1918 "Experimental" John Deere Tractor

Reeling in a whopper: Fisherman discovers a 1918 John Deere tractor, perhaps the first to bear the company's name

| March 1999

Fifty-one years ago, while trout fishing near Winona, Minn., Frank Hansen discovered a rusty tractor that turned out to be a treasure.

The tractor’s owners, Morris and Irwin Timm, had paid $5 for what looked like a piece of junk.

But what intrigued Frank about the 3-wheeled tractor was the brass nameplate that read “John Deere Tractor.” When he returned home, he began researching the tractor. His quest lasted 13 years.

Frank, who lives near Rolling Stone, Minn., learned that the all-wheel-drive tractor had a simple form of non-slip traction, on-the-go shift and a 4-cylinder gasoline engine similar to a modern diesel engine.

“It was the most advanced engine of its period,” he said.

The tractor’s serial number revealed that the vehicle was manufactured in 1918 and was the 79th Deere produced.

The tractor, which Frank has nicknamed “Old 79,” was manufactured several years before the John Deere D, which Deere & Co. publicized as the first tractor to bear the company name. Frank also learned that this tractor, the only one of its type still intact, had been manufactured in a plant on 10th Street in East Moline, Ill. Between 100 and 200 were built between 1914 and 1919, and most of them were sold in North and South Dakota.

Frank said Deere’s experimental department began working on the tractor in May 1914. In November 1917, the company’s executive committee approved the commercial manufacture of the tractor and establishment of a tractor division.