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Big Bud tractor designed for easy repair

The new machine has a 1.5-inch thick frame, C-18 engine with a horsepower range from 640 to 750 and CAT 988 HD axles.
Decades after its debut, the Big Bud still attracts a crowd at farm shows. At 1,100 h.p. this Williams Brothers owned 16v-747 was largest ever made and spends it winters outside Big Equipment in Havre, Montana.

WESTERN PRODUCER – Big Bud tractors will roll off a production line this year for the first time since 1991.

“We’re going back and building a new run of tractors again. Our primary reason is we think that there’s only a few major (tractor manufacturers) left in the industry, and they’re making it difficult for farmers to fix their own equipment, in our opinion,” said Ron Harmon, owner of Big Equipment and builder of the Big Bud.

“It’s difficult to get parts (for most tractors) because (manufacturers) made it so you really have to do all your parts and service through them.”

In 2017 a fire razed the facility that produced the Big Bud tractors, so the company is now leasing a production facility that will manufacture 10 tractors in the first year and then will increase the number of units per year after that.

Up to 120 tractors per year were produced in the previous factory.

Harmon said Big Equipment partnered with Rome Industries in Cedartown, Georgia, to produce the new Big Bud.

“We’re capable of producing about as many tractors as we possibly need because basically the only thing a Big Bud is about is the frame. Right now, our smallest frame is an inch and a half thick. I’ve never sold just a frame in all the years and all the 500 tractors that I built,” Harmon said.

Big Buds can be ordered with a variety of engines, transmissions and axles.

The tractor was built from the middle of the 1970s through the 1980s, with last run in 1991.

Harmon said of the approximately 500 tractors produced, many are still being used because they were built to be easy to work on and rebuilt by farmers and independent mechanics.

The 1,100 horsepower Big Bud 16V-747, which holds the record as the world’s most powerful tractor, still works, but it is now a show piece and is parked outside the Big Equipment Co. building in Havre, Montana.

As was the case with previous Big Buds, the 2023 640 Big Bud will use mining construction components.

“The axles aren’t tied to the transmission, the transmission isn’t tied to the engine and any independent mechanic can work on it, buy parts for it and put it on there. Many of these new tractors are set up to where if you, Mr. Farmer, try to fix it, the tractor will neither run nor start until it’s reprogrammed by a certified dealer.”

The 640 Big Bud has a 640-750 h.p., 18 litre Cat .engine, a CAT TA22 HD 18 speed power shift transmission, and CAT 988 HD axles that Harmon said are the heaviest axles used in the agriculture industry, including those found on the 747 model.

“Some of these components are 20 to 25 years old that are still being used today by Caterpillar because it’s mining construction. So, if we put those components in a tractor today, there’s already thousands of these vehicles out there. So, if I want to ship one to South Africa or Australia, there’s going to be already many parts available because we’re using standard, off-the-shelf mining construction components in this tractor,” Harmon said.

“If you want to be in the service business, this probably is not the best way to make the tractor. If you want to be in the parts business, this probably isn’t. But if you’re an end user farmer, it probably is.”

Serviceability of the Big Bud goes beyond the availability of parts; it also has an advantage over modern tractors in terms of the ease of working on it.

Harmon said it can take up to 40 hours for mechanics to take a cab off and then replace it on some tractors, which is required to work on some components, including the transmission.

Big Bud’s cab can be quickly folded back, so if a transmission does have to be replaced, Harmon said it’s only a four-hour job.

“We put everything on a skid system, like a gen set. So, let’s say we don’t like the engine that we decided to use. That doesn’t mean you have to go down and spend a few hundred thousand more to buy a different unit. We suggest you slide the full skid system out, which literally takes about four hours. You slide it out and unbolt that engine, everything is bolted in and not welded in. You can take out that engine and put in any other engine you want without any other tractor modification. We do the same thing with the transmission,” Harmon said.

He said Big Bud was designed to be easily rebuilt, but the company also used proven components.

For instance, the 988 axles have been on the market for more than 20 years, while the 18-litre engine and TA22 transmission have been available for more than 10 years.

Harmon said the company decided to use a 1.5 inch thick frame. Tractors need to weigh about 100 pounds for every horsepower they have and Harmon feels it’s better to put the weight there than rely on added ballast.

“This tractor comes out at 640 h.p., and it goes up to 750 h.p. The tractor weighs 70,000 lb., right in the middle of that horsepower spread. We have no weight packages on the wheels, no stack weights on the front end. We don’t need them. We built the basic weight into the tractor from the get-go,” Harmon said.

He said one of Big Bud’s biggest serviceability advantages over other tractors is that it doesn’t have a master computer that controls everything.

“Their computers control everything. They control the hydraulics, they control the transmission, they control the dashboard. If any one of those things fail you’re down and forced to bring in a tech from a certified dealership to work on it,” Harmon said.

“We don’t run off any master computers for anything. We like comfort controls, we like fingertip controls for hydraulics, but that’s electric not electronic,” Harmon said.

The 2023 640 Big Bud comes with an Agco cab and any aftermarket navigation or precision ag system can be factory installed.

Harmon said the 2023 640 Big Bud comes with 110 gallon per minute hydraulic capacity and it can be outfitted with more capacity if required.

An optional equalizer hitch is available.

“It has an accumulator cylinder, so we can push the weight from the rear of the tractor to the front of the tractor,” Harmon said.

“One of the problems with tractors is they get overloaded on the rear and cause compaction. So, then they have to put a bunch of stack weights on the front end. Because we’re in front of the rear axle, we can hydraulically move our weight all the way to the front axle.”

Harmon said the 2023 640 Big Bud will be priced similar to comparable-horsepower tractors on the market, but Big Buds are better at holding their values.