By Brad Reynolds
Ron Harmon didn’t set out to build the world’s largest tractor; necessity required it. In 1974, he purchased what was then called Northern Manufacturing in Havre. The following year, a client placed one tall order.
“The Rossi Brothers in Bakersfield, California had ten thousand acres of cotton that needed deep ripping,” Harmon explains. “They wanted it 32 inches deep, and they were only able to cover about one-third of their acreage a year because of their tractor’s limitations.”
A tractor meeting the Rossi Brothers’ requirements would have to be colossal, but that didn’t deter Harmon.
“We build Big Bud Tractors,” he explains. “The appeal of the Big Bud is that they’re built generically, so you don’t have to go to a dealership for parts and repair. We build them to a customer’s specifications and then wrap a frame around those proven components.”
Because Big Bud afforded Harmon flexibility, he was not afraid to take on the Rossi Brothers’ project; though, that is not to say that it was an easy task. The tractor was built to produce 760 horsepower using a 16-cylinder Detroit Diesel engine. Along with speed, the tractor had to have considerable heft—which it did. With its 1,000-gallon fuel tank full, it weighed over 100,000 pounds.
Dubbed the “Big Bud 747,” the machine could pull a deep ripper at six miles per hour, allowing the Rossi Brothers to cover the acreage they needed and earning Northern Manufacturing notoriety for having built the “world’s largest tractor.”
“Some things are built for nostalgia or prideful reasons, but we built this to be practical,” says Harmon. “We got a number of accolades because we built it, but that’s not why we built it.”
Today, Harmon’s tractor business is known as Big Equipment Company. Though its name has changed, the company continues to build and rebuild Big Buds, and in fact, Harmon describes his tractors as “infinitely rebuildable.” Over the years, the Big Bud 747 has received many upgrades of its own and made its way across the United States under various owners. Harmon still keeps an eye on it from time to time—the big tractor that landed his small community on the world map.