Sklovsky A-2 Tractor

John Deere and Company

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History Department, Clarendon College, Clarendon, Texas 79226.

Tractor experimentation and development is a fascinating aspect of the history of agriculture in the United States. Deere and Company's search for a workable model prior to their purchase of the Waterloo Gasoline Engine Company took them down several avenues of design.

Development of these various models often ran concurrently so that, by way of comparison, company officers could weigh the merits of various design approaches. By utilizing both factory testing and farm observation, Deere designed and revised numerous models of motor cultivators and general purpose machines. None however met with the final approval of the Board of Directors and it was not until the introduction of the Model D, in 1923, that Deere produced a wholly company-engineered tractor for the market.

This last story of Deere's pre-Water-loo Boy experimental work concerns a final general purpose, two plow tractor design, the Sklovsky tractor; and, in many ways a retrogression, the Walter Silver tractor; a motor cultivator. Again, both were evolutionary vehicles of design ideas, yet both were doomed because of the coming of World War I, the sharp agricultural depression after the war and simply because they lacked the desired flexibility needed.

George W. Mixter, a great grandson of John Deere and vice-president in charge of manufacturing, charged Max Sklovsky with the development of a two plow tractor design. Sklovsky was allowed considerable latitude in his approach but board sentiment seemed favorable to an all-wheel drive tractor. Working at the Marseilles Plant on the design under Sklovsky's supervision were E. R. Wiggins, George Pearce and Nathan Lesser, all in the John Deere Engineering Department.

The first model of the Sklovsky, labeled the A-2, used a one piece, cast-iron body which included the engine pan, undoubtedly the first tractor to have the entire body made from one casting. The tractor was a three wheel, all-wheel drive model with a wagon-type axle in front. The A-2 was built concurrently with Joseph Dain's three plow model. The tractor was first field tested November 20, 1915, and continued until freeze-up December 12, 1915. Steering the A-2 was virtually impossible. With power driven front wheels and no differential the operator was hard pressed to overcome the torque of the engine. Other than its glaring steering defect, the performance was acceptable.

Two views of the Sklovsky A-2 tractor. The whole body of the tractor was a single casting, undoubtedly the first of its kind.

A rebuilt version of the tractor, the B-2, included a pivot-axle, automobile-type steering mechanism when the tractor was revised in 1916. The B-2 used a Northway four-cylinder engine and first drawings of a third tractor, the D-2, included a one-cylinder, hopper-cooled engine. The Sklovsky B-2 was' the last model produced, for increasing war production demands interrupted any further experimental work on the tractor. The D-2 was never built. The unique one-piece body and engine pan of the Sklovsky would have left no recessed surfaces and so would have eliminated expensive machining. Sklovsky and his staff never resumed development of the tractor when the war ended.

By June, 1916, Deere and Company established the following: that one-row motor cultivators were not practical and that row crops could be cultivated with mechanical means. Deere and Company officials were determined to continue experimental work with motor cultivators pending any formal introduction of such a model. When it became apparent that farmers were not interested in a one row model, a two row motor cultivator was the logical step. The Board of Directors moved to continue design and construction and Walter Silver was placed in charge of construction of a two row model. Silver completed a model in two weeks' time in June, 1917. It used an Avery motor with a friction transmission. The first Silver motor cultivator had power driven but not steerable front wheels. A small rear wheel turned the machine and the operator shifted the rigs laterally with his feet and steered with a hand wheel.

Separating the two operations of steering the machine and dodging the rigs was not practical. The Illinois State Farm had a two row model that solved this problem and its design was incorporated into later Silver motor cultivator models. Deere applied for a patent on the machine March 23, 1917, and was later awarded patent number 1,451,672. Joseph Dain was intensely interested in the progress of the Silver motor cultivator. A recorder's entry in the minutes of a board meeting September 12, 1915, noted the following:

Drawings of the proposed D-2 tractor which would have had several modifications over the B-2. However, its development was brought to a halt by the First World War.

Mr. Dain predicted that in five years there will not be half the horse-drawn implements that are sold today, unless they are adapted to tractors. We have to have a motor cultivator to protect our share of the implement trade.

