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The Birth of a New Generation of Deeres

In 1953, the top brass at John Deere came to the inevitable conclusion that their 42-year reliance on a two-cylinder engine, although it was an unqualified success, could no longer sustain the company. The demand for larger tractors was outstripping the abilities of such an engine to generate needed torque and peak horsepower.

Therefore, what would eventually become known as the New Generation of John Deere tractors when introduced in 1960 was already being conceived in 1953.

Wiman’s Dream

Then Deere president and CEO Charles Wiman authorized an ambitious research and development program to make Deere’s tractor line of the future a reality. Wiman’s only requirement was that the designers keep Deere’s highly visible green and yellow paint scheme. 

Now appreciate that in launching this massive effort, Wiman was putting his entire company on the line risking Deere’s number two position (to IHC) in the marketplace and terminating a highly profitable two-cylinder engine platform.

Later, Wiman’s son-in-law, Bill Hewitt, became Deere CEO (Wiman died in 1955) and took on the mantle to make the New Generation a reality by shifting the program into high gear and creating a highly secret program. 

Hewitt put the development of the New Generation under the capable direction of Merlin Hansen, who assembled a team of engineers and began work in an empty grocery store in downtown Waterloo, Iowa. In this location, later known as the Deere Product Engineering Center (PEC), a new-from-the-ground-up machine took shape. And nearly everything about these tractors was original: new engines, transmissions, hydraulic systems, frames, electrical systems, operator’s platforms, and styling. 

Unlike Any Tractor Upgrade

Model upgrades in the industry often involve minor changes to the old line’s componentry. An upgrade requiring one-third new parts is characterized as a major overhaul. 

Consider that over 95% of the New Generation’s parts were new! 

Also, what was expected of Hansen and his design team was not only to fabricate a tractor that caught up with the competition, but to surpass all marketplace standards. And it was expensive work. Consider that the price of changing the manufacturing line to produce the new engines alone carried a price tag of around $70 million in today’s dollars.

Each part for every aspect of the new tractor line had to be designed, engineered, fabricated, tested, modified, retested, remodified, retested over and over and over again under an intense time schedule. And once a component passed the scrutiny of prototype engineers, then the manufacturing engineers had to figure out how to get it fabricated. And a new series of proving the parts would begin.

Top all this off by the fact that no less than five new models were being created in an amazing array of configurations including row-crop, utility, high-crop, orchard, industrial, and even crawler versions. In all, as many as 13 configurations were created and offered with gas, diesel, and LP gas engines.

At the same time, another team labored to update the older two-cylinder models, and out came the 30 Series (330, 430, 530, 630, 730, and 830) in 1958.

Some of the best brains in the industry were put to the task to create this new line. Wally Dushane was in charge of design, while Don Wielage handled the development. Both men are now considered giants in the world of agricultural engineering.

Deere reached out to famed industrial designer Henry Dreyfuss to fashion new clothing for the New Generation machines. Dreyfuss’s firm, which innovated human-factor designing, had a hand in styling previous Deere tractors. But now his firm was given new marching orders: Start with a blank slate and make it the best.

New Generation prototypes were evaluated in a test farm located at John Deere's Product Engineering Center southwest of Waterloo, Iowa.

Keeping It Under Wraps

In relative terms, the effort was similar to the U.S. space program. And Hewitt demanded it be kept secret, which Deere employees did for seven years. Doing so was a major accomplishment. Consider, for example, that personnel ordering new parts for fabricating prototypes had to do so without telling suppliers what was up. And prototype tractors had to be covered while being transported for field testing not only on Deere’s test site near Waterloo but also in other locations like Texas, California, or Arizona.

When it was introduced at a world-class event held in Dallas on August 30, 1960, the New Generation offered numerous industry-leading advances. 

Set New Design Standards

The line’s hydraulic system delivered 20 gpm at 2,000 psi. Competitive tractors turned out 10 gpm to 15 gpm at around 800 psi to 1,000 psi. And Deere’s closed-center hydraulic system (today all tractors over 80 hp. operate with closed-center hydraulics, a system Deere helped standardize) delivered more power on demand doing so more economically. The Deere design stole only 1½ hp. from the engine, a standard that was unheard of at the time.

The New Generation tractors were also the first to feature hydraulic power brakes that ran in oil, which meant they needed no adjustment. 

Up on the operator’s platform, Dreyfuss’s designers had fashioned a seat that no other tractor could match.

That the 10 Series was an unprecedented success can be seen in the Model 4010, which along with its successors (the 4020 and the 4320) became the most copied tractor in tractor history. 

Read more on John Deere's history in Deere's Watershed Tractor.

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