New Big Bud tractor builds on legacy design

Big Bud 700 tractor The Big Bud 700 resurrects a brand that attained legendary status in the ag industry. (Photo: KHL Staff)

For contractors attending ConExpo-Con/Agg last March, the stark white Big Bud tractor on display was likely an unrecognized oddity among a sea of construction yellow. But for those in the ag sector, it was both a familiar and exciting symbol, marking the re-emergence of an industry legend after a more than 40-year hiatus.

The first Big Bud 747 was introduced in 1977 as a 1,100-hp, 135,000-lb. behemoth described as the world’s largest tractor. Only an estimated 550 models were built during the 1970s and ‘80s, with the last of the mega-tractors coming off the production line in 1991. Since that time, the existing models attained legendary status by accumulating thousands of hours of operation, with many still in use today.

This staying power is due at least in part to the efforts of Ron Harmon, owner and president of Montana-based Big Equipment Company, who spent much of the last 30 years rebuilding the existing models. Harmon is now re-launching the Big Bud line, showing the 70,000-lb. Big Bud 700 to the construction industry for the first time at ConExpo in Las Vegas and later to the farming sector at the 2023 Farm Progress Show in Decatur, Ill.

The aim with the new Big Bud is the same as the original – to deliver a highly customizable tractor that can handle the most heavy-duty applications and is easily serviceable and repairable by customers. And though nearly half the weight and horsepower of the 747, the Big Bud 700 represents an even beefier solution for agricultural, construction and other challenging off-highway applications.

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Start with the frame

The impetus behind the new Big Bud came when Big Equipment was approached by Rome Agricultural and Construction Company, Cedartown, Ga., to build a tractor that could be fixed and repaired “anywhere in the world,” Harmon said. The two companies partnered to build and market the new articulated, four-wheel-drive tractors, with the first models scheduled for delivery in Q1 2024. Plans are to build up to 30 throughout the year, with production ramped up to 100 units in 2025.

Big Bud 700 tractor Though nearly half the weight and horsepower of the original, the Big Bud 700 tractor represents an even beefier solution. (Photo: KHL Staff)

The Big Bud 700 is designed around an unusually heavy 1.5-in.-thick frame. “It doesn’t have to be an inch and a half thick frame,” Harmon acknowledged, “but Bud Nelson, who I bought the company from in ‘74 after he built about 20 tractors, told me something. He said, ‘Ron, the tractor has to weigh 100 lb. per horsepower. So, as long as you need the 100 lb. per horsepower, why buy all those stack weights and those wheel weights? Why not build it in with the tractor in the first place?”

Nelson also advised building the frame before specifying the powertrain components – a suggestion that Harmon found counter intuitive. “I have to tell you that one kind of blew me away and I’m thinking to myself… how would you build a frame if you didn’t know what components you were going to use?”

Nelson’s reasoning was that focusing on the engine, transmission and axles first ties you to those specific components. “He said if you build your frame heavy and self-supporting, it no longer depends upon the integral strength of the engine or the transmission or the axles. Then you have all these options. Now you can build a tractor that is universal,” Harmon said.

The major drive system components are mounted on a skid system rather than to the frame, which not only enables customization to customer preferences but also substantially simplifies service. “The engine, the transmission, the grill, the radiator, everything slides out on a skid system. And you can do that in three hours, even if you’ve not done it before; it’s a quick disconnect on your intake, driveline, electrical system,” Harmon said.

He compared the skid approach to a generator set. “You can slide it right out, set it up on stands, start it, run it, shift it, change it, repair it, update it, slide it back in.”

The result, he said, is a tractor that is infinitely rebuildable and updatable, with drive system components swapped out or replaced with ease.

Big Bud 700 tractor The major drive system components of the Big Bud 700 are mounted on a skid system that can be slid out from the frame in roughly three hours. (Photo: KHL Staff)

Proven components

The standard Big Bud 700 comes with all-Caterpillar drive components, including a 640- to 750-hp C18 diesel engine, a TA22 HD 18-speed powershift transmission and 85,000-lb. rated 988 HD axles typically utilized in large wheel loaders. “They’ve been building this axle for 30-some years. It’s a well-proven axle. They use it in mining and construction,” Harmon commented. “It’s a proven axle and there’s parts availability worldwide.”

Using proven Cat components means they are easy to access, easily and economically rebuildable and can be serviced and supported by a global dealer network, as needed, Hemon pointed out. The 700 comes with a Raven Viper Pro Plus system capable of running auto steer from most major suppliers, including John Deere, Trimble and Topcon. Various wheel and tire options are offered, including multiple Goodyear Low Sidewall Technology (LSW) configurations.

The result is a tractor that provides full access to and interchangeability of major drive system components. “I guess we’re not the smartest people in the world because we could make a lot more money if we were to build tractors that were special only to us,” said Harmon. “If you’re trying to be in the parts service business, this probably isn’t the way to build a tractor. But if you’re trying to do something for the end user, it probably is.”

Podcast: New Big Bud designed around beefier frame and service ease Big Bud 700 tractor for ag and construction is first new model to be produced in 40 years
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