What are tractor weights? They are weights you hang on a tractor. They help balance things out, like ballast in a boat. That’s because a farm tractor is not really rolling through a field; it is floating.
Especially when you are working in spring mud, soaked by the thaw, you are talking about buoyancy as much as traction. Sure, your tires might slip from time to time, spinning as they momentarily lose their grip on the soil, but a decent tractor can generally get enough purchase to go forward. What is not so certain is, are you balanced properly for the project at hand?
When you are working the fields, you have tools—called attachments—hooked up to the tractor. You might drag a plow behind you, for example. As you drive along, your plow is inclined to dive like a submarine, and that will pull the front wheels of the tractor off the ground. You’ll lose your “steerage,” as they say in boating lingo. But if you hang some heavy steel off your front bumper, that will balance you out. You will be able to plow the soil and steer your tractor.
We have another tool, the tree digger, that we use in the nursery. It is kind of clever. Each year we have to dig up thousands of young fruit trees so they can be replanted in orchards and parks. We drive the High-Boy tractor over long rows of trees, bending the trunks but not snapping them, and the digger gently dislodges the trees. Then we collect them by hand, bundle them up, and toss them into the pickup. Beats the old shovel technique, one tree at a time.
If the digger is not weighted, it won’t dive deep enough, and it will break right through the roots of the young trees. That kills them. Instead if you add weights to the digger, you’ll sink the business end deeper into the earth where it will clear the roots. Perfectly executed, the nursery trees get lifted up, roots and all, and topple gently onto the surface without mechanical damage to their roots or bark.
Usually in the form of solid steel plates, tractor weights are expensive to buy, maybe $500 or more to satisfy our requirements on the High-Boy. On this project we took the do-it-yourself route and spent a total of $0. We tinkered for an hour and then made the weights in another hour. In this case the 2-hour timesink was better than the cash outlay.
Materials were free because we had them laying around: a bag of concrete mix, wooden apple crates, and scraps of metal. Google provided some ballpark densities for concrete and steel. After an intricate hillbilly calculation scrawled on a 2×4, we estimated that 4 crates, filled to the brim with iron-doped concrete, would achieve our target mass, while retaining the option of removing a crate if we overshot, or if conditions in the field called for different weights on different days. It’s a modular design.
The video above was our test run. There are no trees in that row, but we could see that the digger was diving to a good depth. Next we try it in the nursery.
If they work in the nursery, we won’t feel like geniuses or anything. You could argue that factory-made tractor weights would be superior in a couple ways and you might be right. But the thought of coughing up serious cash for lunks of steel was abhorrent to us at that moment. As we proceeded to stir the wet concrete and cram it full of metal garbage, I had the distinct feeling of being a couple of old moonshiners agitating our sour mash. I kept looking over my shoulder furtively, thinking, Can we do this? Aren’t we supposed to buy the genuine article?
Something drew us inexorably forward and we converted the crates into weights.
CreightsTM, you might say.