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Melberg's homemade 'Big Bud' tractor is replica of World's Largest

Melberg Farms build working model of 70s tractor

Charlie Melberg, of Melberg Farms in Hector, stands beside the operational scaled down model of a 'Big Bud' 525/50 that he built over a period of a year and three fourths time for his grandson. The original 1970s tractor, known as the 'World's Largest' was used for big area farms where it could work more than one acre per minute, at speeds up to 8 mph.

Back in the mid to late 70's the classic Big Bud 747 was and still is billed as 'The World's Largest Tractor' by the Guinness book of records. Charlie Melberg, who with his sons, Brad and Mark, run a large farm operation in Hector, Minnesota, took on a year and three-quarter long task between farm work to build a working scaled down replica of a Big Bud tractor for Charlies 10-year-old grandson. With this in mind, you could probably say Melberg now has the World's smallest Big Bud.

"I have five grandsons and I restored four 1960 model Minneapolis Moline Jet Star's for them. My middle grandson, Madden, who saw my small desk model of a Big Bud and pictures on the Internet, came to me one day and said; 'I don't want a Minneapolis Moline, I want a Big Bud.'" explained Madden.

When grandson, Madden, first brought up this idea, Charlie told him we have a big job ahead of us. In building this machine I got to talk to one of the former owners and an engineer who was 90 years old to tell me how they designed it. One of Melberg's first steps was to contact David Nelson at Loftness Manufacturing in Hector to see if he could laser cut some parts for him. Charlies son-in-law, Tim Swenson of Glenwood, is a draftsman and engineer who drew up dimensions taken from Melberg and put them into a CAD program and sent them to Kirk Reckow at Loftness.

Replica Big Bud Tractor in Hector, MN

Everything on the Big Bud was built to scale and replicated to match the original Big Bud that went into production in the 1970s. The inside of the cab is roomy enough to hold an adult driver.

Melberg says it is a "play tractor,' for his grandson to drive around and keep in the family for years to come. He has however used the tractor to drag the farmyard. Various versions of Big Bud were built by Northern Manufacturing Company in Havre, Montana until the last one rolled off the line in 1992. Melberg chose to build a scaled down replica of the 525/50 that was built between 1979 and 1982. The 525 number refers to its original horsepower.

A 1979 Big Bud 525/50 can be purchased now for $180,000. When new, the only Big Bud 747 cost around $300,000, today, it is estimated to be worth anything from three to six times this figure. It had 1,100 h.p. and is about twice the size of many of the largest production tractors in the world, depending on parameter. It now sits in the Heartland Museum in Clarion, Iowa.

"The tractors were used for farming big areas, said Melberg. "A few went all over the United States; at one time a farmer by the name of Harlan Johnson from nearby Renville (Minnesota) had three.

"We built this to scale taking measurements off a real 525/50 Big Bud. - all the dimensions were taken in half and resulted in a single seat tractor about 25 percent the size of the original. It has a three-cylinder Yanmar Japanese diesel engine delivering about 25 horsepower - it's an engine used in John Deere Lawn and Garden equipment, Bobcat's and a lot of other places. I purchased farm tires for it from Loftness. It has power steering and two old Case Lawn & Garden Tractor rear ends. The hydraulic-driven four-wheel drive unit has a hydrostatic transmission giving off infinite speeds forward and backward of about 10 mph. We think my Big Bud weighs about a ton," said Melberg.

Every part was made, taken apart and put together again. Other parts like the rear end and motor were hunted down on Amazon and eBay. The majority of painting was done by Adam Swanson at Macik's Paintin' Place in Hector and decals were furnished by Creative Details in Danube. Charlie, his grandsons and hired help did the assembly at the farm shop.

"We built the first model out of cardboard to make it look right and come up with the right dimensions," said Melberg. "We spent many, many hours nights and weekends designing things the way they should be to make it look like the original Big Bud. We took the cab off three times and rebuilt it again, the drive system was taken apart many times to get it right and we had to fix oil leaks and adjust things to make it fit."

Charlie and his wife, Barbara, moved away from the farm 12 years ago to Lake Allie near Buffalo Lake so their sons and grandsons could grow up on the farm. They still spend most of their time at the original farm site where they raise corn, soybeans and sugarbeets.

Melberg's great grandfather, Peter, came to Hector from Sweden to America to farm. His parents, Donald and Helen Lou worked the farm before him. His dad's uncle set up a bottled milk business originally called the Twin Hill Guernsey farm on this same farmsite. They now raise corn, soybeans and sugarbeets on the Century Farm.

Over the years, Charlie, attended Hector High School and got to know Mike Schweiss very well through FFA, both he and Mike earned the American and Star Farmer degrees. Charlie said Mike was responsible for getting him elected as President of the Hector FFA chapter. Charlie has nine Schweiss bifold doors in use on his farm site.

