December 27, 2009
Update, 29 January, 2014:
Duck Dynasty t-shirts are turning up all over the place as the popular reality show gradually colonizes the culture. But I’m just sitting back counting my money as I wait for the collectors to come calling, for I own the exact model of TAFE Tractor that Phil Robertson uses on his property. His machine is missing its battery cover, but apart from that it’s a 1995 35DI, same as mine. Redneck status! I plow my snow with a Phil Robertson Special!
Today I noticed a Google question about the operation of a TAFE lift which was directed to this article, which would have been of no help. If you have a specific question about the TAFE 351’s operation, contact me at rodcros at gmail.com.
The lift’s learning curve is quite steep, but it works well, once mastered. Contrary to the manual’s instructions, for example, the forward setting for the diverter is OFF, not remote auxiliary (tipping lever). The remote operates with the loader. Both control levers must be at the top of their travel for good flow to the loader.
A switch to the 3 point hitch setting on the diverter will cause an instant lift to maximum height unless the operator adjusts the levers down to the middle before the change. This took me a while to figure out.
If there’s too much weight on the hitch, a 750 pound bush hog, for example, the loader will only operate if the hitch is set fairly low to the ground. If the implement is at full height, you can spend all day trying to get the loader to work.
The lift operation is one area where the TAFE behaves differently than my Massey Ferguson 35. It’s much more powerful, though.
At the local Massey Ferguson dealer I have just committed to buy a 1995 Tafe 35DI tractor with 340 hours on it, a very good loader and jury-rigged cab.
I looked at an ’87 Kubota 4X4, but after an hour of playing with this one I decided I like it and that was that. Never went back to the high-hours Kubota.
The dealer has a couple of little things to fix, but I expect to have it in the driveway, all cab lights aglow, by the middle of next week.
Two previous owners have traded up to new 4X4 Massey-Fergusons from this tractor. Neither, apparently, had any trouble with parts or durability. Mechanically it’s a clone of my 1960 Massey-Ferguson 35, only with marginally better hydraulics, power steering, Roll Over Protection System, lights and safety interlocks. The unblemished Allied loader is likely worth several thousand in its own right.
I really needed a set of working lights for snow removal in early morning at the end of the driveway on the Hill. If the commuter needs to get onto the road before daylight, some snow removal must be done in the dark. It’s too risky without lights.
The downside is that I have bought an orphan, and have very little prospect of ever selling it, so I’d better like it. Mind you, a significant part of the Canadian 2010 Massey Ferguson line is made up of repainted TAFEs.
It went up against a high-hours, Kubota 4WD L2580 for 150% of the price. What sold me? I hated the Kubota’s weathered plastic dash. The Tafe seemed very solidly and simply built. The cab helped as well, as the day was cold. Everything was right where I expected it, as the tractor is a homage to the Massey Ferguson 35. What’s more, it started cold the way I expected and ran like an engine which would use very little fuel to do its job. The 340 hours accumulated so far did not hurt. The modern loader is just as slow as the one on the 35, but it’s a lot more symetrical, i.e: not skewed to the left.
The layout of the back window may prove impractical. It doesn’t open, and I’m not sure I can reach out through it to turn the handle to rotate the snow blower flume, nor can I be certain that raising the implement won’t put said handle through the rear panel.
It was Christmas and people do stupid things like taking in stray animals while imbued with the Christmas spirit. I think I did something similar with a homeless tractor.
After some thought I am less inclined to rue my impulse. When it comes right down to it, what I want from a tractor isn’t necessarily practicality. I want something that is a challenge: what fun was it driving a 4Runner around a muddy field? Just made ruts. A Yamaha G1 golf cart in the same environment, on the other hand, was an absolute gas.
Like the way BBC Top Gear personality Jeremy Clarkson recommended a Corvette over an Audi R8 after a day of testing in which the Audi completely outclassed the Vette, I wanted a tractor “less good” than the Kubota.
I have a wicked case of tennis elbow this morning from a day on the couch with the laptop. Holding the thing perched on my chest while performing the series of movements that works the mouse pad on the thing turns out to be surprisingly hard on the body.
I had to do my research on the TAFE in a manner a Phd. student would approve: exhaust the material. When taken in bulk, online comments from tractor owners seem to be a reliable source of information. I’ve found over the last year that similar data about politics is garbage, but tractors don’t lie and cheat, so they engender greater objectivity and respect from their observers.
