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The New Deal Tractor

In the mid-1930s, the country was in the grip of the Great Depression, farmers yearned for a replacement for horses and mules, and a Minnesota company dreamed of building a tractor.

Playing off President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s promise of a new deal for Americans, the Wyoming, Minnesota-based Johnson Manufacturing Company launched an economical tractor that followed an approach pioneered by numerous other put-together horsepower manufacturers. Emil Johnson and his sons, Wilbur and Vern, utilized components from cars to assemble the machine.

The Johnsons began experimenting with their tractor in 1932. By 1935, they felt it was time to make a go of the effort, and the New Deal was launched.

The heart of the tractor was Ford, since its engine, transmission, differential, and frame came from the immensely popular Ford model T. By this time, enough model T parts could be salvaged or purchased new so that any local manufacturer could create a tractor without owning a foundry.

The first New Deals employed wooden spokes on their front wheels and metal spokes on the rear wheels. Johnson found a firm to produce cast-iron rims with the company’s name proudly displayed in raised letters around the diameter. Johnson also had the New Deal’s distinctive arched front axle and final drive cases cast.

Little else is known about the company except that it was sold at the beginning of World War II. Since no production numbers on the New Deal are available, it is estimated that between 50 and several hundred were built. Today, only two New Deal tractors exist; one is owned by the Chisago County Historical Society in Lindstrom, Minnesota.

Learn more about the New Deal tractor by contacting that group at 651/257-5310 or at chisagocountyhistory.org.

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