations buy and use older tractors. This has been standard procedure at least since WW2 ended.

Beyond that, the whole “right to repair” argument is misleading. No companies are withholding repair information or service parts from farmers. Common failures that are obvious to diagnose (eg leaking hose) can be fixed just as easily today as 40 years ago. One issue is diagnosis. Modern, maximum productivity farm equipment is as complex as any computer-controlled industrial machinery, but in a mobile format. Dealer technicians are required to have many hours of training for correct diagnosis. It’s not simple, but it does provide tremendous productivity for the farm operations that provide most of our food and fiber. One more point on this - is anyone asking for a “right to repair” their television?

Modification is actually the biggest issue. Do any of us want to meet a 25 ton tractor on the road that has had its brakes and steering “tweaked” by a hacker? Does any farmer want to buy a used tractor that may have had such modifications made without the selling dealer’s knowledge?

Thanks for reading this and considering what it says!

Technology actually does get in the way. Arguements about saftey are for the individual to decide, And lets not forget about cost. There seems to be a mindset in this country that all progress is good and beneficial, if you push back the cubicle crowd will argue saftey saftey regardless of the cost. Well I think desk jockeys are only in it for comfort. Three years ago I purchased 7 classic ford pickups (1967, 68, 69) to haul
Eggs with for a small supplier. We are a family owned company and my son does all the maintenance on the fleet. Paid cash and we dont have any of the tech. Issues with these rigs. And the drivers have a blast.

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Let em spend 50k on their fragile disposable rolling computers. Some of us know better.

Never mention “flip” when talking to an old tractor owner (A-C WD, in my case). ;<)

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This was a great article. I agree with these farmers and I have spoken with farmers in my little farm community and they confirm it. We have a local guy and he sells many old tractors and farm equipment on a regular basis. Unfortunately all this new stuff requires a computer and a nasa engineer to fix it and with all our technology we should be making things simpler not more complicated and the owner should be able to repair it especially if we live out in rural areas. Nice work Hagerty.

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The point is that while you can purchase an OBDII reader for your car or light truck, the farm equipment manufacturers are using proprietary code and don’t sell a reader. The farmers should be able to buy a laptop, software, and a cable to be able to diagnose their machine and determine if it’s something they can fix in the field or their own shop or send it out to the dealer – their choice. The dealers are locking them and outside software sources out, whereas OBDII codes are common and the communication format is open – anyone with some programming knowledge can theoretically make a reader if they so desired, why there are many cheap readers now. Even before OBD was standardized you could get enough info from auto manufacturers to build a reader (if you had the software/hardware skills) for the computer systems. This reminds me of the early days of personal computers where you were locked into a system by most manufacturers – and why I chose a Tandy Color Computer, since most peripherals could be generic rather than specific (but not all!). It’s just wrong to take away the option of making the decision to repair yourself if you’re willing to get the necessary tools. I’m not in favor of locking anyone into buying only manufacturer tools either, as the OEMs tend to charge dearly for diagnostic equipment when there is no outside competition. So it appears the farm equipment manufacturers are shooting themselves in the foot here. I don’t like a lot of government involvement/regulation, but sometimes it needs to get involved when the market won’t sort itself out fairly. Maybe there needs to be something like the OBD standard forced on the equipment manufacturers. I bet talk of that will get their attention – if a drop in new sales doesn’t.

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You wrote, “So it appears the farm equipment manufacturers are shooting themselves in the foot here.”

If so, competitive pressure will make them change. In this discussion I see people who are distant from the kind of high-productivity, large-scale farming that feeds and clothes us complaining.

“Right-to-repair” is completely misleading.There isn’t anything keeping any farmers from buying older tractors, or buying service parts and repair information for newer tractors. They can also pay a dealer who has the training and equipment to do the diagnosis, and then do the repair themselves. Or they can just stab at getting the right part for the job, as so many of us do even when we know the OBDII code on our cars.

Thank you for this extremely interesting article. Going forward, I wonder if there will be a similar movement of this type for cars and trucks? We own two pickups, a 97 and a 99 model with manual door locks and window regulators. Heat and air conditioning is simply controlled through several rotary switches. The factory radio equipment is operated with two rotary knobs and a few buttons. It’s as simple as it gets, and absolutely love it.

I like the improved safety features of newer vehicles, but other than that I personally do not have a desire to buy a late model car or truck where so much is controlled through a dash mounted tablet computer. I question the long term reliability of this type of equipment, especially vehicles located in harsh environments such as the hot Arizona summers or damp and brutal cold upper midwestern winters.


