JOHN DEERE PRE-WATERLOO BOY EXPERIMENTAL TRACTORS

By Staff
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Courtesy of Howard D. Miller, Box 10, Route 2, Southington, Ohio 44470.
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Courtesy of Ray Christenson, Route 2, Box 178, Ellendale, Minnesota 56026.
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Courtesy of John Deere and Company, Moline, Illinois, and are from Theo Brown's book, Early Tractor Development (Moline: Deere and Company, 1953).
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Courtesy of Ray Christenson, Route 2, Box 178, Ellendale, Minnesota 56026.
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Courtesy of John Deere and Company, Moline, Illinois, and are from Theo Brown's book, Early Tractor Development (Moline: Deere and Company, 1953).
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Courtesy of Homer Coy, R. F. D. 1, Toronto, Kansas 66777.
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Courtesy of Arlo Jurney, F3 Kingsland Tr. Crt., Calgary, Alberta.
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Courtesy of Arlo Jurney, F3 Kingsland Tr. Crt., Calgary, Alberta.

History Department, Clarendon College, Clarendon, Texas
79226.

Tractor experimentation and development is a fascinating aspect
of the history of agriculture in the United States. Deere and
Company’s search for a workable model prior to their purchase
of the Waterloo Gasoline Engine Company took them down several
avenues of design.

Development of these various models often ran concurrently so
that, by way of comparison, company officers could weigh the merits
of various design approaches. By utilizing both factory testing and
farm observation, Deere designed and revised numerous models of
motor cultivators and general purpose machines. None however met
with the final approval of the Board of Directors and it was not
until the introduction of the Model D, in 1923, that Deere produced
a wholly company-engineered tractor for the market.

This last story of Deere’s pre-Water-loo Boy experimental
work concerns a final general purpose, two plow tractor design, the
Sklovsky tractor; and, in many ways a retrogression, the Walter
Silver tractor; a motor cultivator. Again, both were evolutionary
vehicles of design ideas, yet both were doomed because of the
coming of World War I, the sharp agricultural depression after the
war and simply because they lacked the desired flexibility
needed.

George W. Mixter, a great grandson of John Deere and
vice-president in charge of manufacturing, charged Max Sklovsky
with the development of a two plow tractor design. Sklovsky was
allowed considerable latitude in his approach but board sentiment
seemed favorable to an all-wheel drive tractor. Working at the
Marseilles Plant on the design under Sklovsky’s supervision
were E. R. Wiggins, George Pearce and Nathan Lesser, all in the
John Deere Engineering Department.

The first model of the Sklovsky, labeled the A-2, used a one
piece, cast-iron body which included the engine pan, undoubtedly
the first tractor to have the entire body made from one casting.
The tractor was a three wheel, all-wheel drive model with a
wagon-type axle in front. The A-2 was built concurrently with
Joseph Dain’s three plow model. The tractor was first field
tested November 20, 1915, and continued until freeze-up December
12, 1915. Steering the A-2 was virtually impossible. With power
driven front wheels and no differential the operator was hard
pressed to overcome the torque of the engine. Other than its
glaring steering defect, the performance was acceptable.

Two views of the Sklovsky A-2 tractor. The whole body of the
tractor was a single casting, undoubtedly the first of its
kind.

A rebuilt version of the tractor, the B-2, included a
pivot-axle, automobile-type steering mechanism when the tractor was
revised in 1916. The B-2 used a Northway four-cylinder engine and
first drawings of a third tractor, the D-2, included a
one-cylinder, hopper-cooled engine. The Sklovsky B-2 was’ the
last model produced, for increasing war production demands
interrupted any further experimental work on the tractor. The D-2
was never built. The unique one-piece body and engine pan of the
Sklovsky would have left no recessed surfaces and so would have
eliminated expensive machining. Sklovsky and his staff never
resumed development of the tractor when the war ended.

By June, 1916, Deere and Company established the following: that
one-row motor cultivators were not practical and that row crops
could be cultivated with mechanical means. Deere and Company
officials were determined to continue experimental work with motor
cultivators pending any formal introduction of such a model. When
it became apparent that farmers were not interested in a one row
model, a two row motor cultivator was the logical step. The Board
of Directors moved to continue design and construction and Walter
Silver was placed in charge of construction of a two row model.
Silver completed a model in two weeks’ time in June, 1917. It
used an Avery motor with a friction transmission. The first Silver
motor cultivator had power driven but not steerable front wheels. A
small rear wheel turned the machine and the operator shifted the
rigs laterally with his feet and steered with a hand wheel.