TAFEs have been built from Massey Ferguson plans and castings in India since 1961. The MF 35 was the basis of the original tractor. Simpson is the brand on the licensed Perkins 3 cylinder diesels. The product is painted red and labelled Massey Ferguson in India, but for export they get orange and gray and the moniker TAFE, which is an acronym for something or other. Compact TAFEs are now built by LS with Mitsibishi engines. The current North American Massey Ferguson 2WD midsized line, i.e.: 2600, are TAFEs. The 4WDs are built by LS, formerly a subsidiary of LG, the Korean home appliance giant, which AGCO, Massey Ferguson/TAFE’s parent company, bought outright. I’m pretty sure similar tractors are painted green and sold as Montanas, as well.
Massey Ferguson handles parts for TAFEs, but some dealers don’t even know what the name means. Market penetration of the brand in North America is almost non-existent, but apparently the MF 231 is a handy parts donor.
The only complaint I read online about a TAFE 35DI was from one guy whose high-hours transmission locked between gears. I could have told him what to do about that: old Masseys do it all the time once they get some wear on them. You take off the transmission oil filler cap and reach in with a large screwdriver to wiggle the fork loose. A tranny rebuild is not needed, just ten minutes of routine maintenance for the owner of an old Massey.
Built with replaceable sleeves like their Perkins antecedents, Simpson diesel engines are reputed to be among the cleanest in the world, meeting modern emissions standards, and they are even more efficient than the Perkins diesels from which they were patterned.
Youtube has a good supply of TAFE-porn, short videos of TAFE tractors working on some British island. They seem very much like Massey Fergusons, solid traditional tractors, but a little newer.
There was actually a line of clones of the MF 35 before the TAFE company was formed. They were built in either Turkey or Yugoslavia, and reportedly weren’t very good. The Indian workmanship and attention to detail are much better.
Currently the classic rounded body which looks like a British 1960 MF 35 is used on the TAFE 25DI, a two-cylinder, 25 hp beauty made in Korea. Online advice is overwhelmingly to sacrifice the rounded styling in favour of ten more horsepower with the 35DI, the object of my current obsession.
Day 5: THE TEST DRIVE
This morning dawned clear and cold, with a wicked north wind. I dropped by the dealership on my way to Ottawa to ask him to plug the tractor in so that I could play with it upon my return two hours later. When I next approached the lot, a pickup was idling with battery cables attached, and a small generator was pumping 110 into the recirculating heater. Battery dead?
The mechanic assured me that he just wanted to give the battery a good boost because “They really should be plugged in overnight when it’s this cold, but this one has a good pre-heater.” He preheated the engine for what seemed a very long time to me, but then it lit up on the first touch of the starter and ran smoothly. When I asked he said he had heated it for about a minute. I’d never run my old Massey’s heater for more than fifteen seconds, but this obviously worked.
When I moved the tractor I was greeted by a ghastly squeal from the left rear wheel, most likely a brake drum dragging a bit. It was very noisy but went away after I drove it for a few minutes. I had started the tractor cold just to see if it had glitches like this. The seat kept bottoming out with my weight. Adjustments helped a bit, but were difficult in the extreme cold.
The tractor ran well. The cab kept me warm while going east, but froze me a bit on the westward leg of my road test, as more of the north wind could get under the right hand side of the cab.
Things didn’t go so well when I parked the TAFE out of the wind behind the garage and checked for leaks. Coolant was bubbling out of the cracked top rad hose. A simple fix. The power steering cylinder has a wet end, and there’s moisure around the rubber hose which leads from the pump to the cylinder. But that’s not too bad. More troubling was the shape of the link arm, the long, heavy metal triangle which connects the axle to the frame near the steering box. It seems twisted about twenty degrees, yet the power steering cylinder fits it and operates in that position. At the other end of that cylinder is a tie rod which has been welded and had a reinforcing piece added. This doesn’t look good. The manual specifically cautions about the temptation to weld steering gear parts.
Of course I haven’t tried the three point hitch yet because the diverter valve, a 3-way model to provide rear hydraulics, still doesn’t have a handle.
To keep the tractor from rolling down a slight slope while I poked and prodded, I lowered the bucket and lifted the front wheels slightly off the ground. When I tried to close the cab door, it wouldn’t, by about 1/8″. I let the pressure off the loader, and then it could squeeze closed. I wonder if there is always this much flex in the body/cab of a loader tractor?
