Farm Collector Blogs > Looking Back

The John Deere Model Y Tractor

Sam MooreBy 1920 most tractor builders had gotten away from the big, heavy and awkward tractors that were the norm during the first two decades of the 20th century. Still, except for the Fordson and a handful of others, most tractors sold were in the three to four plow classes. Tractors were expensive, and there were tens of thousands of farmers with 100 acres or less who felt that the purchase of these larger machines couldn’t be justified for their small acreage.

By 1930, tractor dealers east of the Mississippi River, where the bulk of these smaller farms were concentrated, were besieging their home offices with requests for a small, inexpensive tractor to replace the one team of horses on these farms. One of the earliest was the 14 HP Farmall F-12, introduced in 1933, followed by the little Plymouth (soon renamed Silver King) in 1934.

Deere and Co. brought out the 14 hp Model “B”, an extremely popular tractor that replaced many a team of horses on small farms (as did the Farmall F-12). Still, there was a clamor from the field for an even smaller and lower-priced machine, so the engineers at the Waterloo Tractor Works, and the John Deere Wagon Works in Dubuque began work.

The Dubuque group, under Max Slovsky won the race, and in 1936 more than 20 Model “Y” tractors were built and tested. Looking nothing at all like the Waterloo built tractors, the Model “Y” used mostly off-the-shelf components to hold down costs. Management had specified that the engine of the new tractor must be 2-cylinder, so a Novo C-66 engine was used. The Novo was indeed 2-cylinder, although it was (gasp) upright instead of following the Waterloo tradition of horizontal engines! The transmission and steering gear on the Y were the same as that of the Model A Ford car, while the frame consisted of two heavy steel tubes. The Model Y weighed 1340 pounds, had a cushioned seat with a canvas back on a wire frame, and the rear fenders had curved, flat tops over the tires.

John Deere Model Y replica

A replica of the Deere Model Y that was put together by the late Jack Kreeger, who showed it at Tipton, Indiana, in 1993 where I photographed it. (Photo by Sam Moore)

During field trials, the Model Y performed well and it generated a lot of interest among farmers when demonstrated at fairs that summer. The only problem was with the Novo engine, which was designed for stationary use and didn’t have enough oil sump capacity to keep the bearings lubricated while working on hillsides. Apparently, at least some of the Novo engines were replaced by a Hercules 2-cylinder, L-head engine that was basically one half of their 4-cylinder engine with a bore and stroke of 3 x 4 inches, 56 cubic inches, and put out about 8 horsepower. Hercules records show that 20 of these engines were sold to Deere in 1936.

It seems the Model Y was advertised briefly at a cost of $532.50, but most accounts say that none were actually sold and that all 20-some tractors were recalled to the factory and scrapped. Deere was convinced the little Dubuque tractor was a keeper, however, and Slovsky and his crew set out to improve the design. The result was the Model 62, which made its debut in 1937.

The Model 62 was powered by the same 2-cylinder Hercules engine that was successful in the Model Y, although there were many differences from the earlier effort. The cast front and rear wheels are different and the fenders are more rounded, while the transmission is mounted to the front of the rear axle instead of the rear of the engine. Another feature that appears only on the Model 62 is the large, combined JD logo that’s cast into the rear axle housing and the cast shield below the radiator in front. The few lucky collectors who own Model 62 tractors (probably fewer than 80 were built) delight in painting these logos yellow to make them stand out, although they were green on the originals.

Made for less than a year, the Model 62 was replaced in late 1937 by the un-styled Model L, again similar to its predecessor, only different. But that’s a story for another day.

– Sam Moore