Separating the two operations of steering the machine and
dodging the rigs was not practical. The Illinois State Farm had a
two row model that solved this problem and its design was
incorporated into later Silver motor cultivator models. Deere
applied for a patent on the machine March 23, 1917, and was later
awarded patent number 1,451,672. Joseph Dain was intensely
interested in the progress of the Silver motor cultivator. A
recorder’s entry in the minutes of a board meeting September
12, 1915, noted the following:

Drawings of the proposed D-2 tractor which would have had
several modifications over the B-2. However, its development was
brought to a halt by the First World War.

Mr. Dain predicted that in five years there will not be half the
horse-drawn implements that are sold today, unless they are adapted
to tractors. We have to have a motor cultivator to protect our
share of the implement trade.

By 1917, there had been four models of the Silver motor
cultivator constructed. The first revision of the fourth Silver was
sent to the J. B. O’Donnell farm near Sheldon, Iowa in
O’Brien County for tests and observation. During this period
Silver made more modifications and five more motor cultivators were
built. O’Donnell, a very competent farmer and mechanic-engineer
himself, was the appropriate individual to operate the tractor for
he longed for a machine with adequate flexibility to farm solely
with mechanical power. After the initial observations had been
completed O’Donnell reported on the performance of the Silver
number three.

We also hitched the machine to a twenty-foot drag harrow and it
worked out good. We have already used the machine on the disc
harrow, drag harrow, road drag, corn planter, corn cultivator,
mower and binder. Our main drawback has been the lack of power . .
. in discing we only averaged about 16 acres per 10-hour day, where
if we had been able to pull a 10-foot disc harrow at high speed, we
could do almost double the amount.

Construction details of the Sklovsky B-2 tractor.

During the crop season of 1917, a fourth revision of the Silver
was tested and observed on the O’Donnell farm. It disced 175
acres of corn ground, planted 160 acres and cultivated 200 acres of
corn and cut thirty acres of grain with an eight-foot McCormick
binder in thirty hours running at about three miles-per-hour.
Over-all the machine was given a good report. The main drawback was
lack of power. R. L. McPherson of Tarkio, Missouri used the Silver
on about sixty-nine acres of corn and found the machine did not
have enough power to work in hilly ground. He felt the motor should
be at least six horse-power. For O’Donnell, tractors were the
wave of the future but he was sure farmers wanted a universal type
of tractor. He felt safe in estimating at least fifty per cent of
those farmers he had talked with felt this way. O’Donnell felt
$1,000.00 was a fair market price for the motor cultivator.

On September 13, 1918, the Board of Directors received a report
by Mr. Clausen on the motor cultivator. Clausen recommended another
year of experimental work under the continued supervision of Walter
Silver. On December 23, 1919, it was decided to transfer all motor
cultivator development to the Deere Plow Works. During the next
several years work continued with motor cultivators but the record
is extremely vague and it appears as though there was actually a
regression. In the Spring of 1921, a one-row motor cultivator was
again developed and, as in earlier models, the cultivator rigs were
shifted laterally by foot pedals. The machine steered by guiding
two rear caster wheels. This double function was a definite step
backward.

This picture was taken in August 1920 of Our (about 1917) Titan
I. H. C. tractor. It is belted up to a 26′ Case Separator which
does not show in the picture. We were threshing oats on the John
Harris farm 5 miles Southwest of Burlington Kansas. I (Homer Coy)
am standing on the front wheel of the tractor and the man on the
ground is either Brother Frank Coy or John Harris. We also used
this tractor for grading the old dirt Country roads and for
plowing. This was a 15-30 H. P. 4 cylinder tractor very good for
threshing but a little clumsy for plowing. I would like to know if
there are any of these old tractors around now. If there are I
would like to see one.

I am building a model steam tractor. It is about 3 ft. wide, 7
ft. long and 4 ft. high with a 21/2′ bore and 3′ stroke. It
runs fine on comp. air and I am planning to steam it up and drive
it down the road this afternoon.

This picture was taken in 1932. Here am I (Arlo), with my 1927
17-30 Type B, Minneapolis Tractor, pulling a 21-foot I. H. C. disc
and harrows. This engine pulled a 3-bottom plow for breaking, and a
4-bottom in stubble. This engine was always well cared for, and
kept in a machine shed. It is now in a Museum.

