What is this tractor doing? What was its actual original function?

What is this tractor doing? What was its actual original function?

Farming is what feeds us all, yet, most people know nothing about it. It’s a shame, because farming equipment is more than just some boring tractors – there are a lot of very interesting machines. Some of them are so strange that it is difficult to guess their function. For example, take a look at this picture of an International Harvester tractor – what is this weird machine doing?

We can give you a couple of hints. First of all, the picture was taken in the middle of California, USA, around September. Secondly, those orange flowers are marigold. Finally, the machine you see in the picture wasn’t actually made to do the job it is doing.

So what is this tractor doing? And what was its original function? Take a look at the picture – answers below.

International Harvester tractor in the middle of a flower field. The manufacturer created a quite different machine. (devra, Wikimedia (CC BY 2.0)

This tractor was manufactured by the International Harvester and it is pictured harvesting seeds. It is, essentially, a large vacuum cleaner, sucking in seeds straight from marigold flowers. These plants are known for their strong smell and a bright yellow or orange colour. Usually, marigolds are used as decoration – people simply plant them by their houses. However, some varieties of marigold can be used as food dye, soup flavouring, perfume additive and so on. In fact, marigold flowers are sometimes planted near gardens just because their strong aroma is believed to repulse deers and rabbits.

But, coming back to the tractor, this International Harvester was not actually designed to be a seed harvester. It started its life as 2-row cotton picker – most likely a 612 or 622 model. As you can see in the picture, all the cotton picking devices have been removed to fit vacuum nozzles and a big box at the back. It seems like this conversion was done at home, which would make this tractor unique. Collected seeds can later be processed, sold or planted in some fresh soil.

International Harvester 612 (622) cotton picker is actually a great machine for the task. It is tall, has a lot of ground clearance, its tires are quite narrow and it only has three of them – the rear wheel is steering the machine. This means that flowers are not too damaged during the deseeding procedure. Similar 2-row cotton pickers are sometimes transformed into sprayers, but several remain picking cotton – despite being not as efficient as some of the more modern machines. The International Harvester 612 (622) cotton picker used to look like this (from 2:10):


So that is the answer – the tractor you saw at the beginning of the article is a former cotton picker on seed-harvesting duty. It is interesting that people come up with these ideas and still employ these old machines. It is a nice way of preserving these old workhorses.

Other interesting machines:

Why Challenger Terra Gator TG 8333 has just three wheels?

Electric trucks are far from new – they were delivering goods a hundrend years ago;

Scammel Scarab – it is not your ordinary semi-truck – it is the mechanical horse;

Goliath GD 750 – three-wheeler truck with a tiny engine was more useful than it looks;

General Motors Bison – a vision of trucks of the future from 1964. Why didn’t it stick?

Why this funny-looking tractor has only three wheels? (Video)

Why this funny-looking tractor has only three wheels? (Video)

Most tractors have four wheels. That is a standard configuration and deviations from it can only be found in history. However, there are exceptions – the Challenger Terra Gator TG 8333 is a modern machine and yet it only has three wheels. Why? What does it do?

Challenger Terra Gator TG 8333 is a self-propelled nutrient application vehicle. In other words, it spread fertilizer on the fields and does that very efficiently just because of how huge it is. It has telemetry equipment, adaptive suspension, GPS-controlled autopilot and loads of other technology.

The tractor in the picture below is spreading hard organic fertilizer- manure, but some other modifications can be used to spray liquid fertilizers. In fact, one three-wheeled Terra Gator can hold as much as 16 cubic meters of liquid fertilizer – that is more than 16 tons of weight.

Each of the three wheels is in its own track and thus the ground get driven over only once. (joost j. bakker, Wikimedia (CC BY 2.0)

Despite the massive size of this Terra Gator, it is supposed to be easily controlled. After climbing a set of stairs, the operator will find a comfortable workplace with a supportive seat, touchscreen, climate control and other equipment. But we are not selling you this tractor – we are more interested, why it has only three wheels.

All three wheels of the Challenger Terra Gator TG 8333 are the same size and all are driven. (werktuigendagen, Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 2.0)

The reason why Challenger Terra Gator TG 8333 has three wheels is weight distribution. Farmers do not want to compact the soil, especially when they are ready for fertilizing. It is harder for crops to grow in a compacted ground and heavy equipment squeezes out the air from the dirt, essentially reducing the harvest. Four-wheeled tractors may have a better weight distribution, but the rear wheels are following the front ones and, therefore, dirt that gets under the wheels gets driven over twice. It is also the reason why Challenger Terra Gator TG 8333 has such wide tires – they spread the weight of the machine over a bigger area.

Challenger Terra Gator TG 8333 at work


Other manufacturers apply different solutions to solve the issue of compacting the soil. Some use narrower front axles, while other fertilizers employ dual wheel arrangements. And then there are farmers who simply use lighter machines to not compact the ground too much.

Interestingly, Challenger Terra Gator TG 8333 is all-wheel-drive – all three wheels are driven. The front wheel, used for steering, is powered hydrostatically. Three-wheel configuration also allows for a better manoeuvrability – the front wheel can be turned by 75 degrees – it would be difficult to achieve that having two front wheels.

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