Versatile has come a long way — in price and size

Sometime around 1941, the Moore & Townsend partnership (my father and my uncle) bought a used Farmall F-30 tractor to replace an old McCormick-Deering 10-20. That F-30, with a 3-bottom John Deere plow, was a big tractor in our part of western Beaver County, Pa.

Well, I was at the Canfield Fair recently and Witmer’s Equipment had a giant Versatile on their stand that would make that “big” F-30 look like a pedal tractor.

Peter Pakosh was born in 1911 in southeastern Saskatchewan, Canada, and grew up on the family farm. He went to an engineering school in Winnipeg, before starting work as a draftsman, at Massey-Harris in Toronto, in the 1940s.

Innovative

He was full of ideas for a new grain conveyor, and asked to be transferred to the design department but was rebuffed. So, the young man built the augur-type conveyor, first of its kind (prior to this, grain conveyors all used paddles or flights on chains or belts), in the basement of his home.

Canadian farmers liked the grain augur and soon a field sprayer was added to the Versatile line. Pakosh and his brother-in-law Roy Robinson started the Hydraulic Engineering Company, in Winnepeg, and in 1954 a self-propelled swather was introduced that was popular with grain farmers in the northwest.

The company was renamed Versatile Mfg. Co. in 1963, and in 1966 the first Versatile 4-wheel drive tractors, the D-100 with a Ford 6-cylinder 363 CID engine, and the G-100 powered by a Chrysler 318 CID V-8 engine.

The tractors used heavy duty axles and 12-speed transmissions and featured articulated hydraulic steering and hydraulic brakes. Both models cost less than $10,000 and sold well, due to Peter Pakosh’s insistence on building simple, basic machines that did the job at a reasonable price.

Deere, Case and IH were all offering 4-wheel drive, but production costs were high and farmers flocked to the more inexpensive Versatile.

Touted as a “four-wheel drive tractor at a two-wheel drive price,” the Versatile’s high speed and extra pulling power allowed farmers to work more acreage in less time, and in just a year or two Versatile was outselling any of the its 4-wheel drive tractor competitors.

Versatile kept ahead of the market for the next 10 years with bigger and more powerful tractors, while experimenting with new designs. One of these was dubbed “Big Roy, the World’s Largest Tractor.”

Built in 1977, the Versatile 1080 had a 600 HP, rear mounted Cummins engine, four axles giving it 8-wheel drive, and weighed more than 28 tons when the 550-gallon fuel tank was filled.

The center mounted cab gave poor visibility, especially to the rear, so a closed circuit TV camera gave the driver a view of the drawbar, pretty heady stuff in 1977.

Too big

Only the prototype was built and it now resides in the Manitoba Ag Museum; the thing was just too big and too expensive to go into production.

Also in 1977, Versatile came out with the Model 150 “push-pull” tractor that had a loader mounted on the rear and the ability to swivel the operator’s position in the cab to see in either direction. This concept was later produced as the New-Holland TV140 when Ford owned the company.

Pakosh and Robinson sold the company and retired in the late ‘70s and it went through a series of owners: Cornat Industries, a Canadian firm first; then in 1987 Ford New Holland bought it. Fiat acquired Ford New Holland in 1993, but when Case and Ford New Holland merged in 1999, the U.S. government demanded that CNH divest itself of Versatile.

In 2000, this resulted in its purchase by Buhler Industries, of Winnipeg, who formed a subsidiary called Buhler Versatile Inc., who make today’s Versatile tractors.

Current day

The Versatile 550 that Witmer’s brought to the fair is powered by a QSX15 Cummins 6-cylinder engine that displaces 15 liters and puts out 550 HP through a Caterpillar Powershift 16X4 transmission with speeds from 2 to 25MPH.

The thing weighs 53,855 pounds, holds 400 gallons of fuel (that’s about $1,200 per fill up, folks), is 18 feet wide and appears to be at least that high to the top of the cab.

This tractor is for big equipment — the drawbar pin is two inches in diameter — and there are more remote hydraulic outlets on the back than you can shake a stick at.

Of course the driver is housed in what is said to be the largest cab in the industry, with front and rear windshield washer/wipers and sun visors, four cup holders, and an air-ride seat that swivels 104 degrees for ease in looking at trailed implements.

There’s a tilt steering wheel, a stereo sound system, large multi-directional vents, and coat hooks to keep the cab neat and organized. There’s a place to put your laptop along with a 110 volt electrical outlet and a USB port to plug it into. And, just think of it — all this power, luxury and convenience can be yours for only $308,000!

Versatile makes conventional tractors with front wheel assist in sizes from 190 to 310 HP, as well as the 4-wheel drive articulated models from 305 to 575 HP.

In addition, the 450 and 550 articulated tractors are available with rubber tracks in place of wheels.

Besides tractors, Versatile makes self-propelled sprayers, a rotary combine, air drills and associated carts, discs and chisel plows, and precision ag systems.

Versatile has come a long way from building grain augurs in the basement of the owner’s house. One thing that occurred to me when I was looking at the Versatile 550 at the fair: I wonder how many gallons of Armor All Witmer’s used to get the shine on all eight of those huge tires?

About the Author

Sam Moore grew up on a family farm in Western Pennsylvania during the late 1930s and the 1940s. Although he left the farm in 1953, it never left him. He now lives near Salem, where he tinkers with a few old tractors, collects old farm literature, and writes about old machinery, farming practices and personal experiences for Farm and Dairy, as well as Farm Collector and Rural Heritage magazines. He has published one book about farm machinery, titled Implements for Farming with Horses and Mules. More Stories by Sam Moore

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