Two-wheel tractor, walking tractor or power tiller are generic terms understood in the USA and in parts of Europe as a rotary tiller or power tiller that may be wheeled and/or self-propelled but normally is not.
Confusion over definition
"Power tiller" can be understood as a garden tiller / rototiller of the small horse power (3-7 HP) petrol/gasoline powered, hobby gardener variety. A rotary tiller is technically an attachment to a tractor. Alternatively the terms power tiller or rotary tiller in Asia and elsewhere are always understood to be rubber or iron wheeled, self-propelled machines of 5-18 HP and usually powered by heavy duty single cylinder diesel engines (many Asian countries historically have had a high luxury tax on petrol/gasoline). Many Westerners do not realize the importance that large horsepower 2-wheel farm tractors played in their own nations' agriculture mechanization process. They simply categorize two-wheel tractors as lawn and garden equipment, although they are still in wide use as farm and orchard tractors in southern and eastern Europe.
Adding to the nomenclature confusion, agricultural engineers like to classify them as single axle tractors. These traditional or technical names are confusing, technically inaccurate and unwieldy. Therefore, the remaining part of the article will refer to the self-propelled, single axle, power tillers as two-wheel tractors.
For production agriculture, past and present, two-wheel tractors are offered with wide range attachments such as rotovators, moldboard, disc-plow and spike-tooth harrows, seeders, transplanters, and planters. Even zero till/no-till planters and seeders have become available. In plant protection two-wheel tractor attachments consist of various inter-cultivators and sprayers. For harvesting mowers, reaper/grain harvesters, reaper-binders, and even combine harvesters are available for them. For transport, trailers with capacities from 0.5 to 2 plus ton cargoes are available. All the chores done by larger 4-wheel tractors. This confusion or misunderstanding runs deep even at research and institutional levels. The United Nation's Food and Agriculture Organization's own statistical database, FAO Stat gauges levels of mechanization by numbers of 4-wheel tractors and ignores completely the fact that 2-wheel tractors perform exactly the same work that 4-wheeler tractors do. By using FAO's statistics, international donors and agricultural research and development centers assume that since Bangladesh and Sri Lanka have very few 4-wheel tractors, that they are completely unmechanized, as compared to India, who besides having 100,000 two wheel tractors also has a large population of 4-wheel tractors. Yet, when two-wheel tractors are included, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka are the most highly mechanized countries in south Asia, in terms of area under mechanized tillage operations.
Early history of two-wheel tractors in the west
In 1910 Dr. Konrad von Meyenburg of Basel, Switzerland, applied for a patent for a "Machine for Mechanical Tillage" Patent Number 1,018,843 was granted on February 27, 1912. He then licensed his patent to Siemens-Schuckertwerke
of Berlin, Germany. Siemens an electrical manufacturer built their first two-wheel tractor with rotovator boden frasen
(rotovator or literally soil grinder) using an electric motorized two-wheel tractor and a long extension cord in 1911. The idea was quickly abandoned and Siemens began using two and four cycle single cylinder engines to power their two-wheel tractors. Around 1932 Siemens sold off its cultivator division and focus on its electrical applications. Mr. Eberhard Bungartz
of Munich, Germany a trailer manufacturer purchased the division in 1934 with all patents, parts, and machinery and went into production using the Bungartz
Mando "Steve" Ariens, having just taken over the reins of his fathers' Brillion Iron Co had to declare bankruptcy in 1932 at the height of the American Depression. In 1933, in his father Henry's garage and Steve's basement he and his father developed first Ariens Rotary Tiller, a 30" tiller, powered by a front-mounted four-cylinder, V-type, 14 hp engine .
In 1930 Cadwallader Washburn "Carl" Kelsey an automobile manufacturer, was introduced to the rototiller by H.B. Hiller an German immigrate who once worked for worked for Siemens' "boden frasen" division. Kelsey opened a sales office using the name Rototiller Co. on Broadway in New York City. He then started importing Siemens boden frasen from Germany. In 1932, Kelsey incorporated using the new company name Rototiller, Inc. and the "Rototiller" trademark (Kelsey didn't coin the name 'Rototiller' it was already being used in Europe). The operation was moved to Long Island City, NY. and SIMAR from Switzerland was added to the line. Carl Kelsey designed, patented and made several improvements to the SIMAR and Siemens machines because of the different American soils versus the European soil that had been farmed for many more centuries. One major improvement was a shock absorber to reduce tine spring return bounce. In 1934 Kelsey and Rototiller, Inc. introduced its first rotary tiller of its own design, the Model AA All-American. And in 1937 Rototiller, Inc. moved from its Long Island City facility to 102nd Street and 9th Avenue in Troy, New York. In 1945 after selling the larger B-series Rototillers and trademark to Graham-Paige Motors, Rototiller, Inc. converted to full time production of various models of small horsepower home garden size rototillers. In quick succession in 1959 and 1960, Rototiller, traded hands from Porter Cable Company of Syracuse, N.Y. (and was eventually moved to Syracuse) and then by Rockwell Manufacturing Co. of Pittsburgh in 1960. The rear-tine rototiller business continued to decline and Porter-Cable sold its Rototiller and small engine division to Moto-Mower Division (Richmond, Indiana) of the Dura Corp. of Detroit (formerly Detroit Harvester) according to a May 10, 1962 article in the Richmond Palladium-Item & Sun-Telegram. In 1961 Rototiller, Inc. and the Roto-Ette trademark disappeared.
