Deere Builds a Ford Plow: The John Deere 40

Reader Contribution by Sam Moore
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When Henry Ford introduced his Fordson Model F tractor to the American farmer in 1918, he fulfilled his desire, as stated in the early 1900’s, “to lift the burden of farming from flesh and blood and put it on steel and motors.” By the time Fordson production in the United States ceased in 1928, close to 750,000 of the machines had been manufactured.

Ford built only the tractor, declaring in early 1918 that he didn’t want to sell implements and that they should be made and sold by the present implement people. The immediate popularity of the Fordson, and the lack of Ford built implements, caused the mouths of many farm machinery builders to water. They saw a huge market for their machines, and especially for plows. Henry considered his tractor a replacement for horses and felt that existing horsedrawn implements would be satisfactory, however it soon became obvious that more heavily built tractor plows were needed.

In 1918 Ford promised to sell a Fordson tractor and a 2-bottom plow from the Oliver Chilled Plow Works for $875, an attractive package price. This was news to Oliver’s management who hadn’t been consulted about the deal. Oliver did then get on board and advertised their Oliver No. 7 Gang plow, in addition to the No. 14 Two Way Plow and the No. 76 Middlebreaker, as “Special Fordson Farming Equipment.” Ford didn’t permit his dealers, many of them automobile agencies, to handle any farm machinery except for “approved” items such as the Oliver plows and Roderick Lean discs.

Another big-time plow maker, Deere & Co., flirted with Ford all through 1918. In March of that year, after several years of trying to develop a tractor of their own, Deere bought the Waterloo Gas Engine Company and its Waterloo Boy tractor. Deere’s Plow Works, along with sales manager Frank Silloway, were excited about the Waterloo purchase since it would mean more plow sales in the future. However, only about 4000 Waterloo Boys had been sold in 1917 and yearly sales were projected to remain flat. Meanwhile, all the experts were predicting runaway sales of the Fordson; W.R. Morgan, manager of Deere’s Harvester Works, said, “I think they will sell thousands of the Ford tractors as soon as they are on the market.” Silloway and Plow Works manager H.B. Dineen got their heads together and worked to develop a strong, light, 2-bottom tractor plow especially for small tractors such as the Fordson.

In early 1918 the plowing demonstrations put on by Ford featured Oliver plows, but in March Dineen met with Henry and Edsel Ford, who liked the Deere plow — primarily because it was 180 pounds lighter than Oliver’s. Ford asked that a set of the Deere plows be sent to Dearborn for testing and Silloway exulted: “The chances are we should build and sell fifteen to twenty thousand Ford tractor plows a year.” At a meeting in May, Ford indicated the Deere plow was satisfactory and things looked rosy for Silloway, but Deere executives weren’t sold on the idea and debated the issue all that summer.

Deere Vice President C.C. Webber generally was against selling through any outside distributors such as the Ford agents. However, he thought maybe the little Ford plow might be another matter, saying: “… if we do not make an arrangement with Ford, it may be that we will lose the sale of a lot of plows without doing our agents much good …” Webber also wasn’t sold on the worth of the Fordson, as he felt the materials used in its manufacture, in light of wartime shortages, might better be used for other (more important) purposes.

Finally, in September of 1918, the Board of Directors voted to not use any outside agents, including Ford. Theo Brown saw Ford in November and was told that “(Deere) had missed the big opportunity in not selling plows to Fordson distributors.”

Ford continued to encourage Deere to develop a small plow for the Fordson, saying at one point that: “You (Deere) could build a hundred million of them.” During 1920 Deere tested the No. 40 plow with the “Self-Adjusting Hitch” and, after approval by Ford, began to build them in quantity. A 1921 ad calls the No. 40: “The Plow the Fordson Needs” and goes on to say, “The John Deere No. 40 Tractor Plow, built especially for use with the Fordson Tractor, gives Fordson owners real plowing economy.”

An ad for the John Deere No. 40 Fordson plow. [From the Feb. 7, 1925 issue of Country Gentleman magazine in the author’s collection]

The John Deere No. 40 tractor plow stayed in the lineup well into the 1930’s, but after about 1925 it was renamed the No. 40C and all reference to the Fordson tractor was dropped. Later ads called the No. 40C: “The only plow built for small tractors, with the great draft-reducing combination of self-adjusting hitch and rolling landside.” 

I don’t know how many No. 40 plows were sold for use behind Fordson tractors, but chances are there were a lot. After a couple of disastrous years during the 1920-’21 depression (only 79 Waterloo Boy tractors had been sold in all of 1921), Deere introduced the John Deere Model D in 1923. The new tractor was an instant success; by 1925 the tractor operation was in the black, and the sale of plows to go behind Fordson tractors wasn’t nearly as important to Silloway, now Vice President of Marketing, as it had been in 1918.

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