Bringing The Gas Tractor Into the 21st Century

gas tractor

According to Mr. Thinker’s Almanac Deere’s Waterloo factory built a total of 47,580 3010, 3020, 4010 and 4020 tractors with gas engines. When the 4010 and 4020 gas burners are compared to their diesel counterparts, they are considered to be cold blooded, lacking torque and not very fuel efficient. And the 3010 and 3020, well they’re just dogs. This leaves quite a few of these tractors being scrapped for the parts common to the diesel versions.

At least one man though thinks that the answer to making these tractors useful again is to add late 20th century technology to these mid 20th century tractors, that being electronic fuel injection. David Kepner began working as a mechanic at a Deere dealership in the early 1960s and so has had much experience with them. A few years ago he began looking into the possibility of this new twist on an old engine and eventually called FAST company to talk to them about the possibility. The new from FAST (which by the way stands for fuel, air, spark, technology) was discouraging. They were busy enough with car engines he was told, and weren’t looking to get into the tractor market. However a few days later David got a call back and the man on the other end of the call asked, “Are you the nut in Illinois who wants to put EFI on a tractor?” Apparently the idea had become a lunchroom topic and it was decided that it might be worth looking into. Fast forward to 2015 and David is now selling a complete kit to convert your gas 4010 or 4020 to electronic fuel injection, with plans for 3010 and 3020 kits pending.

While the kit is basically a bolt on system a few changes have to be made first. If it hasn’t already the electrical system must be converted to 12 volt negative ground and you’ll want an alternator for more reliable charging. It is also recommend that solid state ignition be added. The original mechanical fuel pump will be replaced by an electric unit mounted under the tank, so it can be removed or left in place with its only purpose to cover the hole.

The intake manifold is removed and five inch spacers with fittings for the fuel nozzles are bolted between it and the block. The old Zenith or Schebler carburetor is also removed and donated to a museum. In its place an adapter and throttle body from a 2.5 liter GM “Iron Duke” engine is installed. The same rod from the governor that connected to the carburetor now runs the throttle body.

powering a gas tractor

The “brains” of the system is the electronic control unit (ECU) which is located under the dash. When first installed the ECU asks the mechanic a few questions like how many cylinders the engine is and what the horsepower should be set at. The system which was designed primarily for small block Chevy engines will produce approximately 140 horsepower out of the box but the settings are usually adjusted to about a 4020 factory rating of 95.

In actual operation, when more power is required and the throttle plate is opened up, a sensor tells the ECU that there is more oxygen in the system and that it needs more fuel. The ECU responds by telling the injectors to deliver more fuel, the same metered amount to each cylinder, much like a diesel engine. As the tractor is run the ECU is actually capable of “learning” the intricacies of the engine and how it is being operated and become more efficient. The result is 10% more power on 20% less fuel, smoother operation and easy starting. The system is also compatible with ethanol mixes up to E85.

Kepner is constantly striving to improve his part of the system hoping to eventually offer complete one piece manifolds ready to accept the fuel nozzles. FAST company is also improving their system. Kepner notes that when he first started a sensor was required at the point the exhaust manifold comes together and another 18 inches downstream but before the muffler. That would have required some creative and unsightly engineering. Today the latter sensor is no longer required.

By now you’re probably asking yourself what the cost is for all this technology. The answer is about $3500 for the 4010-4020 system. The best part is you don’t have to have a degree in computer science or mechanical engineering to install it but just average mechanical skills and a desire to have a more fuel efficient, better starting, better running tractor.