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Getting on Track

The versatility of track-equipped tractors is just one reason why they're a popular choice for grooming trails.

When it comes to grooming trails in the winter, snowmobile and cross-country ski clubs have a number of options. Different machines from utility snowmobiles to heftier vehicles designed specifically for snow grooming are employed for this purpose, but an increasingly popular choice are tractors with their tires swapped out for tracks.

One company capitalizing on this trend is Zuidberg NA, the North American arm of the Netherlands-based Zuidberg Group which offers track systems for agricultural tractors as well as custom-made drive line and transmission solutions. In 2016, the company began making inroads into the snow grooming industry with the introduction of its innovative Zuidberg track conversion system.

Chris Saunders, vice president for Zuidberg NA, believes a big reason for the growing popularity of track-equipped tractors in snow grooming circles is their versatility. In addition to snow grooming in the wintertime, they can be used to maintain trails that are put to off-season uses like ATVing, as well as to prepare the trails for snowmobilers before the snow falls.

“There are uses for a tracked tractor unit other than just the snowmobile trail use,” said Saunders. “They’re multi-purpose and can be used year-round…. You can go brush with it, you can go mow with it, you can do all sorts of things with it.”

Saunders maintains tractors are easy to operate compared to some other types of snow grooming equipment and notes they have the added benefit of excellent visibility. “You can look right out your back window and check on your drag and see how everything is going,” he said.

Saunders says a major plus in the off-season is that track-equipped tractors can usually get around more easily in wet, sloppy trail conditions than their wheeled counterparts.

“You’re going to get a lot better traction with the track system,” he said. “That makes it easier to maneuver, and you’re going to get more power to the ground with the tracks than you are with wheels,” he said.

Saunders points out that tracked tractors also tend to be a lot easier on the trails themselves. “You’re going to have better flotation and less soil compaction with the track system than you are with wheels on there,” he said. “As a result, you’re not sinking in and tearing up big ruts up on your trails like you possibly could with wheels.”

Saunders says a track system also provides more comfort for users, noting that Zuidberg tracks feature a unique bogie system designed to virtually eliminate cab vibrations. The system features axels that oscillate three-dimensionally on top of a vibration-dampening piece of rubber and bear the weight of the tractor.

“You’ve got a nice ride with the track system on there,” said Saunders. “You’re not going to get the bouncing effect that you’re going to get from the wheels.”

Resale value

Saunders says another consideration for snowmobile clubs or others looking to buy equipment for snow grooming is the resale value of their investment.

“There’s a larger market for a used ag tractor than there is for a unit that’s only designed for snowmobile trail grooming. That means it’ll be worth more money when you go to sell it because of everyone out there looking to purchase that type of [equipment],” he said.

Saunders notes that most well-known tractor brands have an extensive dealer network to ensure quick supply of replacement parts or service when needed. “If you’ve got problems with the tractor itself, it’s easy to get parts,” he said. Some users may want to switch back and forth from tracks to wheels on their tractors, and Saunders says a system like the Zuidberg track conversion kit makes that easy to do.

The kit is comprised of four pre-assembled tracks along with a sub-frame that is affixed to the tractor. Saunders says this unique track undercarriage design enables quick and simple changeover between tracks and tires.

“The only thing you’re doing is putting a sub-frame on the tractor and then putting the track right on that sub-frame,” he said. “If you want to go back to your wheels, that sub-frame stays on there.”

Zuidberg tracks are available in a variety of widths ranging from 11.8 to 36.2 inches (30 to 92 centimeters), can be adapted for use on many types of tractors, including John Deere, New Holland and Case IH. According to Saunders, the purchase price of a tractor equipped with Zuidberg tracks can range from between $60,000 and $80,000.

New rubber tracks

Zuidberg track systems are made by the Zuidberg Group, which specializes in high-tech manufacturing. It recently invested $11 million into developing its own rubber-making facility in the Netherlands to consolidate the track production process.

“We’re getting ready to release our own rubber on the track systems,” said Saunders. “Everything on that track system is going to come from us. Right now, we’re purchasing the rubber from different rubber manufacturers, but it will soon be our own rubber on everything. It will be a full Zuidberg product.”

Saunders says this provides the company with more control over the final product and will also mean any issues with the rubber belts on Zuidberg tracks can be resolved more quickly, which benefits customers. The rubber belts are in the final stages of validation to ensure they conform to safety standards and they should be ready to release on new Zuidberg track conversion kits coming out this year.