End of the power line?
As part of our One Year On series Andrew Faulkner visits one of the first buyers of JCBs flagship Fastrac, the 170hp 185. The tractor, launched in June 1994, was designed to push the high speed/multi-purpose Fastrac concept to its power limit
FARMS take on more land and tractors get bigger. Makers tell us big is still beautiful in the world of prime movers but how long can this spiralling trend be sustained?
Take the JCB Fastrac. To date the Fastrac story reads: In the beginning the biggest Fastrac had 147hp under its bonnet (1991), by 1993 the flagship model boasted 150hp, while in 1994 power was uprated again with the introduction of the 170hp 185.
JCB concedes that potential for further rises beyond the 185s 170hp is limited. Latest addition has been to extend the bottom end of the Fastrac range – the 115hp 1115 made its first public appearance at this years Royal Show. "The Fastrac was always destined to be a 100hp-200hp project," says Dave Bell, managing director of JCB Landpower.
"Our future focus will be to improve what we have achieved within this power sector," he adds. When the 185 was launched in 1994 its extra power was initially intended to meet demand for a Fastrac which could handle wider combination drills, bigger spray-ers, bigger trailers and occasional ploughing. But some say the 185 also has a role as a more specialist draft-work machine.
Ken Rush, who farms with his son Robert at Hall Farm, near Bury St Edmunds, bought one of the first 185.65s off the factory production line in August 1994. It has spent most of the past 12 months hitched to a five/six-furrow Kverneland LB85 variable-width reversible plough and has turned about 600ha (1500 acres).
The Rushs 185 works as part of a ploughing team in which the other member is a 275hp John Deere 8640 artic tractor/ Dowdeswell nine-furrow reversible combination. This team is followed around by two further 8640s pulling a 6.5m (21ft) Simba furrow press and 6m (20ft) wide Vader-stad Rapide drill, respectively. The Fastrac ploughs all headlands and any fields less than 8ha (20 acres).
Considering the plethora of conventional tractors in the 170hp power sector, choosing what is generally regarded as a top work/ haulage machine for primary cultivations may seem like an odd decision. But Mr Rush is a long-term Fastrac convert, having run two smaller models on hauling/spraying work for the past four years.
"We have never run a conventional ploughing tractor alongside, so it is difficult to make comparisons. But the 185 has comfortably coped with five furrows on all our ground," says Mr Rush.
"Ploughing capability is about transferring power to the ground and the Fastracs lower link sensing hydraulics and Pirelli TM700 tyres have performed well. The only possible weakness is its splitter gearbox.
"Most of the tractors competitors are fitted with powershift gearboxes, which has to be an advantage for draft work. But the Fastrac makes up for this shortcoming in other ways. The tractors top speed of 40mph allows the driver to get to and from fields up to 15 miles away quickly and in comfort, and at the end of the ploughing season we have a more usable tractor for other work."
As well as farming 1010ha (2500 acres) Mr Rush also runs a sugar beet contracting operation which lifts 2000ha (4940 acres) a year with two Vervaet 16t tanker harvesters and a conventional Matrot M41. When the 40mph 185 is not ploughing it is available to join the beet-ferrying fleet pulling 14t Bunning trailers.
Other work includes hauling grain at harvest with the same Bunning dumpers, which are fitted with commercial-spec running gear and air brakes. But most of the big Fastracs first 1400 hours have been clocked up on the front of the Kverneland plough.
Those hours have been largely trouble-free with the exception of a rear linkage which has been mysteriously prone to wear. Castings at the top of the lift rods and top link bracket have been modified by JCB in an attempt to find a cure.
Mr Rushs only tips for the JCB design team are more clutchless changes from the gearbox and higher spec auxiliary valves which dont persistently dribble.
"It has definitely been our most reliable Fastrac yet. The first, smaller models suffered from limited slip differential and rear axle final drive problems but there were bound to be teething difficulties with such a radically new concept."
Overall impression: "The tractor has done everything we have asked of it as a dual-purpose ploughing/transport tractor. I am not convinced it ploughs any worse than a conventional tractor, while for haulage work there is just no comparison." *