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(Originally posted Dec. 14, 2012): It's compact, turns on a dime, lifts heavy weights and cuts tall grass with ease. Nope, there's no cape, but the 1026R John Deere compact utility tractor is a "super" little machine that could earn its keep on many properties -- and probably even be elevated to family-member status on most.
Throughout much of the fall we had a 1026R with a front-end loader and mower deck to play with and used it for moving dirt and wood chips, mowing, pulling concrete slabs and showing off running back and forth the mail box.
The first thing we noticed was the 1026R's ability to nearly turn within its own length. The tractor IS maneuverable. And, when you couple that with a single joystick front-end loader, you have a combination that allows quick bulk material moving and precise placement of that load on the other end. I used it to move a mountain of mulching wood chips to the rows of my fledging grape vineyard. Despite the fact the plants are 8 feet apart and the rows are 10 feet apart, the little tractor could maneuver into position to place the chips exactly where I wanted them and we mashed nothing of value -- to speak of!
Equipped with Deere's "drive on/drive off" mower attachment system, the 1026R John Deere utility tractor does a great job on tall grass and would double quite well as a lawn mower given the deck's ability to hug the ground.
Switching between "mower" and "loader" is a bit of a pain, however, since the single joy stick controls both, but the operator has to dismount and "replumb" the hydraulic couplers just below the two-range hydrostatic transmission's foot pedals to make the swap. While the hydraulic lines are color coded with neoprene markers, unless you're using this system all the time, trying to figure out which hose goes on which coupler will give many property owners fits. We'd like to see all of the hydraulics plumbed to one manifold and the joystick function controlled with a selector switch.
The hydraulics are stout, with the three-point hitch on this machine capable of 1,400 lbs. at the ends of the lift bars. The loader, too, will lift a full load of nearly whatever you scoop up.
The three-cylinder Yanmar diesel engine develops 25 horsepower at the crank at 3,200 rpm, and 18 hp at the power takeoff. The engine s mounted in the frame with easy maintenance designed in. A full-flow spin on oil filter is out in plain sight, the radiator, oil cooler and hydraulic system cooler are right up front, along with the battery -- which provides that many more pounds of front ballast.
The two-range hydrostatic transmission is easy to use and quite capable in either range, as is the 4WD in/out lock mounted on the right fender near the accessory joystick. The 1026R utility tractor will "road" at a little over 7 miles per hour and features a cruise control along with a parking break and safety interlock circuits.
The machine is also well lighted for work and "road" use. Well-placed front lights work well with the loader, mid-mount work lights provide a fan of light to the side of the tractor, and rear lights follow up with plenty of visibility. The 1026R also boasts turn signals and red/yellow flashers mounted high on the ROPS structure for plenty of notice to traffic on the road.
The instrument cluster is a mix of analog and digital displays, but like the rest of the tractor, is quite intuitive to use at a glance.
We were sorry to see the little Deere utility tractor go back to the dealer, but it's headed for a buyer I know will like it as much as we did.