Agricultural mechanization reached a major milestone in 1964. For the first time in history, every major tractor manufacturer offered at least one model with over 90 horsepower. Acceptance of these muscle tractors was slow at first. In the first eight months of 1962, only 269 of the 90+ horsepower tractors were sold nationally. That same period in 1963 saw a sale of over 2,300 units. According to the Spring 1964 issue of The Farm Quarterly, 1964 would be the biggest year yet.
Who would have dreamed that 50 years later, the 90 hp BIG tractor on the farm would be replaced by a 500 hp tractor. While that isn’t the average size of today’s farm tractor, it certainly is the BIG horse in the stable when extra pull is needed.
In 1964, Deere’s big horse was the 5010. Capable of plowing nearly 50 acres per day on 16-cent diesel fuel, the 5010 would work for just under a dollar an hour. The Oliver 1900, which developed 86-drawbar horsepower sold for $8,200, and its fuel burn totaled 70 cents per hour. Two Oliver 770s could do the same amount of work as the 1900, however, the two tractors plus an extra operator cost about 20% more annually. The big tractors may have cost a little more but paid for themselves in efficiency.
Allis-Chalmers offered the D-21, Moline offered the G706, International Harvester had the 806 and Case offered the 930. Massey’s MM-built MF97 was the biggest tractor in their lineup at the time. Implement designs had to catch up quick to the high-horsepower models of the 1960s. Early combinations of tractor/equipment were not that precise either in weight or maneuverability. Tractors were bulky and designed for large fields, not the small corner patches. Full four-wheel drive tractors were also appearing on the scene but were strictly a field tractor and useless for farm chores.
Front wheel assist kits were also coming on the scene about this time. Elenco Products offered kits for the Ford models. Elwood Manufacturing had kits for fifteen different models of tractors built by five different manufacturers. Levy Industries out of Canada was building hydraulic front wheel assist axles.
Today’s muscle tractors are all about efficiency. They are high-tech machines that are worked on by technicians, not mechanics. They consist of a complex hydraulic system with multiple ports and levers and the machines aren’t designed for longevity.
Fifty years later, the muscle tractors of 1964 are still in the field or in the hands of collectors. Looking forward, do you see today’s tractors still working 50 years from now? Will the technology to work on these systems still be around at that time? The true muscle tractors started in the 1960s and will be around and field-worthy for another 50 years. It’s just a shame that the 16-cent diesel fuel didn’t stick around too.