Nov 12, 2009 by Lee Hart

When did farming become comfortable?

I was going to write today with a short analysis of the
problems facing the beef industry, followed by an effective three-point
strategy for returning the cattle business to sound profitability, but that
will have to wait. Today my mind is on tractor comfort.

The following underscores the fact that I am getting older.
This is a ‘when I was a boy’ type of story. As a sidebar, I use to always
chuckle at my late father-in-law (he would have been 100 this year) who use to
love to talk about the old days of working for CN Rail in Western Canada. Often
I heard that the price of beer was 10 cents a glass at the hotel in Drumheller,
Alta.  Well move over Frank.

What has inspired this blog is sitting for 10 minutes
yesterday inside the cab of John Deere’s new 8R series field tractor at the
Agri-Trade farm show in Red Deer, Alta. First of all I felt underdressed. Are
you sure I should be in here with jeans and a sweater? Is there a dress code?

Man, it was nice. No wonder people want to go farming.
Forget profitability – this is good.

I have been in and out of tractor cabs a bit over the past
30 years, but when did comfort become such a priority? 

It had a nice heated leather captains chair, which was more
comfortable than my old recliner in the family room, a leather covered steering
wheel. And the right-hand armrest/console had this wonderful array of
attractively designed nicely colored controls that run everything. I am sure
there was one button that said “Press Here, to begin taxi for take off”. It had
a nice satellite radio system, with iPOD and MP3 player capability, Bluetooth
for hands-free cell phone, a 10 vent air conditioning and heating system,
plenty of leg room even with two people sitting in there, and of course cup
holders. I didn’t see the cappuccino maker but that was probably in the rear
galley across from the lounge area.

I had no idea if the thing could even start, or whether it
had enough power to could pull a kid’s wagon. But it sure was comfortable. And
to be fair, I’m sure if I had gone over the Case IH, or New Holland, or AGCO
displays I would have found something similar.

But sitting in that cab for a few minutes, I had a flash
back (and here it comes) to when I was a kid. We had two tractors on the dairy
farm. One was a little grey Ford tractor and the powerhouse was a Allis
Chalmers WD40 that had about six horsepower.

Because of the power and speed of the Allis Chalmers, as a
kid I was only allowed to drive the little grey Ford. Both tractors had steel
seats. Because the AC was newer, with improved creature comforts, its seat was
mounted on piece of curved spring steel, sort of like a cultivator shank so it
had a bit of give. The little grey Ford was metal to unforgiving metal.
Fortunately my dad took a couple old throw pillows out the house, which
afforded a measure of butt comfort on both machines.

I won’t go on about all the features these tractors didn’t
have. You catch my drift that times sure have changed. The one thing the
tractors of my childhood did have, which I didn’t see in the new John Deere,
was instant weather reporting. When I was driving the little grey Ford on a 30
degree day to rake hay, I knew instantly it was hot. If it started to rain, I
knew immediately that the weather had changed, and if you had to take the
tractor out on a January morning, there was no doubt that it was damn cold

You don’t get that kind of feedback sitting in the John
Deere 8R corner office.



Lee Hart

Lee Hart

Lee Hart is a long-time farm writer, and honorary member of the Alberta Institute of Agrologists, with many observations on the agriculture industry, who never hesitates to admit he is wrong (should that ever happen.)

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  • I trust that Lee’s tongue was planted firmly in his cheek with this article regarding comfortable tractor cabs, if not, I will give him the same response that I give to my urban friends-“Your office is comfortable, why shouldn’t mine be?”.
    Also, I tell them that I have to pay for this nice office myself instead of letting someone else pay for it.

  • We were at Agri-Trade in Red Deer and sat in the same tractor. We also tried sitting on the new Ford 8N built on the same lines as the old one. My 90 year old father in law bought one of these brand new with implements for $1500.00 in about 1954. It has a steel seat; I know that for a fact I raked acres of hay on that seat and it is not comfortable. The new one has a wonderful seat but the whole tractor costs $40,000.00. So I thought we should just buy the seat and put it on the old one then we would be comfortable.None of our tractors have any of the conveniences those big tractors had at the show but they do have character.

  • Good thinking. Never mind the tractor, just move the comfortable seat. That approach may have kept me on the farm a little longer, but not likely. Thanks for your comment. Lee

  • You’re right about the tongue in cheek. I think it is great that tractor and combine cabs are so comfortable, although I’m sure you do pay for it. I know last year when I was at the show, and then again this year, it was interesting to note, when I talked to some of the manufacturers about ‘what’s new’ that for some, the big feature of a new model is not the horsepower, or fuel efficiency, or other performance features, but about the improved air conditioning or high quality sound system. No, I don’t begrudge anyone for being or wanting to be comfortable. I remember well when bolting an umbrella to the fender of a tractor was a huge step up in operator comfort. Thanks for the comment. Lee