The history of John Deere is long and windy

Although they’d been reluctant to dive into the budding gasoline tractor business, there was increasing pressure from Deere’s branch houses and dealers, who wanted a tractor to sell.

That pressure, caused by competition from International Harvester and other early tractor builders, became strong enough to convince the board of directors of Deere & Company to vote on March 5, 1912, to “produce a tractor plow.”

Dain design

They tested machines designed by both C.H. Melvin and Joseph Dain, finally settling on the Dain, which boasted drive on all three wheels.

The Dain was a pretty good tractor for the day, although too expensive. Some 100 were built in early 1919. In 1918, Deere bought the Waterloo Gasoline Tractor Company, which was building the Waterloo Boy, and it was decided to go with the two-cylinder Waterloo Boy which could be sold for almost $1,000 less than the Dain.

That was the beginning of the long green line of two-cylinder tractors that continued until the 1959 30 series. The two-cylinder horizontal engines were touted as being simple, with few moving parts, easy to understand — ”You can expert it yourself’ — and capable of burning low cost kerosene.

No change

Deere clung tenaciously to the two-cylinder engine-in 1937, V.P. and General Manager L.A. Rowland issued a public statement that read in part: “We want to assure those that are not so well informed that we are NOT coming out with a four-cylinder engine. THE JOHN DEERE TWO-CYLINDER ENGINE HAS BEEN SO OUTSTANDINGLY SUCCESSFUL THAT THERE IS NO THOUGHT OF A CHANGE.

However, by the late 1950s, things were different. The horsepower race in farm tractors was on and the Deere engineers recognized that they had squeezed just about everything possible from the ancient two-cylinder design.

Secrecy

For the past five years, amid great secrecy, Deere engineers had been working on an entirely new tractor design with — gasp, sob! — four- and six-cylinder engines.

So, after making more than 1 1/4 million of ‘em, Deere finally killed the venerable two-cylinder engine that they had been claiming as the best for 40 years. The “New Generation of Power,” consisting entirely of multi-cylinder tractors, was unveiled to Deere dealers and the press at a gala event in Dallas, Texas, Aug. 30, 1960.

A contemporary account tells us, “All day the big planes buzzed in and out of Dallas’ Love Field. They carried passengers from New York and New Dorp (Pa.), from Paris, France and Paris, Ill., from Seattle and Sewanee (Tenn.). When darkness fell on Monday, Aug. 29, 1960, more than 6,000 passengers — the biggest industrial airlift in history — had been safely landed.”

New tractors

Next day, the goggle-eyed audience viewed the shiny new tractors as they stood in rows in the parking lot of the Cotton Bowl. At noon, Stanley Marcus, president of Dallas’ famous Nieman-Marcus Department Store, pulled a string and dropped a curtain around an elevated box at the store.

The curtain had been hiding “… a rakish-looking grass-green, farm tractor. From its sides myriad diamonds twinkled the name of its maker: John Deere.”

Festivities that evening at the Dallas Coliseum consisted of a spectacular fireworks display, a Texas barbecue, and entertainment by Al Hirt and his band from New Orleans. The proceedings were presided over by Deere & Company president, William Hewitt, himself.

A 17-page ad in the October, 1960, Farm Journal announced the new tractor line, which consisted of four models, the 36HP 1010, 46.6HP 2010, 59HP 3010, all with 4-cylinder engines, and the 6-cylinder 4010 with 84HP.

All but the 1010 were available with an eight forward and three reverse “Synchro-Range” transmission that could be shifted “on the go,” or shuttle-shifted between forward and reverse.

Comfort

Operator comfort was a high priority and Dr. Janet Travell, a physician and medical researcher who had helped President Kennedy with his back pain, aided with the development of the new tractor’s seats.

The new engines were available as diesel, gasoline, or LP gas, and each model series was available in several wheel configurations. The 4010 series originally came in Row-Crop, Standard and Hi-Crop versions, the 3010 as Row-Crop, Standard, or Row-Crop Utility, 2010s in Row-Crop, Row-Crop Utility, and Hi-Crop, and the 1010 as a Row-Crop (one row), Utility, and Crawler.

Catches quickly

The New Generation tractors caught on quickly, with 45,000 of the 3010 series being sold between 1960 and 1962, and more than 40,000 of the 4010s during the same period. The succeeding 3020 and 4020 models did even better, with 86,000 of the former, and 177,000 of the latter going out of Deere factory doors.

Not everyone was happy — Deere & Company continued to receive complaints from diehard two-cylinder enthusiasts — but these eventually stopped when the new multi-cylinder models proved how well they performed.

Top position

The New Generation tractors not only did well enough to convince two-cylinder lovers, but also catapulted Deere & Company into the number one position in the industry.

By 1964, Deere had left International Harvester in the dust and was selling more than one third of all the tractors sold in the United States.

Just think, a boy of 15 who was lucky enough to get to attend “Deere Day in Dallas” is 76 today! And, the newest of our “Johnny Poppers” (except for a few made in Argentina) are more than 60 years old! Time marches on!

About the Author

Sam Moore grew up on a family farm in Western Pennsylvania during the late 1930s and the 1940s. Although he left the farm in 1953, it never left him. He now lives near Salem, where he tinkers with a few old tractors, collects old farm literature, and writes about old machinery, farming practices and personal experiences for Farm and Dairy, as well as Farm Collector and Rural Heritage magazines. He has published one book about farm machinery, titled Implements for Farming with Horses and Mules. More Stories by Sam Moore

One Comment

  1. Bobo the hobo says:

    John Deere is worse than a lawn mower with diabetes stuck in a compost pile pulling a bunch of hillbillies on massy fergesens into hell
    International Harvester Rules
    (they aren’t around anymore)

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