Celebrating the giants of Australian tractor manufacturing
Five tractor enthusiasts created Australian history when they stood by their monstrous Upton tractors, still regarded as the world’s biggest factory built two-wheel drive tractors, at Henty Machinery Field Days today.
Regarded as among the rarest in the world, the Upton was built to order at Upton Engineering, Corowa, with just eight MT-855’s built, and around 30 of the smaller Upton 180’s produced before manufacturing ceased in 1980.
Earning a reputation as heavy duty, robust, dependable work horses, the Upton’s were bought to Henty by collectors Robert Allan, Mudgee, Allan Arthur, Albury, Bill Petzke, Corowa, Doug Carroll, Swan Hill, and Andrew Taylor, Ardlethan.
Designer and manufacturer Carl Upton, of Corowa, was joined by his former staff, engineer Darrell Leahy and fabricator George Tobias to speak on the history of these unique tractors.
Mr Upton said his father, Arthur, built the first tractor using second hand parts sourced from surplus army tanks sold after the Second World War.
“Arthur used to buy a lot of army disposal equipment and he ended up with 32 Grant tanks, selling bits and pieces off them but he could never sell the transmissions, so he decided to build a tractor using the Grant tank transmission,” he said.
“He decided to use the UD diesel engine as a promotion for the UD’s as that was the engines he was importing from Japan at the time. We powered about 130 Chamberlain tractors with those engines.
“The first guy to buy one of the Upton tractors drove it from Corowa to Springsure, Qld, a distance of 1600km in three days in the middle of winter with no cabin.”
Among the five tractors was an MT-855 owned by the Druce family, farmers and owners of the Junee Chocolate Factory. The tractor continues to be used for cultivation and is now maintained by their employee and Ardlethan farmer Andrew Taylor, who drove it from its Ardlethan home to the field days. The journey took seven hours at 30km/hr.
Darrell Leahy said the 180hp engine was an economical choice at the time and a test bed tractor was made using surplus parts.
“A good load for the tractor in those days was 22 discs at 4 gallons an hour. We proved the engine was what we needed at a very flat torque curve, and we had to educate people coming from kerosene to diesel engines on driving it with the speed altered using the throttle,” Mr Leahy said.
“After the test bed was done, we come up with this design. We never decided to put a PTO on them as it was a tillage tractor.”
George Tobias, of Corowa, said it was a privilege to see all the tractors together at Henty.
He joined Upton Engineering as an apprentice diesel mechanic, eventually moving into welding and fabrication to work on the MT-855.
“The only work I didn’t do on these tractors was the hydraulics, electrical, paint work and lathe work. I am proud of the work completed and it is embedded in my heart.”
Doug Carroll’s tractor had been bought new in 1966 or 1967 by Rob McCarroll, of Manangatang, and then sold to Bill and Shirley O’Shanassy, Manangatang, in 1977-78. Rob McCarroll went on to buy a 300hp 8-cylinder Scania powered MT-855, now owned by the Druce family, Ardlethan.
The two tractors were parked side by side at Henty and used as a backdrop with Carl Upton holding a photograph of the two tractors originally side by side working at Manangatang.
The tractor owned by Robert Allen was originally built in 1976 and spent its working life in Western Australia. It was the second Upton to be fitted with a 14 litre Scania V8 engine when it was built I 1976.
Bill Petzke’s tractor was purchased from John Muirhead, Pinnaroo, South Australia, and in its later life was used for clearing Mallee scrub. It has a Grant tank diff back end and a Grant tank gearbox.
Allan Arthur’s tractor was originally delivered in 1980 to Peter Van Der Hucht at Warramboo, SA, and completed 38 years of scrub and mallee root clearing, trash clearing, and stone crushing, racking up 22,000 hours.
“I don’t think justice has been done to Carl Upton. He was so far ahead of his time and had the concept of getting more horsepower to the ground with two wheels than we ever could with a four-wheel drive.
“Carl had the concept of putting lots of weight on big wheels and making that tractor really earn its keep. He was a 25-year-old at the time and came up with this beautiful looking tractor – they are still impressive after 40 years.
“These tractors are still quiet and smooth to sit in – Carl was so far ahead of his time and that’s why I own one of these things.”