Smaller, Slower, Better: Designing a Tractor for the Future by Borrowing from the Past
An Ohio manufacturer designs a tractor for the future, borrowing mightily from the past.
Twelve years ago, the Steiner family of Orrville, Ohio, decided to transition their conventional corn and soy operation into a diversified organic farm—and quickly realized the tasks ahead were going to require totally different tools. No drones. No air-conditioned combines. Just a basic tractor with easy-to-swap attachments and adjustable wheels capable of fitting between various rows.
Respondents wanted a tractor they could fix themselves. Preferably one that drives slow. Real slow.
Talk about a needle in a haystack. Over the past six or so decades, as agriculture shifted towards monoculture, the attendant machinery followed suit, evolving into specialized computers-on-wheels ill-suited for more sustainable pursuits. Luckily, the Steiners, who have been manufacturing equipment since 1974, were uniquely positioned to solve the problem. “We’re used to working in small batches, not a kajillion widgets,” explains Lydell Steiner, 33. “There’s no incentive for John Deere to produce on that scale.”
“We spent a lot of time with organic growers across the U.S. and learned that they’d been making do with Model Gs,” Lydell says, referring to a dinosaur of a tractor issued by the now-defunct Allis-Chalmers Manufacturing Company from 1948 to 1955. “So we asked, ‘What would bring the Model G into the 21st century?’” Respondents wanted a tractor they could fix themselves. Preferably one that drives slow. Real slow. “Okay, then,” he recalls. “We’ll build something that can go down to a half-mile per hour.”
This past October, the Steiners launched their Tilmor brand with a line of Model G– compatible attachments, but the true passion project—an updated version of the tractor itself—won’t debut until early 2019. Lydell predicts a hit, for reasons other than the resurgence of organic methods. The perfectionist is currently putting Prototype #12 through its paces on the farm.