The bolt-on open-centre upgrade kit provides up to 26 GPM at 2,000 PSI. The $6,000-kit is available for older Versatile, Massey Ferguson, Case IH and Steiger tractors

As farm equipment technology advances, newer implements make greater demands on tractors, particularly on their hydraulic systems. The larger tractors built as far back as the mid-to late ’70s may still have the drawbar horsepower to handle a good percentage of today’s air seeders, grain carts or the like, but their hydraulic systems just aren’t up to the job. That means the remaining fleet of experienced farm power that is 20 or more years old is becoming underutilized and starting a march toward the scrap yard.

That’s a real shame because some of those tractors have pretty good features when it comes to power, reliability and operator comfort. But they just can’t handle implements requiring high-flow hydraulics.

But before you park that old four-wheel drive in the trees, consider spending a few dollars to beef up its specs and bring it into the 21st century. Atom-Jet Industries of Brandon is one Prairie manufacturer that provides a bolt-on hydraulic upgrade kit to give a variety of older tractors a new lease on life.

And the fact that it’s a bolt-on package is important. That means you don’t have to tackle a whole bunch of engineering problems by trying to re-engineer the tractor’s existing system. All you have to do is roll your tool box over to it and start bolting on some additional parts.

As well, Atom-Jet provides more than one option for hydraulic system upgrades, so you can tailor the specifications to exactly meet your needs. “Typically, the first question we ask is ‘what are you trying to run with it?’,” says Craig Senchuck, co-owner of Atom-Jet. Depending on your answer, there are a couple of alternatives to get your tractor back into the field.

The standard open-centre system Atom-Jet offers will allow an older tractor to run a single-fan air cart by providing one dedicated high-flow circuit, in addition to the tractor’s existing system. This system includes a variable flow-rate control that allows for optimizing engine RPM and fan speed. Flow can be adjusted from 13 to 26 GPM at 2,000 PSI to get the mix just right. The average cost of this upgrade is about $6,000.

Installing a kit like Atom-Jet’s is relatively simple. The system includes an auxiliary pump, which is driven off the front of the engine and mounts below the crankshaft pulley. An additional 30-gallon oil reservoir is mounted at the front of the tractor to provide a dedicated fluid supply.

Will you need to take your tractor to a shop to get one of theses systems installed? Not necessarily, Senchuck says. Ensuring the pulley alignment between the crankshaft and pump is accurate may be the most difficult part of the process, aside from having to drill some mounting holes for the pump bracket. “There are a lot of farmers out there that choose to take on the job themselves and don’t have any problems with it,” he says. “It’s a day job if a guy is handy.”

Atom-Jet’s kits fit a variety of tractors including most Versatiles (including Ford-Versatile designation 6 models), 4000-series MF, 9000-series Case IH and several Steigers with Cummins or Cat engines.

Even more power

If the air seeder you want to pull has dual fans or requires active down pressure, you’ll need something more than the open-centre upgrade. That’s why Atom-Jet offers a closed-centre alternative with a few more features.

Their closed-centre, load-sensing system boosts maximum flow to 40 GPM with a 3,000 PSI rating. It has an electric, proportional joystick for in-cab control. Because the controls are electric, there’s no need to plumb hydraulic lines into the cab. That keeps the noise down and eliminates the need to drill a lot of holes in the cab.

But the upgraded system will mean spending a few more dollars. It will cost $11,000 to $15,000, depending on options. Atom-Jet only makes these kits for Versatile tractors. You’ll have to try and find a different supplier if you need one to fit something else.

The Atom-Jet kits include every part you’ll need: filters, lines and even quick-connect couplers to mount on the rear of the tractor. Once either of the parts packages is installed, the tractor is ready to hook up and go to work. That means you won’t be running

We’ve been asking for your experiences — if you have them — with long-running tractors. Scott Garvey wrote an article in December about how to keep a tractor going for 20,000 hours, and in November, Jay Whetter wrote a column on page 2 called “10,000 hours? No problem.” With both articles, we asked you to tell us if you had a tractor with high hours. Here are two responses.

Dan Burton’s Case 9150

Dan Burton runs a farm and sawmill at Sundre, Alta. He puts about 5,000 hours a year on his tractors, doing double duty with the farm and the mill, and he says a tractor with 6,000 hours “is like new for us.” Here is his letter:

“I would like to comment on the subject of high hours on tractors and other machines. We run a large sawmill in Alberta and run a fleet of Volvo wheel loaders (with Deutz engines) and Cat track log loaders (with old Cat 3306 engines). We usually get around 20,000 hours out of our engines before replacing them with a factory-rebuilt engine. This is on machines that are not computerized and have an ordinary-type injection system.

“New machines have unit injectors and up to three computers all tied together with a complex wiring system that have the potential to empty your bank account in a hurry when they start giving trouble. The O-ring seals on the injectors can start leaking, causing huge amounts of oil to be burnt or diesel fuel in the cooling system or diesel fuel in the oil. These are all hard to diagnose, usually requiring a dealer’s expertise and special tooling. We have found that you can run into these kinds of problems around 6,000 or 7,000 hours, and total engine wear out or failure at around 15,000 to 18,000 hours. The dealers for construction equipment now charge $160 per hour from the time they leave home until they are back again, plus hotel rooms and meals. This can really add up. The only advantage to these new machines is that they burn a lot less fuel and run cleaner. They also have 500-hour oil change intervals versus 250 hours on the old ones, which can save a lot of dollars over the years.

“On the subject of farm tractors, we bought our first Case IH 9150 4WD a number of years ago to move logs. At 20,000 hours, the powershift transmission failed so we pulled it in for an overhaul. At the same time we rolled in a set of bearings and replaced the head gasket. This machine had 40,000 hours and was still running good when we traded it off. I think we got $12,000 for it on a trade for a Case IH 9250.

“The 9250 had 6,000 hours on it and was still like new. We now have 22,000 hours on it, and it runs as good as when we got it. Those Cummins engines just won’t quit. That’s cheap power. When something major happens to it, it’s cheaper to buy another low-hour machine and just keep running it as long as you can.

“Our construction machines will get rebuilt three or four times until the frames and loaders get too tired — usually around 70,000 hours. As long as you keep a good air ride seat in the machine and the radio works, the operator will stay happy.”

Kevin Peters’ bi-directional 276

Kevin Peters farms at Randolph, Man. He writes: “We have a 1989 Versatile Ford 276 that has 19,802 hours. It’s not 20,000, but I think that is pretty close.

“We used to run a dairy farm and used it every day to load and mix feed, as well as everything else we needed a loader for. We sold the dairy eight years ago and since then the tractor has had a much easier life, mainly running augers in summer and doing light loader work.

“We have a 1996 New Holland Versatile 9030 (with over 12,000 hours) that has relieved the pressure off the hard working 276.

“As for maintenance, the 276 gets regular oil and filter and fluid checks. I can honestly say we have not completely followed the book when it comes to changing trans/hyd fluids, or axle/gear oils. But we do ensure that they are adequately filled. We have done engine bearings twice, but only as precautionary measures and that was “early” in the tractor’s life. We have replaced hydraulic and hydrostatic pumps, but I think that is to be expected with the hours and work the 276 has seen. Articulation pins and bushings and the rear axle cradle seem to be common bi-di maintenance, too.

“These tractors have been exceptional machines and we have no doubt put them to the test!”

About the author

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Scott Garvey

Scott Garvey is a freelance writer and video producer. He is also the former machinery editor at Grainews.

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