Rear-wheel drive | A more economical way to push power to the ground?
Who says tractors absolutely need centre articulated 4 x 4 to handle big power?
It probably wasn’t Greg Honey of Honey Bee Manufacturing.
In fact, Honey would more than likely explain that the basic old design of the conventional two wheel drive tractor can safely and economically pump 500 or more horsepower to the ground.
It would require a lot of tire at the back, but Honey and his brother, Glen, have already built and operated such a tractor on their farm near Frontier, Sask., so he knows it’s possible.
Most farmers assumed the era of two-wheel drive tractors died when Case and John Deere ceased production of their last 200 h.p. tractors in the early 1980s.
Centre articulated 4 x 4 had already been around for nearly two decades, and nearly everyone was convinced this was the only way to go in the evolution of farm tractors. As well, a lot of producers were growing nervous about putting 200 or more h.p. through only the rear tires.
The Honeys saw the handwriting on the wall for two-wheel drive tractors in 1979, but they weren’t convinced that they needed front-drive tires to help pull cultivators over their half and half summerfallow land. As well, the latest 4 x 4 tractors were becoming too pricey for their budget.
That’s when they decided to build their own conventional two-wheel drive tractors, although with 500 h.p. in mind, they did step somewhat outside of conventional thinking.
Honey Bee 1 was completed and in the field in 1979 for about $40,000. The price included the 800 h.p. VTA1710 Cummins engine, tuned down to 500 h.p. with smaller injectors.
Honey Bee 2 was in the field by 1980, also with a price tag of about $40,000. It was powered by a KTA 1100 Cummins, set at 450 h.p., which was replaced by a 425 h.p. 3406B Cat engine 10 years later.
“They were very easy to drive. The handling was excellent. We didn’t even need the wheel brakes for turning,” Honey said.
“We built the frames ourselves with basic shop tools. Most of the components were off the shelf, except for buying new transmissions. Later we found some new rear axles, so we bought those and installed them.”
Glen’s son, Corbin, started summerfallowing with the tractors when he was eight years old, according to his post on Combine Forum. He said the family put 8,000 hours on each tractor before they were retired.
“Still the nicest tractors I have driven. They ride really well, shape of the cab keeps the sun out, the seats swivel both ways a lot, hydraulically controlled drawbar,” he wrote.
“Dad and Uncle Greg had hardly any tools to work with. They built their own band saw and hydraulic press for bending steel. My Grandma Helen painted the bee and the words Honey Bee onto the sides by hand.”
Greg Honey is coy about the future for simple, high-powered two-wheel drive tractors.
“I guess I wouldn’t rule it out,” he said. “The biggest limitation we had back then was no ag tires big enough to handle the power and weight. They’ve got some big ag tires available, but now there’s Tier 4 emissions and safety criteria to meet. My brother is talking about re-furbishing one of these, putting in a new axle and putting it back to work.”
One of the big tractors is already stripped down, sandblasted and ready for paint.
“We had one of the tractors at Farm Progress in 1980. I’d like to bring it back there again. But now it’s an antique instead of a new invention,” he said.
“Yes, I think you can build one economically today. It’s just dead simple, really.”
For anyone thinking about buying the original tractors, the answer is no.
“Honey Bee 1 and 2 are not for sale.”