Dain tractor

Courtesy of Lowell Carson, History Department, Midwestern University, Wichita Falls, Texas 76308.

Lowell Carson

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History Department Midwestern University Wichita Falls, Texas 76308

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 Committee resolution.

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 drive tractors.

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, 1953].)

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 office.


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 chains.

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 more refinement.

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', 6'.

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 speeds.

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 lining.

Lubrication -- Force feed with mechanical oiler, supplemented splash system.

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].)