The History of Challenger
Challenger’s history is rooted in the legendary track technology of Caterpillar, but has since been extended to incorporate wheeled tractors, combine harvesters, balers and application machinery, which has its own deep-rooted history.
Over the years the Challenger brand has developed and grown, going from strength to strength.
The birth of Challenger tracked tractors
In 1890, Americans Benjamin Holt and Daniel Best started experimenting with various forms of steam tractors for use in farming. Working separately for their respective companies they were pioneers with track-type tractors and petrol-powered tractor engines.
In those early days, steam traction engines were enormous and often got bogged down in soft soil. Freeing the machine could take days!
To increase the traction engine’s area of contact with the ground, Benjamin Holt hit upon the idea of replacing wheels with tracks. In 1904, the first Holt track-type tractor was tested. It soon went to work ploughing soft ground near Holt’s factory in Stockton, California and was pronounced ‘a decided success’.
After more tests, the first crawler – with a new and improved set of tracks - was sent to the Holt family ranch for a winter of ploughing. Soon after, Holt coined the “Caterpillar” trademark.
Holt switched from steam power to petrol and by 1909, his crawlers were being snapped up by customers.
Meanwhile Daniel Best’s son, C. L. Best formed his own company and in 1910 began building petrol-powered, wheeled tractors. Almost immediately he set to work on an experimental track-type tractor. The ‘CLB’ 75 hp crawler appeared in early 1913 and was the first machine to bear Best’s ‘Tracklayer’ trademark.
The 75 Tracklayer incorporated a number of significant advances in design. Among them were improved oscillation of the tracks to reduce shock loads on the frame and the engine, plus improved metallurgy throughout the tractor.
In 1925, the Holt Manufacturing Company and the C L Best Tractor Company merged to form Caterpillar Tractor Co.
From 1925 to the present day has been a story of continuous product development. There were two major breakthroughs – the introduction of the diesel engine to the line in 1931 and the invention of the sealed and lubricated track.
The diesel engine gave the machines more horsepower than ever before and made them less expensive to own and operate.
The sealed and lubricated track helped reduce costs of undercarriage maintenance. The track pin is permanently coated with a sealed-in lubricant, which minimises metal-to-metal contact and slows pin and bushing wear.
The Challenger tractor, together with its patented Mobil-tracTM system, was introduced in 1987. Mobil-trac was a major leap forward providing greater traction and flotation, reduced soil compaction and more versatility for reduced costs and more productivity on the farm.
Improvements over the years have included a move from cable to hydraulics controls, computerised monitoring systems, torque dividers, planetary power shift transmissions, differential steering – the list goes on."
Spreading the word for application machinery
Ag-Chem had been successfully building application equipment since 1963, under the name Ag-Chem Equipment Company Inc., selling specialised spray equipment to the agricultural industry.
Ten years later, the self-propelled Terra-Gator 1253 was introduced – Ag-Chem’s first 3-wheel applicator with high flotation tyres. This was followed in 1979 by the 1603 model, soon recognised as the premier high flotation applicator in the industry.
In 1984, the company Kurstjens produced the first pull-type Tri-Axer. The first Terra-Gator chassis with a liquid manure system was sold in Holland three years later. Kurstjens soon became the official dealer for Terra-Gator in Holland, Germany and Belgium, selling the first Terra-Gator in the former East Germany in 1991, and opening the market for self-propelled fertiliser spreaders in Europe.
Just two years later the first self-propelled multiple bin was sold into Germany, paving the way for site-specific agriculture. Ag-Chem also broke into the row-crop market with the launch of the first self-propelled RoGator tramline sprayer.
In 1994, Kurstjens became a 100% subsidiary of Ag-Chem, operating as Kurstjens Terra-Gator BV. The company’s name changed two years later to become Ag-Chem Europe, the official importer of Ag-Chem Equipment Company Inc. in the UK, France and Central Europe.
1997 saw the introduction of the Terra-Gator 8103, a new series of Terra-Gator 3-wheelers with a new-style cab and drive-train that was to shape the design of all new-style Terra-Gator machines. Just one year later, the 10,000th Terra-Gator was sold.
The first Terra-Gator to be completely produced by Ag-Chem Europe in Grubbenvorst was the 2104.
In 2000, Ag-Chem began producing and selling the RoGator 618 self-propelled sprayer, designed to fit the European tramline width of 1.8 m.
Meeting the challenges of farming’s future, together
When the Ag-Chem Equipment Company Inc. was taken over by AGCO Corporation in 2001, the first co-operation between Ag-Chem Europe and other divisions of the AGCO family began.
Spra-Coupe self-propelled sprayers were added to the Ag-Chem Europe line-up in 2002, along with the introduction of the Terra-Gator 8133 and RoGator 418. This coincided with the expansion of the sales area for these machines to encompass Africa and the Middle East.
AGCO also began to produce Challenger tracked machines under licence from Caterpillar in 2002. Continuing product development brought us first the MT 'B' Series and then the 'C' Ceries that we know today – one of the most powerful and cost-effective agricultural tractors on the market.
2004 saw Ag-Chem Europe start to integrate with the Challenger brand, introducing the new Spra-Coupe 7000 Series, and selling the first RoGator 1264C, Terra Gator 8103 Airmax and Spra-Coupe 4650 machines into Russia.
Since 2004, we have seen the Challenger line continue to grow extensively under AGCO to include, among other things, MT600C, MT500B and MT400B Series wheeled tractors from the company’s world-renowned factory in Beauvais, France and quality harvesting equipment from both European and American factories. These machines are available in selected markets within the EAME region.
During 2005/6, both the office and manufacturing facilities of Ag-Chem in Grubbenvorst were extended and improved. The excellent facilities and central location led logically to its appointment as the EAME distribution centre for Challenger tracked tractors, continuing integration into the full Challenger organisation for EAME.
Challenger product developments have since included the introduction of the updated Spra-Coupe 4000 Series, Terra-Gator 2244 and 3244 models, new MT600C and improved MT500B wheeled tractors and the awesome MT900C articulated tractor, consolidating the integration of the different machines under the Challenger umbrella and beginning to share elements of technology and styling.
The Challenger product range is also now integrated with Autoguide™, Telemetry and GTA management systems which enable even more detailed management of the agricultural business.
Challenger is drawing on its rich history and experience as it continues to expand and develop a full range of high quality, high productivity agricultural machinery. Its aim is to work in partnership with farm businesses throughout the world to help them improve efficiency, productivity and of course profitability.