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Written by Larry Gay
At the recent National Farm Machinery Show in Louisville, Kentucky, 95 percent of the 2-wheel-drive tractors on display were equipped with a front-wheel assist. This is an indication of today’s popularity of front-wheel assist, but it wasn’t always that way.
In the late 1950s, two companies started building kits to provide mechanically-driven front-wheel assist for 2-wheel-drive tractors. Elenco Products of Aurora, Illinois, built front-wheel assist kits for several models of Ford tractors. Elwood Manufacturing Company of Elwood, Illinois, sold its kits under the EmCo name for selected models of Minneapolis-Moline, International Harvester, Massey-Ferguson, John Deere, and Case tractors.
Minneapolis-Moline was the first company to offer factory installed front-wheel assist, starting with the 1962 model year. When Minneapolis-Moline equipped its tractors with front-wheel assist, the 5-plow M-5 model became the M-504 and the large standard-tread G-VI became the G-704. The basic tractors were revised for the 1963 model year and the front-wheel assist models became the M-604 and G-706. Oliver joined the market by introducing front-wheel assist for its 1800 and 1900 models for the 1963 model year. The other tractor brands added a front-wheel assist for some of their models during the 1960s.
During the 1970s, many of the tractors imported from Europe and Japan were equipped with front-wheel assist, but sales of U.S.-built tractors with front-wheel assist were limited. There was a big debate about whether the advantages of a front-wheel assist justified the added cost. Some people thought dual rear wheels were better for improved traction. Others suggested it was better to buy a tractor with an extra 20 horsepower to compensate for the wheel slip problem. Tractors tested at Nebraska showed no extra drawbar pull for the front-wheel assist. One reason was the concrete test track did not duplicate field conditions. Also the tractors were weighted to provide optimum performance with 2-wheel drive and the weight was not relocated when the front-wheel assist was engaged.
By the 1980s, front-wheel assist had become a popular feature for utility tractors with loaders working in muddy conditions. Although there was still some debate about the advantages of front-wheel assist for field work, the tractor engineers and most farmers agreed front-wheel assist tractors provided more drawbar pull and better fuel efficiency than 2-wheel-drive tractors. Soon most tractors with 200 or more horsepower included front-wheel assist as standard equipment.
Larry Gay is the author of four farm tractor books and the “Machinery Milestones” articles in Heritage Iron magazine. To learn more about this award-winning magazine which focuses on the 1960-1985 era, go to www.heritageiron.com or call 1-866-552-6085.
Our first FWA tractor was a John Deere 3020 with hydralic power assist front drive. This 70 hp tractor is 41 years old and pushed all of our feed piles this year, about 1,800 tons and has never had an engine job.
I remember the first tractor I ever used with FWA. It was a John Deere 4630 with the electrically-engaged hydraulic front-wheel drive. Heckuva plow tractor at the time, especially on a two-way plow.
Would you like to sell you 3020 pfwd i would be interested.