The 13-foot tall metal behemoth – its dramatic vented snout, topped by a wraparound glass cabin, flanked by dual black pipes that shoot skyward like fearsome horns – stared back at me like some musclebound green ox.
I kept my eyes locked on the new John Deere 9000R Series tractor as I trotted onto a dirt plot the size of a football field, puffs of dust swirling around my black high-tops at the company’s demonstration site in Coal Valley, Ill.
Gripping the metal handlebars, I climbed each of the six steep grated steps leading up to the cabin door, careful not to knock my hardhat on the tractor’s assortment of protruding lights, mirrors and railings. After swinging myself inside I plopped onto the seat and strapped in.
The tractor’s size and capability are intimidating. On its own, the 9570RX Scraper-Special weighs more than 29 tons. Hitched to the back was a massive scraper, its steel dripping in Deere Yellow under the afternoon sun. This giant metal bowl weighs 15 tons itself and can fill its payload with another 30 tons of dirt, sand or coal in a matter of seconds. I braced myself for a tough lesson.
Instead, the 9570RX turned out to be a delight.
This particular model, introduced in 2016, uses four rubber tracks like an army tank. Each one measures 36 inches wide and makes the vehicle especially suited for rugged, down and dirty plowing. Yet the tractor also boasts technology and civility suited for the demands of the modern work site.
“Guys spend 10 to 12 hours a day in here,” said Scott Bayless, product consultant manager for John Deere. “It needs to be livable.”
When you settle in to the cushy cloth seat, centrally located with the steering wheel in your lap, there is near-perfect visibility out the floor-to-ceiling windows. On the right are controls for acceleration and working the transmission. There is a large glowing touchscreen display called CommandCenter to adjust the air conditioning, XM radio, Bluetooth connectivity and more.
I was expecting a dust-filled greenhouse. Instead, I got a corner office with cupholders.
An outsourced 14.9-liter Cummins turbodiesel engine, which sends 570 horsepower to all four tracks, lies under the giant green hood. Dual vents are angled menacingly toward the driver like snorting nostrils.
When you push the gear lever into Forward and lift your foot off the brake, the tractor is ready to roll. Turn the bright orange wheel from the “turtle” icon to the “rabbit” to get moving. You can also click your thumb across a dial on the gear lever for more speed, which comes in a hurry. The 9570RX can reach a blazing 26 mph whether the scraper is empty or full. From my perch more than 10 feet off the dirt, zipping to just 15 mph felt like a drag race.
I clicked through the gears on the 18-speed PowerShift transmission, developed in-house, which carried the tractor forward with imperceptible shifts. The three-spoke steering wheel is easy to use, powered by Deere’s electronic technology called ActiveCommand. This helps the 9570RX hold a straight line, perfect for sowing row after row of corn or soybeans. When you turn the wheel, articulated steering reacts quickly to swing the tractor wide.
Glance down for a moment and you’ll see the rubber tracks churning the ground underfoot.
The tracks provide improved traction in wet or slippery conditions, and are relatively new to the tractor market. Deere is the only manufacturer producing both wheeled and tracked versions of its tractors.
Deere offered its first “track-tractor” with a single belt on each side in 1996. The upgraded 9000T Series followed in 1999 with a top rating of 425 horsepower. The latest generation 9000 Series came online in 2014, and the 9000RX debuted two years later as the company’s first “4-Track,” to compete with the Case IH Quadtrac and others.
The new 9000 models are available with up to 620 horsepower and pay special attention to ride quality and driver comfort. It shows.
With Bayless’ help, I set the speed at a comfortable 8.2 mph. The massive Cummins engine sends only a low rumble into your seat and shouting isn’t necessary to hold a conversation. You’re not meant to suffer in the 9570RX, even as it sends plumes of dirt drifting over to other demo sites hundreds of yards away. It’s available in a Premium cab version with heated side mirrors, additional seat adjustments and sun shades, and an optional leather package. For the foreman in all of us.
Should you need to haul many tons of, well, anything, the process is simple. With the scraper pre-set to four different settings, all you do is press one of the numbered buttons alongside the speed dial.
As the tractor puttered along, I pressed the first setting to bring the scraper to a normal riding position. Pressing the second button dropped its door to the ground, like a drawbridge. Through my rearview mirror I watched the soil, up to 60,000 pounds worth, churn up inside the hauler like rogue waves of earth.
There was a slight resistance as the extra weight rushed in and the tractor slowed, but the Cummins quickly rises to the challenge. The tractor started chugging again as if 30 tons hadn’t just been added to its workload. The third button set the scraper to ride at an optimal height for hauling a full load. After a pass around the field, I pressed the fourth button to open the door, sending the dirt tumbling out, leveling evenly under the scraper’s flattened bottom. I brought the tractor to a stop, thanked Bayless and hopped down to admire my handiwork.
The tractor I drove towed one scraper, but the 9570RX can haul two or even three at a time, all filled to capacity. At full capability, the tractor will pull 133 tons from its three-point hitch, the weight of an adult blue whale.
The John Deere 9570RX is by no means cheap – pricing starts at more than $620,000 before you add a scraper or two. Spend a few minutes inside, though, and it’s easy to see how industrial-scale farmers or construction firms would find it perfectly suited to their needs. After all, it rides a lot better than an ox.