Big Bud Replica outside of Schweiss Bifold Doors

Charlie Melberg with his grandson, Madden, the lucky lad who can now tell his friends he owns a "Big Bud" tractor. Nearly two years of weekend and nights was put into building it.

Things to know about the original Big Buds

Big Bud Tractors Inc. was born out of the Wagner tractor dealership in Havre, Montana in 1961. Big Bud manufactured heavy-duty high horsepower tractors with industrial engines fitted to custom-built frames. The company developed a number of innovations for heavy duty tractors, including tilt cabins and a skid system for engine removal. The first two Big Bud tractors out of the Havre, Montana plant were the 250-series.

The largest 747-series tractor was originally designed by Wilbur Hensler and built by Ron Harmon and the employees of his Northern Manufacturing Company at a cost of $300,000. It was made for the Rossi Brothers, cotton farmers of Bakersfield or Old River, California.

Big Bud Replica's diesel Engine

The power source for the Big Bud comes from a three-cylinder Yanmar Japanese diesel engine delivering about 25 horsepower.

After leaving the Rossi Brothers cotton farm the Big Bud found its way to Indiantic, Florida. The second owners, Willowbrook Farms, used the tractor for deep ripping purposes. In 1997, the Big Bud found its way back home to Montana, only 60 miles from where it was built. The Williams Brothers of Big Sandy, Montana purchased the tractor and brought it to their farm in Chouteau County. They used the tractor to pull an 80-foot cultivator at speeds better than 7 mph. The tractor could work more than one acre per minute, at speeds up to 8 mph.

The behemoth left the wheat fields of Big Sandy, Montana to tour farm shows and events. The first stop was the Half Century of Progress show in Rantoul, Illinois, where the tractor thrilled a crowd of 60,000 pulling a 15-furrow plow.

The Big Bud 747 with its 16-cylinder Detroit Diesel motor is 27 feet long, 20 feet wide and 14 feet tall. The wheels were specially made in Canada and are 8 feet in diameter and 3 feet wide. When the 1,000-gallon fuel tank is full, the tractor tips the scales at 130,000 pounds.

The company went bankrupt in the early 1980s and was bought up by the Meissner Brothers in 1985. Production slowed in the late 1980s due to the farming recession and increasing competition from mainstream manufactures.

The United Tire Company of Canada, which made the tractor's custom 8-foot tires, went bankrupt in 2000, partially contributing to the decision to stop using the tractor for regular work in July 2009, and to move the Big Bud 747 to museums. Over the last 20 years the tractor has toured many farms and museums and now rests in Clarion, Iowa.

It is not known how many Big Buds survive today, but this is the only 747 ever built. The 747 has a shipping weight of over 43 tons. This increases by 16 ton when fitted with its eight tires. Add another 4 ton when the two fuel tanks holding 1,000-gallons are filled and Big Bud tips the scales at over 60 ton.

Hydrostatic Drive moves tractor replica at about 10 mph

The cab and instrument panel of the Big Bud looks exactly like the original. The hydrostatic drive transmission moves the tractor about 10 mph forward or backward. It has power steering and two Case Lawn & Garden tractor rear ends.

Air Cleaner and smokestack for tractor

An air cleaner sits outside the cab alongside the smokestack. The decals and red striping replicate the original Big Bud and were made by Creative Details of Danube.

Nine Schweiss liftstrap ag doors at Melberg Farms, two are in the background

Charlie has restored four Minneapolis Moline Jet Star's for his other grandchildren. Grandson, Eric, at right received one of them. He is pictured with Charlie and Madden, inside the cab. Charlie and his sons have nine Schweiss bifold doors on various buildings on their farm, two of which can be seen in the background.


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Charlie has restored four Minneapolis Moline Jet Star's for his other grandchildren. Grandson, Eric, at right received one of them. He is pictured with Charlie and Madden, inside the cab. Charlie and his sons have nine Schweiss bifold doors on various buildings on their farm, two of which can be seen in the background.
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"I didn't even price anyone elses doors, I knew this was the one I wanted. I still would have went with a Schweiss door even if I wasn't so close to the factory. Schweiss is the only company I know of that has the liftstrap. I've seen bifolds on other buildings that weren't Schweiss doors, but they didn't have the quality. Some guys tried to talk me into these big rollup doors, and then they put a post in the middle of them that I figure someone sooner or later is going to back into and you lose some headroom with a rollup..." explained Kiecker.
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It stands tall, nearly 40' to the roof line. It's big, like 120' x 200'. Concrete walls standing 16' tall wrap all four sides of this huge structure. And it holds nearly 1 million bushels of corn. We're talking about the huge feed storage structure at Revier Cattle Company, a beef operation with feedlot capacity of about 16,000 head. But what makes this feed storage especially unique are two steel hydraulic doors, each 15' 6" wide and 15' tall and positioned at both ends of this feed storage structure.
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