This week I was sitting in the cab of a 10-year-old old Class 8 truck equipped with an auto-shift transmission. After attempting to back up the truck and finesse it into position, the person behind the wheel commented that particular automatic transmission made the kind of slow manoeuvre he was attempting difficult. The transmission just couldn’t be coerced into easy, very slow movements. It wanted to spin the wheels either relatively quickly or not at all, making for a pretty jerky ride.
Of course newer dual-clutch automatic transmission designs don’t suffer from that problem. Transmission technology has advanced pretty significantly in the last decade or two; and along with trucks, ag tractors have also benefitted from those advancements. Features like “brake to clutch” make operating one of today’s newer ag tractors much easier and simpler.
Today’s powershift transmissions have become pretty sophisticated, closing the performance gap between them and step-less CVT designs. When Powershift transmissions started to really appear in a wide range of models in the early ’70s, they, too, were far from perfect. The ratio differences between gears was often too large and shifting under heavy draft loads caused more than a few failures, giving the technology a bit of a bad rap at the start.
And as I looked at my Twitter account this week, I noticed something that made me think not only about those significant improvements in engineering, but the pace of that development as well. Case IH tweeted an image of an old Farmall tractor (it’s either an H or an M, I can’t tell) pulling what looks like about a 12-foot disc drill.
The drill is one of the old mechanical lift designs. Pull a rope and eventually the ground-drive mechanism lifts the discs out of the ground. Turn at the headland, pull the rope again, and the discs fall back down, the dominant technology before hydraulics appeared on the market and took over jobs like that.
That old tractor and drill were the product of 1940s engineering. Because the pace of change back than wasn’t nearly as rapid as it is today, those machines stayed in production a long time, right through to the late ‘50s. And where I grew up, lots of farmers were still using them into the early ‘70s—our family’s farm was one of them. The drills were a little imprecise compared to today’s machines, but they got the job done. And when farm acreages were smaller, it made sense to keep using what worked and, most importantly, what was cheap.
Needless to say, things are much different now.
Last week online editor Greg Berg and I were out in the country around Winnipeg talking to farmers in the fields and filming video. Every seeding rig we came across was typical of the type and scale of what anyone would expect to find on a commercial farm now.
But to be able to look back at that Twitter image, think of how many hours I spent on the seat of our family’s IH Super W-6 tractor pulling a very similar drill, and compare that to what is typical today, the difference is astonishing, especially when you consider all that technology advancement has happened in just part of one lifetime.
As autonomous machines now begin to appear, I wonder how much more change I’ll be around to witness before I turn in my computer.