Oldest John Deere tractor on permanent display

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MOLINE, Ill. – Deere & Company has acquired the oldest known John Deere tractor and placed it on permanent display at the John Deere Collectors Center in downtown Moline.

“This tractor is significant and we believe that everyone interested in the history of agriculture and John Deere, as well as those interested in history in general, will enjoy seeing this tractor,” said Curtis Linke, vice president of corporate communications.

The John Deere All-Wheel-Drive Tractor was acquired from the estate of the late Frank Hansen of Rollingstone, Minn.

Only survivor. The machine is the only complete one known to exist of the approximately 100 tractors built by John Deere in 1918.

Hansen’s research determined that a John Deere dealer in Winona, Minn., originally sold the tractor.

Designing and building of the John Deere All-Wheel-Drive (AWD) Tractor came before the better-known John Deere Model D, which was introduced in 1923 as the company’s first two-cylinder tractor and became the first John Deere tractor successful enough for large-scale production.

Ahead of its time. The AWD tractor was ahead of its time with features many farmers enjoy in modern tractors today. The operator of a John Deere AWD tractor could change travel speeds under load without shifting gears or stopping and without depressing the clutch.

Additionally, the wheels provided positive traction and pulling power. It was a product of seven years of internal study and experimentation to prepare John Deere to enter the tractor market after the company’s board of directors at the time said Deere should prepare to do so if “an emergency” should warrant taking such action.

In 1910, Deere & Company acquired Dain Manufacturing Company, which made haying equipment in Ottumwa, Iowa. The company’s owner, Joseph Dain, was the driving force behind the AWD tractor.

Still making plows. At the time, leaders at John Deere still considered plow manufacturing to be the company’s core business. Horses, oxen and mules were still the main source of power on American farms but a dramatic shift was occurring elsewhere – the automobile industry was taking off and farmers were buying cars, learning about the advantages of the internal combustion engine.

In 1912, Deere & Company began to sell a tractor made by another company and in 1914, Joseph Dain was asked to determine the feasibility of building a light tractor, capable of pulling a three-bottom plow, to be sold for $700.

Experimental models followed and in 1916, the board gave its approval to set up operations at the Marseilles Plant in East Moline, Ill., which was later named the John Deere Spreader Works.

Tractor business questioned. After the death of Joseph Dain, questions about the survival of the John Deere tractor business loomed but the company’s board of directors moved ahead by authorizing the manufacturing of at least 100 all-wheel-drive tractors as soon as possible.

Expensive equipment. Despite the quality and usefulness demonstrated in the AWD tractor, its list price of $1,500 was still considered too high to be practical. As well, John Deere started producing wartime equipment instead of tractors later in 1917 as World War I raged into its fourth year.

Then, the company purchased the Waterloo Gasoline Engine Company in Waterloo, Iowa, where the lower-priced Waterloo Boy kerosene-burning tractor could be built side-by-side with the AWD tractor.

The Waterloo Boy tractor quickly became the company’s workhorse. Although the AWD concept was abandoned, it had set the company in motion to leave the plow behind and move into a modern era.

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