Should I Even Own a Small Tractor?

I have no idea. Are we clear on this? No. Idea. I am massively conflicted on this post. Not paralyzed to inaction, just conflicted.

Let’s start at the beginning. I bought an Oliver 550 on CL in May of 2010. Good rubber, soft clutch, weak brakes.

OliverThen, a year later, I broke it. I was mowing under an evil sycamore tree and a limb just reached right out and grabbed the muffler, breaking the cast exhaust manifold. (I have since removed the offending limb and the other three growing at its height.)

I thought to myself, “Self, it would be nice if this tractor had a drawbar (Oliver didn’t ship many of these with drawbars). Since we’re buying parts anyway…”

SO I bought a new exhaust manifold and an aftermarket drawbar kit. And a new PTO shaft…because…why not?

Perfect. Just perfect. The tractor really comes in handy raking hay, pulling hay wagons or pulling a trailer full of firewood, chicken feed…whatever. It’s a perfect utility tractor.

driving the tractor

But then it died. Dead. Wouldn’t start. Turns out it had a bad coil but it wasn’t just a bad coil. The tractor ended up at a reputable shop in town. Guy told me he couldn’t get it to show any oil pressure. The top end of the engine looks good but the bottom end needs rebuilt. I don’t know. Machine shop technobabble. Crankshaft. Bearings. Oil pump. Stuff. $1,400 worth of stuff.

Fast forward another year. We have used the tractor for several years now. I bought a blade I use for spreading rock, scraping up material or pushing snow.  No big. But something goes wrong when I’m using it one day. Maybe I stopped, shut it off and was about to change implements but the battery was dead. No big whoop. We’ll just pull start it. “Julie, hop in the truck and pull the tractor. When you hear it start, stop the truck.”


I press down the clutch to stop behind the truck but nothing happens. Tractor keeps moving.

I frantically shove the tractor out of gear before something bad happens.

But something bad already happened. The clutch had blown apart.

The tractor then sat in a tractor cocoon in my machine shed for nearly a year. Should I just cut my losses and sell it for scrap? There is an Oliver scrapyard an hour south. Maybe they will give me something for it.

Whatever. I obviously don’t need this tractor since I haven’t used it in a year.

November rolls around. The tractor dealership shows up with dad’s loader tractor. The guy peeks in the shed and asks about the tractor. Dad explains, the guy offers to fix it and the tractor goes down the road.

How much does a new clutch cost? $1,800.

That makes my $3,500 antique tractor perilously close to a $7,500 tractor…minus the usage we have gotten out of it.


So let’s play a little game of “How else could Chris have spent that $8,000?”

A similar new tractor, though one with a loader, costs somewhere in the neighborhood of $25,000. At 4.5% interest that’s $4,000 each year. So I could have had a small loader tractor for two years instead of this one for 5.

Point to the Oliver.

But the new tractor would have a loader.

Point to the new tractor.

And front wheel assist.

(No points given for showing off)

The Oliver is mechanically simple. No computers. All standard bolt sizes. Few wires.

Point Oliver.

New tractor comes with a warranty.

Point new tractor.

Yeah, but why do I need a tractor at all? I mean, really, why?

And that’s where it sits. I own an Oliver 550. It’s great at what it does. It’s not heavy enough to pull small trees out of the ground but perfect for pulling chicken houses, hay wagons, etc. I would like to have a new tractor but…I mean…if I keep replacing parts I will have a new tractor…lol!

I don’t know how to suggest you apply this. The antique tractor has needs but on an annualized basis it is cheaper to own…so far. And I’m not really sure I need to own it or any tractor since dad lives next door. I think I would rather have more cows. But if dad didn’t live here? If we didn’t trade work and help each other out? Fortunately…

So, to the fella who came by unexpectedly last week to look at the tractor, wanna trade for bred cows?

7 thoughts on “Should I Even Own a Small Tractor?

  1. That is a hard call and bred cows would be worth a lot more to you than a yard ornament. I don’t use my old Massey 44 for much these days. It is a hard starter and I find I do a lot of things with my (CD player, heated and A/C !) 4×4 instead – dragging pastures with my 3 sets of diamond harrows on a draw bar, packing snow, moving, hauling, dragging things around, fencing etc. And now your dad will likely lend you his tractor, same as my neighbor is really good at bringing over his tractor for bigger jobs. Hmmm…in your case I would leave this decision up to Julie as you might lose this 😉

      • lol Well if Julie doesn’t care and you have not used it in a year, it could be time for ye olde theory of a bird in hand is worth more than 2 in the bush. You could put it up on CL and see if you can get a chunk of your $ back. In theory if in your area that tractor running with lots of new parts is worth around ?$4,000? and to get it there takes $1,800 – list it at $2,200 needs new clutch and also list it at $4,000 with new clutch. If the interest is stronger in it as a running tractor then you could pay for the repair, recouping it upon the sale – IF it seems that a running tractor will sell sooner than a fixer upper as determined from your dual ad. I don’t know what the market is like in your area but in mine a running tractor <4-5k gets snapped up pretty quickly by the acreage and restoration peep regardless of paint color, particularly for snow season.

        One of your 2015 goals is to keep increasing your herd so you had a great idea in your parting words on trading for cows. It would be good to focus on your goals and convert that unused asset (or liability depending on how you want to look at the never ending repairs) into cows. Sometimes you have to make sacrifices to get where you want to be and Oliver might be one of those sacrifices?

        Likely you want $ to buy good heifers rather than trade so you end up with something suitable for the grass fed program at your farm that can be candidates for your foundation breeding stock not someone else’s culls. In memory of Oliver, you could call one of the new heifers Olive Oyl from cartoon Popeye as a reminder of the new Oil Pump you had to put in and call the better heifer Olivia as in Olivia Newton John from Grease as to you she will be “The One that I Want” – lol

        Same thing with your tractor. If your Dad moves or sells his tractor you can buy a “The One that I Want” tractor then, weighing out at that time if the one you want is an antique or a newer model that you thought about a LOT this yr. Of course there are likely many other factors that I am sure I don’t know about so act accordingly but that’s my unsolicited 2 cents worth lol !

  2. As I look at the pictures you have posted with this post I would keep the tractor. The kids will remember the fun with the tractor they won’t remember the good times with the cows…….. every farm needs that one tractor that the kids learn on, get pulled with. just my thoughts

  3. I’m debating the same thing. I think i could do more if i had a tractor…but is it economically feesable for someone whos farm might bring in $5000 a year? It would allow me to do work i either have to hire out or just not do. but if somtehing breaks…age old question.

  4. Keep the Oliver. You can borrow the loader tractor from your Dad when you need to. Your eldest is 14 – in a few years, he’ll be looking to burn money on a machine, maybe he’ll be wanting some say in what kind of tractor by then, and you can help him by a beater of his own.

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