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The Tractor: Everything You Need To Know
8 Minute Read
Kevin Forestell headshot
Kevin Forestell
March 13, 2020

The Tractor: Everything You Need to Know

The most popular and diverse piece of equipment in the agriculture industry, a tractor is the go-to piece of equipment for anyone looking to pull, move, haul, plow, or till soil or land. A tractor can be fitted with a tiller, aerator, rotary cutters, cultivators, disc harrows, pallet forks, and many other kinds of attachments. A tractor is a diverse piece of equipment used by many.


The tractor has a powerful motor and is designed with larger wheels in the back than the front. This design is to help the equipment achieve maximum torque power at slow speeds. Most modern tractors feature an enclosed cab. Mainly used on farms for hauling equipment and trailers, tractors can be used for snow removal as well.

Tractor on farmers field with tiller

Common Uses of a Tractor

The basic functions of a tractor are to act as a tug and engine; they pull equipment and machinery but can also power machinery. Farming equipment and other attachments can be added to the tractor to expand the use and application of the tractor.

The functionality of a tractor depends a lot on the size and engine horsepower. With a tractor, a farmer or operator is capable of:

  • Moving stone, dirt, brush, debris, or other heavy materials
  • Clear brush with rotary or flail mower attachment
  • Tilling land and preparing a garden or field
  • Repair and trade a gravel driveway or road
  • Clear roads and driveways of snow and ice with a snowblower, plow, and salting attachments 
  • Assist in large landscaping projects
  • Use a backhoe attachment to dig foundations, ditches, and ponds
  • Power a variety of attachments like wood splitters, saws, and stump grinders
  • Assist with farming duties with attachments like plows, landscape rakes, rotary tillers, bale spears, and many more

The tractor was originally created to replace the farm workhorse. Without needing to be fed or watered a tractor can help out with any and all projects in a way never possible with a horse.

tractor lifting hay bale
Image borrowed from John Deere

Choosing the Tractor Best for the Job

The “right” tractor for a job is determined by what the job is. The limitations of a tractor are set by the weight and horsepower of the engine. Renting a tractor instead of buying one reduces the limitation of trying to find a one-size-fits-all machine. It is possible to get a small tractor when needed and then rent a large one for a bigger job. 

A compact tractor with 25 – 30 hp is good for basic mowing or work on flat terrain. For more substantial plowing, a 45 – 85 hp engine is better suited. Anything above that would require a more powerful piece of equipment. Baling, hauling, cutting, planting, and disking will all require different powers. DOZR offers tractor rentals ranging from 25 – 300 hp.

Tractors for Snow Removal

Tractors are highly effective and cost-efficient equipment pieces for snow removal. They have better fuel efficiency than other snow removal vehicles which means that it is possible to clear more snow with less fuel. There are a few other ways that tractors make great snow-clearing machines.

  1. High ground speed gives the ability to clear more property spaces within a single plow route
  2. Tractors have great visibility, meaning safer operations and fewer chances of accidents due to blind spots.
  3. A wide variety of tractor attachments means having the right tool to get the job done without having to “make do” with a less specific attachment. 
  4. The cost of renting is lower than other machines because there is such a wide range and availability of tractors making this machine more affordable than others.

Whether using a blade, salter, or pusher, a tractor makes snow-clearing easier than ever. 

Tractor with plow attachment moving snow

Manufacturers of Tractors

When it comes to tractors there are three main manufacturers: John Deere, CASE, and New Holland. Some people have a color preference between green (John Deere), red (CASE), or blue (New Holland). Either way, these three manufacturers own the tractor space. Below is a further look at these companies and an example of their tractor types.

John Deere logo

John Deere

John Deere was a blacksmith in the 1800s. He was the first to develop the polished steel plow for farmers in the west who were having trouble with the tough western soil. John Deere grew his name and business from this single invention to become one of the most recognized names in the farming and agriculture industries. 

John Deere first developed its own prototype for a tractor in 1912. After John Deere purchased Waterloo Gasoline Traction Engine Company – the first creator of the gas tractor – they stopped their own tractor development and focused on the commercialization and manufacturing of the Waterloo tractor.

In 1920 the level of oversaturation of the tractor market resulted in a number of fraud companies and products. John Deere Waterloo Boy N Tractor was the first tractor tested to set industry standards for tractor performance. In 1966 John Deere introduced the first rollover protective bar on their tractor. 

John Deere tractor

The green and yellow of John Deere has no clear origin story but there are a few theories. At the same time as John Deere started making tractors, International Harvester was painting all their tractors red. One theory is that since red and green are color opposites on the color wheel, nothing would distinguish a John Deere vs its competitor than an “opposite” color.

Another theory is that green is the perfect color to represent fresh-cut grass and yellow represents harvest-ready corn. The use of farm-friendly colors was to indicate that John Deere was a farm-friendly brand. No matter the reason for the color choice, the branding worked. John Deere is so well known for its bright green seeing a tractor in that color is all it takes to know that it’s a John Deere. 


