John Deere Oil Field Engines

By Staff
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Blue-and-purple John Deere engine built for the Pure Oil Co. of Noble, Ill.
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Yes, that's a blue-and-purple John Deere engine, based off a Model D tractor and built for the Pure Oil Co. of Noble, Ill.
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Blue-and-purple John Deere engine built for the Pure Oil Co. of Noble, Ill.
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Blue-and-purple John Deere engine built for the Pure Oil Co. of Noble, Ill.

My opinion has always been that the term “oil field engine” defines an engine that worked in the oil fields. This means any engine type, regardless of size or make, could be an oil field engine. The engine manufacturers that catered to the oil field industry are found almost exclusively in that setting. But one such manufacturer’s products are normally not associated with the oil field — John Deere. The venerable farm equipment company famous for the world’s first steel plow, tractors, and many other farm equipment products did indeed sell oil field engines, although in a limited capacity.

John Deere built at least 118 oil field engines for the Pure Oil Co. of Noble, Ill., but they weren’t painted in John Deere’s famous green and yellow: They were painted in Pure Oil Co.’s trademark blue, orange and white colors. Apparently, it was common for a customer to request special paint colors. The late Harry Homer once told me that Reid engines, which had green-and-white paint on them, were ordered by the Quaker State Oil Co., and other variations also existed. I’m certain that the supplying company was more than happy to oblige any color preferences when a large number of engines was ordered.

The oil field man’s John Deere engine of choice was the Model W. Basically a stationary version of the Model D tractor engine mounted on a steel skid, the whole package weighed 2,200 pounds and could be moved with a team of horses or a tractor. The Model W produced approximately 40 HP at 900 rpm, and also included an extra-heavy, 270-pound flywheel, a three-plate clutch, a pulley hub that would accept a larger pulley attached over the end and also a place to bolt a driveshaft to the hub if desired. The fuel system was set up to burn well-head gas, as was commonly utilized in the oil fields.

I had an opportunity to see an example of a surviving Pure Oil Co. Model W at the July 2004 Central Kentucky Gas Engine Show at Paris, Ky. Garland Rainey, Winchester, Ky., purchased the engine from the Sharlamane Oil Co. near Zachariah, Ky., in Lee County where it served as pumping power for several oil wells. Garland’s particular engine bears the original John Deere tag, serial no. W-2684. Deere records indicate it was built on Sept. 7, 1940, then shipped to the Pure headquarters at Noble, Ill., on Nov. 16, 1940. Pure oil then attached its own property tag that states, “Pure Oil Transportation P.I. #2471.” Surviving records indicate a total of 118 Model W engines were shipped to Pure Oil Co.

Research has not disclosed how Garland’s Model W came in the possession of the Sharlamane Oil Co. in Kentucky. The Pure Oil Co. was absorbed by Onion Oil Co. in 1970. Garland says his Model W was in surprisingly good condition and mostly required a good cleaning, new paint, replacement of the hood (it was missing), and minor repairs and modifications.

It would be interesting if we could locate and verify more engines used in the oil fields that were produced by companies not normally associated with the oil field industry. If you know of one, let me or Gas Engine Magazine know.

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