Old Tractors, New Jobs: Can They Still Deliver?
By Tom Seest
At ClassicTractorNews, we help classic tractor lovers keep up with the latest news for classic and vintage tractors.
From various interviews, stories will emerge either about the disadvantages or advantages of old hydro tractors. When properly maintained and utilized within their capabilities, hydros can last just as long as any other tractor.
However, like any transmission, issues occasionally arose that necessitated repairs – whether mechanically or due to clogged filters or broken hoses.
Table Of Contents
IH’s Hydro line of tractors was initiated with the 656, which was introduced in 1966 as the first production tractor with hydraulic drive. Available options included 262-cid gas six (64 PTO horsepower) or 282-cid diesel models.
As International prepared to introduce the 656 tractor, they recognized they required something big in order to close the gap with John Deere, and their 560 line’s final drive failures continued to haunt them like an invisible force.
IH’s Hydro was their solution to this dilemma. Affectionately known as “Hydro,” this unique powertrain utilized a huge pump connected with an equally massive hydraulic motor on one side and a control that altered how much volume and pressure was being sent from pump to motor via a variable control system – much like CVT but without power shift feature. If used within its capabilities and used properly it could last as long as a conventional gear-drive tractor while pushing too hard would result in catastrophic breakdown and eventual breakdown.
The 666 was an all-diesel version of the 560 gassers produced from 1948 through 1972, giving a tractor the appearance of being fit for Satan himself! But its name derives from its engine, specifically its D282 six-cylinder D282-based powerplant producing more than 250 horsepower!
Numerous individuals have attempted to associate the number 666 with the Antichrist. One form of numerology called gematria assigns letters specific numerical values. One potential gematria reading for 666 would be Nero Caesar, the Roman emperor at the time Revelation was written and notorious for persecuting Christians. Another possibility is that the Revelation writer was alluding to Domitian, the Roman Emperor at that time, by using his last name, which equaled 666. However, Nero and Domitian were both reviled by first-century Christians, making this interpretation less convincing. Furthermore, 666 is usually associated with the Antichrist, not a historical figure. Yet its presence remains widely recognized throughout modern culture; indeed, references are frequently made within Christian apocalypticist groups as well as explicitly anti-Christian subcultures.
The 656 was an instantaneous success and set in motion a succession of smaller Hydro models like the 544, 826, and the 1206. While IHC still held its dominance as the reigning tractor brand in row crop farming applications with their Farmall series tractors, competition from more powerful models with improved transmissions and hydraulics began chipping away at IH’s market share.
IH’s first attempt to address this problem was with a motor cultivator, an attempt at creating a self-propelled garden tractor that could cultivate and kill weeds rather than simply pull them up. Although the tractor had many positives, its shortcomings included significant horsepower loss when running at full tilt, overheated transmission oil on prolonged use, and an unclear transmission design not suitable for technicians familiar with gear drive equipment.
Charlie Ricketts developed and introduced a revolutionary hydrostatic drive known as Hydramatic Automatic Transmissions (HATs). These used the engine piston pump to force lubricant through a hydraulic motor, which drove wheels directly, eliminating clutch-based gear drives altogether and making Hydros highly reliable and easy to operate – the control lever was placed conveniently behind the seat for forward/reverse operation as well as engine/pto speed regulation.
Hydrostatic transmissions were initially plagued with problems; their failure rate wasn’t zero but was substantially less than gear-driven tractors. Over time, however, improvements were made that refined its operation; now, these transmissions can be found on equipment from 5hp lawnmowers up to some of the most powerful combine harvesters – they represent part of American farming history as an illustration of its ingenuity among farmers, mechanics, and engineers alike.
After IH released the 656 and 756 in 1966, they began work on another larger tractor known as the 966. Like its smaller cousins, this machine featured hydrostatic drive with infinitely variable speed control and loader mount but featured a more powerful D282 engine.
International’s Hydros were intended to close the gap with John Deere that had opened up since its introduction in the late 1950s, although not exactly to their level of dominance. Although not quite within striking distance of John Deere’s Big Green Machine, their performance improved considerably and saw two new Hydros introduced each year until 1972: 606 and 826, followed by 100+ HP diesel-powered 1206. Though some old farmers will rave about IH Hydros while others praise them, overall, they had more no-fault-of-owner failures than gear-drive tractors, but provided they were properly used within their capabilities, they performed just fine.
If you see 966, take it as a sign! Stay positive and believe. Good things are coming your way – keep believing!
Please share this post with your friends, family, or business associates who may like old classic or vintage tractors.