Go­ing strong

Steiger Pan­ther CM-325 trac­tor

Farms & Farm Machinery - - Contents -

The year is 1985. Our Prime Min­is­ter is the colour­ful and of­ten con­tro­ver­sial La­bor leader Bob Hawke, Essendon wins the VFL pre­mier­ship by de­feat­ing Hawthorn, the first For­mula One Aus­tralian Grand Prix takes place on the streets of Ade­laide – and who could for­get Mad Max 3, Be­yond Thun­der

Dome, the Aus­tralian post-apoca­lyp­tic ac­tion ad­ven­ture film? In the same year, a 325hp (242kW) Steiger Pan­ther CM-325 rolled off the pro­duc­tion line in Fargo, North Dakota. It turns out that my un­cle Dan Dickson is still run­ning one on his prop­erty in south-west Vic­to­ria, and it’s per­form­ing as well as on the day it was man­u­fac­tured.

The CM-325 is an ar­tic­u­lated 4WD with four sets of dual wheels, power steer­ing, hy­draulic disc brak­ing and a Steiger Sa­fari cabin that came stan­dard with air-con­di­tion­ing. Steiger set the stan­dard and, in fact, led the race in high­horse­power trac­tors.

Back in the ’80s, own­ing a Steiger got a man up on his toes and walk­ing that lit­tle bit taller, mak­ing him the envy of all his neigh­bours. It was an in­di­ca­tion that he was a se­ri­ous op­er­a­tor. To put it into per­spec­tive, to­day it would be like tak­ing pos­ses­sion of a brand new John Deere RX se­ries or Case IH Steiger Quad­trac. Both are quad tracks and both are se­ri­ous, mas­sive, high-horse­power pieces of equip­ment. The best of the best, you might say.

The most ob­vi­ous dif­fer­ence be­tween the two gen­er­a­tions, with a 30-year age gap, is that you won’t find any plas­tic on the more se­nior of the two. There is no need to add wheel weights when the mud guards and bon­net are man­u­fac­tured out of 6.0mm plate steel. The use of steel over plas­tic con­trib­utes to its over­all weight of 15.5 tonnes – very sim­i­lar to a 325hp John Deere 9230 and a bit heav­ier than a 2010 Case IH Steiger 335.

HARD WORK

Though the paint­work on the Steiger Pan­ther CM-325 may have faded a bit, and there is the odd scratch and dent, there is still some­thing about this old girl that oozes power and re­li­a­bil­ity. She sits qui­etly in the pad­dock with an air of self­con­fi­dence, and you just know that when that big Cat en­gine fires into life – and belches out a cloud of black smoke just to clear her throat – she will dig in and pull just as hard as the new stream­lined models on the mar­ket.

Some­times, we can take a les­son or two from the older gen­er­a­tion on what good, old-fash­ioned hard work is all about. It’s cer­tainly not about be­ing flashy; it’s about get­ting the job done. The Steiger Pan­ther just looks like a ma­chine that won’t call it a day un­til the job is com­plete.

DOL­LARS AND SENSE

So what are the fac­tors that con­vinced Dan Dickson to con­sider buy­ing a 30-year-old piece of nos­tal­gia, rather than one of the newer ver­sions on the mar­ket with all the bells and whis­tles?

While new ma­chines are a must-have for many farm­ers,

Dan says he tends to lean to­wards used trac­tors. He looks first at the pur­chase price and sec­ond at whether a fea­ture is nec­es­sary for his needs. He spends when he has to and saves when he can.

“I have al­ways been a fan of the Steiger trac­tors and be­lieve them to be very re­li­able,” Dan says. “I see them as ma­chines that will get the job done with­out hav­ing to mort­gage the farm to buy them.”

Back in 1985, the price tag on a new Steiger Pan­ther CM

325 was about $130,000, but to­day a sec­ond-hand one in good con­di­tioned can be picked up for about $30,000. Be­fore buy­ing the CM-325, Dan had owned a Steiger Cougar that had ser­viced his crop­ping en­ter­prise, but that one got sold when he de­cided to have a crack at re­tire­ment.

Af­ter about a year, he dis­cov­ered that he wasn’t ready for the life of leisure, so he de­cided to go back into crop­ping. He was in­tent on buy­ing an­other Steiger, but this time one with a few more horses un­der the bon­net.

Af­ter hunt­ing around for a bit he de­cided on this Pan­ther CM-325. It has the re­li­a­bil­ity of a 325hp Cater­pil­lar en­gine with 20-speed Spicer gear­box, and Dan only had to part with the bar­gain price of $20,000 to take pos­ses­sion.

