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Baby Deeres Grow Up

The success of these small tractors leads to the growth of utility giants.

John Deere had only been in the tractor business a couple of decades when it cast an eye toward the truck garden market. Despite fierce competition and the Great Depression, Deere was looking to expand.

At this time, the company’s line included four full-size models. Deere engineer Ira Maxon wanted that number to grow to five. Maxon seemed an unlikely choice to create a new line. He was a chief engineer, but he worked at Deere’s Wagon Works in Moline, Illinois. The company’s tractor works was all done up the road in Waterloo, Iowa.

Wagon Factory Tractor

Maxon had room to produce a garden-market tractor at his factory, so he set to work hand-building 24 experimental machines that were sold under the model name Y.

Why the Y designation? No one knows for sure, but the lithe machine showed promise in field tests despite being underpowered by an engine (the Novo model C-66) intended for stationary use. Maxon and his team went back to the drawing board to rework the Y by giving it a new engine – the 10-hp. Hercules NXA – and a new name – the model 62. That tractor and its subsequent replacements (the models L, LI, and LA) were unique in Deere two-cylinder history.

True, they were two “lunger” machines, but their cylinders ran vertically, not horizontally. Deere would replace the Hercules with its own engine in 1941. 

These tractors were unique at this time because they were the only Deeres equipped with a foot – not hand – clutch. They were the only Deere tractors to be built in Moline.

Proved a Success

The utility Deeres proved to be a huge asset for the company. Over 27,000 of the tractors were built in the 10 years after the Y. The machines inspired a steady line of Deere utility tractors. In 1947, the L’s were replaced by the M, and production of mini Deeres moved to Dubuque, Iowa. The M’s were succeeded by the numbered Deeres: the 40 in 1953, the 320 and 420 in 1956, and the 330 and 430 in 1958.

John Deere Utility Tractor Time Line

  • 1936: Ira Maxon builds 24 versions of the model Y.
  • 1937: The model Y’s are recalled, refitted, and reintroduced as the model 62. An additional 72 units of this particular model are built.
  • 1938: The model L (unstyled) is introduced with 1,502 produced that year.
  • 1939: A stylized version of the L is marketed; 10,946 of these tractors are built before their production ends seven years later.
  • 1939: An industrial version of the L, the LA, is introduced. Total production reaches 2,452.
  • 1941: The model LA is introduced. Production reaches 12,475 before the LA is discontinued in 1946.

This article was written by Ben Davidson for Successful Farming magazine.

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