A Kansas ‘HR’ John Deere

By Staff
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5166 S. Vine, Wichita, Kansas 67217

As long as I have been building small tractors I have wanted a
small two cylinder tractor. Some thought was given to build a two
cylinder engine from a two cylinder air compressor. I decided this
would be more work than I was willing to take on. A John Deere BR
has always been one of my favorite tractors, but it is too big. It
didn’t take much research to realize a John Deere H is the
smallest horizontal two cylinder tractor built, so I decided to
modify the H to look like a scale BR. After studying the project
for a while, I realized the clutch pulley on the HR doesn’t
line up with the crankshaft. I felt this would look wrong for a
scale BR. After giving up on the project for a while, I got to
thinking about a small two cylinder tractor again. It dawned on me
it wasn’t necessary to build a scale BR, I could just build an
HR. Of course John Deere didn’t make an HR, or an unstyled H.
My preference is for the unstyled tractors so I decided to build an
unstyled HR. As this was to be a major project, I decided to try to
make the tractor look as ‘factory’ as possible.

I traded my friend David Linneburr out of a very tired H with
hand start. The front end, radiator, and all the sheet metal was
left with David. After hauling what looked like tractor remains
home, the engine got a minor overhaul and the usual cleanup. Now
the real work started. Each rear axle housing was narrowed five
inches and brazed back together. Then the axles were cut off at the
splines. The out board bearing mount on the axles was moved in five
inches to match the housings. This was done by welding a bead on
the shaft for the new bearing mount and then machining off the old
mount and turning the weld for a new mount. I borrowed a lathe from
Virgil Ewy, another friend of mine, to do the turning. It would be
difficult to do projects without input and help from friends like
David and Virgil. Next the splines were machined out of inside the
hubs. After the hubs were put back on the axles, three holes were
drilled between the hubs and axles three inches deep and three
eighths inch diameter pins inserted. This completed the major work
on the rear end.

Now it was time to tackle the front end. David and I discussed
whether to cut six inches out of the fan shaft, but we decided the
tractor would look better shorter, so six inches came out. About
twelve inches were taken out of the front frame. The front axle is
built from sheet metal and strap iron with three-quarter-ton Chevy
front steering knuckles. The spindles and hubs are International
combine which fit John Deere wheels. The steering arms and the tie
rod are also Chevy, much modified. I don’t know what the
steering box is from, but the extension is Gleaner combine. I tried
to run the steering shaft through the engine but there wasn’t
room so it had to stay outside. A support for the axle was made and
bolted to the frame then a wishbone was built to support the

This project was broken into phases and tackled one at a time.
Now it was time to tackle a more difficult phase, the radiator
shell. A small car radiator was found in the same junk I find a lot
of parts in. A shell was built around the radiator using four inch
channel and sheet metal. I had looked in my junk for a knob for the
radiator cap but I couldn’t find one. One day while walking by
a desk at work I spotted a knob laying on top. I asked the person
at the desk if I could have the knob and they said yes. You never
know where parts can be found! The knob was from a chair back and
was perfect for a radiator cap. A piece of sheet metal was pounded
in a curved shape for the cap with strap iron welded around the
edge. Letters for the John Deere on the front of the radiator shell
were sawed from one-eighth inch plastic and epoxies on.

Thin sheet metal was used for the hood contoured to fit the
radiator shell. I could not find a gas tank the right shape or
size, so one was formed of sheet metal. An Allis air cleaner was
found for the air cleaner, which was mounted on the right side
because there was no room on the left side.

Fenders and the floor boards are also thin sheet metal. Rivets
are used to fasten the fender parts together. Usually the first
question asked about the HR is how did I get the beads in the hood
and fenders. I tell them a block of wood was hollowed out and a
hammer used to put the beads in. The next question is how much body
putty was used or a statement such as how did you get the beads so
smooth. About then I confess a roller machine was borrowed from
Virgil, but I did have to make the rollers for the machine.

Front wheels are from an H, the rear wheels are made from some
twenty four inch rims welded to the H centers. Front tires are 4:00
x 15, rear tires are 9.5 x 24.

Now I will answer some other questions that are asked. What kind
of paint was used? Primer was applied first and then Iron is used
as a top coat. How long did it take to build the HR? Work was
started in April and finished in January, with only a couple of
small projects in between. Do you have a fancy shop? No. Except for
the lathe work on the axles all other work was done with a chop
saw, torch, welder, and normal hand tools. All sheet metal bending
was done over a pipe on saw horses or clamped between two angles
for sharp bends. Did you do all of the work yourself? Yes.

Earlier I mentioned my goal was to make the HR look as
‘factory’ as possible. During February, the Kansas and
Oklahoma Steam and Gas Engine Association, at Winfield, Kansas held
a chili feed to chase away cabin fever. I took the HR for something
to show. After our next regular meeting David and I had to deliver
some bus seats to one of our members’ house. As we were
unloading the seats the member asked where I found an HR. He said
the John Deere book did not list an HR, so it appears my goal was

I am looking forward to showing the HR this season. It has been
a fun and rewarding project. Sometimes you don’t know what you
can do unless you try. Many thanks to Virgil and David and others
who helped and had input in the ‘HR’.

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