I left my “wish list” with the salesman and came home. They are to have it ready in a week or so.
Just in from a night-time session of snow blowing, my clothes smell faintly of diesel exhaust, but this is a far cry from my earlier routine of shedding the full snowmobile suit and helmet, then changing all my sodden clothes underneath it. The cab works surprisingly well to shut out blowing snow. I had a giddy pass behind the garage where the snow blew right over the tractor, completely covering it. No misery. That’s strange. I’ve never blown snow over my tractor before without becoming soaking wet! This is good, I think.
The transfer of the snowblower from the Massey Ferguson 35 to the TAFE 35 went seamlessly. Every meaningful dimension was the same. Away I went, only with one more gear per range and quite a bit more horsepower. The power steering, of course, wasn’t hard to take at all.
So now I’ve gone from agoraphobia to claustrophobia: what if I were to tip the tractor over on its door and get trapped in there? Eeep. I think I’ll strap a hammer to the inside of the cab for emergency exits.
The lights are great. I’ve never had lights on a tractor before. The two additional pairs on the top of the cab illuminate the work fore and aft very well.
Now my winter nights hold more than T.V., novels, and the Internet. I can blow snow! http://picasaweb.google.ca/rodcros/TAFE35DITractor#
Day 7, January 8, 2010:
This is one cool toy! I have discovered that clearing snow with the bucket is way more fun than using the blower. Things happen in high range, and thus at a much higher speed than with the blower. Skill is required. Less snow blows the wrong direction. I’m less inhibited about blocking traffic when pushing a ditch-load of snow in front of me. Backing up with the blower is painfully slow or dangerously fast, and after a while it wears on one’s spine, I am told.
The hours are running up and the fuel bill is rising because I keep moving more snow than necessary so that I can explore the limits of the machine and my growing skill. Hey, I have to have the loader figured out before I end up stalled, blocking traffic on the hill because of a mistake.
I popped a shear pin on the blower this morning when I raised the lift too high. The PTO shaft is a little long for the application, I think. The Massey Ferguson’s lift would rise up and stall when it ran out of play. This one is much more powerful, so when it rises up, away goes the shear pin. A bit of thought should solve this one.
The parking brake groans fiercely after I release it. Something must be sticking down there. I had mentioned it to the dealer, but it’s an intermittent problem, and I guess it wouldn’t happen for them so they ignored it.
A disadvantage of a powerful loader is that one is inclined to misuse it a bit. A corner of the old concrete step at the front of our house bit the dust this morning when I tried to use the 5′ snow bucket as a shovel. Gotta learn where the corners are on this thing. Oh, well. A new step was in the budget for spring, anyway.
Day 8: January 9 2010
Now I understand why those guys in backhoes and farm tractors won’t get over to let traffic pass, even when there seems to be ample shoulder on the highway. When you look down into a frozen ditch from a sloping, ice-covered shoulder, holding onto that dry asphalt becomes a matter of life and death.
Tony and Anne hadn’t been at The Lodge for three weeks, so in a fit of friendliness I decided to walk the tractor up to Newboro to clean out their driveway. I have a cab on my tractor now, I thought smugly, so off I went with a light hat, rather than my trusty helmet and face mask.
The TAFE runs strongly on the road and steers with reasonable precision. I soon discovered what Lloyd Stone had meant when he first looked at the TAFE: “You have part of a cab.” There sure is a lot of wind on that stretch from Forfar to Crosby, and most of it came in under my right-hand window. From the screws embedded in the metal frame, it’s clear the previous owner had a piece of carpet fitted to take up the space not filled with hydraulic hoses and controls below the window. I would have given a lot to get it from him right then.
Debating whether to continue in the cold or not, I stopped at the highway building to turn away from the wind and warm up a bit. Out of the wind, things were fine. The reforestation north of Crosby dramatically cuts down on the sweep of a north wind, so the drive was much easier, even pleasant.
The traffic was another matter. All of those Saturday drivers politely insisted on sharing the road with me. The band of ice along the edge of the pavement and the icy shoulders looked like suicide from my perch, and I resolved to keep at least two tires on pavement, regardless of the traffic behind. A misadventure in the ditch at fifteen miles per hour would have gruesome consequences inside this box of steel and glass.
