History Department Midwestern University Wichita Falls, Texas
While collecting material for my thesis I found a copy of a book
by Theo Brown, Early Tractor Development which was published in
1953 by John Deere and Company of Moline, Illinois. Apparently
never widely distributed because of the limited appeal such a book
would have, I found it of great value in writing about a
company's pre-production experimental work with tractor models.
And I wish to state here my indebtedness to John Deere for their
cooperation in allowing me to research their library. A primary
debt of gratitude must go to Theo Brown for his foresight in
preserving some record of early experimental tractor work.
Before John Deere acquired an established tractor line with the
purchase of the assets of the Waterloo Gasoline Engine Company,
March 14,1918, Deere had spent at least six years experimenting
with tractors. Deere's experimentation included some
innovations unique in tractor design at that time. They included
the following: the Sklovsky one-piece east iron body, the Melvin
integral power lift; and the Dain tractor transmission. The major
portion of this paper concerns this last named experimental
tractor, the Dain. While preceeded by the Melvin and succeeded by
the Sklovsky, the Dain has special significance because it was the
first tractor to bear the name John Deere on its hood.
The story begins officially March 5, 1912 with an Executive
Resolved: That in view of the inevitable future use by the
farmers for diverse purposes of gasoline and kerosene tractors, and
especially since the trend is to use them in connection with
implements, particularly plows, it seems vital to the interests of
the Company that serious cognizance should be taken of the
situation, and that through its experimental department, the
personnel and talent of which shall be increased, if necessary, a
movement to produce a tractor plow should be started at once having
in view constantly, that the success of the same would be enhanced
if not assured, were it possible to divorce the tractor from the
plow and thus make it available for general purposes.
After a survey of the tractor industry and a report by a
committee headed by George W. Mixter, Deere's official effort
was fixed on the motor plow avoiding the heavy and small tractor
classes as being already crowded.
The first efforts culminated with the Melvin tractor. Strongly
influenced by the Hackney Motor Plow, C. II. Melvin's tractor
was a disappointment. It was continually breaking down and in the
end only one Melvin was built and at a cost of $6,000. The tractor
had two seats and could be driven from either direction when
hauling with the drawbar or plowing with an under-mounted three
bottom plow. By 1914 company officials decided to halt any further
work with the Melvin tractor.
By 1914 conditions in the infant tractor industry were ominous.
Poor design, lack of dependability and a scarcity of adequate
service had cast a long shadow over the tractor market and the
Executive Committee of John Deere was skeptical about entering it.
Desiring to protect its share of the plow market, company officials
nevertheless gave their approval to further experimental work with
tractors preferring to have something ready for an emergency.
Joseph Dain, founder of Dain Manufacturing Company which merged
with Deere and Company in 1911, was invited to direct continued
experimental work on a tractor. As a vice-president and member of
the board of directors, Dain vigorously pushed for a working model
often against the skepticism of other members of the board.
By February l.3, 1915 Dain had built a tractor and had spent
$2,890.00 which was $110.00 under his $3,000 budget estimate. Dain
was given to understand that he would continue development work
until he felt it perfected and at that time determine the
investment to establish a basis for sale to a separate company for
its development and sale.
The Board of Directors remained non committal toward the tractor
business, but approved continued testing of the Dain. December 16,
1915 Joseph Dain made a full report on experimental tractor work.
Three Dains had been built; two were equipped with friction
transmissions and the third had a gear transmission. The first Dain
weighed 3,800 pounds. It obtained a steady drawbar pull of 5,000
pounds in lowest speed and 3,000 pounds under natural conditions in
five year old clay sod with three-fourleen inch bottoms. Dain
number two weighed 4,000 pounds and was tested in heavy, black
gumbo soil near Winnebago, Minnesota in the Red River Valley. It
operated successfully under extreme plowing conditions. The third
Dain, equipped with a geared transmissions had an internal gear
drive instead of worm and gear to the rear wheels. Dain was much
impressed by this model and believed it was serious competition for
friction transmission tractors.
There were some problems with the orginal three. The first drive
chains supplied proved too light. They were replaced and no further
trouble occurred. Two ratchets broke and were replaced with heavier
material. The ratchets evidently were on the Dain designed, geared,
transmission tractor. Gears in the rear wheels showed excessive
wear. Overheating was eliminated by using radiators recommended by
Long Radiator Company, a supplier, and by using a larger fan. That
little initial difficulty came from poor materials. The friction
drive transmission was essentially dropped. George W. Mixter,
estimated the tractor could be manufactured with an expenditure for
machinery, patterns, tools, jigs, etc., of somewhere between
$25,000 and $50,000.
