I got a chance last week to test drive tractors loaded with all the latest technology, including a tractor that steers itself and reports back to the owner through the Internet its location and all tractor functions, such as coolant temperature, oil pressure, engine RPM, etc. — all while sitting in a computerized seat that takes out virtually all bumps.
All you do, as an operator, is make a partial turn (It doesn't matter where you make the turn — you could be hundreds of miles past your last turn) at the end of the row, push a button, and the tractor takes over from there.
What's unusual is that the front axle makes the turn, but the steering wheel does not move. The tractor makes the turn and your implement is within a few inches of overlap from your last pass.
Need to go around an obstacle? Turn the wheel, go around the object, push the button, and the tractor goes back where it needs to go.
As I drove this tractor, I felt that all this technology was pretty amazing, and could not get my mind off the first time I cultivated milo with my H Farmall. Of course, the new tractor was guided by GPS (global positioning system).
The H Farmall that I was using for my first cultivating experience, however, was guided by MPS (muscle positioning system). Believe me, there is a difference in these two systems.
My row crop days began when a friend leased me 145 acres in Carrollton, Texas, (north of Dallas). I decided to plant it in milo. I got a good early stand and had 200 pounds of 20-20-12 under it.
I thought the fertilizer was high at $77 per ton.
I bought my dead H for $200, pulled a few wrenches on it, and began looking for a cultivator. A college friend (I thought he was a friend) of mine gave me a four-row cultivator. Later, I figured out why he gave it to me.
It was the design that was made on one tool bar and mounted completely on the front of the tractor. Of course, the old tractor's front end was worn out, and when going down the road, the steering wheel would shake like crazy.
Then, when I finally got to the field, it steered like the steering was locked up. When making a turn, all the weight of the whole cultivator was on the tractor's front end, making things even worse.
The reality of the whole story here is that it has not been that long ago since tractors were just simply hard to drive by today's definition. I'm young. But, power steering technology finally made life easier for the producer.
Tractors of today are true engineering miracles. Looking back at the history of farm equipment, I really believe that if the farmer can dream it, they will build it.
Authors Note: The milo made 5,000 pounds per acre and brought $5.90 per hundred. Milo prices and my sweat from steering the H have something in common: they are both under where they were then. Milo prices are, for sure, under $5.90, and my sweat is somewhere under all of those houses built on that field in Carrollton, Texas.
Steve Thompson, Ph.D., is the manager of John Deere Technical Training Programs at Navarro College in Corsicana, Texas. Readers may write him at 3200 W. 7th Ave., Corsicana, Texas 75110, or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org