In the late 1930s, John Deere had four tractor models available, the “A,” the “B,” the “G,” and the large Model “D.” But all of these tractors were larger, more powerful and more expensive than the Allis-Chalmers Model “B.” Deere quickly responded as its rival sold well.
In 1939, they brought out the Model “H,” and it became a staple in their lineup for the next decade. The “H” was a one-plow model and weighed about the same as the Allis-Chalmers “B,” 2,000 pounds. But unlike the Allis, the Deere had a two-cylinder engine. Each piston in the Deere was larger than those in the four-cylinder Allis, and the Model “H” produced 12.48 horsepower on the drawbar and 14.84 hp on the belt.
The tractor had a three speed transmission plus reverse, and it could achieve a top speed of 7½ miles per hour with the foot throttle cranked all the way open. By mid-decade, “H”s were offered with electric lights and an electric starter kit. No more flywheels to fling.
Earlier in the 30s, John Deere had come out with a “styled” line. They hired industrial designer Henry Dryfuss to design their tractors, and the “H” got similar styling treatment. The tractors were enclosed in sheet metal with relatively clean lines. Bold radiator louvers swept around the front of the tractor and directly into the top hood. Many of the mechanical parts of the tractor were hidden.
Between 1939 and 1947, John Deere built 58,600 Model “H” tractors. In 1942, they also introduced the Model “G” general purpose tractor. It had a large, two-cylinder engine with a 6 1/8-inch bore and 7-inch stroke that produced almost 36 hp on the belt and 27.6 hp on the drawbar.
By the end of the decade, Deere needed to respond to another tractor innovation. Ford had been building and selling tractors throughout the 1940s with the innovative Ferguson three-point hitch powered by a hydraulic lift mechanism. With it, the farmer could easily lift, drop and control the depth of their implements. In 1947, Deere responded with the Model “M” featuring a “Touch-O-Matic” hydraulic control. With the cultivator attached to the middle of the tractor, the operator of the “M” could raise or lower either the right or the left sides independently or together.
The “M” also proved to be popular – maybe in part because it was the first Deere tractor equipped at the factory with a padded seat. John Deere sold 40,500 Model “M” tractors between 1947 and 1952 and 25,800 of its cousin, the “MT,” between 1949 and 1952.
In 1949, John Deere came out with their first diesel powered tractor, the Model “R.” It had a small two-cylinder gasoline engine to preheat the two-cylinder diesel engine. This was a big tractor that boasted 51 horsepower and a five-speed transmission. It was also the most economically operating tractor tested at the Nebraska Tractor Test facility to that time.
Written by Bill Ganzel, the Ganzel Group. A partial bibliography of sources is here.