Second Chance for John Deere 'B'

John Deere tractor

Content Tools

KR 1, Box 63, Avoca, Iowa 51521

In September of 1981, my dad bought our first tractor, a 1940 John Deere Hit needed quite a few parts, so we decided to try and find another tractor for the parts. We had no idea that they were hard to find, but we found out. One day, Dad was down at the local International Harvester dealer and was talking to a farmer he knew. He asked him if he knew where there was a small John Deere nearby, and he said he knew of one over by Minden sitting out under the trees. Just then, the farmer they were speaking of walked in and asked them what terrible things they were saying about him. So, Dad and he talked awhile, and he said that he did still have the tractor, and would be happy to sell it. He said it was a John Deere 'B', and that the engine was no good. We went to see it the next Saturday, and when we finally found the place, it was raining quite heavily, but have you ever heard of a little rain stopping two 'kids' from playing? No way! We proceeded to the house, and then to the tractor out back. Boy, was it ever in need of a friend! It had sat for about 20 years without moving, and the exhaust pipe hadn't been covered (of course), but they had run water out of it, thankfully. He said that he had gotten tired of going out and cranking on the old beast for an hour to get it started, when his brother-in-law would come out, talk nice to it, and holding his tongue right, it would start. So he just drove it out under the trees and let it sit. It was stuck, naturally, and the rear tires were shot. But we decided that it was worth what he asked, and for a few more dollars, he said he would deliver it for us.

About a week later, I came home from school, and there it stood in front of our house on the street (we live in town). I went in the house, and Mom looked at me and said, 'What in the world is that ugly thing in front of the house?' I went and looked it over a little closer in the sunlight and began to see all the things that were wrong with it. Someone had taken a hammer and stuck it through the radiator, busted out the glasses in the gauges, busted off the petcocks and the mag. It was a mess. Both front tires were good, one was even new, but the rear tires were totally shot, and the rubber was hard as rock. What a job getting them off!

It turned out to be a 1944 'B', and we found that the main part we needed wouldn't fit, so we decided to restore it, too. It has the rock-shaft, and had the 'Baker Hydraulic Valve System' for remote hydraulic cylinders.

When we got it in the backyard, I totally disassembled the engine after getting it unstuck. Evidently, some water had gotten down in the head and frozen, because the head cracked. Other than that, it wasn't in too bad shape inside. I drained the oil and grease out of it and replaced it with new of both. Since I wasn't too experienced with tractors, I didn't think to grind the valves. That was definitely a mistake, because it steadily lost power once I got it running. I used to test it on the hill we live on. It is about two blocks long, and a 40 degree angle all the way. I would get about a twenty-foot run, and pull the hill in road gear (6 speeder, fast road gear of about 18-20 mph). At first it would make it easy, but it got so it would hardly make it in number 5 gear, so I decided to rework it (I had run it for about two years). I bought a set of rings for it, and a friend and I tore it down again. (My friend's dad still farms with an 830 diesel, a 1944 'A', a 520, and has many tractors he just keeps around for when he might need an extra one on occasion.) This time I decided to paint it while it was apart.

We ground the valves, seated them, honed the cylinder to remove the ring ridge, and put in the new rings. I didn't bore it because I personally don't believe in that. I would rather buy a new block than mess one up by boring it out. Luckily, it wasn't bad enough to worry about. We spent all of this past summer working on it, and it really isn't done yet. The fenders still need to be repaired and painted, but there isn't any real hurry. If we need it for some reason, it's always there.

I suppose all tractors have their own little oddities or rarities, but this one has two that really stand out. Being a 1944 (early), it was a 'wartime' tractor. All 'B's' were supposed to come out with the cast iron frame so the steel could go to the war effort. This one has a steel frame, and it is original from the factory this way. The other thing is the brake locks. Almost all of the B's and A's came with a long brake lock that was attached on the back of the pedestal. Mine are short, and attached in the middle of pedestal, like the '50's' have, but it is a little different in shape, and is the original for this tractor. I have three other 'B' tractors now, and they all have the long ones.

It was only shown at one show this year, (The Green ridge Steam & Gas Antique Show at Irwin, Ia) but I hope to show it at more shows next year.

Incidentally, we never have finished the 'H', and it is still up in the backyard, up on blocks, and half torn apart!