The Ultimate Guide to Walk Behind Tractors
Updated: May 5
Image courtesy of BCS America
Pros, Cons, and where to Buy One That Suits Your Needs
If you’re a small-scale farmer or gardener in the United States, you probably understand how walking behind tractors can ease your work. And of course, that is the most valuable information you should have about farm machinery.
That said, it is important to know a thing or two about usage, pros, cons, and overall rating of walk-behind tractors to be confident and knowledgeable when making sales or purchasing decisions.
And that is exactly what we will discuss in this article. We will also touch on where to buy walking tractors.
What are Walk-Behind Tractors?
As the name suggests, a walk-behind tractor is a piece of farm machinery whose operator walks behind it. It differs from the normal tractor in that it is relatively smaller in size and has a single axle.
Based on people’s viewpoint walk-behind tractors are also referred to as walking tractors, mechanical ox, two-wheel tractors, single axle tractors, hand-held tractors, and many other names.
Nonetheless, walking tractors are powered by diesel or gasoline engines and work by pulling or pushing different types of implements just like big tractors do.
Most of these tractors have front engines which are perfectly balanced by the implement trailing behind the two wheels. Notably, some models of walking tractors have been modified to contain a rider seat.
Origin of Two-Wheel Tractors
Walking tractors are believed to have found their way into the United States from Europe between the late 1800s and early 1900s. Indeed, Gravely Brand was the first US-owned farm equipment manufacturer to develop a walk-behind tractor in 1911.
Unfortunately, farming policies at that time seemed to favor large-scale farming. So, companies that had started developing walking tractors in the United States were forced to stop due to their low demand.
For instance, Gravely Brand (now Ariens co.) stopped manufacturing some models of two-wheel tractors in the 1970s while John Deere &company exited the business in 2012. But there are many companies that still make them and are widely available.
Today, many Americans want to be self-reliant. The USDA the farming policies have also been amended to accommodate small-scale farmers and gardeners. As a result, walking tractors are becoming more popular in the United States.
9 Main Features of Modern Walk Behind Tractors
A variety of attachments
As earlier mentioned, walking tractors work with a broad range of attachments. A hitch enables you to change the implement attached to the two-wheel tractor. However, these hitches are not uniform, particularly for PTO-powered attachments. But that should not give you a headache either, because there are adapters that enable pairing.
Essentially, a buyer should specify the model, size, power, and weight of the tractor when ordering for implements. This way, the dealer will provide the appropriate adapters. You can as well check the compatibility guide provided on the manufacturer/dealer’s website.
Multi speed gearbox
Most modern two-wheel tractors have a multi-speed gearbox. For example, BCS 750 model has three gear transmissions (3 forward, 3 reverse) while the 722 has two (2 forward and 2 reverse). In addition, some models have transport gear which makes the tractor a much faster equipment than you might anticipate.
An option to add weight
Walk-behind tractors stand out for causing minimal soil compaction which leads to higher water infiltration rate and boosted plant root growth. However, their lightweight may turn into a drawback where machine balance, deep cultivation, and traction are required. Fortunately, some models allow the operator to add weight. The commonly available weights for two-wheel tractors include iron wheel weights, form-filled tires, and wheel-mounted weights. You should note that some of the weights are difficult to add to the machine. Besides, the added weight makes it hard to get on track after slipping in a trench or depression.
Track width and tire adjustment options
Some tractors especially those meant for plowing between crop rows have adjustable track widths. This is because the spacing between crop rows may fluctuate. Basically, track width adjustment is achieved by using an axle add-on or by disconnecting the wheel hubs and relocating them.
You can change the size of your tractor tires as well. Indeed, large tire sizes rise up low-lying tractors and improve bottom clearance. In addition, larger tires make the tractor easily maneuverable on depressions and furrows. However, you should note that adjusting your wheel or tire size will impact your tractor's ground speed. For example, replacing your 20-inch tires with 25-inch tires increases the ground speed by 25 percent. This might affect the implements you attach to the walking tractor and their operation as well.
Most modern-day walk-behind tractors have differential lock features. A differential refers to a mechanical component of a car, truck, or other vehicle that splits the power from the engine and allows the wheels to spin at different speeds. The traditional technique for making automobiles used open differential which allowed wheels to rotate independently and at different speeds. The main limitation of an open differential is that a wheel can lose traction and affect the impact movement of the whole tractor. This is common in the worst types of terrains and on roads covered by snow.
The differential lock in modernized two-wheel tractors eliminates low traction and slippage common with an open differential. This allows you to lock the differential when working on the field and open it when turning. You can as well turn the tractor without unlocking the differential but with a lot of difficulties.
Power Take Off (PTO)
The conventional way of attaching implements to the tractor is by the use of bolts. But the process of screwing the bolts is tedious and time-consuming. Most modern two-wheel tractors especially those from Ferrari, Ariens, BCS, Pasquali, and Grillo use power take-off devices to transfer energy from the engine to the mounted implement. PTO powered walking tractors are highly versatile and can perform a wide range of functions including plowing, mowing, rototilling, snow blowing, and many more. Some PTO two-wheel tractor models such as the BCS are fitted with a hitch which simplifies the process of attaching and detaching different implements.
You can also save money on a quick hitch if you only utilize your tractor for one function each season, such as rototilling. Nevertheless, if you utilize multiple output implements or rather change them frequently, you could perhaps take this feature into account. It saves a lot of time.
A unique and useful feature of modernized walk-behind tractors is a reversible pair of handlebars that allow the user to walk on either side of the implement when working on the field. Reversing the handlebars takes a couple of minutes, based on the tractor model, and the swiveling grips can lock in a place 15 degrees off-center in either style, permitting you to stroll off to one edge of a cultivated bed, out of a bush you're brush-cutting, and so on.
