UNL tractor testing offers producers valuable data
Producers shopping for a new tractor or even taking care of spring maintenance on the trusty one in the equipment shed, can find out if the tractor of their choice past its college test exams, through the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Nebraska Tractor Test Laboratory.
NTTL is the official U.S. tractor testing station for the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. This independent laboratory is responsible for testing a representative tractor of each model sold in the state of Nebraska. It also tests tractors manufactured in the U.S. and sold in international markets. The laboratory publishes the results of all tests conducted.
NTTL opened in 1920, following the 1919 Nebraska Tractor Test Act, which required all agricultural tractors sold and advertised in the state to have manufacturers’ performance claims verified by the lab. The act was promoted by Wilmot F. Crozier, a state representative who purchased a tractor that did not perform as advertised.
“The story is, that it broke down on the way home,” said Julie Thomson, Manager, Larsen Tractor Test & Power Museum. “Crozier thought he had purchased a Ford, but discovered the disreputable dealer had hired a man with the surname of Ford and was using his name.”
This turn of events set Crozier on a mission to hold the tractor industry to its advertising promises.
“I have watched the development of the tractor industry from its infancy, and have followed many a queer-looking contraption around the demonstration fields, that purported to be able to replace my long-eared mule in front of a gang plow. The successive years of development proved to me beyond a doubt that the tractor, in some form, was the agricultural implement the American farmer had been looking for, lo these many years. I began investing a little money in the things, that is, I invested in the cheapest one that had wheels. I soon found out that wheels and cast iron are of no value unless you have power to turn them when they are hitched to something. After operating, or attempting to operate, two excuses for tractors, I finally invested my money in a machine that would really do what the company said it would. Then I began wondering if there wasn’t some way to induce all tractor companies to tell the truth,” Crozier reportedly said in an article published in the Implement and Tractor Trade Journal.
Crozier worked with Nebraska State Sen. Charles J. Warner, to pass a bill requiring any tractor sold in the state to have its advertising performance claims verified by a board of three engineers, thus establishing NTTL.
The first tractor successfully tested in 1920 was a John Deere Waterloo Boy. Since 1919, 2,170 tractors have been through NTTL, according to Brent Sampson, research engineer at NTTL, who has been working in the lab for 45 years.
Testing covers about six months of the year, three months in the spring and three in the fall, and Sampson said this year’s line-up includes 13 different tractors, including John Deere, Case, Kubota and Claas. The temperature outdoors must be between 40 and 80 degrees for drawbar testing on the track, according to the NTTL website. For the PTO testing on the dynamometer, the target is 73.5.
Current tractor testing no longer just includes Nebraska. Manufacturers from around the world check with NTTL for tractor testing. The success of a new tractor is decided long before it sees soil at the long, oval test track on East Campus that faculty, staff, students and visitors pass by every day.
“We’re not really famous in Lincoln, but in the field of agricultural engineering we’re one of the most famous, premiere institutions in the world,” Roger Hoy, director at NTTL said.
Tractor performance is measured according to OECD tractor test codes. Twenty-nine countries adhere to the codes, but NTTL is the only OECD tractor test lab in the U.S.
“In terms of performance testing, we’re still the granddaddy of them all,” Hoy said. “We’re the only facility in the world capable of testing the largest tractors.”
The power takeoff test and drawbar test are the two most common performance tests conducted on new tractors at the lab. Manufacturers invest a significant amount of resources to ensure a successful test. It costs approximately $22,000 to test a well-prepared tractor. The lab is supported entirely by these testing fees.
ENGINEERS AND STUDENTS
Four test engineers work in the lab full time, along with 30 part-time student workers. Most students are agricultural engineering or mechanized systems management majors.
“Our first priority is to conduct tractor testing, but we also focus on preparing undergraduate students for real-world jobs,” said Hoy, who also serves as a professor in the Department of Biological Systems Engineering.
Hoy said he frequently fields calls from industry representatives seeking students for full-time introductory engineering positions. The majority of students who have worked at the lab field multiple job offers before graduating.
Students are a primary part of the testing, Sampson said, helping in all areas, from set up to hydraulics. They spend anywhere from 2 to 15 hours a week at the lab, with most hoping for that 15-hour bench mark.
“We don’t have to advertise too hard to get students,” Sampson said. “When I first started, we had three.”
Official tractor testing results are available to the public at http://tractortestlab.unl.edu/. The Nebraska Tractor Test Laboratory makes no endorsement of particular tractor models or tractor manufacturers.
These lab tests can carry a lot of weight in an advertising campaign for a company.
“New test results prove the Case IH Steiger 620 is the most fluid-efficient and highest drawbar horsepower tractor in the world. In recent tests at the University of Nebraska Tractor Test Laboratory, the Steiger 620 tractor set new records for drawbar fuel efficiency, drawbar horsepower and maximum pull — outperforming all models ever tested,” Case IH touts.
Plus, the test results can be useful for producers in selecting a tractor or for comparing performance of different makes and models. Farmers who are more informed about the performance characteristics of tractors already owned will be able to operate more efficiently.
The original Nebraska Tractor Test facility, on the East Campus, is now the Lester F. Larsen Tractor Test and Power Museum.
The building was declared an historic landmark by the American Society of Agricultural Engineers and dedicated as a museum in 1980. On May 2, 1998, the museum was officially named to honor Lester F. Larsen (1908-2000), the chief engineer for the Nebraska Tractor Test Laboratory from 1946 to 1975. Larsen was instrumental in initiating the collection of historic tractor test equipment and in acquiring tractors that illustrate key developments in agricultural machinery.
The museum is supported entirely through donations. Visitors can begin at the museum to learn the history and view the collection of antique and unusual tractors, then tour the Nebraska Tractor Test Lab, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on the first Saturday of each month. ❖
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