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Purchasing our 40+ acre property in Vermont was a major milestone in our journey to building our dream home. We plan to build the house ourselves so having some heavy equipment to help with site work, moving materials and more will be critical.
But more than that, we became land owners, and we now have an ongoing responsibility to maintain and care for the property - including forest management, trail maintenance and snow plowing.
After months of research, we recently bought a brand new Kubota L3901 compact tractor that will be helpful not just while building the house, but for many years afterwards. Having the tractor on hand while building will be incredibly useful, although we are fully aware of its limitations and will rent other equipment (e.g. a mini excavator) as required.
Kubota L3901 HST
The decision to buy a tractor is not something we took lightly - it's a big purchase! We spent months trying to understand our needs, learning as much as we could about tractors, researching our options, and visiting dealerships around Vermont.
As with anything, different models present pros and cons - price, size, weight, capability, maneuverability, stability, comfort, power, etc.
Eventually we settled on an L01-series tractor from Kubota - either the L3301 or the L3901. The 39hp L3901 has 6hp more than the L3301 and costs around $2k more, but is in every other way identical.
We ruled out the L2501 on the basis that it's just a little too small for what we want and honestly feel like it's just there to give an option under 25hp to bypass the DPF requirements. Similarly the L4701 is a bit of an oddity - it sits on its own chassis, and honestly we just don't have need for that amount of power.
In the end it came down to availability. As with seemingly everything else in 2021, tractors are in high demand and short supply. We chose to buy from Essex Equipment in Essex, VT and they had one L3901 in stock, so that's what we went with.
The Kubota L3901 we bought has Hydrostatic Transmission (HST) which, as novice tractor operators, is something we elected for over manual gear-drive transmission. The HST comes as 4WD as standard and has a locking rear differential if we need even more traction.
Cab vs No Cab
One thing we debated at length was cab vs no cab. There's no denying that a cab would be really nice to keep warm in winter, especially when snow blowing. And even in summer, the AC would be a welcome respbite on those long, hot, humid days.
But stepping up to a model with a cab is a significant bump in price of around $9k, give or take.
Given this is our first tractor, and we're not going to be operating it every day for a business, we just couldn't justify that additional cost. If, over time, we decide that a cab is that important to us, we'll worry about it then and we can always trade-up.
Build Options & Modifications
When you buy a new car, it comes fully assembled from the factory so all build configuration and options need to be specified well in advance - or you take your pick from the cars on the dealer's lot.
Not so with tractors - the core of the tractor arrives at the dealership in a crate. The dealer then assembles the entire tractor on-site, so they can customize anything as long as they can get the parts - loader, bucket, tires, etc.
We took full advantage of this, and worked with Chris at Essex Equipment to customize the tractor we were buying.
LA525 Front Loader
Although not technically standard, the LA525 front loader is the default loader paired with the L3901 tractor. It's capable of lifting around 1,100lbs which should be plenty for most of the tasks we have planned. A higher capacity lifter would have necessitated a larger tractor and that wasn't a compromise we wanted to make.
Along the the LA525 front loader, we also added the L2256 66" bucket - again, pretty normal stuff!
Loaded R14 Tires
For tires, we chose to go with the Goodyear R14 tires, a hybrid between an R1 tire with its deep, agricultural tread and the R4 industrial-oriented tire. While in the short term the more aggressive R1 tire might be useful for traction in the forest, it will likely just cause damage once we have the driveway installed. The R14 should be a nice compromise.
When it comes to operating tractors, weight is often a good thing - it helps provides traction and stability, especially when using the loader or other attachments. One really good way of adding weight to the tractor is to "load" the rear tires - in other words, fill them with something to add weight.
We chose to fill the tires with beet juice - an environmentally friendly option recommended by our dealer. Filling each tire about 75% full adds several hundred pounds of ballast to the rear of the tractor.
Because of the way the wheels are mounted with these tires, there isn't enough clearance to put snow chains on them. The solution is to add wheel spacers, which provides the necessary clearance and also broadens the stance of the tractor for additional stability. We'll probably look to add Stahl Steel 2-3" spacers at some point.
3rd Function Hydraulic
The L3901 tractor comes with hydraulics to control the loader (up & down) and bucket tilt (forwards and backwards). We intend to add a grapple to our tractor in future, and a grapple needs another hydraulic line to open and close the jaws.
The solution is to add a 3rd function hydraulic line on the loader arm which we can connect the grapple to. This also needs a control, so the 3rd function hydraulic option replaces the loader control knob to add buttons for the new hydraulic valve.
This is something that can be added aftermarket too, but we felt it was easier to have it added by the dealer at time of purchase.
Bucket Level Indicator
From the operator's seat on the tractor it's relatively difficult to see how level the bucket is - especially as novice tractor operators! The bucket level indicator is a simple metal rod on the loader arm - when the bend in the metal rod is sitting in the bracket, it's a visual indication that the bucket is level.
One of the first tasks for our new tractor will be clearing trees and skidding logs around. To do this, we'll be using logging chains and we need some way to attach these to the tractor.
While it's entirely possible to attach the logging chains to the drawbar on the back of the tractor, we also asked the dealer to add three hooks to the bucket on the front.
Having the chain attached to the bucket offers a number of advantages. First, it means the operator can easily see the chain and log without having to turn uncomfortably in the seat. Second, being attached to the bucket means you can use the loader to raise or lower logs too - this has been really useful!
We had three hooks added - one at each side and one in the middle. We've primarily used the middle hook to avoid off-center weight distribution, but the side hooks have come in useful a couple of times.