Offset Handlebar Positioning
With the current walking tractors, you can offset the handlebars to the left or right. This enables you to drive the tractor more safely especially near fences and under overgrown vegetation. Furthermore, you can avoid stepping on already cultivated soil with offset positioning.
Handlebar Height Adjustment
Present-day two-wheel tractors have a feature to regulate handlebar height. This not only eases day-to-day field applications but also allows you to lift, slide, or shift the machine when required. This feature also lets people of all heights work with a tractor without machine strain.
Which Functions Do Walk-Behind Tractors Perform?
Two-wheel tractors usually perform all duties and functions that full-size tractors do though on small scale. They can be used for plowing, tilling, mowing, digging, and many other farm activities that big farm machines do. These tractors are designed to be attached to a variety of farm implements including diggers, plows, tillers, and mowers.
The ease of operating a walk-behind tractor
Operating a two-wheel tractor for the first time might be scary. But if you contain your fears, you’ll realize that walking tractors are super easy to use. The adjustable handlebars are a game changer for modern-day walk-behind tractors. Before you start your tractor, check on the level of fuel, the pressure of the tires, and the general condition of the equipment.
Nonetheless, it is essential though not mandatory that you have a little mechanical experience with trucks, cars, or motorbikes. This is because you have to understand the clutch control, gear levers, brakes, PTO, engine stop lever, etc. Either way, new machines come with an operation manual that you can use to operate the tractor.
How do you maintain a two-wheel tractor?
A new walk-behind tractor will come with an engine maintenance manual. Please ensure you read and follow the instruction given therein. Other routine maintenance practices include: checking the engine oil level and topping up,
Checking the engine oil and water and topping up where appropriate
Inspecting the nuts/bolts and tightening the loose ones.
Ensuring the tires have the required pressure
Greasing the gear ball and lubricating linkages·
You can keep track of your maintenance of your walk behind tractor or your other farm equipment in Farmbrite. There you can schedule tasks, track maintenance, hours used, store records and receipts, and even find manuals online. Try for free for 14 days.
Pros and Cons of Walk-Behind Tractors
So, why should choose to buy the small two-wheel tractor over the full-size tractors that have more horsepower? Well, buying farm equipment is informed by the scale of land to be cultivated as well as the cost-effectiveness of the machine. That said, walk-behind tractors have their own share of benefits.
First, they are cost-effective, especially for small farmlands (at most 20 acres) which don’t require high horsepower tractors.
Secondly, walking tractors can be attached to a variety of farm implements ranging from mowers to hay ballers, rototillers to plows. In addition, walk-behind tractors are lightweight, last long, and are easy to work with in rough and sloppy terrains. They require little skill and training to operate as compared to mid-size and full-size tractors. Further, walking tractors are appropriate for minimum tillage and reduced soil compaction.
Limitations of Two-Wheel Tractors
The primary challenge of walking tractors is speed. Unlike other farm machinery, walk-behind tractors are designed to run slowly in tandem with the steps of their operators. Moreover, operating a walking tractor is an exhausting physical exercise that leads to body fatigue.
Cost of two-wheel tractors
Walk-behind tractors vary in price depending on the size of the model. For instance, the price of a 5 to 16-horsepower walk-behind tractor ranges from $1,500 to $6,500 respectively.
Normally, large models have high horsepower and operate more sets of attachments. Additionally, you will have to purchase the implements which cost between $150 and $3,000, with a few expectations exceeding the range.
Further, you might opt for used walking tractors which cost way cheaper than new machines. However, used two-wheel tractors can be hard to find because these machines often serve their owners efficiently if well maintained.
Where to buy walk-behind tractors
If you want to buy a walk-behind tractor, you should consider searching for brick-and-mortar dealer shops, auction centers, online listings, and trade magazines. We recommend that you buy the tractor from a seller or dealer who is readily accessible to provide technical guidance and spare parts.
In addition, you should know the implements that comes with the tractor and the expectation of the seller before you conclude the transaction.
Farm Equipment Dealers
Farm equipment dealers are the best option if want to buy new walk-behind tractors or slightly used models. They provide crucial information and guidance about the most recent models in certain brands. Besides, you can walk into the dealer’s shop and request to test drive the tractor you want to buy. What’s more, they have spare parts and can offer attractive business deals if you choose to acquire a two-wheel tractor from their shops. If you don't have a dealer close by, you can do much of your research online. BCS is a well known distributor of walk behind tractors and have many models to choose from.
Buying from Auctioneers
Auction centers are a good place to purchase used farm equipment. However, you should have your finances ready because bidding at an auction shop has strict timelines. Also, you should be careful with the lawsuit that may befall you after purchasing from auction centers. So, ensure you document the transaction properly to be on the right side of the law.
Lastly, you will hardly find new farm machinery under auction and if lucky to get one, you might lack the spare parts or useful information and instructions about operation and maintenance.
Trade journals commonly known as trade magazines are a tried-and-true method of locating new and used walking tractors for sale. They work like modern-day online listings and marketplaces but with less visual convenience like photos, PDFs, and videos. So, reading farm machinery trade publications can be a good way to find listed walk-behind tractors. Their main drawback is that they might not give detailed information about the machine or even show you all other models available. Moreover, their readership continues to shrink making them less appealing to many sellers.
Online listing and Marketplaces
Online listings and marketplaces are the simplest way to find the right two-wheel tractor. They are designed to simplify your online search by allowing you to filter by model, condition, drive type, location, engine performance, and features to find a tractor that meets all of your requirements.
The shopping experience on an online platform is similar to that of a trade publication, but you are given the option of emailing or calling the seller. Some online marketplaces allow you to post a wanted ad and wait for sellers to contact you with options.