The mo­tor had only done 400 hours since be­ing re­built. As far as to­tal hours of oper­a­tion go, Dan was a lit­tle un­sure be­cause the hour meter was re­set when the mo­tor was given its over­haul. He sus­pects it could have 20,000 or 30,000 hours clocked up, but that didn’t re­ally con­cern him too much be­cause he could tell from its over­all con­di­tion that it had been ex­cep­tion­ally well main­tained.

The dual wheels still had plenty of rub­ber on the tyres, the air-con­di­tioner still worked, and it even had a ra­dio. What more could you want? Well, to in­tro­duce a bit of 21st cen­tury tech­nol­ogy, Dan spent a fur­ther $9000 in­stalling a Case IH auto-steer guid­ance sys­tem.

“The Cat en­gine runs well, the Spicer gear­box is tight and the tyres are good. Adding auto steer­ing and a good set of lights has made a huge dif­fer­ence,” Dan says. “I don’t need a heap of lux­u­ries, ex­cept a heater. I don’t like the cold!”

EN­GINE

It’s a com­fort­ing thought know­ing you have a mas­sive Cater­pil­lar 3406 en­gine un­der the bon­net. His­tory says they don’t re­quire a whole lot of at­ten­tion, so long as you keep up reg­u­lar ser­vic­ing and spare parts are eas­ily sourced.

Daily main­te­nance is fine be­cause it’s easy to check the oil and flu­ids from the ground with­out hav­ing to lift the mas­sive bon­net. That’s a re­lief be­cause Dan says the bon­net, like ev­ery­thing else on the trac­tor, weighs a tonne. Well, not ac­tu­ally a tonne, but enough to cause con­sid­er­able strain. I don’t doubt his hon­esty – I had a crack at rais­ing the bon­net my­self and nearly put my back out in the process.

The 14.6-litre, six-cylin­der turbo diesel gen­er­ates 325hp at 2100rpm and 1423Nm of torque at 1200rpm. The grunt is needed as Dan is cur­rently pulling a heavy-duty 12m tyne cul­ti­va­tor bar with six-inch-wide points on tough ground that hasn’t been cul­ti­vated for at least 30 or 40 years.

Work­ing in the pad­dock along­side Dan’s Pan­ther is a 420hp John Deere pulling a sim­i­lar size cul­ti­va­tor. It’s in­ter­est­ing to note that it’s ac­tu­ally us­ing more fuel per hour than the

Steiger. Com­pared to the smaller-horse­power Cham­ber­lain trac­tors that Dan used to own, the 325hp Steiger is burn­ing through about twice as much fuel per hour, but with its abil­ity to travel 50 per cent faster us­ing im­ple­ments twice as wide, he is cov­er­ing three times as many hectares per hour.

From an ef­fi­ciency and eco­nomic point of view, he is burn­ing less fuel to get the same job done in a shorter time. Ac­cord­ing to tests con­ducted in Ne­braska, USA, the Steiger will con­sume up to 67 litres of fuel per hour when pushed to its max­i­mum avail­able power.

Dan says that he op­er­ates at a com­fort­able 50 to 75 per cent of its avail­able power, so his con­sump­tion rate is gen­er­ally in the vicin­ity of 40 to 55 litres per hour.

An­other ca­su­alty of age is a dys­func­tional tacho, so there’s a bit of guess­work in­volved in set­ting the en­gine to a comfy 1800 revs. But years of ex­pe­ri­ence has pro­vided Dan with a good ear for en­gines, so if he says it’s about 1800rpm, then that’s good enough for me.

TRANS­MIS­SION

Dan says the se­lec­tion of trans­mis­sion type is one area that, given the chance, he would have done dif­fer­ently. He says he bought this one be­cause it has a Spicer man­ual trans­mis­sion. The five-speed box has high and low range to pro­vide 10 for­ward gears, which is then dou­bled to 20 gears by a heavy­duty, two-speed trans­fer box.

“It’s a re­ally sim­ple and strong setup,” he says. “I had heard that the Pan­thers had been re­leased with power shift trans­mis­sions, which I did think would make op­er­at­ing these big trac­tors a lot eas­ier, but I was a bit con­cerned about the re­li­a­bil­ity of a 30-year-old power shift.”

He has since dis­cov­ered that these same trans­mis­sions have been per­form­ing ex­cep­tion­ally well in Ko­matsu doz­ers, and now thinks that the power shift would have been way over-spec’d for a trac­tor this size and would never have been pushed to the point of fail­ing.

The high/low se­lec­tor levers for the trans­mis­sion and the trans­fer box are mounted on the dash just to the right of the steer­ing wheel – the five-speed gear­stick, with re­verse, is floor-mounted be­tween the driver’s legs.

