Versatile Part III

A swathing machine
December 23, 2023

In 1968, Versatile introduced their self-propelled swather with a hydrostatic drive. A few companies offered hydraulically-driven swathers, but Verstaile’s SP400 was miles ahead in design and price.


In 1970, Versatile introduced the self-propelled SP5000 combine with a hydrostatic drive. The SP5000 was the first combine with a double set of straw walkers, which ensured better separation of the grain kernels from the straw and chaff with less loss over the end of the walkers.


In the early 1970’s, Verstatile released its next generation of four-wheel-drive tractors with the 700, 800, 850 and 900 Series. The Model 700 arrived in 1972, receiving retail orders for half the scheduled production before the assembly line began.


The Versatile 700, with a 220 hp 555-ci Cummins V8 diesel, was the first tractor to have an officially registered roll-over protection cab. Another Versatile innovation was the “Murphy” safety switch, which allowed the engine to automatically shut off when oil pressure became too low or coolant temperatures too high.


Versatile, being relatively new and operated by its founders, was willing to take risks and innovate when the decision makers of the majors were timid and unwilling. Innovation was restricted by the majors’ ponderous system of justification.


The 800 model with a 250-hp Cummins N-855 V6 diesel holds a special place in my heart as it was my first and primary tractor. The 850 Model has a turbocharged Cummins NT-855 rated at 280 hp. The “Grandaddy of Them All”, the 900 model, was the largest tractor in the field at the time with a 300-hp Cummins V-903 V8 Diesel rated.


By the mid-1970s, Versatile was the leader in the four-wheel-drive market.

Soon after came the Series 2 Versatile, including the 700, 725, 800, 850, 900 and 950 models. The 950 was the largest tractor with a 348-hp Cummins VT-903 V8 diesel engine.


The simplicity of the Versatile design, contributing to its popularity, was evident when one man in the field could repair a transmission in four or five hours, whereas one competitor’s similar machine required forty to sixty hours in a dealer’s service bay.


By the late 1970s, Versatile tractors accounted for 30 percent of the 200-plus horsepower sales in North America. Roy Robinson once said: “ To succeed in this business, you have to have the right idea at the right time, and you must be able to anticipate what the farmers will need tomorrow.”


Roy’s comments bring to mind the story of a Massey Harris salesman buying a 145 tractor to copy. At the next sales meeting, Pakosh shared his boss's advice when he left Massey Harris: “I wish you well, but always be innovative, never copy, because if you do, he will find his mistakes first and always be ahead of you. Let someone else copy you, and you will always stay ahead.”


References:

Pakosh, J. (2003). Versatile Tractors: A Farm Boy's Dream. Boston Mills Press.

Trent Klarenbach | Klarenbach Research