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The Waterloo Boy


The Waterloo Boy

Where did the John Deere tractor get it's start in the tractor market? Probably a question the majority of folks don't have any idea how John Deere started.

The person that the company got it's name from, John Deere, didn't start with making tractors but by building horse drawn plows.

When Mr. Deere and his family moved from the quaint setting of New Endland to the mid-west town of Decator, Illinois, in 1837, he took note right away of the difference in the testure of soils and the problems facing farmers in turning the sod. It was a thick black soil that stuck to every plow, making it very difficult to turn over. The horses didn't have the power neccessary and the traction engines could not make it turn over in a manor that would allow proper planting. The only plows available were made with cast iron which would not clean of the soil. John Deere experimented with many different methods when he stumbled upon forming a plow share from an old abandoned saw blade. It was a complete success from the very first one and the race was on. He was the first to start making horse plows out of steel anywhere and set the standard for that part of the country in building plows that would get the job done. John died in the late 1880's and his son Charles took over operations of the company. When the need came for multiple plow bottoms, Deere was there to produce them and soon was putting out plows with up to sixteen bottoms for the big farmers that had the 110 HP Case Traction Engines of the western prairie farms, and they could pull these plows in tandom where they had difficulty pulling other types, with fewer bottoms.

With such a successful manufacturing process of plows it only seemed the natural thing to move into other lines of farming equipment. Seeding, haying and ground preparing machines were now in the offering. What about a tractor to pull them? The first successful gasoline powered tractor was invented just down the road from there and The John Deere Company had furnished many pieces of pull behind equipment for this manufacturer's tractor. The man's name was John Froelich and the tractor was the Waterloo Boy. It seemed fit for John Deere to buy this company, for a couple of reasons. Eliminate the competition and forgo all the research and development that goes into getting a product started.

The Froelich Waterloo Boy was built in Waterloo Iowa under the Name of The Waterloo Traction Engine Company from 1892 - 1918. John Deere bought the company in 1918 for a sum of $2.1 million and continued to build the tractor under the same name until 1924.

The Waterloo Boy tractors went through several modifications through it's tenure. The very first tractor of Mr. Froelich was called "The Waterloo Boy Gasoline Traction Engine". Named after the steam traction engine for no other reason then the name. The name"tractor" was not yet in existance. He made a total of five of this type machine and decided to stop building them because he wasn't satisfied with their preformance. For the next few years the company survived on making stationary engines for the public, for water pumps, sawmills etc.


In 1911 an advanced model was introduced in the form that is known today. There were several models produced with different letter distinctions in each one of them. The Model "R" was first and the "TP" (R - TP) which was intended for the larger farms. It had a 4-cylinder cross mounted motor with a bore and stroke of 5.50 x 6.00 inches It features two forward speeds and one reverse. One of the features of that machine was that it had a mounted plow, with four 14 inchers, that was raised by a power lift. This tractor was advertised as a one man machine that was inexpensive and easy to operate. Well affordable to anyone with a 160 acre farm with good soil.

1913 brought the Model "L" with 15 HP. It was a smaller class that could pull a mounted 2 bottom plow. A similar version in 4-WD was offered and called the model "C". And a larger tractor, Model "H", with a bore and stroke of 7.00 x 7.00 inches with 25 HP.

1914 brought yet another model "R" change with an entirely new 2-cylinder side by side motor that would become the standard of the Waterloo Boy and the John Deere tractors for another forty-six years. From 1914 -1917 there were twelve different versions of the model "R" build. All had single speed transmissions (strange) and chain steering, like the traction steam engines.

In 1917 the model "N"was introduced with the same motor design as the last production run of the "R" line. The model "N" and "L" design was also furnished, 1917 to 1919, to be sold by L. I. Martin's Overtime Tractor Company in London England. Some 4000 were crated and shipped in parts and then assembled there and painted their own color scheme of green frame and fenders, gray motor, radiator and fuel tank and orange wheels. This company bought the Waterloo Boy tractors during the war but interesting enough bought J. I. Case tractors afterwards.

Of course John Deere became the builder in 1918 and continued to build the same tractor. In 1920 it was fitted with automotive style steering ( no chains) and a raised fuel tank. Sounds like someone was running out of fuel.

Deere paid 2.1 million dollers for the tractor works and immediately set out to improve it. Since the drive gears were in the open, the dirt, mud and dust quickly wore out the gears. A solution was to inclose the drive system and use a chain that run in oil to drive the wheels. It was tested and proved, after some modification, to be the answer. This same system was also continued on the new model "D' and some GP's. New models, "A", "B" and "C" were also started.

1924 saw the last of the John Deere -Waterloo Boy tractors built and ended an era of great importance for the tractor industry.

The next series was the John Deere Model "D"