Restoring Big Roy

Versatile 1080 Big Roy

While the Manitoba Agricultural Museum’s collection includes some very recognizable artifacts such as the Case 32-110 steam engine, Rumely Model E Oil Pull, Bull Moose Sheaf Loader, and others, the most recognizable artifact is the prototype Versatile Model 1080 tractor better known as Big Roy.

Big Roy is one of our biggest attractions; people from around the world come to see it. We are proud to have a Canadian-made tractor as one of our cornerstones.

A chance encounter between Versatile and the person entrusted by the museum to operate Big Roy, led Versatile to consider offering to restore the tractor for the museum in return for its use in Versatile’s 50th anniversary celebrations taking place in 2016. An agreement was soon struck and Big Roy departed the museum grounds in the late fall of 2015 for Versatile’s factory in Winnipeg. The tractor was taken into the Research and Development shop at the plant and tear down got underway soon after the tractor’s arrival. Big Roy received mechanical repairs, new components, new cab interior, a fresh coat of paint, and new decals. The tractor was almost stripped down to the frame in order to accomplish all the work Versatile has planned. As the tractor is a prototype, many parts were unique to Big Roy; however, some parts were standard components on other tractors produced by Versatile at the time Big Roy was built in 1977.

The Versatile 1080 is laid out opposite to the traditional four-wheel drive tractor layout with a 19-liter, 600 horsepower Cummins engine mounted on the back half of the tractor. The cab was mounted on the front half with a 550-gallon fuel tank located ahead of the cab. Big Roy features an operator environment that was ahead of its time. The air-conditioned cab, accessed through sliding doors on either side, was built with seating for three full-sized adults. The rear-mounted engine virtually eliminated rearward visibility and the solution was a closed-circuit television system with a 9-inch monitor in the cab connected to a dustproof 120-degree camera in the rear.

The really unique feature of this tractor are the four axles which were powered through a six-speed manual transmission. The tractor articulates between the second and third axle. The articulation joint, as well as allowing movement from side to side, which is necessary for steering, enables vertical movement of 10 degree plus or minus. This movement is necessary to allow the tires to remain in contact with the ground as the tractor moves over uneven ground. The tractor will steer 40 degrees to one side or the other.

While the innovative four-axle design allows enough rubber on the ground to use the engine’s 600 horsepower while allowing the tractor to remain fairly narrow, the result was all four tires on either side run in the same track and cause soil compaction problems within this track. Versatile’s Model 1150, which appeared after the Model 1080 and featured 475 horsepower, reverted to the standard four-wheel drive tractor design layout. The 1150 either used very wide tires installed as duals on all axles or mounted triple tires on all axles.

Big Roy came to the Manitoba Agricultural Museum when the Versatile was purchased by Ford. Also donated at that time was a prototype Versatile bi-directional tractor and an early Versatile rotary pull-type combine that was fitted with plexiglass panels to act as a sales tool. The Plexiglas allowed farmers to see the internal workings of the machine as the threshing mechanism turned.

Page revised: 7 December 2022