As early as 1911 Benjamin Franklin Gravely of Charleston West Virginia began with connecting the Indian motorcycle to a manually operated push plow. In 1916 he incorporated and after obtaining partners and began producing single-wheel tractors and attachments under the name Gravely Tractors. The Model "D" Gravely Power plow like the prototype, was a single wheeled affair, with a 2 horse power, air cooled engine. It wasn't until 1937 that Gravely introduced the Model L two wheeled tractor with a 5 horse power engine. Gravely to this day continues making a wide range of two-wheel tractors concentrating on commercial lawn and garden implements and is a division of Ariens.
In 1915, Rush Hamilton of Healdsville, California, invented the concept of “grouser” drive wheels for his tractor which came with an articulated two iron-wheeled sulky to which wagons or plows could be attached. It was about this time that he formed the Hamilton Tractor Co. About 10 years later, the wheels were called “Hamilton wheels” when used on a Fordson. In 1916 he joined the Fageol Motors Co. where he assisted in the development of the Fageol tractor.
Early history of two-wheel tractors in Asia
Japanese entrepreneurs began to indigenously design and manufactured two-wheel tractors in the early 1920s. According to Francks (1996) an Okayama farmer Nishizaki Hiroshi (b. 1897) was returning from the WWI determined not to walk behind his father's draft animals and began experimenting with attaching a plow to the newly available small horsepower kerosene engines that farmers were beginning to use for pumping water and threshing. Nishazaki saw a Swiss made garden tractor (? SIMAR
?- Société Industrielle de Machines Agicoles Rotatives ) being demonstrated through a Japanese government technology demonstration initiative in a nearby village (The Japanese agent of the Swiss machine company stopped importing by 1925 as the machine reportedly proved not capable of handling Japanese heavy rice soils). By 1926 Nishizaki had made his first version from diesel powered engine connected by a belt to rotating blades mounted on a wooden frame with two wheels. Soon he began renting it out to neighbors. And as with all good ideas soon local multiple small workshops entered the scene producing various versions. By 1938 there were 22 manufacturers in Japan with 17 of them in Okayama. By 1939 there were over 2800 two-wheel tractors/rotovators in use in Japan. But by the early 1940s nearly half of all the machines were out of commission due to lack of quality and spare parts.
After WWII small 2-wheel tractors were imported from the United States and were mainly intended for use in transportation/pulling carts and small trailers. As these gained popularity many Japanese manufacturers "...taking hints gleaned from foreign machines..." started production using the American as their initial model (Francks 1996: 789).
Farmers quickly found that 2-wheel tractors were more economical to use, as compared to keeping animals for tillage and 2-wheel tractors began selling widely. Agricultural machinery dealers received cattle for the barter for tractors and they and in turn sold the cattle in the meat market. Average tractor horsepower per hectare in 1950 was nearly zero. This average grew to 0.86 PS per hectare within ten years with the rapid spread of 2-wheel tractors. Trailer attachments were also being widely utilized for transportation.
Matsuyamasuki, presently known as Niplo brand, invented the Japanese style mold board plow to be attached to 2-wheel tractor, that made plowing with a moldbard possible with 2.5 horsepower tractors.
Though four-wheel "riding" tractors began to spread in 1960s, and are taking over primary tillage operations, 2-wheel tractors are still popular in Japan for primary tillage and inter-cultivation in vegetable production, transportation around the farm, etc. Most farm households that own a 4-wheel tractor also own at least one 2-wheel tractor.
Interest in two-wheel tractors in India began with special government programs in the 1960s that aided in setting up multiple joint ventures with Japanese two-wheel tractor manufacturers. Initial government prospects for two-wheel tractors was very high (targets were set at 100,000 two-wheel tractors sold per year by mid-1970s). To meet these expectations the Government of India expanded its efforts to include government subsidies, and greatly increased research, development and extension programs for two-wheel tractors. Despite these efforts two-wheel tractor adoption has been disappointing. Especially so when current number of two-wheel tractors estimated at 100,000 are compared with neighboring Sri Lanka's and Bangladesh's two-wheel tractor populations of 120,000 and 400,000 respectively- countries that are a fraction the size of India but with very similar agricultural and socio-economic systems. There have been many reasons offered and even official investigations into the low adoption rates. One main reason given here is that prices of the joint venture Indian-Japanese two-wheel tractors are twice as expensive as compared to the nearly identical Chinese made two-wheel tractors available in Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.