Jerome Increase Case founded the Racine Threshing Machine Works in Wisconsin, USA in 1842 with the goal of innovating the current threshing machine to automatically separate the straw from the grain. 27 years later, the motivation to innovate threshing lead J.I. Case to create a steam-powered tractor.

It was still drawn by horse but helped to power his automatic threshing machine. J.I. Case passed away in 1891 but his company continued on, innovating the tractor experience by producing a self-propelled steam tractor and then a gas-powered tractor.

Old case tractor
Image borrowed from the Association of Manitoba Museums

As Case continued to grow and develop, another company founded by a man named Cyrus McCormick was emerging. 1902 J.P. Morgan brokers a merger between McCormic, Deering, and three other smaller brands to create International Harvester Company.

International Harvester became known for its bright red tractor machines. The color became an official staple of the company name when Harvester Red #50 was adopted as the color of International Harvester machines on November 1, 1936. 

In 1985 the two successful businesses of J.I. Case and Cyrus McCormick were brought together to create CASE IH and quickly became the second-largest farm equipment manufacturer. Today the bright red tractors of CASE IH are recognized for their power and reliability.

New Holland

New Holland got its name from its founding location: New Holland Pennsylvania. Abe Zimmerman founded a blacksmith shop but, in need of some extra profit, started selling engines for farm machines. With the cold winters of Pennsylvania freezing these traditional engines, Zimmerman invented a freeze-proof engine. The company continued to grow from these until it was purchased by Sperry Rand Corporation in 1947. 

When Sperry decided to leave the farming and agriculture business, New Holland was then purchased by Ford. After Ford reentered the tractor market after a hiatus in 1939, the company continued to have an on-again, off-again relationship with tractor production. It was with the purchase of New Holland that Ford was once again on the path of tractor success.

Old new holland tractor
Image borrowed from Old Pond Publishing.

Ford started producing blue Ford tractors and used the New Holland name for other agriculture machines which were painted yellow. However, this did not last forever. In 1990 Ford walked away from the agriculture machinery market and sold New Holland to Fiat Group in 1991. The staple blue followed New Holland as it left Ford and their tractors continue to be painted the distinct colour to this very day.

Today New Holland continues to be an advocate for environmentally friendly equipment innovation. With the longevity of farming and farmers in mind the company has made it their mission to lead the fight against climate change and develop clean energy agriculture equipment.

New Holland tractor carrying hay with fork attachment
Image borrowed fromTractor House

Potential Hazards & Safety Protocols for Tractors

Just like with any kind of heavy equipment or agriculture machinery, operating a tractor must be done safely to avoid safety accidents. Tractors are the primary source of work-related injuries on farms. In fact, nearly one-third of all farm work fatalities are tractor-related. 

There are four distinct hazards associated with tractors: overturns, runovers, power take-off entanglements, and older tractors.

1. Overturns

When a tractor falls sideways or backward, both the operator and anyone around the tractor are at risk of injury. Most of these incidents are preventable if safe tractor operating procedures are followed. 

To prevent tractor overturns be sure to:

  • Avoid turning or driving close to the edge of a ditch or bank 

  • Avoid driving too fast especially on rough roads or lanes to avoid running or bouncing off the road

  • Only hitch to the drawbar of a tractor when pulling or towing objects

  • Never drive straight up a steep-sloped hill

  • Make gentle turns around corners and refrain from making any kind of sharp turns 

  • Ensure that the tractor is fitted with a rollover bar or protective structure


Overturned tractor
Tractor turnover. Image borrowed fromThe Valley News.

2. Runover

A tractor has one seat and should only be used to transport one person – the operator. Runovers can happen if an extra person falls off the tractor because there is no safe or secure place for them to be sitting. Another possibility for a runover accident is if the operator is knocked off the tractor by a low-hanging branch or another piece of debris.

On particularly rough roads, an operator could be bounced out of their seat as well. Lastly, a runover accident could happen by the driver strikes someone on the ground while operating. This incident of runovers is particularly dangerous if the tractor is being operated on a family farm with young children. Never start a tractor while it is in reverse and always check all blindspots to avoid this from happening. 

To avoid runover accidents, always:

  • Use a backup horn or beeper

  • Check blind spots before driving

  • Wear a seatbelt whenever operating

  • Firmly close the door of the cab  (if applicable) 

  • Say no if another person asks to “hitch a ride” but standing or holding onto the tractor. 

 3. Power Take-Off (PTO) Entanglement

The Power Take-Off (PTO) is a stub at the back of the tractor that rotates anywhere between 540 and 1,000 RPM. It is a device that allows for the mechanical transfer of power from the tractor to an attachment. However, the RPM level means that it is turning anywhere from 9 to 17 times per second. Being caught in this shaft could cause serious injury. There is little to no reaction time if this was to happen so prevention is key. 