The hooks are welded directly to the top of the bucket, and then spray painted Kubota Orange to match the rest of the bucket.
The LA525 loader comes with the quick attach coupler making it really easy to swap the bucket for different attachments.
We didn't want to go overboard and buy too many different attachments up front, but we did elect to buy the PFL2042 Pallet Forks. These are rated to 2,100lbs - well in excess of what our loader can lift, but it's always good to have some margin in case the load is uneqally distributed between the two forks.
Pallet forks are useful for moving materials around. We've already put them to use carrying some heavy logs that were too long for the bucket. They'll also be useful for loading and unloading materials from delivery trucks and trailers, as well as just moving things around the build site.
Even as novices, it takes about a minute to switch between front loader attachments.
What we really need for moving logs and slash is a grapple. It mounts on the front loader and has hydraulic jaws that can pick up and securely hold loads as you move around.
Unfortunately, grapples are a hot commodity and finding stock is almost impossible!
We did a lot of research on which grapple to choose, and ultimately went with the 55" Wicked Root Rake Grapple from Everything Attachments. These grapples are made in the USA and are incredibly strong yet lightweight at just 239lbs - given the lifting capacity of our loader, a lightweight grapple will let us lift heavier items. It has serrated tines, laser cut from 1/4" AR450 steel.
The grapples are made to order, and as with everything right now, there's a hefty lead time - about 14 weeks in our case! We're hoping the grapple should arrive in late September, and when it does it should be straightforward to set up with our dealer-installed 3rd function hydraulic valve.
As I mentioned earlier, we want as much weight at the back of the tractor as possible. Our loaded tires are good, but we wanted more.
Many people choose to leave a box blade or brush hog attached for extra ballast, but we don't own either of those and, honestly, don't want a big attachment hanging off the back of the tractor while we're maneuvering around the trees.
Another alternative is a DIY option, using a large concrete block or a 55-gallon drum filled with concrete, or even a custom-welded structure. Given our limited facilities at the moment, we decided the easiest option was to buy a ballast box.
We chose the Titan Attachments Ballast Box which attaches to the Category 1 3-point hitch on the back of our tractor. The box itself weighs 163lbs but is engineered to hold up to 800lbs! For now we're just putting some bags of sand and gravel in there, but maybe we'll fill it with concrete in future.
In addition to adding weight, it also incorporates a 2" hitch receiver, same as our truck. This means we can use the tractor to tow trailers around our property - including our RV, utility trailers or even rented equipment like a wood chipper.
Although it's compatible with a Quick Hitch, we chose not to add one at this point - partly because we only have one attachment and partly because it will make the ballast box hang out further back which will compromise maneverability. It's something we'll probably add in future if we start acquiring more 3-point hitch attachments though.
As well as the options and attachments for the tractor itself, we also picked up a few accessories too.
Diesel Fuel Can
First, and perhaps most essential, was a 5-gallon diesel fuel can. Our tractor has an 11-gallon fuel tank which was full when it arrived and is the only diesel engine we own (our truck is gas). So far we've put about 14 hours on the tractor (of admittedly very light use) and it's nowhere near needing more fuel yet!
One of our first tasks with the tractor is clearing trees in the forest, so we also picked up some items to help with that. We bought an 8ft logging choker chain that we can wrap around a log. In case that chain isn't long enough, we also bought a 20ft chain with grab hooks at either end. And to give ourselves more options we have the Timber Tuff Swivel Logging Tongs.
We can attach the chain to either the hooks on the bucket, or to the heavy duty twisted clevis we mounted in the drawbar on the back of the tractor.
Although not strictly related to the tractor, we also bought a Woodchuck Tools Timberjack to help save our backs while turning and lifting logs!
In terms of maintenance, there aren't many specialist tools required for the basic maintenance on the tractor - a pair of vice grip pliers and some wrenches will go a long way!
Cordless Grease Gun
But one item we did pick up is the Dewalt Cordless Grease Gun and the LockNLube Coupler. Although it was something of a splurge compared to a simple manual grease gun, it has great reviews and most people who've used both manual and powered grease guns swear by the latter!
There are seemingly countless attachments to mount on either the loader or rear 3-point hitch. Our plan is to avoid buying more than we need - not just because of the cost, but it's just more things to store, maintain, etc. Instead, for things we don't expect to use on a regular basis, we plan on renting.
There are however a couple of attachments we do expect to buy in the future.
Our plans for the house build mean a long driveway - about 1,000ft winding up from the road to the house itself. We haven't decided on a top surface for it yet, but if we end up with a loose gravel surface then we may look at a box scraper to help grade the road.
In winter, we'll need to clear snow from the driveway. Our F-150 truck was never going to be suitable for snow plowing, but the tractor has opened up a few options - either a snow plow or even a blower.
We're still on the fence about whether to buy a bandsaw mill and mill our own lumber or not. If we do, that will generate a lot of offcuts that we'll plan on chipping. Regardless, there'll still be a near endless supply of slash from forest management that we'll need to chip, so a PTO-driven wood chipper might make a lot of sense!
As I write this, it's been just 2 weeks since we took delivery of our Kubota L3901. Chris at Essex Equipment gave us a fantastic orientation, much of which we were able to film and have shared on our YouTube channel.
So far, even as brand new tractor owners, the tractor has been immeasurably helpful. Using it we've been able to clear a substantial area of fallen trees on our property.
When it comes to the larger task of clearing all the trees for the house site, we'll probably rent a mini excavator which will make short work of pushing the spruce trees over.
But already it's clear to us just how valuable the tractor will be. Having a compact but utilitarian vehicle will make our lives so much easier during the house build and long afterwards!