Indian manufactures that did not survive are:
JK Satoh Agricultural Machinery Ltd. a collaboration between JK Cotton Spinning and Weaving Mills Ltd (based in Kanpur, UP) and Satoh Agricultural Machinery Ltd., Japan, began production of two-wheel tractors in a plant with a capacity of 6000 units per year but from its beginning in 1972 till closure of the plant in 1977 only produced and sold 800 units.
History of two-wheel tractors began with efforts in the late 1970s to promote Japanese imported two-wheel tractors. Adoption remained low through most of the 1980s. In 1987 a large cyclone killed much of the livestock and bullock population. With no prospect timely restoration the bullock population the government began to allow what they once considered inferior quality Chinese two-wheel tractors to be imported to aid in fulfilling farmers land preparation needs. Chinese two-wheel tractors were 50% less cost than the comparable Japanese or Indian manufactured two-wheel tractors and adoption quickly increased, to over 100,000 by 1993, 200,000 by late 1990s and some current estimates put the number at well over 300,000 Chinese two-wheel tractors. Though there has been some criticism on the high cost of imports, others have noted that there is now a very large spare parts industry in support of the Chinese imports.
China has the highest numbers that are estimated to approach 10 M, Thailand has nearly 3 M, Sri Lanka 120,000, Nepal 7,000. Parts of Africa have begun importing Chinese tractors and Nigeria may have close to 1,000. Southern Germany, northern and southern Italy, and many countries of central Europe also have significant populations of 2-wheel tractors.
Current two-wheel tractor manufacturers in Asia
Changzhou Dongfeng Agricultural Machinery Group Co.
Located in Changzhou, Jiangsu Provence near Shanghai Changzhou Dongfeng Agricultural Machinery Group Co. claims to be the only manufacturer in China that owns the Dong Feng brand name. Manufacturing more than 150,000 two-wheel tractors a year in 8, 12, 14 and 15 HP ranges, it has recently expanded into the 4-wheel tractor market manufacturing over 30,000 tractors in the 20-90 HP range, under the brand name CHANGTUO.
Kerala Agricultural Machinery Corporation (KAMCO)
Located in Kerala in southern India, KAMCO in cooperation with Kubota, Japan, manufacturers 12 HP two-wheel tractor with a range of attachments, a two-wheel tractor walk behind 3.5 HP 120 centimeter reaper and a small 5 HP It currently sells nearly 6500 of its 2-wheel tractors per year.
The Siam Kubota Industry Co.,Ltd.
Located in Bangkok, Thailand, Siam Kubota Industry Co.,Ltd. is a joint venture between The Siam Cement Pcl., Kubota Corporation, Marubeni Corporation, and Min Sen Machinery Co.,Ltd. than began operations in 1978 They make a range of havesters, 4-wheel tractors and 2-wheel tractors. They offer four models of walk behind (with out sulky seat) and with single and double (steering) clutches.
VST Tiller Tractors Ltd.
Located in Bangalore, VST Tiller Tractors Ltd, part of the VST Group in 1965, in association and joint venture with the Mitsubishi Group, Japan, began production production of single cylinder diesel engines and two-wheel tractors. Currently they offer three versions of its VST Shakti brand two-wheel tractors with rotary tillers. The 13 HP VST Shakti 130DI /CT85, the 9 HP Mitsubishi Shakti VWH 120/ CT85, and 8 HP Mitsubishi Shakti AD 8V /CT85. In 2003 they also began importing Siafeng type 2-wheel tractors from China and marketing them under their Shakti Brand.
Current two-wheel tractor manufacturers in the west
Mayfield pedestrian tractors appeared on the market sometime about 1949 and were principally designed as a grass cutter in much the same vein as the Allen Scythe. Subsequently a comprehensive range of attachments were available to turn the tractor into a useful tool for the smallholder and market gardener. Assembly was carried out at the Balfour works of S R Wood & Co in Croydon but latterly moved to a site in Redhill, Surrey.
Established in 1916, Gravely Tractors began production of two-wheel tractor with moldboard plows costing approximately 170 USD and slowly grew to become one of the most recognized commercial lawn and garden manufacturers in the US. In 1986 Gravely became a wholly owned subsidiary of the Ariens Company
- Francks, Penelope. “Mechanizing Small-Scale Rice Cultivation in an Industrializing Economy: The Development of the Power-Tiller in Prewar Japan." World Development, 1996. Vol. 24, No. 4, pp.781 - 796.