By 1917, there had been four models of the Silver motor cultivator constructed. The first revision of the fourth Silver was sent to the J. B. O'Donnell farm near Sheldon, Iowa in O'Brien County for tests and observation. During this period Silver made more modifications and five more motor cultivators were built. O'Donnell, a very competent farmer and mechanic-engineer himself, was the appropriate individual to operate the tractor for he longed for a machine with adequate flexibility to farm solely with mechanical power. After the initial observations had been completed O'Donnell reported on the performance of the Silver number three.

We also hitched the machine to a twenty-foot drag harrow and it worked out good. We have already used the machine on the disc harrow, drag harrow, road drag, corn planter, corn cultivator, mower and binder. Our main drawback has been the lack of power . . . in discing we only averaged about 16 acres per 10-hour day, where if we had been able to pull a 10-foot disc harrow at high speed, we could do almost double the amount.

Construction details of the Sklovsky B-2 tractor.

During the crop season of 1917, a fourth revision of the Silver was tested and observed on the O'Donnell farm. It disced 175 acres of corn ground, planted 160 acres and cultivated 200 acres of corn and cut thirty acres of grain with an eight-foot McCormick binder in thirty hours running at about three miles-per-hour. Over-all the machine was given a good report. The main drawback was lack of power. R. L. McPherson of Tarkio, Missouri used the Silver on about sixty-nine acres of corn and found the machine did not have enough power to work in hilly ground. He felt the motor should be at least six horse-power. For O'Donnell, tractors were the wave of the future but he was sure farmers wanted a universal type of tractor. He felt safe in estimating at least fifty per cent of those farmers he had talked with felt this way. O'Donnell felt $1,000.00 was a fair market price for the motor cultivator.

On September 13, 1918, the Board of Directors received a report by Mr. Clausen on the motor cultivator. Clausen recommended another year of experimental work under the continued supervision of Walter Silver. On December 23, 1919, it was decided to transfer all motor cultivator development to the Deere Plow Works. During the next several years work continued with motor cultivators but the record is extremely vague and it appears as though there was actually a regression. In the Spring of 1921, a one-row motor cultivator was again developed and, as in earlier models, the cultivator rigs were shifted laterally by foot pedals. The machine steered by guiding two rear caster wheels. This double function was a definite step backward.

This picture was taken in August 1920 of Our (about 1917) Titan I. H. C. tractor. It is belted up to a 26' Case Separator which does not show in the picture. We were threshing oats on the John Harris farm 5 miles Southwest of Burlington Kansas. I (Homer Coy) am standing on the front wheel of the tractor and the man on the ground is either Brother Frank Coy or John Harris. We also used this tractor for grading the old dirt Country roads and for plowing. This was a 15-30 H. P. 4 cylinder tractor very good for threshing but a little clumsy for plowing. I would like to know if there are any of these old tractors around now. If there are I would like to see one.

I am building a model steam tractor. It is about 3 ft. wide, 7 ft. long and 4 ft. high with a 21/2' bore and 3' stroke. It runs fine on comp. air and I am planning to steam it up and drive it down the road this afternoon.

This picture was taken in 1932. Here am I (Arlo), with my 1927 17-30 Type B, Minneapolis Tractor, pulling a 21-foot I. H. C. disc and harrows. This engine pulled a 3-bottom plow for breaking, and a 4-bottom in stubble. This engine was always well cared for, and kept in a machine shed. It is now in a Museum.

The Board of Directors, not pleased with progress, halted all further work on this model and all others in October, 1921. Lack of adaptability was not the major reason though. The pyramid of foreign agricultural exports and good farm prices at home collapsed and a dark cloud descended on the country-side. An agricultural depression of large proportions virtually dried up the new machinery market. Farmers bought now only to replace worn equipment and country bankers became unwilling to extend credit for many machinery purchases. This depression in the midst of seeming prosperity in the rest of the economy was the dishonored prophet come back to reclaim his name. Farmers entered the Great Depression long before the rest of the country heard of the stock market crash. The depression began in 1920 when foreign demand was sharply curtailed. Net total farm income dropped from $10,061,000,000 in 1919 to $9,009,000,000 in 1920 and to $4,138,000,000 in 1921. Whereas in 1920 over 203,000 tractors had been manufactured, 1921 recorded only 76,046 units built and by year's end only 10,403 had been actually sold on the domestic market.

