How to build a tractor from the grassroots


From 1946 until 1989, farming in the People’s Republic of Poland was strictly controlled by the Communist government, and mass-produced agricultural machines were allotted to farms depending on their productivity levels. For poor farmers in the highlands of Poland, the huge machines permitted by the State were simply too large to operate on the local steep and narrow tracks. In a practical, yet defiant act, they began building homemade, custom tractors in the early 1960s, a practice that continues today.

81_homemade_tractors_illus1The knowledge of how to build handmade tractors has been passed down the generations. Today, Polish highlanders have adjusted their machines to serve a variety of purposes, from dragging trees, to plowing for potatoes, to sawing wood on-site.

Find one of these first:
81_homemade_tractors_illus2Ursus tractor

After its early days producing military vehicles, the Ursus Factory began manufacturing tractors after the Second World War. They were the first mass-produced agricultural vehicles to be “made in Poland.” Unfortunately for Polish pride, the Ursus’ design is actually based on that of the Zetor, a Czechoslovakian tractor built on the Soviet principle that different models and types of machines should have standardized, identical and interchangeable parts.

81_homemade_tractors_illus3PZInz Model 713

Developed by the Polish vehicle manufacturer Państwowe Zakłady Inżynieryjne, (PZInz), the 713 was one of the first trucks in Poland to have a cab that allowed the driver and the copilot to speak with each other. In the 713, the occupants are seated above the engine, not behind it, as was the case in the previous 703 model, in which the noise of the engine was deafening.

81_homemade_tractors_illus4FSC Żuk

587,000  Żuks (or “beetles”) were made and some (or their remains) can still be found in the streets and junkyards of Poland. Long-used by the Polish post office and the nation’s farmers, this metal brick with wheels has independent front-wheel suspension and a heavyweight chassis –  ideal as the base of any homemade tractor.

Go shopping in the junkyard:

Find one of the vehicles above and strip it. Remove everything but the chassis. Try to find the center of mass, but avoid tipping the chassis over. Call your neighbors. You’ll need their help to build the main frame of the chassis.

81_homemade_tractors_illus5A. AXLES

− Go to the junkyard and remove the axles from a truck.
− Modify them so they are 110 centi-meters wide. The deep tracks through the Polish highlands were worn down by generations of horse carriages with 110-centimeter axles. Any wider, and the tractor won’t fit.


− Visit Andrychów, a small town in southern Poland, and go to the Andoria factory for one of its famously powerful engines.
− Make sure you get a diesel engine: during the Bolesław Bierut dictatorship (1947-1952), the government rationed gasoline, prompting farmers to convert their tractors to diesel, partly out of practicality, partly as a protest.
− Fix the motor in the center of mass, and connect it to both axles to get four-wheel drive.


− Salvage 40cm tires from an old mowing machine. Drive into Podhale, the town where these improvised tractors originated, as though you own the place. Podhale farmers are well known for their ability to overcome any obstacle, making them icons in Poland.


− Remove both gearboxes from an old lorry.
− Each gearbox has four gears, so linked in series, you have 16 speeds. The first four, it’s said, will give you the relative power and speed of a dung beetle. The second four are for cruising. The third set, the “flirty gallop,” will let the engine loose. The last four will give you the pace of a wild horse.


− Pull a pair of comfortable-looking seats from an old car, so you can ride alongside your wife/husband.
− If you want room for other family members, build a wooden box, fix it to the back, and tell them to squeeze in.


From the pages of COLORS #82 - Shit.