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Farm equipment has changed dramatically since the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Tractor Test Laboratory poured its first concrete track in 1956. That one replaced the original track made of compacted soil.
In the summer of 2007, the aging track was demolished and replaced with a new one that can better accommodate modern tractors, which are wider, heavier and faster than their predecessors.
The new track is made from a special concrete blend that is 12 percent stronger than the concrete used for airport runways, said Roger Hoy, professor of agricultural engineering and director of the lab.
The track also is wider and thicker than the original 22 feet wide, compared to 15, and nine inches thick instead of seven. The new track also features banked edges that will allow the lab to test tractors that travel at higher speeds.
Construction on the track began shortly after Memorial Day and concluded in August. HWS Consulting Group, the Lincoln engineering firm that designed the original track, also designed the new one. Another Lincoln company, TCW Construction, built the new track.
Hoy said he hoped the track would last another 50 years.
"We tried to anticipate what needs we would have in the future," he said.
UNL is the only university in the United States to have a tractor test lab, which was formed because a state senator purchased a tractor and was unhappy with its performance. Wilmot Crozier introduced a bill in the 1918 Legislature requiring any tractor sold in Nebraska to be tested to ensure it performed as the manufacturer claimed. Thus, the Tractor Test Lab opened in 1919.
Nebraska is still the only state to have such a law, Hoy said, but almost all models are evaluated at the lab anyway. The lab also is the official U.S.
testing site for the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, which regulates tractor standards worldwide.
On average, the lab tests 25 tractors annually. The lab's operation and maintenance costs, including construction of the new track, are funded through manufacturers' fees.
Ed Heys of the Association of Equipment Manufacturers said the lab is one of the finest of its kind in the world, and added; "Their future looks bright-and busy."