100 Years of John Deere Tractors

The Waterloo Boy Model N was the beginning of 100 years of John Deere tractor success, and its two-cylinder engine design powered almost every John Deere tractor for the next 43 years

Part 1: The first 80 years – 1918 to 1998

In 1918 Deere & Co, the John Deere equipment manufacturer, entered the tractor market by paying US$2.25 million to buy the company that made the Waterloo Boy tractor.

The Waterloo Boy was popular in America during World War I. It was based on a traditional design with the engine, radiator and gearbox mounted as separate units on a steel girder chassis.

The twin-cylinder horizontal engine delivered 20KW (27hp) and improvements on the Model N Waterloo Boy from 1917 included a two-speed gearbox instead of the single speed on earlier models, and roller bearings replaced the plain bearings used previously.

It was a tractor with a reputation for reliability, an important factor at a time when tractors were seen as temperamental and most operators still worked with horses and had little experience of tractor operation and maintenance.

Because it was the starting point for the John Deere range, the Waterloo boy is recognised as one of the most important tractors the industry has produced.

It also made history when a Waterloo Boy in 1920 became the first tractor to complete a Nebraska test program.

Meanwhile, the Waterloo Boy was chosen by a then garage owner by the name of Harry Ferguson when he decided to add tractors to his business.

Later prompting him to develop the famous Ferguson three-point linkage in 1926.

Following the 1918 takeover, John Deere continued building the Waterloo Boy tractor and using the Waterloo Boy name while their engineers designed a replacement.

The tractor that arrived in 1923 was the Model D, the first production tractor to carry the John Deere name.

Available from 1923, the Model D replaced the Waterloo Boy to become the first tractor designed by John Deere and to carry the John Deere name

The John Deere Model D was a completely new design and was much more up-to-date than the tractor it replaced. The steel girder frame of the Waterloo Boy was replaced by a rigid structure formed by joining the engine and transmission units together.

The power output of the Model D was 22kW (30hp) gained at 800rpm from an engine developed from the Waterloo Boy’s twin-cylinder horizontal design.

The fact that John Deere retained the original engine layout is surprising at a time when most of the leading tractor manufacturers had already switched to four cylinders. And six-cylinder engines were beginning to arrive, but in an act of faith the John Deere engine choice became a huge success.

With fewer moving parts and good accessibility for routine maintenance, it was an engine design that delivered long term reliability as well as good torque characteristics.

In fact, it would come to pass that engines based on the two-cylinder design powered almost every John Deere tractor until 1960.

It was probably the most successful engine series in tractor history, and there were objections from some loyal John Deere customers in America when four and six-cylinder engines eventually took over.

The Model D made a big contribution to John Deere’s tractor success, and with various versions available until 1953. It achieved the longest production run of any farm tractor.

The Model D was joined in 1927 by the Model C, the first John Deere row-crop tractor.

It was also relaunched with design updates in 1928 as the General Purpose or GP.

Options for the GP included a power take-off shaft and another advanced function was a powered implement lift.

The lift system was operated mechanically and was very different to the hydraulically operated Ferguson three-point linkage with draft control. But it was a major step forward in implement attachment and operation.

One of the reasons that contributed to the sales success of the GP and to other two-cylinder models was the John Deere policy of developing versions designed to meet special crop requirements.

These included wide track and tricycle wheel layouts for row-crops, and the GPO, a distinctively styled orchard tractor that was also available as the first John Deere tracklayer.

Whereas the GP Series P version was developed specifically for potato growers.

More two-cylinder models followed during the 1930s including the immensely popular Model B, a smaller model that arrived in 1935 with a 10kW (14hp) engine.

A leading industrial stylist was employed to give John Deere tractors a more current look with more rounded lines, and the Model B was one of the first of the restyled tractors in 1938

Various B series versions were built until 1953 when the sales total had reached about 300,000.

In 1938 the Model B plus the more powerful Model A were the first tractors to share John Deere’s more pronounced styling.

Previously tractor customers had been influenced mainly by factors such as performance, price and reliability, but appearance was becoming increasingly important and Deere was a leader in the trend.

The more rounded shape was produced by Henry Dreyfuss, one of America’s leading industrial stylists, to replace the previous angular appearance.

John Deere’s loyalty to the horizontal two-cylinder engine layout continued during the 1930s with the Model G, the most powerful row-crop tractor in the range when it was announced in 1938.

This followed the 1937 launch of the Model L, the smallest tractor in the range at that time, with and one of the very few models with a different engine layout.

The power unit for the Model L developed about 7kW (10hp) produced by two vertical cylinders, and another unusual addition was that the engine was supplied by Hercules instead of being made by John Deere.

The Model L was designed for small farms and for amenity users such as councils and golf courses, and in 1940 it was joined by the LA model with the engine output increased to 10kW (13hp).

The next big development came in 1948 with the launch of the Model R tractor, the first John Deere tractor with a diesel engine and the most powerful tractor the company produced up to that time.

The first diesel powered tractor from John Deere was the Model R available from 1948 with updated styling and powered by a two-cylinder horizontal engine that established a new fuel efficiency record at Nebraska

The diesel engine followed the familiar horizontal two-cylinder layout and produced up to 38kW (51hp), and there was also a small petrol engine with two horizontally opposed cylinders for starting the main engine, plus a battery powered electric motor for starting the petrol engine.

Another feature on the Model R was a five-speed gearbox, and the options included the first steel cab designed for a John Deere tractor and the p-t-o operated independently of the transmission.

Although diesel engines were well established on tracklayers in the United States, they were still a novelty for wheel tractors. But Model R popularity was helped by the fact the tractor set a record for fuel efficiency when it was tested at Nebraska.

