I love two-wheeled tractors. I first clapped eyes on one in the People’s Republic of China in April 1977. This was eight months after the death of Chairman Mao and I was a wet-behind-the-ears medical student, on his elective study period. I saw two-wheeled tractors everywhere, in the cities and countryside. They reminded me of my father’s rotavator, a petrol-driven mechanical tiller which had mini plough blades instead of wheels. When I used it as a boy, I often felt as though it was running away from me, slightly out of control. I’d never admit it, of course. Both 2WT and rotavators are controlled by handlebars, which have levers for brakes and clutch. The throttle was another lever, mounted on the frame.
Since China, I’ve seen 2WTs in many developing countries. They are literally mechanical workhorses, suitable for many agricultural tasks, such as preparing soil, weeding, powering water pumps and threshers, even digging ditches. I see them on main roads, where they are used for transporting goods, animals and people, albeit very slowly. They can be tricky to manoeuvre, especially going backwards. The driver has to stretch out sideways when making tight turns, often having to let go of one handgrip. Notice the cigarette glued to the driver’s lower lip in this short clip from YouTube.
2WTs are very versatile and can be used on wet or dry ground, on rough ground or hillsides. They can even cross rivers and borders. I think they are the perfect foil to the massive, lumbering, shiny 4×4 landcruiserpatrolrovers, which are status symbols in Thailand as much as they are in UK. I wonder if I could manage to park one outside Waitrose?