Two tractors with similar
looks, heritage and
specification but quite
different in execution.
Peter Hill tries the TAFE and
latest Smallholder for size
AFTER luxury cabs with air suspension seating, air conditioning and fingertip powershift transmissions, the wind-in-the-hair driving experience provided by a cabless tractor is quite refreshing – on a sunny spring morning, at least.
Sitting in the open air, with just a stout roll-bar for protection should the unthinkable happen, visibility is true 360deg; gear levers slot home with a satisfying clunk; there is even some aural pleasure in the thrumming engine note and whine of meshing gears.
Tiresome after a couple of hours, no doubt. But then neither of these tractors will be worked at full chat for hours on end. More likely, they will spend their days chugging around scraping dairy yards, pulling trailers, working in and around glass-houses, mowing paddocks and sportsfields.
As such, they provide light-weight power in an easy to handle package at modest cost.
The Smallholder 2045 is from the Smallholder Tractor Cos 2000 series, assembled in Pershore, Worcestershire. Normally, it comes resplendent in new blue and silver livery but, in this case, it is turned out by customer request in the familiar red hue of its ancester.
Similar ancestry is behind its companion in this paddock pairing, the TAFE 45DI. Made in India by Tractors & Farm Equipment, it goes under the Massey Ferguson name in its home market and is the first of what is likely to be a number of models from different Indian manufacturers, looking to take over the low-cost tractor role currently filled by east European machines.
The TAFE comes fresh from a full-scale factory powered by a Simpsons four-cylinder direct-injection diesel engine with Perkins parentage. Simpsons also makes Perkins 1000-series engines for the Indian market.
In contrast, the Smallholder emerges from an altogether more modest operation which hand builds just two to three tractors a week. To some extent, customers can have their machines tailor-made to their requirements with plenty of options to add to the basic build.
Smallholder is most familiar for its re-manufacturing programme, fitting new gearbox and other transmission parts, new hydraulic pump, seals and just about everything else into recovered and refurbished MF35 or MF135 castings.
This example, however, is built around a transaxle assembly (gearbox, rear axle and hydraulics) delivered fresh from AGCOs Massey Ferguson factory at nearby Coventry where it would normally end up in an MF240. A 40hp four-cylinder Lister-Petter direct injection diesel is mated to these mechanicals, although buyers can now opt for a Perkins AD152.
Interestingly, Smallholder makes a good case for the Lister. The three-cylinder Perkins is more powerful at up to 47hp but the Gloucester motor comes with key start/stop and is reckoned to be quieter. Also, the engine installation allows a clutch to be fitted in about an hour, compared with up to three hours when the Peterborough motor is installed.
To meet noise regulations, the Simpsons S324 engine in the TAFE has to be governed to 1800rpm from its usual 2250rpm setting. With an in-line pump replacing the common rotary unit, however, Dorset-based importer Tractors UK reckons the power curve is flat enough that there is still near normal power output at this speed, as well as at the 1600rpm at which 540rpm is delivered at the pto.
Both tractors have live-drive hydraulics (and two-stage clutch action as a result), adjustable hydraulics drop speed, and a trailer tipping supply.
Single-speed pto, full road lighting (the TAFE also has hazard flashers and a rear work lamp), a swinging drawbar, heel-operated diff lock and a full complement of traditional instruments are also part of both machines specification.
A front weight frame can be added to both, the Smallholders structure doubling as a tow hitch.
Both tractors can also be had with dry drum or oil-immersed disc brakes. The latter is clearly the better choice if the tractor is going to be working up to its neck in the unmentionable as a dairy yard tractor. Otherwise, easier servicing favours the standard drum brakes. With the immersed brakes, mind, the tractors get a heavier duty rear axle with, for example, clevis mountings for the lift arms.
And so to driving. With no flat decked super-cab to climb into, it is a case of threading feet past pedals and gear levers before settling into the plastic (weather-proof), barely sprung seat and getting to grips with the array of switches, controls and exposed linkages.
Both tractors have safety switches on the range levers, so neutral is necessary before the engines will kick into life.
With pendant clutch and brake pedals giving a more natural leg action, as well as a longer, more progressive stroke for the clutch, the TAFE is easier to slip into gear without grumbling cogs. The Smallholders Fergie-familiar rear hinged clutch pedal needs to be stamped on pretty firmly to avoid such complaints.
On the move, a little more tingling vibration finds its way through the Smallholders grille-like foot-plates and steering wheel. But it has the advantage of the Lister-engines quieter exhaust note and less harsh engine thrum.
Both tractors have (quite different) hand and foot engine controls. The TAFEs hand throttle is a conventional radial stalk to the right of the steering column, while a mushroom-shaped pedal sprouting from the foot-plate (and connected to the engine by a lengthy rod) leaves plenty of space to step on and off the right side.
The Smallholders foot control is a decent-sized pedal near the linked brake pedals, while the Lister engine installation demands a vertical wand to the left of the instrument cowl for hand-regulated adjustments. This may not be the familiar location – but it is handy enough, light in action and, with thumb resting on the cowl, is easy to adjust accurately when bucking over rough ground.
Steering is as direct as might be expected on a pair of light-weight two-wheel drive tractors, the TAFEs easy power steering presumably being matched by the Smallholders optional orbital pump and twin hydraulic cylinders.
Hydraulic controls are virtually identical; but while the Smallholder keeps its traditional hand brake location lying flat on the gearbox, the TAFE has a substantial lever assembly attached to the inside face of the left-hand mudguard. That makes it easy to reach and use. But it is also likely to hook coats and jackets as the driver steps off.
When it comes to routine servicing, the TAFE has the advantage of a modern tilt-forward bonnet which reveals battery and fuses, fuel tank and radiator – the last two can be filled through hatches in the bonnet.
These hatches are simple holes on the Smallholders steel cladding, with radiator fill access also available through the pull-forward nose grille. The tractors engine air filter, mounted vertically ahead of the steering column but to one side, looks a mite easier to get at than the TAFEs horizontal installation.
Servicing requirements are otherwise the same, with engine oil and filter changes due at 250 hours, a major service at 1000 hours. *
Hand-built Smallholder 2045 is assembled from either all-new components or using thoroughly refurbished gearbox and back-axle castings.
Standard engine is a four-cylinder Lister-Petter diesel developing 40hp, with a Perkins 47hp optional at no extra cost.
Back-end includes Cat I/II lift arms, swinging drawbar and single-speed pto. Dry brake axle can be replaced by heavier duty version with oil-immersed brakes.
TAFE 45 DI is mass-produced in India using locally-made componentry based on MF and Perkins originals.
Simpsons S324 diesel is governed to 1800rpm but importer says flat power curve means this is no disadvantage. Note in-line fuel pump and twin fuel filters.
Optional oil-immersed brakes bring heavier duty rear axle with clevis mountings for Cat I/II lift arms. 540rpm pto is generated at 1600 engine rpm.
Specifications Smallholder TAFE
2045 N 45 DI
Engine Lister-Petter 4cyl di Simpsons 3cyl di
40hp @ 2200rpm* 47hp @ 1800rpm
Gearbox 6f or 8f x 2r 8f x 2r
creep optiona creep optional
Hydraulics 15.5 litre/min 15 litre/min
1460kg lift 1450kg lift
Power take-off 540rpm @ 540rpm @
Fuel capacity 40 litre 48 litre
Power steering $350 standard
Weight 1750kg 1725kg
Oil-immersed brakes optiona optional List price
Warranty 1yr std; 2yr optional 2yr standard
* or 3cyl 47hp Perkins AD152; ** new build; re-manufactured build based
on new components in refurbished castings $7900.