The Board of Directors, not pleased with progress, halted all
further work on this model and all others in October, 1921. Lack of
adaptability was not the major reason though. The pyramid of
foreign agricultural exports and good farm prices at home collapsed
and a dark cloud descended on the country-side. An agricultural
depression of large proportions virtually dried up the new
machinery market. Farmers bought now only to replace worn equipment
and country bankers became unwilling to extend credit for many
machinery purchases. This depression in the midst of seeming
prosperity in the rest of the economy was the dishonored prophet
come back to reclaim his name. Farmers entered the Great Depression
long before the rest of the country heard of the stock market
crash. The depression began in 1920 when foreign demand was sharply
curtailed. Net total farm income dropped from $10,061,000,000 in
1919 to $9,009,000,000 in 1920 and to $4,138,000,000 in 1921.
Whereas in 1920 over 203,000 tractors had been manufactured, 1921
recorded only 76,046 units built and by year’s end only 10,403
had been actually sold on the domestic market.

Deere and Company, hit like other implement companies, was
forced to retrench. When Haskins & Sells, certified public
accountants, completed their 1921 audit of Deere’s books, as
they had done for years, they found sales had declined 63 per cent
from 1920. Factories were closed during the late winter and spring.
Though expenditures were scrutinized closely the company’s loss
from operations was nearly one million dollars.

During the early twenties the company’s entire tractor
effort was shifted to the re-design of the Waterloo Boy. During
this very period the Board of Directors entertained a proposal to
abandon the Waterloo tractor operation because of the apparent lack
of interest in farm tractors. Though Deere never marketed a motor
cultivator, it was nevertheless a vital bridge to the general
purpose, tricycle type tractor that Deere and Company marketed with
success in the late twenties.

In spite of advances in mechanical power an article in the 1910
United States Department of Agriculture Year-book summed up the
resistence of horses to replacement as a source of power on farms
growing inter-tilled crops.

He has been assailed by the bicycle, electric street car and
suburban car and by the automobile, but all combined have not
prevented horses from increasing in numbers and value. As a source
of farm power and as a substitute for human labor in combination
with machines the horses’ economic place on the farm is more
strongly established than ever before.

Left is a Rumely, Heavy Weight, 25 x 45. Operator, Frank
Sherring of Carbon, Alberta, shown talking to a visitor. Frank is
the man on the left. (We want to thank Mrs. Sherring for helping to
get Frank ready for the Show-ha ha). This Rumely was on display at
the Pioneer Acres Plowman and Thresher’s Reunion, held twelve
& a half miles East of Calgary, Alberta, on Aug. 12 & 13,
1972.

At right, this picture was taken at the 3rd Reunion of the
Pioneer Acres Plowman & Thresher’s Club, held Aug. 12 &
13, 1972, twelve and a half miles East of Calgary, Alberta. We used
3 Minneapolis separators at the Show. This one is a 1925 model,
size 36 x 58. It was powered by both gas and steam.

Indeed, horse numbers reached their peak in 1915, with
21,431,000 reported at a per head value of $103.23. By 1917 though,
horse numbers decreased by 125,000 head and the value per animal
unit began to slowly decrease. At the relatively early date of
1925, at the Annual Meeting of the American Society of Agricultural
Engineers, members heard R. E. Murphy, a farmer, give a paper
entitled, ‘Operating an Iowa Farm Without Horses,’ Murphy
reported a 44 per cent saving when tractors replaced all the horses
on his Des Moines County farm. By 1930, a farmer member of the ASAE
reported only one colt was being broken for every sixty-four horses
then working. The switch to tractors was inevitable. Farm implement
manufacturers were forced to hedge against tomorrow and the motor
cultivator was the result. Like a step-child, or an under-study, it
was neither an implement nor a tractor. It was too inflexible to
provide a complete farm power source and too light to survive the
punishment of heavy drawbar work.

Engineers knew how to build tractors but they were still unsure
of what to build. The most important factor then was the range of
work the tractor would be called on to perform. By 1920, most
engineers felt the all purpose tractor should be able to plow,
prepare the seedbed, plant, cultivate and harvest crops, do belt
work and perform miscellaneous farmstead chores. Crops grown in the
United States requiring inter-row cultivation comprised 58.4 per
cent of all crops grown in 1920, yet few row crop tractors were on
the market. The possible market for tractors in the Corn Belt
(Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Nebraska, Ohio and Missouri) was hardly
scratched. Even though these six states had about one-third of all
the tractors in the United States in 1920 (totaling 82,060) a study
found only about six per cent of the farms in the six states used
tractors; the other 94 per cent continued to rely on horses for
their main source of power.

Two Waterloo gas engines that I bought this fall, a 4 HP and a
21/2 HP. The date October 5, 1909. Would like to hear from anyone
who has a Waterloo.

This is a Model A that I reconstructed from parts obtained from
6 or 7 junk yards. I didn’t find a body, so I built one.

I built this buggy and finished it the same day they first
landed on the moon. Therefore I call it ‘The Moon Buggy’.
Since then, they have taken a buggy to the moon. This is powered by
a 3 HP Novo engine.

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