Monday, July 26, 2021

Update on our tractor

Some time ago, a reader commented, "It's been quite a few years since you purchased your tractor. I was wondering if it was still a brand you would recommend."

She's referring to the long-awaited brand-new tractor we took possession of in January 2015.

This machine is a 35 HP 4-cylinder Nortrac 35XT from Northern Tool & Supply. It's a Chinese-made (though American assembled) tractor which, as you'll see, has both strengths and weaknesses.

Right now the tractor has about 400 hours of use on it, so it's still in the "we don't expect any major problems" stage of its life. It's not an exaggeration to say this machine has been a game-changer as far as our homesteading efforts. I'll leave you to speculate how difficult it is to get heavy work done around a farm without a force multiplier.

But tractors are expensive. We muscled through the first 12 years in Idaho without one, until it became absolutely necessary to either get a force-multiplier or stop trying to homestead. The tractor was one of only two things we ever borrowed money for (the other was building the barn).

Here are its strengths:

• It was inexpensive, relative to similar horsepower tractors with similar features. We paid $15,000, and that was at least $10,000 less than comparable models.

• It has a straightforward 8-speed shift. It is NOT a hydrostatic tractor, which means it's better for tough work like dragging a plow. Because it's a shift tractor, it means the driver has to come to a complete stop before shifting gears, but it also means it stays in that gear.

• It has decent hydraulics. The machine came with two additional hydraulic hookups on the back we've never used (designed for implements we don't own).

• It has very good fuel economy (diesel).

• It's fairly straightforward to work on, mechanically.

• It uses a minimum of different kinds of fluids. Transmission fluid and hydraulic fluid is the same, for example, so we don't have to purchase different fluids for each component.

• We requested "ag" tires for the tractor, and they're still doing great.

Here are its weaknesses:

• While the tractor came with an awning/roll bar, Don wishes it had an enclosed cab for winter use. It's possible to rig something up, so he may do that in the future.

• The tractor is something of a conglomeration put together on order from Northern Tool. We hypothesize they gave specs to their Chinese suppliers, and as a result it's kind of a mishmash of various non-standard features: an engine from one company, hydraulics from another company, transmission from a third company, etc. This means finding parts for our specific tractor can be problematic. It's not impossible, but you need to do a little detective work.

• The electrical system has been kind of wonky. Our tractor no longer has a horn, for example (not that we care) because water got into it and it wouldn't turn off ("hoooooooooonnnnnkkkkk"). Don had to clip the wires to shut it up. On the other hand, the headlights, tail lights, and turn signals all function perfectly.

• The tractor cannot do more than it's rated for. All tractors come with information specifying how much weight it can lift, drag, etc., and we learned the hard way not to exceed that.  If the load limit is X, then it's X. It's not Y or Z. We bent the rod on one of the hydraulic cylinders by trying to lift a 1200-lb. hay bale on pins that are only rated for 1000 lbs., for example. (The good news is it was a fairly easy and inexpensive replacement installation.)

• It's not as easy to hook up three-point implements as some of non-Chinese tractors. The implement has to line up very accurately to get it on.

I asked Don if he could start over, would he get the same tractor or something different (brand, upgrade, etc.)?

Putting aside the obvious answer that he would upgrade to a 45 or 50 HP model (anyone who ever buys a tractor always thinks they should have bought the higher horsepower model; this is known as "tractor envy"), he's pretty satisfied with the Nortrac. What he would be interested in is better hydraulics capable of lifting a bit more.

That said, for a general purpose tractor – and as long as he stays within the weight and load limits for its class – this machine has certainly served us well and never given us any major problems.

Don also adds a caution: the Nortrac 35XT we bought in 2015 may NOT be exactly the same machine as today's 35XT. It's just the nature of the beast to tweak and change things.

Here are the attachments we've accumulated over the years. Some were purchased new, but most were purchased second-hand:

• Rototiller


• Seed spreader

• Post-hole auger

• Cultivator

• Rock rake

• Subsoiler/powerline feeder

• Brush hog

• Bucket forks

[Don added the following sorta-rant: "There will always be someone who claims they would never buy a tractor (or car or lawnmower or whatever) made in China. That's certainly your right (for the moment anyway). But the major thing to keep in mind is this: There are very few smaller general-purpose tractors made in the USA. For those tractors that claim they are, many of their parts are not. When (if) America can produce a dependable 35 or 45 horsepower tractor that isn't nearly twice the cost of its foreign competitors, I'll be glad to take a look. (And check the bottom of your household appliances. Bet you'll find a lot of "Made in China" stickers.) Sorta-rant done."]

Hopefully this will help others decide if a Nortrac tractor is for them.


  1. I'm glad to see that you have added that review. Our Kubota, that was used daily in construction for @30 years, is barely limping along. I don't know how much longer it can last.

    We're definitely in need of a labor multiplier, but can't afford a new Kubota. Glad to read that it is easy to repair, although it takes detective work.

  2. Hello from AZ,
    We had tractors for 25 years in Scottsdale for tasks around the barn and tilling the arena (arena vator).
    New Holland TC 30 with hydrastatic and 5 ft. bucket. Hat to put a couple of batteiers in it and a water pump after 11 years.
    Our purchase priority was:
    1) Dealer support (New Holland, Kubota, John Deere, Case,)
    2) Consumer Reports ratings
    3) Wife loved the Hydrostatic. (She test drove one with a clutch and was not impressed with all the starting/stopping/shifting.) Also, Hydrostatic does have a clutch for use when when large/heavy pulling is needed.

  3. Rancho Whybother only comprises an acre, but he benefits of a tractor are not lost on me. I own a John Deere 2210 subcompact, 4WD, hydrostatic, diesel. The older I get, the more I love my tractor! I spun the wheel and bought it from Offerup. The front driveshaft had broken, probably because someone had used it in 4WD on pavement. It was also being sold for over $5K less than it was worth. Since purchasing and replacing the driveshaft I've had absolutely no issues with the machine.

    As for Chinese, you'd be surprised at how Chinese some of your American and Japanese-labeled equipment is. The issue to be concerned with is parts support. John Deere may have some Chinese components, but their parts support is good. That's what to look for.

    I nave yet to regret laying out the money for that tractor. My aging carcass thanks me every time I use it!

  4. I purchased a Mahindra 12 years ago. It only has about 400 hr's on it but so far so good. I have gotten to the place where I can no longer even change the oil. Do not know how long I will be able to brush hog the place.

  5. Thanks for your review. It's good to see followup on how a big investment is working out.

  6. Regarding the Chinese made theme, I've researched generators fairly hard and found that virtually all generators are made in Chinklandistan. Mfgs call them made in the USA but when getting right down to it they are "engineered" in the USA, but built in chinklandistan. The lower end tractors are the same with parts sourced form many different mfgs.
    This is one truth I have found to be infallible throughout all my years of operating and being around, working on equipment of all sorts. ALWAYS go bigger unless it physically will not fit the space requirements. You cannot accomplish a task if you do not have the ability to do it. Physics rule and it's a physics driven world.
    IE: If you need 130 HP and only have 100 HP, well so much for your accomplishment. You can't use it if you don't got it.

  7. I have been using various tractors for many years on my little farm for all kinds of projects. Many would not have been done without the tractor. Current one is 44hp Kubota. Best implement I ever bought is the grapple for lifting small logs and other awkward things. I have been surprised how useful this item has been. It cost less than $1000 and worth every penny.