Soon it became pointless to look back, so I just soldiered on down my portion of the driving lane and let the cars find their own way. Drivers seemed quite good natured about it, but the guilt I felt couldn’t match the threat of sudden death if I ventured too far over onto the icy shoulder out of politeness. From now on I’ll be less quick to curse those clods on Hwy 15 who tour their tractors and backhoes up and down the driving lane, day after day, without a care in the world.
February 13, 2010 UPDATE
I’ve noticed a few hits on this article, so here are some observations based upon 20 hours of accumulated use so far.
The snow has stopped, producing good footing on the frozen ground. Over the last week I have taken advantage of the weather to prey upon dead and dying elms around the house with the help of a logging winch installed on the Massey Ferguson 35. A logging winch is an amazingly good tool, but that’s another story.
The TAFE has proven to be the machine of choice for carrying sawn firewood around. The bucket holds a useful quantity of firewood; it’s easy to load and even more convenient to dump. As my skill with the loader has improved, I’ve discovered that I can build a fairly neat pile without dismounting. The TAFE’s rickety cab makes it fairly noisy to operate in comparison to the Massey Ferguson, which has always been an uncommonly smooth and good-natured beast. The loader on the new one is much better for carrying firewood than the one on the old one, and the extra gear in each range on the TAFE is a real advantage for general work around the farm. Needless to say, the power steering is a boon.
I had to extract the wood and brush after I cut up an elm which I felled over a ploughed section frozen rock-hard. This made for tricky footing for man and machine. The TAFE worked around the rough ground without injuring its front end. I was a bit worried about the power steering’s durability in this punishing environment, but it held up well with careful use. It shifts very well in circumstances where the Massey Ferguson 35 has been prone to lock its transmission.
The cab may come off in spring, as it is annoyingly tight getting in and out, and it vibrates unpleasantly. That said, I am more than happy to have the cab’s protection in the frigid wind on the quarter-mile run from the landing to the woodpile. Fuel consumption seems low, oil consumption nil, and I usually leave the Simpson engine idling while I load the bucket. The engine sounds a bit coarser than the much older Perkins on the Massey, but this is likely evidence of better compression. Someone told me once that a smooth-sounding diesel isn’t in the best of health.
I have run the block heater for an hour before starting, and the almost new engine leaps into action without the use of the pre-heater, immediately firing cleanly on all cylinders. As the mechanic told me, it’s a good starter in cold weather.
One search was for TAFE tractor prices, so I’ll add that this one, a 1995 with 340 hours, generally very good condition, serviceable cab and Allied 395 loader with automatic levelling, cost $8900 CDN. I saw a 1995 Massey Ferguson 231 with 600 hours and no cab or loader listed for 14,900 CDN. by way of comparison, so it appears as though the orange and gray paint costs less than Massey red.
February 24, 2010:
The TAFE starts well in winter, even when not plugged in. The switch on the 110 volt plug-in spent the night turned off, I discovered this morning at 5:00 a.m. with four inches of snow on the ground. As I mentioned before, the tractor has spent most of its time hauling blocks around in the bucket over the last two weeks. Local farmers have hit upon the loader as the most efficient way to move firewood short distances, or to load their dump trailers for longer hauls. The bucket can be placed on the ground or at any other convenient height for loading. At the other end the wood can be dumped or held in place for convenient piling without requiring that the old guy bend down to pick the blocks up.
The upside of the cab, of course, is that it is much warmer in there than outside when a strong north wind is blowing or snow from the blower swirls back at the operator.. The wiper and lights have received quite a workout over the last two mornings on snow removal duty, and they have functioned well.
This morning it cost me a shear pin to discover that tidying up with a blower after doing the bulk of the work with a loader requires that the operator keep a close eye out for gravel balls, those large round balls of slushy snow which can, I discovered, contain a great deal of aggregate. Gravel from the driveway, if concentrated, does not pump well through a snowblower.
June 27, 2010:
I notice some readers are looking for a parts book for the TAFE 35DI. I don’t know of one online, but you can download one for the similar TAFE 45DI from the TAFE South African website. The power steering is more elaborate with two opposing hydraulic cylinders instead of one, and most 45’s are 4WD, but it might be useful still.
I have an operator’s manual for my 35DI, but can’t scan stuff. Specific questions I can research in the book, though.