Paul and Jeff Agre were tired of getting hit by a dangling foam headliner in their 8070 Allis Chalmers tractor. The glue in the cab's interior had worn off from years of use, leaving the headliner hanging and a left fender panel missing completely. What's more, the seat was ripped and the armrest was rough from wear. “Our arms were getting sore from rubbing up against the old vinyl,” Jeff says.
The Agres weren't ready to buy a new tractor. They just wanted their old one comfortable enough to drive until they could afford to trade. So they went six miles down the road to K&M Manufacturing, a family-owned company that makes aftermarket tractor cab replacement kits.
They bought all the parts they needed for a completely new cab interior along with an updated seat and suspension. “The tractor looks like it just came off the assembly line,” Jeff says. “We're really pleased with it.”
The Agres are not alone. At a time when crop margins are tight and farm input dollars are short, more farmers are buying cab replacement kits as a way to prolong the life of their existing tractors until they can afford to buy new. And there are many advantages to doing it.
One is comfort. You just feel better driving a vehicle that looks and feels like new. Another advantage is less noise. The cab parts are made from acoustical foam and vinyl that help insulate the cab and protect drivers' hearing. Finally, there is the benefit of higher resale value when it comes time to trade. “I can't get top dollar for equipment that looks like heck on the inside,” says Brian Crane, part owner of Charles Crane Equipment, a company that buys and sells early-model farm equipment and frequently installs replacement kits made by Fehr Cab Interiors. Crane and other buyers say a new kit more than pays for itself.
The kit manufacturers claim that the cost of an aftermarket kit is on average about half the price you would pay for the same parts through the original equipment manufacturer (OEM). The exact price varies by make and model of the vehicle and whether you are replacing the cab interior or adding a whole new cab to a cabless tractor. On average you can expect to pay $100 to $400 for a kit that includes side cushions, fender panels and posts, plus another $100 to $300, each, for a headliner, floor mat and seat. Installing a whole new cab can cost $1,400 to $2,900.
Like all do-it-yourself projects, the downside is the labor involved. An interior job can take anywhere from two to 12 hours, depending on the vehicle, and as many as two days or more if you are putting on a new cab.
According to the kit makers we talked with, the easiest interiors to replace are the 86 series IH tractors. The most difficult are Case Steigers and New Holland Versatiles, which have more pieces and more intricate headliners that you have to match up. If you are installing a whole new cab, it may make more sense to hire your dealer to install it for you unless you are mechanically inclined.
K&M Manufacturing says usually a tractor is ready to be reconditioned when it is 10 years old. To give you a sense of the job and what a difference it can make for your tractor, we talked to three buyers of aftermarket cab kits. We asked them about the process and whether they were satisfied with results. Here are their stories.
Paul and Jeff Agre
Agre Farms Sacred Heart, MN
8070 Allis Chalmers tractor
For this story, K&M installed the cab kit for the Agres and took photos of the process. The parts the company replaced were the side cushions, fender panels, posts, headliner, floor mats, seat and suspension.
Company co-owner Kim Mulder and employee Lloyd Pederson performed the installation. Their first step was to pull out all the old pieces of foam and vinyl and remove any remnants using a wire brush. Then they vacuumed it out. “Glue won't stick to dust,” Mulder explains. “You have to vacuum it up really well.”
When it came time to do the installation, they started at the top with the headliner and worked their way down. They fit the pieces in dry before gluing to ensure a proper fit.
K&M cuts a groove in the back of the pieces of foam using a hot nycrome wire, the kind used in toasters, to help the foam bend around corners. Mulder say the wire cuts cleaner than a saw and results in a cleaner fit and more finished edge.
From there they glued in the pieces, spraying both the cab surface and the foam to get the best adhesion. According to Mulder, the hardest piece to install was the headliner. “There were holes in the foam material for the radio, but some of those we had to cut a little bigger,” he says. “And to take the old headliner off, you have to disconnect all the wires and then make sure you get them hooked up right.”
For the last phase they installed the seat and suspension. K&M makes its own seats and recently bought a laser cutter to cut steel for the parts. Installers used to cut the steel parts by hand using a metal sheer and an ironworker to punch holes. They say the cutter results in a smoother cut, less labor and minimal scrap. “Everything is drawn out on a CAD system and sent from the computer to the laser,” Mulder explains. “It tells you how many parts you can get out of a sheet and it will nest them together to get the best yield.”
K&M is considering the same technology to cut the foam and vinyl for its cab kits instead of cutting each piece manually using a knife and wooden template. “We're still a few years away from that,” Mulder says.
The whole process took the two men about eight hours. The total cost was around $1,000, which included $219 for the cab kit, $265 for the headliner, $155 for the floor mat, $186 for the seat and $146 for mechanical suspension.
The Agres say they will get that money back in resale. “It will bring top dollar,” Jeff Agre says. But he adds that they are in no hurry to sell. He says, “We're so happy with the inside that we want to paint the outside.”
4310 John Deere
Tim Horton loved the versatility of his 4310 John Deere compact utility tractor. He used it for lifting, digging, ripping out tree stumps and removing concrete on his property in Carmichael, CA. The 32-hp, 4-wd diesel was equipped with a backhoe attachment, box scraper, posthole digger, disc, forks and 3-pt. trencher. The only thing missing was a cab.
