HAVRE, Mont. – The Big Bud 16V-747, the world’s largest tractor with 1,100 horsepower, is parked outside the Big Equipment Co. building in Havre.
Only one 747 was ever built, but from the mid-1970s to the mid-1980s, some 500 Big Buds were built. Many of those Big Buds are still being repaired at Big Equipment Co., so they can still be counted on to work on farms today.
But many farmers have wondered, would Big Buds would ever be built again? The answer is yes.
Ron Harmon, owner of Big Equipment Co. LLC and the builder of the Big Bud 747, said he will be displaying designs of the new Big Bud tractors at an industry show this week.
“We at Big Equipment, along with our partners, Rome Industries in Cedartown, Ga., are going to be building the first new Big Bud tractor since 1991,” Harmon said.
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Rome Industries, a builder of agriculture and construction equipment, has been well known as a leader in setting rugged quality standards for large tillage equipment for more than 80 years.
Big Equipment Co. has led the agriculture industry in rebuilding and custom-building older tractors for farmers, many of them Big Buds. Without computerized systems, these tractors worked the fields, pulled drills, and seeded acres of farmland for decades after they were manufactured.
The two partners had previously agreed to begin building new Big Bud tractors before a fire on Christmas Eve 2017 destroyed Big Equipment’s large shop.
After the devastating fire, Harmon needed to focus on rebuilding right away, and his employees never missed a paycheck.
“When our shop burned down, it destroyed all of our parts, all of our records, and everything that wasn’t digitalized was gone,” he said. “But I knew we needed to take care of our customers – some we have had since 1969. We have a lot of customers, of course, regionally, but also nationally and a little bit internationally.”
When Harmon rebuilt, he separated the dealer and office portion of business from the rest of the business where custom tractors and rebuilt tractors were worked on.
Today, Big Equipment is fully back, and the new building has the Big Bud 747 parked out front. Anyone passing by can’t miss it.
Its highly skilled staff custom builds and rebuilds non-computerized tractors for farmers, and they have a large parts department. They also service and upgrade tractors.
Big Equipment Co. is also a Versatile dealer and sells used equipment, as well.
“Here at Big Equipment, we build big equipment for farms. We custom-build tractors and rebuild tractors that keep ordinary farmers in business, the kind of tractors people liked to buy 30 years ago,” Harmon said.
Brand new Big Bud tractors
The new Big Buds that Big Equipment Co. and Rome Industries will be building for farmers and contractors will have a 1.5-inch steel frame, stronger than any tractor on the market. The frame is built first and the components slide in, not the other way around.
Farm machinery manufacturers often plan what axels they would use in a new tractor, as well as what engine, transmission, and other components.
“The last thing they do is build a frame around those particular selected components. After they build that tractor, they only test it for 2,400 hours a year, a limited amount of time before producing it,” Harmon said. “By the time a tractor has 10,000 hours on it, most tractors today are considered on their last legs in the ag industry.”
When Harmon built the Big Bud 747, he was told the tractor should weigh a hundred pounds per horsepower, “so you might as well build the weight into it,” he said, noting that the 747 has approximately 20,000 hours on it, and it is still very usable today.
“In building the minimum basic weight into the tractor when we make it, it gives us more options to build it better,” he added.
They are using the Big Bud 747 as inspiration for the new Big Buds, but the new Big Buds will go beyond that.
At present, the 747 has LSW 1400 tires that are approximately 50 inches wide on 46-inch wheels that are mounted on the same axles found in a mining industry’s loader – 85,000-pound Clark axels.
The new Big Buds will have those mining industry truck components.
“The new Big Bud is going to have a Cat (Caterpillar) engine, Cat transmission, Cat axle, and we are going to use the heaviest axles used in the farm industry ever, including heavier than the 747. They are axles out of a 688K loader. Just the base unit will weigh between 170,000 and 200,000 pounds, so we’re using really heavy components,” Harmon explained.
Rome Industries wants to build Big Buds for the same reasons Harmon at Big Equipment does.
“Rome is involved for the same reasons I am involved – we’re going to finally go back and build an ag tractor with parts available worldwide, because if you take an 18-liter Cat engine today, there are a lot of suppliers that make parts for that 18-liter engine,” he said. “The control systems used by Caterpillar are accessible to everyone, not just the manufacturers and dealers like it is presently. Who else is doing that in the ag industry? Absolutely nobody.”
Harmon wants farmers to have tractors with the same type of powerful transmissions and other components that the mining industry uses in its big machinery. He had visited mines and learned the mining trucks might be decades old, but they were built with hardy components that kept the trucks running.
“When I built the 747 for a farmer in California, I used components that were brand new and never seen before in the ag industry,” he said. “But these components were already old hat in the mining industry.”
As a result, these new Big Buds will have sturdy components and a strong frame to last a long time.
“We’re using old technology in the mining industry, but it’s going to be brand new for the ag industry,” he said.
Harmon found the components he used in the Big Bud 747 from the components in the mining trucks.
“I’m going to buy a 16v92 engine and a twin 2610 transmission and 85,000-pound Clark axles because I don’t have to be a rocket scientist nor an engineer to know that they’re going to work just fine for many thousands of hours,” he said. “These were all the components that are in these mining trucks that keep lasting forever, so we’re going to take the same components and put them in a tractor and it’s going to last forever because all the components are readily rebuildable.”
Harmon also wants to spread the weight of the tractor, which can be upwards of 70,000 pounds, from the back to the front of the tractor, distributing it evenly. It works like an equalizer trailer hitch, and this will primarily be for scrapers and construction. Most tractors have the weight just in the back.
“It’s something that we’ve been aware of for a long time but have never really been put on a tractor. But we want to put it on our new Big Buds,” Harmon said.
The new Big Buds will have about 640-750 horsepower, but they can be custom built to any horsepower.
“In the future, we hope to have tracks or tires as an option,” he said.
Easy access to repair
Harmon believes that farmers should be able to repair their own tractors themselves and be able to access the tractor’s components easily to take to the repair shop if they need to.
“To get a transmission out or to work on a new tractor today, you really have to crane the cab away and you have to take the front end off to work on the tractor,” Harmon said. “You don’t have to do that on a Big Bud. The cab folds back.”
The Christmas Eve fire in 2017 did not keep Big Equipment Co. down. They knew they had to continue serving faithful customers, and they are still working hard for farmers.
When Harmon decided to go into the tractor business many years ago, he went over his philosophy about what he wanted to do for his customer/farmers.
“I remember how the tractors were built – they were built to be rebuildable, and they were built to last an awfully long time. So my thought was, ‘I want to go in the rebuild business of Big Buds.’ And I’ve been doing that ever since,” he said.
So now, Big Equipment Co. primarily rebuilds Big Buds.
“Sometimes we put different engines in. For the most part, we just rebuild what’s there, and we made that a fairly successful business over the many years,” he said.
Harmon became a Versatile dealer because they were the only ones left to build a standard component tractor.
“I think the end of the story is the beginning of a brand-new story here,” he said.
The story is Big Equipment Co. and Rome Industries will be fulfilling some farmers’ dreams. They will be building some very special Big Buds that will offer components that no other tractors do today, and they will last a long time.
With the new Big Bud tractors, farmers that need a heavy machine with strong mining industry components will be able to own one of the big white tractors for themselves.
And that is a “pretty big new story.”