Deere and Company, hit like other implement companies, was forced to retrench. When Haskins & Sells, certified public accountants, completed their 1921 audit of Deere's books, as they had done for years, they found sales had declined 63 per cent from 1920. Factories were closed during the late winter and spring. Though expenditures were scrutinized closely the company's loss from operations was nearly one million dollars.

During the early twenties the company's entire tractor effort was shifted to the re-design of the Waterloo Boy. During this very period the Board of Directors entertained a proposal to abandon the Waterloo tractor operation because of the apparent lack of interest in farm tractors. Though Deere never marketed a motor cultivator, it was nevertheless a vital bridge to the general purpose, tricycle type tractor that Deere and Company marketed with success in the late twenties.

In spite of advances in mechanical power an article in the 1910 United States Department of Agriculture Year-book summed up the resistence of horses to replacement as a source of power on farms growing inter-tilled crops.

He has been assailed by the bicycle, electric street car and suburban car and by the automobile, but all combined have not prevented horses from increasing in numbers and value. As a source of farm power and as a substitute for human labor in combination with machines the horses' economic place on the farm is more strongly established than ever before.

Left is a Rumely, Heavy Weight, 25 x 45. Operator, Frank Sherring of Carbon, Alberta, shown talking to a visitor. Frank is the man on the left. (We want to thank Mrs. Sherring for helping to get Frank ready for the Show-ha ha). This Rumely was on display at the Pioneer Acres Plowman and Thresher's Reunion, held twelve & a half miles East of Calgary, Alberta, on Aug. 12 & 13, 1972.

At right, this picture was taken at the 3rd Reunion of the Pioneer Acres Plowman & Thresher's Club, held Aug. 12 & 13, 1972, twelve and a half miles East of Calgary, Alberta. We used 3 Minneapolis separators at the Show. This one is a 1925 model, size 36 x 58. It was powered by both gas and steam.

Indeed, horse numbers reached their peak in 1915, with 21,431,000 reported at a per head value of $103.23. By 1917 though, horse numbers decreased by 125,000 head and the value per animal unit began to slowly decrease. At the relatively early date of 1925, at the Annual Meeting of the American Society of Agricultural Engineers, members heard R. E. Murphy, a farmer, give a paper entitled, 'Operating an Iowa Farm Without Horses,' Murphy reported a 44 per cent saving when tractors replaced all the horses on his Des Moines County farm. By 1930, a farmer member of the ASAE reported only one colt was being broken for every sixty-four horses then working. The switch to tractors was inevitable. Farm implement manufacturers were forced to hedge against tomorrow and the motor cultivator was the result. Like a step-child, or an under-study, it was neither an implement nor a tractor. It was too inflexible to provide a complete farm power source and too light to survive the punishment of heavy drawbar work.

Engineers knew how to build tractors but they were still unsure of what to build. The most important factor then was the range of work the tractor would be called on to perform. By 1920, most engineers felt the all purpose tractor should be able to plow, prepare the seedbed, plant, cultivate and harvest crops, do belt work and perform miscellaneous farmstead chores. Crops grown in the United States requiring inter-row cultivation comprised 58.4 per cent of all crops grown in 1920, yet few row crop tractors were on the market. The possible market for tractors in the Corn Belt (Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Nebraska, Ohio and Missouri) was hardly scratched. Even though these six states had about one-third of all the tractors in the United States in 1920 (totaling 82,060) a study found only about six per cent of the farms in the six states used tractors; the other 94 per cent continued to rely on horses for their main source of power.

Two Waterloo gas engines that I bought this fall, a 4 HP and a 21/2 HP. The date October 5, 1909. Would like to hear from anyone who has a Waterloo.

This is a Model A that I reconstructed from parts obtained from 6 or 7 junk yards. I didn't find a body, so I built one.

I built this buggy and finished it the same day they first landed on the moon. Therefore I call it 'The Moon Buggy'. Since then, they have taken a buggy to the moon. This is powered by a 3 HP Novo engine.