Today's Swiss+Army tractors

You move snow. You spread seed, chemicals, fertilizer and topdressing. You aerate, dethatch, grind stumps and place fence posts. You mow, rake and sweep. But most of you don't own individual, dedicated pieces of equipment to perform each of these tasks. Lots of such equipment is available for meeting the needs of those jobs you perform most often. But most grounds managers own only some of this type of dedicated equipment. Then they rely on a tractor--with its attachments--to fill in on the jobs they perform less often.

Tractors today accept a wider variety of attachments than ever before, making them increasingly more versatile. Each year, manufacturers offer more new and innovative improvements to their units. So, what are manufacturers touting as the "must-have" features on the newest models? Grounds Maintenance asked the major tractor manufacturers to answer that question, in addition to numerous others, to give you a feel for what they think makes their tractors versatile and why.

Hydrostatics, PTOs and attachments are key Hydrostatic drive seems to be one of the favorite features that manufacturers emphasize today. Hydrostatic power units offer finer variations in ground speed, allowing the operator greater flexibility when mowing under a variety of turf conditions. For example, it helps compensate if one wheel slips on a hill or in wet conditions. Hydrostatic drive is one of the ways in which Snapper says it has improved its units. The company offers a 2-speed hydrostatic transmission that allows the operator to select either the high range (with ground speeds from 0 to 8.9 mph) or the low range (which provides ground speeds from 0 to 4.5 mph). During heavy-duty applications, such as tilling or dozing, the low range provides greater torque to the rear wheels and enhances the ability to pull or push heavy loads. The advantage of this dual-range transmission is that the operator has more control of the torque and ground speed of the tractor, which enhances the versatility of the tractor for handling a greater variety of jobs and applications.

You can see similar improvements in Deere's new 5000 Ten Series of tractors. To this equipment, the company added new transmission options including the PowerReverser. This feature allows the user to switch from forward to reverse without clutching. In addition, the company's new 4100 compact utility tractor features a 20-hp engine with basic gear and deluxe hydrostatic transmissions. Similarly, New Holland offers SuperSteer with a Sensitrack clutch on its automatic 4-wheel-drive systems. It operates when you need it for traction, yet turns itself off when it's not, to help eliminate turf damage.

Enhanced PTO hydraulics is another area where manufacturers are spending a lot of money to make improvements. Deere added a shiftable PTO to its 5000 Ten Series, which allows customers to operate these units in the economy position for light- and medium-duty applications. (Deere says that factory tests have shown a 25-percent fuel savings with the shiftable PTO.)

Kubota Tractor Corp. markets a full line of tractors, many of which also have similar enhancements. On its Grand L and M Series of utility tractors, the company has added synchro-shuttle transmissions and clutchless operation--which they call glide-shift transmission--as well as live-independent hydraulic PTO systems. Kubota says this type of PTO is "self-modulating." That is, it ensures smooth PTO engagement and does not require operator input.

PTOs, of course, drive the attachments--in addition to hydraulically driven features--that make tractors so versatile. And having a lot of attachment options--and an easy way to install them--is an attractive feature. So manufacturers are working to add more easy-add-on attachments to their tractor lineups. Steiner Equipment Co., for example, offers 29 different attachments for its tractors. The company says that any of them install in less than 5 minutes, in most cases with no tools.

Kubota, too, offers many attachments. It also has designed its PTO--and a standard 3-point hitch--so that users can add many non-Kubota attachments, as well, such as sprayers or aerators.

Snapper emphasizes its standard front-and-center PTO, which allows the use of shaft drives to front-mounted implements and a shaft drive to the center-mounted mowing deck. In addition, the machines now have front-mounted dual hydraulic outlets and dual hydraulic-control valves that provide hydraulic power lifting and angling of front-mounted implements, such as a rotary broom or a dozer blade.

As expected, Deere also highlights its variety of implements. More than 50 attachments fit its units, including its Quick-Tach loaders that the user can put on and take off in 5 minutes without tools; mid-mount mowers so that operators can mow and use other implements at the same time; and a variety of 3-point implements such as rear-mounted rotary mowers, blades and tillers.

The advantages of increased horsepower Most manufacturers take a close look at horsepower when determining ways in which to improve their tractors' versatility. Steiner is one that underscores the increase it made to the horsepower in a number of its units. For example, the company improved the horsepower on one of its 4-wheel-drive units from a 16.5-hp diesel to a 21-hp diesel engine. The firm also changed a 22-hp Kohler to a 25-hp Kohler.

Snapper also specially mentions increased horsepower when asked about improvements to its tractors' versatility. On its GT Series of standard-sized garden tractors, the company has increased power from 18 to 20 hp. It's also added an additional 2 hp to the tractors in its MGT Series ("mega-"sized garden tractors) and UGT Series.

Meeting the users' "must-have" needs Grounds Maintenance asked tractor manufacturers to respond to the question, "What features would you recommend a reader include on his or her 'must-have' list to offer the greatest versatility in the tractor's use?" The manufacturers' responses varied:

Deere: "Customers that desire a great deal of versatility should look for tractors that are compatible with a variety of attachments and implements. Other features customers should look for are ones that increase productivity. The easiest way to determine your 'must-have' list is to consider your specific needs and to choose the tractor and its compatible implements that will get the jobs done. These features may include loader-cycle times, independent PTO, on-the-go engagement of front-wheel drive and ease of hook up to various implements."

*Ingersoll Equipment Co. Inc.: "Our tractors include such features as full-function hydraulic lift, dual-range cast-iron transaxle, mono-block valve, hydraulic PTO option and heavy-duty hydraulic pump up to 2,000 psi and 9 gpm. Competitive hydrostatics operate up to 200 gpm at 2 psi."

