World’s Oldest John Deere Tractor

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

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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