Why? Becuase newer tractors are a nightmare to repair! I feel manufacturers now purposely engineer them This is in terms of the two tractors here on the farm: a 1996 Deere 5400 MFWD and a 2017 3038E.

While the 5400 is not that difficult (and even our service rep with the dealer says Deere has never made a tractor that has come close to the quality since), although sometimes, panels have to be removed from the hood, the 3038E is the real nightmare. Uses DEF, has sensors everywhere, a wiring harness the size of my thigh, and it is difficult to check the oil. The dipstick is visible, but hard to put back in. Not to mention, the whole “Right to Repair” thing, in which Deere’s excuse was a completely unrelated matter “Music Piracy”. But, I think the free market is really showing it to Deere these days–in my area, Kubota for smaller tractors, and New Holland for big ones are pretty much becoming the major brand. Other than small tractors, I don’t see too many new Deeres these days. I bought myself an inexpensive police surplus General Dynamics GD8200 laptop, mainly due to it having an i7 processor. When I got it, knowing it was a “rugged” model that could handle being used on the farm outdoors, I thought about getting the Deere OBD software–which was a whopping $500! You can buy an 8N in my parts for under $1200. I think my folks are kicking themselves for not going with Kubota… Granddad originally wanted a Massey Ferguson MF135 when the search for a second tractor started, and I think he was right. \

A family friend, when I was a kid, gave me two old '1970s?) Snapper riding mowers he had laying around, for use as go-karts. My folks removed the blades. I think those Snappers were very well built. My Granddad had a Troy-Bilt from Lowe’s that was a POS. Stuff was always breaking. He traded the Snappers for work done to the Troy-Bilt. In my opinion that was a mistake. I’m sure the Snappers would still be going strong, even if they didn’t have the seat-activated “kill switch” for safety. Granddad ended up selling the Troy-Bilt to his brother-in-law, and buying a Deere LX277AWS, which has had a number of issues as well.

In my area, for a lot of tasks, a locally made “tractor” (it’s more of a loader that has tractor implements that fit the loader) called the Power-Trac has become popular, not only here, but across the US. I guess because the company takes a “KISS” approach to its engineering, and are thus easy to work on. Tried to talk my Granddad into buying that instead–even with implements, it was more than $10,000 less than the Deere was, with more implements. All we had with the Deere was a loader, bucket, bale spear, and Brush Hog (which, at the time, the dealer was running a free loader and implement promo). Plus, all engineering and design staff are just about 15 minutes from my home if something goes wrong–not Iowa or Illinois.

Despite nearly every Farmall I have seen being set up this way (aside from A’s and Cubs), I would never buy a tricycle Row Crop tractor. The majority of the tractor fatalities I am aware of are due to these tractors. Yet, I have no issue with anything else. The area where I live is pretty hilly, so I do like ROPS and seatbelts–and those can easily be retrofitted to older tractors that don’t have them–buy ROPS and new seat to have both. Granddad always liked Massey Fergusons, as he had a 50 when my folks bought the place in 1969, and a large track loader which he bought in the '70s, and traded in on the 5400 in 1998. I’ve liked Farmalls and Olivers, as well as older Deeres. The 4020 has been a tractor I have always admired. They could be had as 4x4 too, and are even more powerful than the 5400 at a whopping 84 drawbar horses. The Farmall Cub, quite honestly, could have likely done most of the garden-type tasks the 3038E has mostly been used for (Granddad put up hay shortly after the 3038E was bought, and used that tractor, but we never put up hay after that), and even with implements, could have been had at under $2000, less than the downpayment of the 3038E, which we’re still paying off (I think it was $30,000).

And that’s why I’m never buying a newer truck. My Granddad gave me the 1998 Dodge Ram 1500 he bought when I was two when I got my driver’s license last year (at 23, partly due to autism, and attention span issues). One, because today’s trucks are expensive, and secondly, all parts for the '98 are common and inexpensive.

All the whole “accident avoidance” features really don’t impress me at all. Half the time, in the commercials I see, behaviors are shown that quite honestly, are really dumb to do behind the wheel. Besides–what if they go wrong? Then what happens?