Horton wanted a cab to protect him and the tractor's electronic controls from the sun, dust and rain. But his local dealer didn't offer a cabbed version in that size tractor.
Whole new cab
Horton dug out an old brochure from Curtis Tractor Cab he had kept since 1969 when he was a boy. “I remember wanting a cab enclosure for our Cub Cadet International tractor,” he recalls. “But back then we were lucky to buy the tractor, let alone any extras.”
Horton called the company and told his story to Fred Curtis Jr., whose father had started the company. He then grilled the engineers about the cab design and construction. “The next thing I knew I had a Curtis Cab sitting on my doorstep that I had purchased, and I went right to work putting it on,” he says.
Horton, a certified aircraft mechanic and a general foreman for an electric company, worked on the cab along with his brother over a weekend. They started with the door frame and built from there, in accordance with the instructions. Parts included a hard canopy top with an acoustical headliner, electric wipers, front windshield and soft-sided jeep-style doors.
The job took the two of them about 12 to 16 hours to complete. Horton says the installation was somewhat challenging but adds that a person with a moderate mechanical aptitude would be able to do it. According to the company, a high percentage of customers have their equipment dealers install the cab for them.
The kit cost a total $1,700. Horton says the cab will not only protect the tractor's electronics from the elements, but will also increase its value.
“My tractor with the cab enclosure and backhoe attachment sitting on the John Deere dealership in Woodland, CA, has been a showstopper,” says Horton, who recently brought the tractor there for service. “For a person who likes tractors, it is pretty exciting.”
Brian Crane, part owner of Crane Equipment in Clifton, IL, has replaced more cab interiors than he can count. As a buyer and seller of quality early-model farm equipment, Crane moves about 80 to 90 tractors a year. He says most tractors that come in have interiors that are in poor condition.
“Usually they are completely trashed out and disgusting,” Crane says. “I get in them, power wash the cabs, put new cab kits in, clean them up with some vinyl reviver, do the windows, and before you know it, you have a new-looking cab again.”
Crane buys all of his interior kits from Fehr Cab Interiors in Fairbury, IL. He says the company's kits offer him the best quality and best look at an affordable price. “It is the best look and best cut because they do it so precisely,” Crane explains. “There isn't much trimming. Everything fits in there back to its original way.”
The owners of the company got their start as upholsterers and went out to farms with roll stock and cut and installed the pieces themselves. As their business grew, they started making patterns and putting together kits that farmers could install themselves.
Fehr employees cut all parts by hand using Swiss-made upholstery cutters. The company owns its own thermo-forming machine to make its own molded plastic parts for tractors with plastic headliners. Fehr says making the parts in-house and by hand ensures high quality.
Fehr makes cab interior kits for almost 500 tractors. The one that Crane used most recently was for a 1486 International. “The tractor cab was a big mess inside,” Crane says. “It was dusty, dirty and falling apart.”
Crane took off the old foam and power washed the cab. Then he installed the new kit for the lower belt line. The kit, which cost $99, contained seven pieces that ran along the seat, underneath the door and under the clutch and brake pedals.
Crane worked from the top down starting with the main piece around the seat area. The entire installation took him only 15 minutes. “I've put in so many I've gotten good at it,” he says. He says the average person may take a little longer.
He says the tractor cab now looks like new. And with the new cab interior, the tractor will be much easier to sell and will bring top dollar on his lot. “It's no different than if you went to buy a car and got inside of it and it was disgusting,” he says. “The customer is going to like getting into a nice clean cab.”
Read all the instructions before you start.
Thoroughly clean the cab, using a putty knife, wire brush or side grinder to get off old upholstery and foam.
Vacuum and wipe down the interior to remove particles and dust.
Dry fit the pieces first before you glue to get a feel for where they go.
Glue both the cab interior and the foam to ensure adhesion.
Cab kit manufacturers
Curtis Tractor Cabs
Vehicle cab systems for utility tractors with up to 60 hp; snow and ice control equipment and accessories. Cab enclosure kits include hard canopy top with acoustical headliner, 12v, heavy-duty electric wiper, automotive-style safety glass front windshield, and soft- and hard-sided, pin-hinged doors. 28 different styles to fit John Deere, Kubota, New Holland and other brand-name tractors.
Price: $1,400 to $2,900
Contact Curtis Tractor Cabs, Dept. FIN, 111 Higgins, Worcester, MA 01606, 800/343-7676, visit www.curtiscab.com or www.freeproductinfo.net/fin, or circle 219.
Fehr Cab Interiors
Original equipment manufacturer (OEM)-quality cab interior kits, headliners, floor mats, seats and door seals. More than 400 kits available.
Price: $100 to $400
Contact Fehr Cab Interiors, Dept. FIN, 10116 N. 1900 E. Rd., Fairbury, IL 61739, 815/692-3355, or circle 220.
OEM-quality cab interior kits, headliners, floor mats, replacement seats, suspensions, replacement steps, extendable mirrors, warning lights, safety and utility products and toolboxes. More than 75 different kits available.
Price: $100 to $400
Contact K&M Manufacturing, Dept. FIN, Box 409, Renville, MN 56284, 800/328-1752, visit www.tractorseats.com or www.freeproductinfo.net/fin, or circle 221.
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