The Board of Directors passed a resolution stating the tractor
should be tested further and Joseph Dain should move experimental
operations to the Marsailles Plant (now the Spreader Works) in
Moline to construct ten more tractors at the earliest possible date
for further testing.
In a June 13, 1916, report to the Executive Committee, Dain
stated the present engine was unsuitable because of lack of parts
and that a McVicker design engine would be ready for testing by
mid-August, 1916. In the meantime, four to six Dain tractors with
Waukesha engines were being readied for shipment in August for
continued field testing. Theo Brown estimated the cost of
production of the Dain, with $2.25 steel, at $761.00. Brown was
convinced that farmers would ultimately want and buy all-wheel
The Dain tractor as built at the Tenth Street plant in East
Moline, Illinois, in 1919. (Illustration taken from Theo Brown,
Early Tractor Development [Moline: John Deere & Company,
Pictures of the Dain working Huron, South Dakota territory.
(Illustration taken from Theo. Brown, Early Tractor Development
[Moline: John Deere & Company, 1953].)
As the tractors were tested through the crop-year, two branch
office employees were to check on the machines twice before freeze
up. On November 13, 1916, Dain read a report from the Minneapolis
Mr. Molstead and the writer after having visited Dain tractors
at Aberdeen, Fargo, and Minot each three times, have the following
to submit. We are firmly of the opinion, providing the clutch
collar and bevel pinion sleeve trouble can be eliminated and not
taking into consideration the power plant or the question of belt
power, that we have in the Dain very much the best tractor on the
market, principally for the following reasons:
1. All-wheel drive, minimum weight, maximum traction.
2. Four chains to drive wheels divides strain on sprockets and
3. Ability to change speed without clashing gears.
4. Being able to change gears without stopping tractor.
The Dain tractor transmission was unusual. Changing speeds was
completed by using a hand lever, no clutch pedal was necessary.
Since no differential was used each wheel had a direct power
connection. Controlling the tractor under a great torque load took
Development of the Dain continued even after work was begun on a
light two-plow tractor under the direction of Max Sklovsky and a
motor cultivator by other members of the experimental department.
In 1919 about one hundred Dains were built at the Tenth Street
factory in East Moline, Illinois. All the tractors went to the
Huron, South Dakota, territory and that is where the story of the
Dain tractor ends. There is no further record of their performance,
nor is there any record of their final disposition.
What happened to the one hundred Dains? Perhaps some have
survived the climate and the scrap drives of two world wars. If so,
an effort should be made to preserve the Dain for it represents an
important link with the early history of mechanized farming. I
would greatly appreciate hearing from anyone owning or knowing the
whereabouts of a Dain. Dain Tractor Specifications Rating - 12 hp.
(drawbar); 24 hp. (belt) Speeds -- Two forward, two reverse. All
speeds direct; no intermediate gear used.
High -- 2 5/8 M.P.H.; low -- 2 M.P.H.
Reverse speeds same as forward.
Weight -- 4,600 pounds.
Length -- Wheelbase - 6', 2?'; overall - 12',
Height--6', 4'. Wheels -- All traction. Rear - 40'
diameter, 20' face; front - 36' diameter, 8' face.
Steering gear -- Worm and sector.
Transmission -- Exclusive design. No gears to shift in changing
Change can be made under full load without stopping machine.
Crankshaft -- 3 bearings, 2?' in diameter.
Drop-forged from open hearth steel and double heat-treated.
Bearings -- Connecting rods, 2?' diameter x 2 1/8' long.
Front main, 2?' diameter x 3 7/8' long. Center main,
2?' diameter x 3' long. Rear main, 2?' diameter x 4
7/8' long. All bearings bronze backed with special Babbit metal
Lubrication -- Force feed with mechanical oiler, supplemented
Governor -- John Deere design, built in.
Cooling -- Water circulated by positive driven centrifugal pump
of extra large capacity.
Fan -- 19' diameter, positive gear drive.
Carburetor -- 1?' Model M-2 Stromberg.
Air Cleaner -- Bennet.
Ignition -- KW high tension magneto with starter coupling.
Pulley -- Steel, split hub, 30' diameter with 8' face,
belt speed 2,190 feet/ minute.
Each wheel had direct connection to power source, no
differential. (Illustration taken from Theo. Brown, Early Tractor
Development [Moline: John Deere & Company, 1953].)
Dain transmission provided ability to change speeds without
stopping tractor. (Illustration taken from Theo Brown, Early
Tractor Development [Moline: John Deere & Company, 1953].)