Arctic Marathon puts new tractor models to the test24.03.2009
Valtra’s R&D team recently organised an Arctic Marathon to test the new Versu and Direct models, as well as the new S Series. The marathon involved non-stop tractor work for 24 hours a day, five days in a row, including 1400 kilometres of transfer journeys, 5400 cubic metres of manure, temperatures down to –24 Celsius and 70 centimetres of snow.
Five days working around the clock
The Arctic Marathon started on 9 March at 5am in Suolahti, Finland. The participating tractors included one Valtra S352, two Direct models (a T202 and T182), three Versu models (a T202, T172 and T162), and a prototype of the next T Series. The tractors were driven by 18 members of Valtra’s R&D team and 2 members of the marketing team. The idea was to gain subjective experiences of the new tractor models in actual working and winter conditions.
The team arrived at its destination on Tuesday morning at 3:30am. First the team emptied the scoops, implements and other equipment from the trailers before putting the tractors to work. The prototype T Series, Direct T182 and Versu T172 began loading, while the other tractors transported dry manure using one 10-cubic-metre Joskin trailer, one 12-cubic-metre Kire trailer, one 8-cubic-metre Multiva trailer, one 10-cubic-metre trailer made from a truck, and one unbranded 12-cubic-metre trailer. The dry manure was driven to piles on fields around one kilometre away.
The driving tracks and unloading areas first had to be ploughed and the snow thrown onto the fields. The field under the snow had been ploughed, so the surface was uneven. Fortunately the ground was frozen solid, so the tracks were unaffected by the heavy traffic. At times more snow fell and the tracks had to be cleaned again.
The temperature ranged from 0 to –24 Celsius. The surface of the manure piles froze to a depth of around 30 centimetres, making loading difficult. Some of the trailers were equipped with exhaust-fed trailer-bed heating systems, but there was not suitable tubing available for the new models. As a result the manure froze to the trailers and the frozen layers of manure had to be scraped off the trailers at regular intervals.
The frozen piles of manure proved tricky to handle. One frozen pile measuring approximately 2 metres by 1.5 metres fell off the front loader and onto the tractor’s engine cover, damaging the bonnet and lights. More serious was the hole in the radiator, which sprayed fluid everywhere. Attempts were made to contain the flow using clamps, but the solution to the problem came from a local shop. Two 50-gram bags of powdered ginger were poured into the radiator to block the leak. This emergency repair was sufficient to keep the tractor running for the rest of the week.
The test took place at a former college of agriculture in Kittilä. The farm currently houses 500 bull calves. Due to its location in Lapland, the facilities also include an old slaughterhouse for reindeer, as well as fencing used for rounding up and separating herds of reindeer. Although the hay needed to feed the cattle grows well in the white nights of the Arctic summer, cultivating feed cereals is not pragmatic north of the Arctic Circle.
The return journey took 17 hours and 20 minutes. The Arctic Marathon proved on the whole to be a success. The fitters, designers, bosses and other R&D team members were able to get a feel for working with the new models in the most demanding conditions.
The new tractor models proved to be ready for serial production, as expected. Not a single problem was experienced with the new transmissions. A hydraulic valve gasket popped off one of the Versu models, but as it was the exact same part as on previous Advance models, this could not be considered a teething problem with the new model.
In addition, the nose of one of the tractors was damaged while loading, and a lifting arm on the S Series was bent while turning with a trailer, but these problems could be put down to driver error. The team of tired but satisfied men made it back to Suolahti on Friday the 13th of March at 9:35pm.