*Kubota Tractor Corp.: "Clutchless shifting via the GST transmission (Grand L Series 25 to 37 hp) and performance-matched loader with regenerative dump circuits for fast dump times."

*Snapper: "1) Power steering. 2) Hydrostatic transmission. 3) Large-diameter rear tires, 28 inches or larger for greater clearance in handling a large variety of implements. 4) High-capacity deep-deck mowers--48-inch or 60-inch--for fast, efficient handling of mowing jobs. 5) Hydraulic-power implement lift with a float position. 6) Individual rear-wheel brakes to provide better control of attachments. 7) Hand-operated speed and direction control for ease of operation. 8) If considering a front-end loader, it should have foot-operated speed and direction control with cruise control for ease of handling the front-end loader and for mowing."

*Steiner Equipment Co.: "What a customer must have to get the greatest versatility is a Steiner tractor. We have five tractors. They all take many different attachments except the zero-turning mower that only mows."

Factoring in ergonomics Although improved user comfort doesn't necessarily equate to improved versatility, it does enhance a tractor's use. Thus, many manufacturers have added more features to bolster comfort and ease-of-use aspects. Such features include better-positioned controls so that you don't have to reach, bend or twist to turn a knob or push a button. Some manufacturers even have color-coded their controls. Such features are obvious considerations. Less obvious--but none-the-less important--are aspects such as lower vibration, lower emissions, quieter engines, easy-to-mount platforms, larger platforms, higher-backed seats, adjustable seat suspension, swivel seats and adjustable seat height. Bob Tracinski, Deere's manager of business communications, says, "John Deere has added a number of ergonomic aspects that add to the versatility of its tractors. For instance, most models of John Deere tractors offer transmission options with and without clutch, as well as the ability to 'shift-on-the-go.'"

New Holland is another company that emphasizes its equipments' ergonomics. Gene Hemphill, manager of industry affairs for New Holland, points out its firms' control pods ("with controls where they are easy to reach so the customer is in control at all times") as well as its tilt/telescopic steering, swivel seats on an inclined seat track, deluxe 3-point hitches (with telescopic stabilizers and telescopic lower link ends) and forward-sloping hoods with underhood mufflers. Plus, he adds, "The 15/1630 [models] have four headlights for nighttime visibility."

Other aspects you should consider include storage and servicing. Deere, for example, offers a folding ROPS to ease storage. As for servicing, Kurt Oelrich, the sales and marketing manager for Steiner, says, "Many tractors are made--or at least it seems like they are--to be hard to work on. Our tractors are very open, especially around the engine. This allows good air-flow for ease of maintenance and for cooling." New Holland's Hemphill, says, "The flip-up hood on all Boomer tractors provides simple and easy engine access. On deluxe tractors, the side panels snap on and off for even easier access. The easier it is to service, the more likely that routine maintenance will get done to keep the tractor operating trouble-free."

Tracinski agrees that ease of maintenance should be key. "You should be able to easily access the engine and other components quickly and with as few tools as possible so that actual downtime is kept to a minimum. If a tractor is to be used with a number of implements, the operator should be able to attach them in minutes without tools."

In addition to ease of access to the engine, William Lowe, director of marketing of Snapper, mentions ease in checking/draining engine oil, replacing air cleaners, greasing fittings, and filling and checking the hydrostatic drive and filter.

Kim Birkholz, district sales representative with Ingersoll, offers some good advice to those considering a new tractor purchase. "I recommend they make a list of all their wants and needs before getting started," she says. "Since most people are busy, it is important to look ahead so another purchase is not necessary within a few years."

"John Deere tractors are built to meet the many complex and varying needs of our customers. In fact, to ensure that our tractors exceed customers' expectations in ease of operation, performance and versatility, customer feedback has become an integral part of the design process. John Deere actually brings in groups of customers and dealers to talk with engineers about their equipment requirements. The end result is a product thatis designed by and for the customers."--Bob Tracinski, manager business communications, John Deere Worldwide Commercial & Consumer Equipment Division

"Our tractors are more versatile than our competitors' models because of the hydraulic-drive system. Because our tractor takes approximately 3 gpm to operate, attachments requiring 5 gpm can be hooked into our system. Items such as post-hole diggers and cutoff saws can be operated without additional power from any outside source."--Kim Birkholz, district sales representative, Ingersoll Equipment Co. Inc.

"Synchro-shuttle transmissions and the clutchless-operation glide-shift transmission (GST), as well as live-independent 'hydraulic' PTO systems."--Patricia Carroll, national manager, advertising and public relations, Kubota Tractor Corp.

"New Holland offers more distinct compact-tractor frame sizes than the competition. In the 25 to 33 (gross engine hp) range, we offer a mid-frame size that is generally heavier than the competition because they are constructed of larger, heavier components. Consequently, they last longer and provide more weight for better traction with ground-engaging implements."--Gene Hemphill, manager, industry affairs, New Holland North America

"The MGT Series is a mega-sized garden tractor with 31-inch diameter rear wheels and longer wheel base that is physically larger in size than virtually any other garden tractor. These tractors have an exclusive rear-wheel-drive system consisting of a drop-axle design that provides greater ground clearance. This longer wheel base and higher ground clearance allows these tractors to handle larger implements and a greater variety of implements with ease."--William Lowe, director of marketing, Snapper

"We have 29 different attachments for our tractors. That shows an incredible amount of versatility. You can have 4,000 attachments, and if it is difficult to change from one to another or takes a lot of time and tools, then the versatility is lost. We can change from one to another in less than 5 minutes with no tools."--Kurt Oehlrich, sales and marketing manager, Steiner Equipment Co.

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