Another Geek Gadget Review

I spent some time last weekend playing with another techno-toy. Like the iPod, I’ve had the latest toy for a while, but had to get some accessories before I could use it enough to say much about it. Unlike the iPod, it’s not exactly pocket size.

The latest toy is a Ford 6610 tractor. It’s a little bigger than I need, but the lure of the front-end loader proved irresistible. “New” is a relative term. It’s new to me, and, at about 20 years old, it’s still young in tractor years. In fact, the ~40-year-old David Brown 990 it replaced still had some life. I was just tired of tolerating some quirks, like bad brakes and hydraulics, that weren’t easily fixable for a reasonable price. The braking issue, combined with a light front end, frequently made steering out of predicaments a little problematic, and more than once contributed to sinking to the axles in mud. And trying to find parts for an obsolete British model that never was very popular is a pain. Around here, tractors are blue (Ford/New Holland) or green (John Deere), and while some of the less popular models may be just as good, it’s a lot easier to find dealers stocking blue or green parts.

Tractors tend to last forever, and hold their value almost as long. That means anybody whose budget demands a used tractor is probably going to be looking at double-digit age before the price starts to look like a used price. After looking at a recent issue of Fastline to get a rough idea of what I was going to have to pay, I set some parameters and started looking.

Not being a mechanical genius, I decided to pay a dealer’s markup to get one that had been recently serviced, rather than paying less to an individual and risking a mechanical headache. I called around looking for something in the same horsepower range as my 990, because it was pretty close to what I needed. Two dealers each had something a little bigger than what I was looking for, which was better than too small. One was green, and the other was red (Massey-Ferguson).

Fondly remembering my summers in Canada on larger Masseys, and still lamenting the loss of my MF ball cap, I decided to check out the Massey first, ignoring my brother’s warning that Masseys had a reputation for bad hydraulics. They couldn’t be as bad as the poorly-designed David Brown system that had never worked properly. Besides, it had a loader, which I could do without, but sure wouldn’t mind having.

Maybe my brother was right. I started the Massey, eased the lift control lever down, and watched as the hitch arms remained motionless. I looked at the salesman, who hastened to assure me that it really worked, there was just a trick to it, and started to talk about draft control vs. position control and how I needed to adjust both levers. I said “Okay, show me”. He kept insisting that it would work, and I kept insisting that I wasn’t going to buy the tractor until I saw it work. So finally he asked somebody else what the “trick” was, and after they both messed with it for a while, they pulled it into the shop and started beating on the transmission with a hammer and block of wood. I decided that if that was the “trick”, I wasn’t interested. If I wanted something I had to beat on, I’d get a mule.

On my way out of the parking lot to go look at the green option, I remembered there was another dealer nearby that I hadn’t called. I decided to wander in there and see what they had. At first, the salesman couldn’t think of anything he had that would fit. He had a cute little New Holland compact, but he didn’t think it would handle my mower very well. He said it might work, if I didn’t have any hills, but it really would be better with a smaller mower. I wasn’t looking to downsize.

Then he asked if I needed a loader, and I replied that it wasn’t essential but I wouldn’t mind having one. So he showed me the Ford, bigger than anything I’d considered, but you can never have too much tractor. The price was reasonable, so I took it.

Believe it or not, the missing accessory that kept me from getting much use out of it at first wasn’t a beer holder; that was already installed. I just needed a pair of stabilizer bars for the 3-point hitch-mounted mower. The amount of time and money I spent finding and buying a pair of metal bars with holes drilled in them was ridiculous (I could have bought another iPod instead), but I had to have them. They wouldn’t be essential for flat ground, but I’ve got some slopesto mow, and I like to keep the mower centered behind the tractor instead of swinging downhill.

After lots of telephone calls, and internet searching, and consultation with mechanics, and getting the wrong parts, and more consultation, I finally ended up with what I needed. Ironically, the local blue dealer, where I had to buy the parts, was the one who tried to sell me the defective Massey. The dealer who sold me the tractor was a green dealer who had taken the Ford as a trade-in, but didn’t handle parts for it.

So after finally getting the mower hooked up and stabilized, I started attacking weeds. It didn’t take long to find out that having more power than one needs requires one to use the force wisely. In just a couple of hours, I managed to destroy a shear pin in the mower driveline that had withstood eight years of abuse with the old tractor. Previously, if I hit something I shouldn’t, the tractor would bog down. Instead, the Ford neatly sheared a half-inch grade-5 bolt without even breathing hard, leaving me suddenly wondering why the grass didn’t seem to be getting any shorter. After finally realizing the problem, I figured it probably won’t be the last time that happens, and picked up a supply of replacement bolts.

Another minor exception to the “bigger is always better” rule is that the taller exhaust stack has a problem with some low-hanging branches. Since I don’t want to buy mufflers in quantity like the shear bolts, I think I need to do some judicious pruning before next mowing season.

As mowing season is just about over, I’ll have to find some other excuses to play with it this fall/winter. The loader is handy for turning my compost pile; it could also be good for clearing snow if we ever get any.

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