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Giant "Rite Tractors" Still Going Strong

After 94 and 40 years, respectively, Dave Curtis and his Rite tractors are still going strong. One of the biggest tractors, nicknamed the Earthquake, will be on display this summer at the Half Century of Progress Show in Rantoul, Ill. It’s one of 38 200 to 750 hp tractors built by the D.L. Curtis Co. since 1973. The last one was built about four years ago, according to Curtis.

    “We built 38 of them, and they are all still running,” he says.

    Curtis and his brother Jack were first covered in FARM SHOW more than 36 years ago (Vol. 1, No. 3). Their Rite tractor was described as the first to offer an Allison automatic, infinitely variable speed, mechanical transmission. The articulated, 400 hp Model 404 weighed 45,000 lbs. and measured 15 ft., 11 in. wide with duals.

    “We used all standard components,” recalls Curtis. “People could order what they wanted. We used late model, low hour components to reduce costs, but added new technology as it was introduced. We had computers on the later models.”

    The tractors commonly featured big Cummins diesels with Detroit or Caterpillar engines optional. They used Spicer drivelines, Clark or Caterpillar axles, Budd-type wheels and conventional or the then new clutchless transmissions. Over time, most were built with the Allison automatic transmission.

    Years ahead of their time, the tractors allowed the operator to “dial” in the desired speed. The transmission shifted up or down to maintain that speed.

    The Curtis Rite tractors featured custom cabs and Curtis designed transfer cases. Tractor cabs and hoods tilted out of the way for ease of service. They also had a patent on the hinge, which eliminated vibrations previously common in articulated tractors.

    The Earthquake is one of a handful of 750 hp Rite tractors built. It later received a power boost bringing it to 850 hp. Originally purchased for use in Oregon, it’s now in Ohio.

    “We’ve invited Dave Curtis and hope he can attend the show,” says Darius Harms, show chairman. “People will be able to get up close to the Earthquake.”

    Though he currently offices at home, if Curtis is at the show, he will be ready to take orders for more tractors. The price will be a bit higher than the $171,000 quoted for the 750 hp tractor in that first FARM SHOW article.

    “I’ve still got a good crew ready to build another one if someone wants it,” says Curtis. “A new Rite 750 would be about $450,000 today with all new components.”

    Contact: FARM SHOW Followup, Dave Curtis, 3401 5th Ave. N., Great Falls, Mont. 59401 (ph 406 453-7707; cell 406 590-7707; ritebycurtis@msn.com).

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2013 - Volume #37, Issue #4