Local tractor stands test of time

By Rhys Williams

A one of-a-kind locally engineered tractor has gone on show for the first time in more than 40 years, and is still proving it can carry its weight.

The Upton HT-14/350, the largest two-wheel-drive tractor in the world, has recently been on show at regional trade shows - competing in tractor pulls at both Mundullah and Keith in South Australia.

The tractor began design in 1977 and was completed in 1978 by Corowa engineer Carl Upton, who at the age of 27, built the first two wheel drive tractor to compete with American models and better suit the farming conditions in Australia.

“My philosophy was that for the harsh, dry farmland conditions of Australia, you didn’t necessarily need a four wheel drive tractor, so I set about building a two wheel drive that could equal the performance,” Mr Upton said.

Carl, who dropped out of high school when he was 16 to work in his father’s business Upton Engineering, said that a lot of skepticism was directed towards his plan to build a two wheel drive tractor that could match the power of a four wheel.

“Everybody back then would tell me ‘you can’t put that much power through two wheels, that’s just ridiculous’.

“But I was confident I could do it, I just had to make it heavy enough.”

The single engine, 350 horsepower yellow tractor has a weight of 23 tonnes, which is pertinent in the vehicles ability to be able to pull the same weight as a four wheel drive.

Carl said that other advantages of the two wheel drive are that; it was cheaper to buy (70k), it was less complicated in its mechanical setup and therefore cheaper to maintain, it could develop more drawbar horsepower, and it uses 25 per cent less fuel than four wheel drives.

Mr Upton was invited to drive the tractor in its first ever tractor pull in March at the Mundullah show by the vehicle’s current owner, David Bowden, who bought it in 2004 after coveting the HT-14/350 for years.

The 42 year old tractor out-pulled a modern six wheel drive, twin engine, 450 horsepower tractor, which relayed to Upton that his invention stands the test of time.

He said it was amazing to see that something he built in his twenties was still notable today.

“The proof is in the performance.

“However it should be mentioned that no story of the tractors history should ever be told without reference to the magnificent welding fabrication work carried out by George Tobias, even after 42 years, there is not one single crack in any of the welds on this huge machine, and that is a testament to his excellent welding skills.”