Tractor 101

Western Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education
(SARE) Farm Internship Curriculum and Handbook


Tom and Maud Powell and Michael Moss, Sustainable Farmers, Jackson County, OR.
Technical advisor: Tim Franklin, Jacksonville, OR.
Curriculum advisor: Peter O’Connell, Jacksonville, OR.
Web advisor: National Center for Appropriate Technology, Butte, MT.

Published 2007
Updated 2010


Tractor 101

This lesson plan is geared towards the operation of a Kubota 3410; nearly all the information is transferable to most small farm tractors. However, it is very important when operating any tractor that one has a solid fundamental understanding of the particular tractor’s nuances, lever and gear positions, and safe operating guidelines.


Understanding the Various Controls on the Tractor

  • Starting the Tractor
    • The Kubota and most small farm tractors are started by turning the key to the right one click until the light for the glow plugs comes on and then goes off again. You may then depress the clutch and turn the key all the way to the right until the engine turns over.
    • On cold mornings the choke may be required. This is operated by pulling the choke (located near the key) all the way out. As you turn the engine over, slowly push the choke back in until the engine kicks on.
    • It is very important that the throttle be pushed all the way in the upward (turtle) position before starting the tractor. This gives the tractor an opportunity to warm up in the idle position, very important with any diesel engine.
  • Throttle Control
    • The throttle can be located sticking out of the right side of the dash. It is an orange handled lever equipped with a turtle and rabbit symbol.
    • Pulling down on the lever towards the rabbit increases the amount of fuel fed into the engine and therefore increases RPMs and available power to the tractor.
  • Clutch Pedal
    • This pedal is found on the left side of your foot controls. It is a single pedal.
  • Forward and Reverse Pedal
    • This “rocker” pedal makes the tractor go forwards and backwards and can be found on the right side of your foot controls. It sits on the floor of the tractor.
  • Brake Pedals
    • These pedals sit above the “rocker” pedal and can be operated as one pedal or split to brake the individual rear wheels.


Understanding the Various Parts of a Small Farm Tractor and their Functions

  • PTO (power take off)
    • A PTO is used for powering a tiller, auger, or any other implement that is actively driven by the tractors engine.
    • The PTO can be located in the back of the tractor.
    • The PTO is used by hooking up the PTO drive shaft to the PTO and running the engine so the tachometer reads 540 RPMs.
    • To engage the PTO the clutch must be depressed. Once the clutch is depressed you may shift the PTO lever forward and then slowly release the clutch petal to begin spinning the PTO. The lever can be found next to your right hip on the tractor.
    • It is important when engaging the PTO not to “shock load.” A shock load happens when the clutch is popped and the engine is revved to a running RPM level. Shock loading the PTO stresses the metal on the tractor and the implement being driven. To avoid this, run the tractor’s engine with the lowest RPM’s possible when taking your foot off the clutch and engaging the implement.


  • Three-Point Hitch Hydraulic
    • The hydraulic unit and three-point hitch system is designed to raise and lower the implement positioned on the rear of the tractor.
    • The hydraulic is used to determine the operating depth of both active (PTO driven) and passive implements. This will determine the depth of tillage, subsoil ripping, plowing etc. of any giving implement in usage.
    • The lever that controls the three-point hitch can be found on the right side of the tractor driver’s body around the height of the knee.
    • If the lever is pushed towards the ground at maximum depth the implement will be forced down as far as it may go by the hydraulics of the tractor.
  • Front Bucket Loader
    • The front bucket loader is used for scooping up large loads and moving heavy objects or masses of earth around the farm.
    • The front bucket loader is hydraulically operated using the ball lever located on the right hand side of the tractor directly across from the tractor driver’s shoulder.
    • There are two different ranges of motions available to you when using the front loader.
    • The arm of the bucket may be raised or lowered and the bucket may be tilted forward and backward.
    • The controls are “reversed” in that to make the arm of the bucket come up, you pull down on the ball lever. To lower the arm, you push up on the ball lever.
    • To dump the bucket, you move the ball lever to your right. To tilt the bucket back, you move the ball lever to your left.
    • These are the four main movements of the ball lever. Each movement is accomplished by moving the lever in the primary directions (north, south, east and west).
    • There are four other movements that incorporate both ranges of motion simultaneously. In other words, they move the arm and the bucket at the same time. These movements can be found by engaging the ball lever at the secondary directions (i.e., southwest, northeast, etc). These movements require more skill and experience and will make your movements more fluid.
  • Basic Tractor Safety Principals
    • Always wear your seatbelt! Most tractors are equipped with a roll over protection device that is built to protect you if the tractor rolls. A seatbelt will save you from getting crushed!
    • Never stand near a spinning PTO! The PTO and connected drive shaft spins with incredible force. Keep clothing and body parts away from the spinning shaft, or risk dismemberment and death!
    • Do not rest arms or hands in the joints of any hydraulic part! Or risk dismemberment.
    • Never put your hands inside or around active implements when the tractor is running! Turn off tractor if any jamming or other obstructions occur when using PTO driven implements.
    • Do not operate tractor on a dangerous slope! Be aware of rollover dangers.
    • Always move very slowly when moving heavy loads in the bucket! Driving with a heavy load greatly changes the balance and stability of the tractor. Heavy loads encourage tipping and rolling.


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