All tractors should be fitted with a PTO master shield. If the tractor does not have a shield, be sure to report it. In order to stay safe when working around a PTO remember to:

  • Tie back long hair

  • Avoid wearing baggy clothing 

  • Always turn off and power down both the PTO and the tractor before trying to change or attach an attachment

4. Older Tractors

With proper care and maintenance, a tractor can have a long and active life. In order to have a long-lasting and safe tractor, it is important to be aware of what safety features it does not have.


Some examples of reasons that an older tractor may not be as safe are:

  • Lack of seat belt

  • Lack of ROPS (Rollover Protective Structure)

  • A seat that cannot adjust

  • Absence of a safety start system 

  • Hard to turn or sticky wheels

  • Missing PTO shield

  • Rear brakes that do not work properly

The History of the Tractor

Tractors were invented with the purpose of replacing the farm workhorse (or ox or other animals used to pull equipment) in the mid-1800s. The very first tractors were steam-powered. They were big and clunky machines that looked like the steam engines often seen on trains. They had big back wheels and would be used to pull and power threshing machines to clear grain as well as circular saws to aid construction. 

In 1890 a man named John Froelich was tired of the cumbersome and dangerous steam engine. He partnered up with his blacksmith to mount a single-cylinder gas engine on his old steam tractor. His idea worked and the tractor took off at a recorded speed of three miles per hour.

He used his new gas tractor for his next threshing tour and was able to successfully thresh more than 72,000 bushels of grain. Because it was run by gas and not fire, coal, and water, there was the added bonus of zero chances for a fire.

And old tractor in the Froelich Museum
Image borrowed from the Froelich Museum.

Froelich joined up with eight other investors to fund the Waterloo Gasoline Traction Engine Company in 1894. They developed four new kinds of tractors and sold two. Froelich was more invested in developing farming equipment over engines and left the company a year later. 

The Waterloo Gasoline Traction Engine was bought by John Deere for $2,350,000 USD in 1918. Today this amount of money is worth about $43,000,000. 

The true value of the tractor came from its ability to affect the lives of farmers everywhere. While using horses or other animals to pull and move equipment, the added pressure of feeding and housing animals limited the amount of work that a farmer could do. Plus farmers would need to grow food for that animal. With the tractor, the process is streamlined. Simply top up the machine with some gas and the farmer can work for as long as desired. 

Waterloo steam tractor
Image Borrowed from Vintage Machinery

There were a few other tractors that were being produced around this time. Henry Ford made a Ford gas-powered tractor in 1907. Since vehicles also ran with a gas engine it seemed to make sense that they would produce other machines which would run the same way.  By 1916 there were almost 100 different manufacturers of tractors but total sales remained a small number.

Ford sold 36,000 tractors in 1921 and two years later the company held 75% of the U.S. tractor market. As tractors became more and more popular Ford found it difficult to keep up with the demand for innovation. Ford tractor production was halted from 1928 until 1939.

The tractor market because so diverse and competitive that some manufacturers started selling tractors below the cost of production in an attempt to steal pieces of the market. This allowed farmers to get their tractors for cheap and truly enter the economy for profit. 

The invention of the tractor has changed the agriculture industry. It provided better mobility to farmers and streamlined farming productivity in a way not seen since John Deere himself invented the steel plow in 1838.

A modern day tractor with a tiller attachment

The Tractor: FAQ

What can a tractor do?

A tractor can do almost anything. With a variety of attachments and power levels, a tractor is a true workhorse machine that can help in almost any kind of project from farming to snow clearing. 

Can you drive a farm tractor on the road?

Tractors can be driven on the road. In fact, it is quite common to see a tractor moving down a country road, much to the frustration of the drivers behind them. Most governments set restrictions on how fast tractors and other agricultural equipment can go on public roads.

These speeds usually range around 40 – 50 kph. It is important to be patient when driving behind a tractor. For those operating the tractor, it is important to follow these regulations.

How much can a farm tractor tow?

The key to achieving full towing capacity for a tractor is to have sufficient weight and the tractor needed to get the tractor to pull. Because a tractor has larger back wheels than front wheels, the pressure of a heavy load or machine attached to the back pushed the big wheels into the ground.

This helps to achieve traction. The power to pull comes from engine power. It is the balance of these two pieces that determine how much exactly how much a tractor can tow.

Can I rent a tractor?

Yes, you can rent a tractor. They are available for daily, weekly, and monthly rentals and can be chosen by their size and weight. 

How much does it cost to rent a tractor?

The price to rent a tractor varies depending on the length of the rental, the location of the rental, and who the supplier is. Search on DOZR to see all the price options with one search. DOZR also offers a credit account to make renting tractors and other heavy equipment easier than ever.

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Kevin Forestell headshot
Kevin Forestell
Kevin Forestell is CEO of DOZR and one of the co-founders. Kevin first got started as an entrepreneur when he founded Forestell Landscaping right after graduating from University. His love and passion for the industry and desire to help solve an equipment problem that contractors faced every day is what brought the founding team to start DOZR. Kevin is proud of the level of efficiency brought to the industry through DOZR and hopes that DOZR will help change the standard way equipment is rented.
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