World's Oldest John Deere Tractor

| February/March 1993

  • The Hansen #79 tractor
    The Hansen #79 tractor, which was seen at Buckley, Michigan, last summer.

  • The Hansen #79 tractor

Acres Route 1, Box 82 Rollingstone, Minnesota 55969

If you've never heard of the John Deere All Wheel Drive Tractor, you are one of several million Americans, including historical societies and implement dealers, who are unaware that Deere & Co. manufactured and marketed a four-cylinder gasoline burning tractor more than six years prior to their introduction of the famous Model 'D.' This fact has apparently been obscured by the erroneous belief that the sale of the Waterloo Boy, the forerunner of the Model 'D' was Deere's entry into the tractor business and that the Model D was the first tractor to bear the John Deere name.

Deere and Company's tractor development began on March 5, 1912. The executive committee directed their experimental department to proceed with development of a light tractor suitable for general farm- use. Mr. C.H. Melvin was in charge of this project and he developed an experimental tractor that closely resembled the Hackney Auto-Plow. This single machine was not satisfactory and was soon abandoned.

In May 1914, another company engineer, Joseph Dain, founder of the Dain Manufacturing Company that had been acquired by Deere in 1911, was given the overall responsibility for producing a marketable tractor. Mr. Dain and his associates produced more than ten prototypes of a unique all wheel drive machine that was tested at locations ranging from Huron, South Dakota to San Antonio, Texas. In fact, Mr. Dain died of pneumonia contracted while testing the machine's traction. Although Mr. Dain never lived to see it, his tractor known as the 'Dain' while under development, was accepted for commercial production as the John Deere Tractor on 19 November, 1917. This greatly advanced machine featured all-wheel-drive, on-the-go shift, and a simple form of 'positive or non-slip' traction. It incorporated so many advanced engineering features that the prairie farmer just making his transition from horses to power farming refused to buy it. Too complicated, they thought, and much too expensive at $1600.

Following the abandonment of their all wheel drive tractor in 1919, due to sluggish sales, Deere turned to the two-cylinder kerosene burning principle. They had acquired the Waterloo Boy tractor along with other marketable products with their purchase of a much needed tractor factory...the Waterloo Gasoline Engine Company. By early 1923 an advanced version of the Waterloo Boy emerged as the John Deere Model D. This tractor soon became a 'household' word and was later promoted by Deere as being the first tractor to bear the renowned John Deere name.

Only one John Deere All Wheel Drive Tractor survived intact. It is documented as being number 79. A second partially complete machine with no identification plate is owned by a steam engine club of Illinois. A collector in Nebraska also has some parts and pieces of another. Old 79 will eventually go to the National Agricultural Center and Hall of Fame in Bonner Springs, Kansas at no cost to them. In the interim it can be viewed at major fairs and agricultural events throughout the nation.


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