Saturday, November 08, 2003

Sunbelt Expo plus rambling gripes

I was able to use a couple of my (few) remaining vacation days this year to go the Sunbelt Expo in Moultrie, Georgia. I've been wanting to go for a couple of years now, just to look at all new/neat/nifty stuff I can't afford. I spent a fair amount of time hanging around the antique tractors that were on display. I got to thinking (always a dangerous thing with me) whilst looking at all the new tractors...

I had a couple of semi-related thoughts that I have been pondering; the show just reinforced what I've been thinking for a while.

When they started having the show (sometime back in the early 80's) probably 70% of the tractors there were made in the United States. This year, I'd say it would be more like 5% or less where made here. Some of the John Deere machines and a few of the big Case/New Holland (200+ HP) were made here. Everything else is made overseas. I'm not knocking the tractors from across the pond, Deutz used to have some of the toughest machines ever made (they may still, I don't know anyone who has one of the new ones). Now, I realize a lot of this equipment is built overseas because of cost, but dammit some of the machines I looked at were $60k+ (this would come under the heading "stuff I can't afford") Why can't we build these machines here? I honestly believe that part of the reason that Deere is so popular is because they still build a lot of equipment here (I am not saying that's the only reason, it's just one of many)

I have had mixed feelings about Agco for a while (can't talk about 'em too much, I owe them money), but now I am not too pleased with them. It seems they've closed down the Massey Ferguson plant in Coventry and moved their tractor production to France. Now, I realize that I've been bellyaching about building tractors overseas, but Massey Ferguson has been building tractors there for nearly 50 years. Where did those jobs go? More importantly, where is all of that knowledge and Know-how going?

One of the Agco sales reps told me that Beauvais was a more modern facility, but dang... why France? I realize that they've built tractors there since the Massey-Harris days, but damn, they're building almost all of their machines there now, all three lines, Agco, Challenger and Massey Ferguson.

The other thing was the fact that most of the stuff you buy today is loaded down with electronic gizmos to the point you've got to be a rocket scientist to work on 'em. Everybody, even Deere*, is guilty of this.

Looking at all of the old tractors, some of which are close to 50 years old (or older) and realizing that nearly every one of them is still capable of doing field work. Maybe not as fast as new machine, but they can still do the work. How many of these late-model machines will still be running in 50 years?

The Adams roadgrader that we just dragged home is probably 40 years old. It was a state machine, it's probably had minimal maintenance it's entire life. It still runs. Almost all of the engine, transmission and drive train parts are off-the-shelf and can be got just about anywhere you can find truck parts. TC has a 230 Farmall, it's close to 50 years old. He uses it as much or more than his "modern" 3020 ('67 model).

If I had a dime for every 8n Ford, 35 Ferguson or Farmall that is still running in this county alone, I'd could probably pay off most of my mortgage. If we said North Georgia instead of Catoosa county, I could pay off my mortgage... and buy one of these fancy new-fangled machines to boot. Why can't we build equipment like that in the United States anymore?

Deutz-Fahr (Germany), Same (Italy) and Valmet (Finland) have the reputation of being tough and relaible. Can you compare them to the old Farmalls? I don't know if that's fair comparision or not, but I do know that somebody (besides JD) needs to look at bringing some of this manufacturing back home.

*Disclaimer, I don't have any Deere equipment, not so much from choice as lack of money.