If there was one stand-out display that caught farmers’ attention at this year’s Canada’s Farm Progress Show in Regina, it was the unique, home-built tractor that has now become a kind of corporate mascot for Honey Bee Manufacturing. The tractor, originally built in 1979 by the Honey Brothers who went on to found the company that bears their name, had an almost constant crowd of people around it during the show.
“They like it,” said Greg Honey, president of Honey Bee, as he stood beside his tractor fielding questions from admirers. “They liked it in ’79 too (when it was first displayed at the show).”
Before Greg and his brother Glenn went into the ag equipment manufacturing business, they decided they needed a very high horsepower tractor for their farm near Bracken, Saskatchewan.
Greg had been working for a heavy equipment builder before returning to the farm, so with that experience under his belt the brothers decided to build their own tractor.
“I’d worked in a place where we built big equipment in Calgary,” he said. “So I had some experience. When I came back to the farm in ’77, we needed a bigger tractor. We thought we’d try something on our own.”
To keep the design simple, they decided on a two-wheel drive configuration. Then, they set about sourcing parts, many of them salvaged from other types of heavy equipment.
“The engine came out of an ore truck in Butte, Montana,” he explains. “The rear axle came out of a rubber-tired dozer. Then we just rounded up hydraulic pumps and stuff like that. We had everything all rounded up by the fall of ’78.”
- Photo Gallery: More photos of the Honey brothers’ 1979 tractor
After finding a suitable workshop they could build the tractor in, they started work at the beginning of January 1979, and by March they had a running tractor.
“We built it and got it running,” he said. “Then we took it apart and painted it. We had to paint it outside, because we couldn’t do it in the shop.”
By April the tractor was at work seeding their crop.
To get the power-to-weight ratio they needed, the brothers used very heavy gauge steel throughout the chassis, including the hood, which is made from quarter-inch steel plate. Each frame rail weighs 3,000 pounds.
“The frame rails are two-inch plate,” added Honey. “The fenders are three-eighths plate.”
They put some thought into the design of the cab, which ended up being a more advanced design than some commercially-available tractors on the market used at the time. And it’s very spacious, with enough room to accommodate two buddy seats. The operator’s seat is mounted on a swivel, a feature that has only become widely available in tractors built by the major brands in the last few years.
“We wanted to give it (the cab) some shade from the sun,” he said. “That’s why the top is wider than the bottom. It’s just 2×2 square tubing, 14-gauge. We insulated it and put the upholstery inside on Masonite. It’s quiet.”
The tractor’s specifications are impressive. The Cummins VTA-1710 (1,710 cubic inch) V-12 is rated at 500 horsepower. It uses a 13-speed truck transmission and a Clarke 85000 Series planetary drive rear axle. It can carry 300 gallons (1,135 litres) of diesel and move down the road at 21 m.p.h. (34 k/hr). Air brakes get it to stop.
And when it moves down the road, it takes up a large part of the available space. The tractor is 19.5 feet wide, 20 feet long and 12 feet high.
The tractor was used to pull a 60-foot air seeder and the same size cultivator on the farm before being retired from service.
Two years ago, the brothers disassembled the tractor for a major refurbishment, media blasting and repainting it. The tractor has been standing guard in front of the Honey Bee plant in Frontier, Saskatchewan, since then. It will likely remain a mascot for the company, and not see regular field work again.
However, a second similar tractor the brothers built in 1980 is still on the farm and may soon see field duty again. Both were built the same way but use different engines.
“It works well,” said Honey summing up the design. “It rides really good. It’s quiet. It pulls good. It steers good. It doesn’t really take a backseat to anything.”