A farm tractor is a distinctive, multi-purpose farm vehicle. It is perhaps the most essential of all farm machinery. Farm tractors are used in tandem with a variety of farm equipment to carry out different agricultural tasks. These include plowing, shoveling, tilling, disking, harrowing, planting, hauling, pushing, lifting, transporting and providing power supply.
These vehicles first made their appearance in the nineteenth century. The earliest ones were steam-powered portable engine and traction engine vehicles. These were followed by oil-burning and then gasoline-powered tractors. Gasoline-powered, internal combustion engines became the norm after 1920.
Early farm tractors had fixed distance front wheels with a solid front axle. The Saunderson Tractor and Implement Co., a company based in Bedford in Massachusetts, manufactured a four-wheel tractor in 1908 that proved very popular. Another successful tractor manufacturing company, established in 1837 and still in operation, is John Deere, with their distinctive green and yellow tractors.
Next came the tricycle type tractors, with either a single front wheel or closely-placed double front wheels. The tractor manufacturer Farmall was famous for its bright red, tricycle design machines. These designs were in vogue from the 1930s to the 1970s.
Four-wheel tractors, however, were easier and safer to handle. They were less likely to keel over than the three wheeled ones. They also proved more suited to the requirements of mechanized farming.
Design-wise, a four-wheel tractor has two large driving wheels and two steerable wheels. The driving wheels are on an axle and the steerable wheels are below the engine compartment. The seat and the steering wheel are set in the center of the four wheels, usually inside an enclosed driving cab.
Modern tractors may have eight-wheel drive units, caterpillar tracks, or articulated and non-articulated tracks. They may have electrical or computer controls and are capable of a multitude of different functions. Many modern farm tractors are fitted with GPS devices, auto-steer systems and other automated features.
Different kinds of tractors have been developed for different farming requirements. These include row crop, wheat land, high crop and utility tractors. They come in different sizes, ranging from small to large.
The row crop and high crop tractors have adjustable treads that allow careful navigation through crop rows. These vehicles can make their way through rows of tomatoes, maize, wheat or other crops without damaging the plants. The high crop types have increased ground clearance and suited for farm work with vegetables or high growing crops.
The wheat land farm tractors are used for heavy field work on extensive tracts of farmland. The utility ones are usually smaller, general purpose vehicles. These can be used for non-farming activities like gardening, landscaping and excavation. Such utility tractors are fitted with turf tires that are softer than the regular agricultural tires.
Farm equipment and implements are usually attached or hitched to the back end of the tractor. The hitching system may be a draw bar, a two-point hitch or a three-point hitch. The three-point hitching system is the standard feature in most modern tractors.