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I love that generation of Dodge Rams, talked my dad into buying a 98 as a work truck. He later ran a 94 and a 96. All of them had transmission issues. The 98 made it to 500,000 km on its 2nd engine, 2nd tranny and 3rd rear end so I guess it wasn’t a lemon. Not the same tranny in the 94 or 96… and in my area at least these trucks were notorious for transmission issues. I kind of chuckled at the “parts are inexpensive” line as that wasn’t our experience.

But I still love those trucks.

And I agree they are better than what is newer for the parts and repairability by the average person.

I do think someone saying the previous generation of Dodge (or any other 80s and earlier domestic truck) was even easier/better in this regard is probably right.

Yep, old tractors still work as advertised. 1950 Model M

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Yep. Until about 5-6 years ago, we had an '84 D-350 Power Ram. It had lived a hard life under ownership of a company selling conveyor belt for coal mining operation, and it was still going strong, after all kinds of minor fender-benders around the farm due to someone forgetting to set a parking brake. About the only big expenses it had during when I was a kid were new tires, as well as a new steel flatbed with gooseneck hitch, which was custom made by a local trailer and truck body firm. We also hand-built wooden cattle racks for it. While for really heavy jobs, like multiple pallets of feed (which the 1500 really couldn’t handle) or new implements, nothing could do better (as well as the truck being our main way to transport livestock bought from the livestock market), it was sold becuase of dealing with taxes and insurance, despite it only being driven 2-3 times a year. We sold it to a relative, who then resold it. Don’t know what happened to it. We, in retrospect really should have kept that truck.

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So, you’d trust a farmer to provide food for you but not to modify their own equipment?

It should come as no surprise that any discussion about tractors and farms will also bring up discussion about trucks.

And, speaking from experience odb2 doesn’t help you with other systems like stock air suspension in Lincolns.

The best path forward? I mentioned it in a different thread.

Owners manuals also have to be repair manuals. This isn’t the case with modern autos at all, but then, why oh why are their owners manuals so thick nowadays?


First, many have mentioned compact and smallish tractors under about a 50 hp rating (NOT comparable to automotive HP ratings!!). Those aren’t the issue for big farmers. $500 for diagnostic software sounds like a lot, but when you have a $200K piece of equipment (and probably 2-3 – a couple tractors and a combine, for instance) its not that much considering it would save that the first couple repairs. Big farmers aren’t the average person, they are used to repairing equipment in the field or in their farm shop. I grew up on a small farm where we had an old Ford 8N for light utility work, an MF 550 47 HP workhorse, and a MF 1134 biggish 132 hp used mainly with a big harrow and chisel plow. That 1134 is just STARTING to get “big”. Big Midwest farms start with that as their “workhorse”, and typically have tractors around 200 HP.

I’m not a pro mechanic, but certainly better than the average guy who tinkers with cars. I’ve done engine swaps and rebuilds, currently have a 63 Rambler with a 1989 Jeep 4.0L EFI in it that I did all the wiring and such for… was my daily driver for 6-7 years and been all over the country. The codes just point you in the right direction most of the time. A code for a misfire on a cylinder doesn’t tell you what is causing the misfire, but does tell you where to start looking. I tell people that all the time, you still have to do some diagnostic work on your own before just throwing parts at it. No farmer would think about buying a part unless they had to, they do their homework or call a service guy (many independents, and some farmers do side repair work for others…).

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“So, you’d trust a farmer to provide food for you but not to modify their own equipment?”

I grew up on a farm and my Dad was the best around at the very important work he did. No, I wouldn’t want him altering the steering or brakes on our vehicles!

Last year I went to buy a new tractor in the 30hp area. I first went to the Deere dealer. I looked at a tractor and can tell you there were wires and harnesses everywhere. Switches and sensors by the boat load. I said to myself what the heck is this. I then went to the Kubota dealer. The machine was nice and simple. Mostly mechanical not joysticks. I bought the Kubota. Nice machine and reliable.

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I don’t have a farm but I do have a good size family lot to take care of. I have a 1952 Ford 8N that I use to plow snow, grade driveway gravel and hoist engines and such around. It’s easy to work on and requires little maintenance.


Just look at all the comments on this subject proving that there is a tremendous amount of interest in these old tractors, much more than most of the car articles.

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This was a really good tractor article that hit a chord with people.

There is a Nascar article with lots of comments and most of them are negative about Nascar. If they put out a bunch of Nascar articles because of the data count --they misread the data.

Some of the Jack Baruth articles have big comment counts because his style compels comment.

With the car articles there is sheer quantity to get through and the niche diversity of topics. Plus some articles don’t generate responses for a variety of reasons.

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