Two-Wheel Tractor Essentials (Book Excerpt)

Small but mighty, two-wheel tractors work great for gardeners, homesteaders, landscapers and farmers. In this excerpt, author Zach Loeks digs in.

by Zach Loeks
PHOTO: images courtesy of New Society Publishers

Reprinted with permission from The Two-Wheel Tractor: Small-Scale Equipment and Innovative Techniques for Boosting Productivity (New Society Publishers, April 2023) by Zach Loeks.

two-wheel tractor tractors

This tractor goes by many names: “two-wheel,” “single-axle” and “walk-behind,” all of which highlight its small-scale nature. But the word “tractor” defines its multifunctional use and sets it apart from the plethora of lookalike single-purpose power equipment. It has one system (engine, transmission, wheels, PTO) powering multiple interchangeable implements. It can do the work of a shed-full of power equipment, with only a single system to maintain.  

A tractor can be simply defined as a land-management machine that has a universal hitch and PTO so it can operate various implements to perform different jobs—from mowing to tilling and snow blowing to hay baling. A PTO (power take-off) is an efficient mechanical part that carries the energy transferred along the drive train from the engine and applies it to any number of implements that have no power of their own. 

Innovated in the first half of the 20th century, the PTO revolutionized farming by allowing a wide range of implements to be developed, all of which are engaged by the mighty power of an engine rather than relying on being ground-driven or pulled through the soil. Ground-driven implements (such as a plow) have no moving parts, whereas a PTO-powered implement (such as a rototiller that has moving tines) is powered by the PTO connection to a tractor’s engine. Many two-wheel tractors have PTOs, and all have hitches for multiple implements. 

two-wheel tractor tractors

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Types of Two-Wheel Tractors

There are a few variations of two-wheel tractors to consider. These can generally be placed into two categories: multifunctional (with PTO) and row crop (primarily for cultivation). Smaller models were popular in the 20th century, and they’re returning for special applications. 

Note: Unless otherwise specified as a four-wheel tractor, all tractors—both multifunctional and row crop—discussed here are the two-wheel type. For the scope of this excerpt, we’ll concentrate on the multifunctional variety. 

Multifunctional with PTO 

Multifunctional two-wheel tractors (referred to here as M2w tractors) are the most popular type of two-wheel tractor, with applications across many industries: farming, landscaping, property maintenance, forestry, orcharding and market gardening. M2w tractors can be used with multiple implements, including PTO-powered types. 

The innovation of rotating handlebars is a key multifunctional trait of M2w tractors because they provide a typical rear-mount mode for pull-type implements, as well as an alternate front-mount mode for push-type implements. Some of these implements are PTO-powered and others are non-PTO implements. 

Note: You should never try to push or pull a tractor. The engine, wheels and proper use of weights do this work for you! 

M2w Tractor Features 
  1. This tractor has many uses for different projects since it is not limited to light-duty jobs, and it has many equipment options. 
  2. Implement-type versatility includes the ability to use both PTO-powered and non-PTO implements. 
  3. Lower clearance is less desirable for cultivation, yet better suited for earthworks and mowing-type jobs because of a lower center of gravity. 
  4. Higher hp engine (usually between 8 and 13 horsepower) provides the necessary power for the diversity of tasks. 
  5. More transmission/clutch options include mechanical or hydro-mechanical, clutches and all-gear, or hydrostatic, transmissions. 
  6. Adjustable and rotating handlebars have antivibration mountings and improve ergonomics; operator height adjustments for operators and the offset handlebars improve operation in unique situations, like raised bed management. 
  7. Rear- and front-mount modes improve equipment options, transport, and general operation. 

Read more: Two-wheel tractors are ideal tools for community gardens!

Two-Wheel Tractor Benefits

Two-wheel tractors are great small-scale equipment, making land management a breeze. They are suitable for many enterprises that need affordable, maneuverable, multi­functional equipment. 

  1. Multifunctional: Two-wheel tractors have only one engine, yet multiple implements can be used—opening up opportunities for many enterprises. 
  2. Easily learned: These tractors have a simple but effective design. They have a short learning curve compared to larger equipment. 
  3. Task-appropriate power: Most two-wheel models have between 4 and 13 horsepower, but some can be found as low at 1 12 horsepower and some upward of 16 horsepower. This is a practical power range for many small-scale jobs that are often done with overkill engines in landscaping and farming. 
  4. Budget-friendly: A grower can pick up a tractor and all needed equipment on a modest start-up budget. Two-wheel tractors start at around $2,500, whereas a compact four-wheel tractor costs between $13,000 and $16,000. Implements cost between $500 to $3,000, compared to $5,000 to $15,000 for four-wheel tractors. 
  5. Seasonal implements: The two-wheel tractor performs (with the correct equipment) spring, summer, fall and winter tasks. 
  6. Equipment options: Equipment comes in different widths to match the scale of your operation and with different accessories that can be customized to your terrain and tasks. Different equipment versions suit different needs and budgets. For example, there are more than three types of plows; each has its own merits. 
  7. Low Impact: Two-wheel tractors cause far less compaction on your soil and use less fuel—while still doing a job right. 
  8. Low maintenance: Two-wheel tractor maintenance is straightforward. Components are easily visible and accessible, and there is no need for specialized tools beyond those found in a typical home garage. 
  9. Maneuverable & easily controlled: These tractors are maneuverable, well-balanced, small and have a tight turn radius. This is ideal for negotiating sloped land, garden headlands and greenhouses. There are two main types of two-wheel tractors, and both are very maneuverable. The first type, the row crop tractor provides excellent cultivation and seeding control with its great hitch design, while the most popular type, the multipurpose tractor, has a drive system that is perfect for maneuvering with loaded carts, mowing, and heavy soil working. 
  10. Easy storage & transport: These machines are easy to store. With foldable handlebars and a compact size, they can be loaded in the back of a pick-up truck or on a small trailer. 
  11. Safe handling: Their scale and features make them safe for operators at all levels of experience (with proper training, of course).

This excerpt originally appeared in the March/April 2023 issue of Hobby Farms magazine.

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