As well as adding diesel power to the John Deere range, the Model R also introduced more current styling, and it was the last model to be identified by a letter.

The first batch of new release tractors with model numbers began arriving between 1952 and 1954.

The first arrivals were the 40, 50, 60, 70 and 80 models, all based on the styling introduced on the Model R, and with a long list of specification upgrades compared with previous models.

These first numbered models were also helping to establish the industry wide trend for increased operator comfort and convenience.

There were improvements to the controls layout and to the seat design, and the addition of power steering to the options list was also a major innovation.

Developments in 1956 included buying the Heinrich Lanz company in Germany, one of the leading independent tractor manufacturers in Europe.

Previously John Deere tractor sales had relied mainly on the United States and Canada, but with the acquisition of the Lanz factory it provided a European production centre to help global expansion.

There was also another tractor launch in 1956, when 20 Series tractors arrived with model numbers starting with the 320 and continuing up to the 720 and 820 diesels.

The obvious change was the eye-catching green and yellow paint finish, but there were also further improvements to operator comfort including an adjustment to match the seat suspension to the operator’s weight.

And power steering was now standard on most of the 20 Series models.

After two years, the 20 Series tractors were replaced by the 30 Series, and the operator was again high on the priority list with more comfort and with handholds and a step to make mounting and dismounting easier and safer.

The 830 was the most powerful model when the 30 Series arrived in 1958, with improved operator comfort and safety features plus an electric starter motor for the two-cylinder diesel engine

Easier starting was achieved by improvements to the diesel engine design for the 730 and 830 models allowed the petrol starter motor to be replaced by battery powered electric starting.

The 30 Series was the last chapter in the John Deere two-cylinder success story.

With the launch of John Deere’s ‘New Generation of Power’ in 1961, four-cylinder engines took over with the emphasis switching from spark ignition to diesel.

The first four models were the 1010, 2010, 3010 and the 4010, all delivering increased power outputs with up to 62kW (84hp) available at the p-t-o from the 4010 diesel during its Nebraska test.

The series was completed in 1962 with the addition of the 5010 model equipped with an 8-speed gearbox and producing 89kW (121hp) maximum output.

John Deere transmission technology took a big step forwards in 1963 when the upgraded 20 Series 3020 and 4020 tractors replaced the 3010 and 4010 and introduced John Deere’s first powershift drive.

The 4020 model released in 1963 was John Deere’s biggest selling tractor with a specification that included a powershift transmission and a 67kW (91hp) diesel engine, and the options included a petrol engine and later versions were available with four-wheel drive

It was the run-away success of the 20 Series models helped to establish John Deere as the world’s biggest selling tractor range from 1963.

The versatility and operator-friendly operation quickly established powershifts as a popular choice on medium and high power tractors, helping the 4020 to become John Deere’s biggest selling model with the production total reaching 175,000 between 1963 and 1971.

Also, helping the sales success was the addition of a four-wheel drive option available from 1966 on the 4020 and on the 5020 which was the biggest tractor in the series with up to a 104kW (141hp) output.

The power unit for the 4630 tractor announced in 1972 was a six-cylinder diesel with a turbo and intercooler producing 110kW (150hp) when it was tested at Nebraska

Enclosed cabs for operator safety and comfort were the big news in 1972 when the John Deere 30 range arrived. The 4030 was the top selling tractor in the range with 59kW (80hp) available at the p-t-o, while the 4630 with a powershift transmission was the most powerful model with 110kW (150hp) maximum output.

Meanwhile John Deere was developing a tractor to compete in the high-power sector of the market with four-wheel drive and articulated steering.

They started in 1959 when the 8010 model powered by a 158kW (215hp) engine was announced, with new models arriving during the 1970s as this sector of the market expanded and customers demanded more power.

Both the 8430 and 8630 models in 1979 used turbocharging and intercooling to boost the maximum output at the p-t-o to 131 and 165kW (178 and 225hp) respectively, and 223kW (303hp) was recorded when the range-topping 8850 model was tested at Nebraska in 1982 equipped with a new V-8 engine.

Precision farming technology was advancing rapidly in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and John Deere tractors were among the leaders with major developments using electronic controls and information systems to boost efficiency.

Features on the five 55 Series models introduced between 1989 and 1990 with power outputs in the 94 to 168kW (128 to 228hp) range included the John Deere Intellitrak Monitoring System.

This provided the operator with a flow of information on the tractor’s operation and paddock performance, and it also provided diagnostic information for fault detection. Automation on 55 Series tractors also included controlling the engagement of four-wheel drive.

American based factories had dominated John Deere tractor production since 1918, but the former Lanz factory in Germany had emerged as a major success and was making an increasing contribution to output.

The seven 6000 and 7000 Series models announced in 1992 were built in Germany.

They were aimed at the important mid-range power sector, with the four 6000 Series models using four-cylinder engines with outputs from 55 to 74kW (75 to 100hp) while six-cylinder engines powered the three 7000 Series tractors with up to 125kW (170hp) available.

Options for the 7000 Series included electronic control for the powershift transmission with 19 forward and 7 reverse speeds.

When the 6000 Series tractors were replaced by the updated 6100 range in 1997 the equipment options included John Deere’s recently introduced Triple-Link front axle suspension system, designed to improve operator comfort and improved stability and control when travelling at speed.

Catch instalment 2 in the next issue as John Deere celebrates its 100th anniversary of tractor production. See how through the years 1999 to 2018 Deere and Co was able to enforce its position as the world’s biggest tractor and agricultural equipment manufacturer as well as an emerging leader in technology development for farmers.