tractor story

University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s East Campus boasts the Dairy Store, the Lanes N’ Games bowling alley and the only university tractor testing facilities in North America.

The test lab and track were established in 1919, after Wilmot Crozier, an Osceola farmer who became a state legislator, bought a Ford tractor that didn’t live up to its advertised claims. The advertisements had overexaggerated the machine’s horsepower. Determined that no other farmer should fall to such disappointment, Crozier worked with other state senators to pass the Nebraska Tractor Test Act in 1919.

The law requires all tractors sold in Nebraska to be tested through the Nebraska Tractor Test Laboratory on East Campus. Roger Hoy, director of the Nebraska Test Laboratory, said the law was the foundation of the testing facilities.

“The senators and the university worked together to make sure there would be a place to test the tractors,” he said.

A harsh winter in 1919 delayed the facility’s first successful test until 1920. It is known as the world’s first tractor test lab.

With the test track and indoor testing facilities, Hoy said the lab performs three tests: power, sound and a 3-point lift test. If the machine lives up to the claims made by companies, the tractor is given approval by the Nebraska Test Lab. Hoy said the lab’s approval carries a lot of weight in advertising.

“Some companies test their tractors knowing they’ll pass. They just want their machine to have our approval,” Hoy said.

John Hansen, president of the Nebraska Farmers Union, said the need for the tractor test lab continues today.

“There tends to be wild claims made about the performance of tractor engines and how much horsepower they have and all those kinds of things,” he said. “There is a lot of advertising and misinformation that farmers really struggle with, and looking at these test results is really helpful for people who live off the land.”

Hansen said he consulted the test lab’s results when he bought his first tractor in 1973.

Hoy said the test lab is still nationally significant to the farm equipment industry.

“It has become the basis for not only Nebraska farmers, but also for farmers all over the nation,” Hansen said. “It helps (people) make better buying decisions and is a tremendous service to agriculture.”

As the union president, Hansen said he meets farmers from all over the country, and the test lab often comes up in conversation.

“In addition to football, the test lab is what the university is known for,” Hansen said.

The test lab also has significance to the people working there. The lab employs part-time student workers, and the experience the students gain by working there is invaluable, Hoy said. All of his workers have summer internships planned, and the graduating students have jobs lined up.

“I’ve even had people call me to ask if I have any more students looking for jobs or internships,” Hoy said.

Hansen agreed. “The lab enhances the engineering program, and it’s an important part of their learning and provides a lot of their benefits,” he said.

But lessons on the tractor test lab don’t always go according to plan, Hoy said. He talked about one piece of machinery, the “motor grader from hell.”

“It was going around the track when it burst into flames,” Hoy said, “The gas spilled into the ground, so we had students out there scrubbing the ground to get the gas out. We had to do soil tests. It was a mess.”

Although the lab may play a big part in the worker’s lives, Mason Mieszala believes a lot of students don’t know about the testing facilities and museum. However, Mieszala, an animal and meat sciences senior, believes the facilities have a lot to offer students.

“If you are interested in the history of agriculture, it’s one of the coolest things you could see in the city of Lincoln,” he said.

This article has been updated to reflect that Wilmot Crozier was not a congressman, but became a member of the state legislature.