Machinery & Products

Considering the 2WD lifestyle

By John Droppert

TWO WHEEL drive is a lifestyle I never really understood.

Calling it a lifestyle (rather than simply a drivetrain configuration) may seem a little far-fetched, but bear with me.

I grew up in a family that did earthmoving contracting with large equal four wheel drive tractors, in a business where 2WD just wouldn’t cut it.

When we got back into dairying and bought a backhoe, that was 2WD, but I assumed (and still do) it was because we couldn’t afford a proper one.

And as told previously in these pages, the old 3CX was a brilliant machine; however with no power to the front, on a slippery farm laneway you could easily end up through a fence. Sad.

We eventually graduated and now as far as I can tell, the only thing my parents have that’s 2WD is the lawn mower.

So 2WD was something that I regarded as surviving, rather than aspiring to.

You buy a 2WD machine because you can’t afford MFWD, FWA, 4EWD or any of the other you-beaut ways engineers have devised to make all the wheels pull their weight.

Accordingly, saving my pennies and putting things in order for my banker, I have lashed out on some 4WD machines of my own. And they’re great; I can drive through all kinds of mud, and not get bogged.

I can carry bigger loads on the front end loader and not leave ruts, or bigger loads on the rear linkage and still have steering. Bias confirmed.

That was until recently, where I have had the misfortune of deferring my children’s future education to fund the refurbishment of not one but two front axles.

Due to a combination of fair wear and tear, possibly some operational over-enthusiasm on my part, and, (I suspect) at least one case of getting sold a dodgy internal repair job, these have become — to use the mechanics’ term — flogged out.

Now with the old 3CX, when something went wrong with the front axle, the wheel fell off. You’d get some diesel, a rag and a new bearing, and put it all back together.

Not so with a driven front axle. There’s hubs and housings and bushes and planetaries and universal joints and goodness knows what else, all of which need calibration to the nth degree, and many of which are comprised of parts forged from the melted down gold of the Inca. Or so their pricing would suggest.

We’ve had some great people on the job, and frankly I doubt these axles will ever break again, but my heart already is. I’m scarred for life.

Things are not as I believed. What sort of world is it where my 40-year old 2WD project tractor and similarly vintage 4 x 2 rusted out Jap truck have been keeping the cows fed and chores seen to whilst the more pricey precious petals and their planetaries get their housings machined?

Two wheel drive is not just a poor man’s limitation; it’s a purer form of traction that harks back to a simpler time.

It might be the bill shock, and it might be the lack of rain, but I’ve got a newfound enthusiasm for those machines where less is more, and the front axle is just for steering.

I’ll fix a fence over a front axle any day.

• John Droppert has no mechanical qualifications whatsoever, but has been passionate about tractors since before he could talk and has operated many different makes and models in a variety of roles for both profit and fun.