I did have a bit of a chuckle to my­self lis­ten­ing to a bit of grat­ing of the gears as Dan forced it into sec­ond. Noises like this gives away its age a bit. But, Dan says: “Once I se­lect a gear and get down to work, I might not change gears again for three or four hours, so a bit of gear crunch­ing at the start doesn’t re­ally bother me”.

IN THE CABIN

In­side the cabin is where the Steiger starts to show its age, but if you’re not over ob­sessed with fancy lux­u­ries, it doesn’t pose a prob­lem. Apart from the new auto steer­ing with colour touch screen, the in­te­rior of the cabin bears lit­tle re­sem­blance to its mod­ern coun­ter­parts.

There is no fancy up­hol­stery or moulded plas­tic pan­els, and colour-coded switches and levers hadn’t been thought of when this old girl was rolled out. Large, flat glass win­dows in the six-pil­lar cabin al­low great vis­i­bil­ity all-round and, most im­por­tantly, a di­rect line of sight to the draw­bar hitch.

I can’t quite work out if the seat is the orig­i­nal or a more re­cent retro­fit, but ei­ther way it in­cor­po­rates spring sus­pen­sion and de­liv­ers a nice, comfy ride. It is fair to say that the noise lev­els are ob­vi­ously a lit­tle bit higher than newer models, but cer­tainly not ex­ces­sive and nowhere near un­bear­able.

Though there is lots of glass, and none of it tinted, the heater/air-con­di­tioner keeps the cabin tem­per­a­ture at just the right de­gree. Un­for­tu­nately, you won’t find a fancy Blue­tooth stereo or a USB port to stream your favourite mu­sic or charge a mo­bile phone, but the old AM/FM ra­dio will break the monotony.

The Steiger Pan­ther CM-325 pre­dates cabin sus­pen­sion but it still has quite a smooth ride. Each time we crossed the drain that runs di­ag­o­nally through the pad­dock, only a gen­tle rock­ing could be felt. The trac­tor’s sheer size and dual wheel con­fig­u­ra­tion seem to ab­sorb vary­ing ground con­di­tions ex­cep­tion­ally well. With­out the lux­ury of a pas­sen­ger seat, we found our­selves jostling for po­si­tion as we shared the sin­gle seat. The one fea­ture the Steiger does share with its mod­ern coun­ter­parts is the abil­ity to carry a mas­sive pay­load of fuel: a 1010-litre fuel tank is built into its rear sec­tion.

THE BA­SICS

There is no three-point link­age fit­ted and, by the look of the ob­vi­ously short­ened draw­bar, its pre­vi­ous role may have been haul­ing a scraper, as was com­mon for this style of trac­tor. Dan has four sets of hy­draulic re­motes in oper­a­tion to ser­vice his cul­ti­va­tion and air-seed­ing equip­ment.

The pump de­liv­ers a to­tal of 117.3 litres per minute of oil flow, which isn’t a lot by mod­ern stan­dards. He has in­stalled a hy­draulic valve that pri­ori­tises oil flow to the hy­draulic fan on his air-seeder to elim­i­nate a drop in pres­sure while turn­ing or op­er­at­ing any of the other re­mote valves.

PROMIS­ING OUT­LOOK

Dan says that he won’t be lash­ing out on a new trac­tor at this stage of his ca­reer. His Steiger Pan­ther CM-325 is per­form­ing well and, all things con­sid­ered, it will most likely see him through to his sec­ond re­tire­ment. And by the sound of that big Cat purring un­der the hood, I don’t doubt it.

“The Steiger Pan­ther just looks like a ma­chine that won’t call it a day un­til the job is com­plete”

Pho­tographs by An­drew Britten

1 1: The only fancy elec­tronic gizmo in this cab is the re­cently fit­ted Case IH auto steer kit, which in­cludes a touch-screen mon­i­tor, and a new com­pat­i­ble steer­ing wheel

3: The 1010-litre fuel tank adds over a

tonne of weight over the rear wheels 4: The Case IH touch-screen mon­i­tor

5: In­stalling a new set of high-vi­sion

lights was a must for night work

2 2: Recog­nise these levers? This how we used to change gears 30 years ago be­fore CVT trans­mis­sions be­came the norm

7

6

10 10: Each tank of fuel re­turns about 25 to 30 hours of work

9: Lift­ing the bon­net is a back-break­ing ex­er­cise 9

6: Vis­i­bil­ity from the driver’s seat is as good as you’ll find on to­day’s new trac­tors 8 7: The short­ened draw­bar sug­gests the trac­tor may have been used to pull a scraper 8: Dan Dickson says he will prob­a­bly be pen­sioned off long be­fore his Steiger is

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