Will This John Deere Model E Run Again?

Restoring a rough but promising 1926 John Deere Model E – Part 1 of 3

| December 2011/January 2012

This is the first in a three part series on Peter Rooke’s restoration of a John Deere Model E. You can read part 2 and part 3 here.

The John Deere Model E was first built in the 1920s and at that time it was a leading design, having an enclosed crankcase when open crank engines were the norm.

Deere & Co. was established in the 1830s when John Deere, a blacksmith, started working as a repairman in Illinois, then began making plows and later other agricultural equipment. In 1918 Deere bought the Waterloo Gas Engine Company to enter the growing tractor market as its own designs had proved unsuccessful. The Waterloo tractors were sold until Deere’s new design, the Model D, emerged in 1923. Waterloo model H and K gas engines were produced from 1919 and were phased out after production of the John Deere Model E started in 1921. The Model E was produced in three ratings, 1-1/2 HP, 3 HP and 6 HP, and apart from the introduction of a crankcase breather later in production, were relatively unchanged over the 23 years they were built.

My engine arrived with the rocker arm broken and, not surprisingly, covered in dirt, but at least it turned over freely. The first thing checked was the engine number, 266,583, indicating that it was built in 1926. I had hoped that this would be the first engine that could be restored without repainting, and that I could leave it in its original state. However, when the dirt was cleaned off there were different colors of green paint. When the newer paint was removed, specks of orange paint lay underneath. Foiled again, yet another repaint job!

John Deere Model E: Stripping the engine

Stripping the engine was fairly straightforward. The cylinder head was only held on by a couple of nuts, the others were missing and the fuel line had already been disconnected. Before taking the head off, the igniter was removed. After undoing the three machine screws holding the magneto cover plate, the three bolts were removed from the crankcase cover to release it from the main casting. The big end cap was marked to ensure it would be replaced the same way before removing its bolts so that the piston and connecting rod could be pushed out from the front of the engine. There was no oil to dispose of, only a thick black goo that I washed out with kerosene.

The piston rings were stuck tight in their grooves, so the piston was soaked in a bowl of kerosene to release the build up of old oil and carbon. This enabled the rings to be loosened and removed. Once they had been taken off, it was clear that they would need replacing as they were very thin and had no spring in them. After soaking in kerosene it was easy to clean out the piston ring grooves.

A tricky part in stripping the engine was removing the magneto. First, all the gear wheels were checked to ensure that the factory alignment marks – a small “O” stamped on the rim – were visible. If none of the marks are visible, even after cleaning with emery cloth, then the meshing points of the crankshaft gear, cam gear and magneto must be marked to make it easy to re-fit them in the same position.