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Running a classic tractor fleet

Older 2090 and 2290 tractors make an economical option

I often hear people discussing when they should replace their farm equipment with new or updated machines. But that level of investment might not be the most sensible plan for all farms. Keeping an older equipment fleet operating might be the best strategy for some.

That’s what brothers Les and Larry Rodgers, who farm near Lavenham, Manitoba, see as the best plan to control their equipment costs. Almost all their equipment is older rather than new — although they do have some new machines.

Their equipment strategy is based on keeping several used tractors, mostly 1970s and 1980s vintage 90 Series Case tractors as the core of their fleet. But it’s the number of tractors populating their farmyard that sets them aside from most producers using older machines. And it all started with a single tractor they already had on the farm.

“We bought one (2090) and liked it,” says Larry. “We weren’t really Case (people),” added Les. “We were International.”

But they realized that original 2090 tractor easily met their needs, so they kept buying additional 2090s and slightly larger 2290s when the opportunity arose and the price was right. Now there are 12 of them on the farm. And the brothers have found those dozen older tractors are an economical and practical alternative to buying a single new tractor.

Having mechanical skills and a good on-farm workshop is essential in keeping older tractors running.
photo: Les and Larry Rodgers

“These are cheap (to operate),” says Larry of the Case tractors. “You bale for two days on one tank of fuel. I think it’s a 45-gallon tank.”

“They have a nice comfortable cab,” adds Les. “A real good one of these you can pick up for $15,000 down to, probably, $6,000.”

Even with that much invested, the cost of the entire fleet of 90 Series tractors doesn’t equal that of a single new machine with comparable horsepower.

“I tried out a new tractor last year,” says Les. “It was $180,000. It does the same thing.”

“And these you can fix yourself,” adds Larry.

Any farmer will understand that labour is a major factor in repair bills these days, but the Rodgers are able to eliminate that by doing all the work in their own on-farm shop. And with skills learned in an automotive mechanical course taken years ago at Manitoba’s Red River College, Larry’s mechanic abilities are a big help in keeping the 90 Series machines in working order. “I bought the (service) manual,” he says. “It’s thick and was $300.”

Shopping for parts

And they have found unconventional sources for parts that keep those costs down as well. That often means bypassing the local dealership.

“I usually just go to eBay,” explains Larry. “A lot of these parts are available there. You have to (shop around for parts). Or it’ll cost you a fortune to fix it.” “A lot of the time they (dealers) don’t even have them,” adds Les.

The brothers cited one example that proved the value in that.

“The (AC) fan at the back of the cab always goes,” Larry says. “When I bought that cab fan, I bought three. If you’re paying the same freight for three as you are for one, you might as well. To buy one (from the local dealer) they’re $300. To order three from the states is $300. That’s shipping and everything.”

Les and Larry are able to point out a variety of differences in the 90 Series tractors as they evolved over their production life, like the change in the shape of the rear fuel tank. The recessed SMV decal position allows the operator to more easily see the hitch pin when backing up to implements.
photo: Les and Larry Rodgers

Not all of their parts purchases come from jobber suppliers. Over the years they’ve also managed to find individuals who have parts to sell.

“Some farmer just has them sitting on his shelf,” says Les. “Like a seal.”

“An axle seal went on this tractor,” Larry explains.

“They don’t make them anymore,” Les elaborates.

“I found a guy in North Dakota that had a factory original,” Larry goes on. “He bought it to fix his tractor, but he sold the tractor.”

“Yeah. You find guys with parts who got rid of the tractor,” confirms Les.

90 Series tractors were built with a few different configurations, which aren’t immediately noticeable. Both light and heavy-duty front axles were available. The models with heavy axles are better suited to front-end loader operations.
photo: Scott Garvey

After several years running 2090 and 2290 tractors, the brothers have had considerable experience with them and know which components are the most likely to fail, which is one of the reasons it made sense to order three cab fans. It’s one of the common repairs on these tractors. And there are others.

“The tie rods always go,” says Les.

“If you’re looking at a used (tractor), the tie rods are always gone.” “You get to know what to look for when you buy a tractor,” adds Larry.

With so many tractors of the same model, that strategy of ordering parts in multiples not only reduces the cost per item, but the farm can also keep a stock of the commonly used things on hand to reduce downtime.

“I have a drawer inside with 2090 parts,” says Larry. “That’s where I throw all the stuff. If an alternator goes, it doesn’t matter on which tractor. But if you get one fixed, you have one ready to go.

“Or you just take another tractor,” adds Les with a chuckle.

Even with their large fleet, the brothers are still in the market for more 90 Series machines. But there is a condition to be met before they’d think of picking up another.

“Yeah, we’re still looking,” confirms Les. “(But only) for the right price.”

The Rodgers’ 90 Series tractors are used primarily for haying and other non-tillage operations on the farm.
photo: Les and Larry Rodgers

About the author

Machinery Editor

Scott Garvey is the machinery editor for Grainews.

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