Breaking the Mold: John Deere Type E Engines

Type E engines delivered dependable, maintenance-free operation.


| December 2016/January 2017



type e

“This Shows How the John Deere Type E is Made.” This cutaway illustration is from a 1927 promotional brochure. Detail of the original.

Image courtesy of Deere & Company Archives

Before tractors found wide acceptance on the farm, the stationary gasoline engine made life easier for the farmer and his family. A convenient and relatively inexpensive power source, the gas engine was put to work in a variety of applications: pumping water, grinding feed, running washing machines, and similar chores. A labor-saving workhorse, the gas engine fast became a valuable tool for everyday life.

Beginning in the early 1900s, John Deere offered a variety of stationary gas engines, relying on contract engine builders to supply them. The most popular were manufactured by the Root & Vandervoort Engineering Co. of East Moline, Illinois, and the New Way Motor Company of Lansing, Michigan. John Deere dealers offered these engines until Deere & Company purchased the Waterloo Gasoline Engine Co. of Waterloo, Iowa, in March 1918. Waterloo produced engines in 2, 3, 5, 7, 9, and 14 hp sizes. The Waterloo’s simple design made it a reliable engine, but by the early 1920s that design was outdated.

New “enclosed” stationary engine designs to replace the Waterloo Boy line began in the spring of 1920 at the Waterloo Engine Works, three years before production of the D Tractor. The new design broke from the traditional design, utilizing an enclosed crankcase that allowed the engine to be self-oiled.

The enclosed design was a major improvement over the Waterloo Boy’s lubrication system, which used grease cups for connecting rod and main bearing lubrication. A downside was that old grease was pushed out onto the flywheels, distributed over everything. Additionally, the sight-feed oiler that lubricated the piston had to be adjusted to ensure the right oil level (generally one drop every 10 seconds).

Unfortunately, when the engine was cold, the oil would not drip enough; when the engine was hot, oil ran into the cylinder. If the operator forgot to turn off the oiler after running the engine, all of the oil dripped out of the cylinder, into the crankcase, and onto the ground. Even with the new enclosed design, there were problems. If the crankcase was too full, oil worked out through the flywheel bushings.

A group from the Deere & Webber branch in Minneapolis worked with Waterloo engineers, devising a filler on the right side of the governor box on a 45-degree angle at exactly the right level, allowing only 1-1⁄8 inch of oil in the crankcase. But there was no easy way for operators to pour the oil into the hole.