Guideline to Buying a Used Homestead Tractor

J.V. Dorner's guidelines gives you the facts and figures needed when choosing the best used homestead tractor.

| September/October 1971


The J. I. Case Model S. Note wide or "row crop" arrangement of front wheels. The Model SC is the same tractor but with it's two front wheels close together, giving it a triangle ground print like the other tractors illustrated here.


Choosing a farm tractor can be about as personal as picking a wife and—for the novice—the decision can be just as fraught with danger. It's mighty easy, in other words, for a beginner to hitch himself to an over-equipped and over-priced model that he really doesn't need, can't afford and can't handle. So easy, in fact, that I'm going to stick my neck out with some fatherly advice on the manly art of homestead tractor buying.

Invest in a Used Homestead Tractor

In my opinion, today's new homesteader with forty acres or less is wise to forget all the shiny new toys down at the local tractor emporium. Just like modern automobiles, most new-fashioned tractors tend to be oversized, over-priced and laden with so many conveniences that they're no longer easy to repair. A first-time farmer would be better advised to put his extra dollars into land instead of into such fancy cast iron.

By going back a few years and buying a good, used, medium-sized (20 to 50 horsepower) tractor, the amateur agriculturist can easily cut his iron horse investment from several thousand dollars to several hundred without any terrific decrease in productivity. Such a tractor will pull at least one sixteen-inch plow and up to three fourteen bottoms. That's plenty power for anyone interested in raising food for his family and a few livestock.

Incidentally, that 20 to 50 horsepower may not sound like much compared to the 300 horsepower in your uncle's GTX/SS409 unless you know that the quoted ratings for automobiles are a fanciful "developed" figure that has little to do with reality. Rest assured that a 20 HP tractor will plow rings around any "300 HP" sportscar. And—if you have a reasonably good local source of spare parts and access to a better-than-average mechanic (every farming community seems to have one of those)—you can't go too far wrong starting your agricultural adventure with a medium-size tractor that's 15 to 25 years old.

There's a number of good mechanical work horses in this size and age bracket including several models manufactured by Minneapolis Moline, Oliver, Ford, Cockshutt and International Harvester (the older III tractors all carry the trade name "Farmall" and the Farmall F-20 and M—when in good condition—are both excellent used tractor buys). Obviously I can't cover every make and model in this one article so I'm going to limit myself to recommending the J.I. Case S series, John Deer A series, Allis Chalmers WD and—one diesel—the International Harvester 350. All four models should give satisfactory service to a homesteader if purchased in reasonably good condition and given average care and maintenance.

The Case SC is a very widely distributed tractor and its prime mover is a water-cooled four cylinder engine with a bore of 3 1/2 inches and a stroke of four inches. The powerplant develops 28 HP at a full-throttle, no-load speed of 1700 r.p.m. That's right, 1700 r.p.m. Tractor engines are big, slow-turning workhorses that seem to run forever.

7/24/2013 5:11:55 AM

It is very funny "Choosing a farm tractor can be about as personal as picking a wife" but yes we can't take it lightly. Investment in a used tractor is also a very big investment. Over price of new tractor is a very big reason to purchase used one, but yes I also agree with it that new features in modern tractor creates many problems at the time of maintenance and repairing.


5/3/2013 11:10:26 PM

Before buying the used tractors we need to know not only the capacity of the engine but also inner transmission controls like PTOs and gearboxes. We may replace new one or maintain them properly.

jimmy slough
11/26/2008 10:02:40 AM

My wife and I are newly retired and have 40 acres. We bought a new tractor and are very happy we did. Buying a used tractor is good advice though. A couple of things are missing in the article that I think are important. The number 1 thing you need is a front end loader whether used or new. Also you need to make sure you have at least one remote for hydraulics that was the one I messed up on.

heidi hunt_2
1/18/2008 12:11:15 PM

Geof, Here is a current article that you might find helpful:

1/18/2008 11:54:22 AM

I wish someone would write a current article for us off grid mountain property owners. I am tractor shopping for my life major snow falls, log skidding, field mowing, road work, post hole digging. I just have an intuitive feeling that an 8n would end up killing me or spending its life in my small field scared of my driveway. Any help? 2 neighbors have JD 790 4x4. Others have road graders backhoes and dozers.

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