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Views and opinions: Old Ugly beautifies Iowa's biennial Deere Green show


At this year’s Gathering of the Green in Davenport, Iowa, there were an array of displays and one of the neatest was a little farm tractor owned by Marvin Swanson and his grandson, Alex Samuelson, from Orion, Ill. The word “NOVO” is painted in gold letters on the top of the radiator of the tractor.

Marvin is a retired farmer, and he and Alex had taken the time to outline the history of this tractor. Marvin said the tractors were made at the John Deere Wagon Works in Moline, Ill., in the 1930s.

“The prototype was called a Model Y tractor. It was the prototype of the Model L family, Deere’s first attempt to built a small tractor for farms. They built 22 of them, but they were disasters,” he explained.

He added the tractor had new features that included a foot clutch and a vertical piston engine. The transmission, steering column and spindles were from a Model A Ford car. The engine in the model pictured was one of six built with a Novo engine.

This little beauty was later known as the Model L and many were sold with the Hercules engine, but eventually Deere sold them with its own two-cylinder.

The website Vintage Machinery had more information about the history of the Novo Engine Co. It started as Cady & North, a small engine repair shop in North Lansing, Mich.. The company began in 1890. The company name changed to Cady & Hildreth, then by 1901 to Hildreth & Son and by 1906 to Hildreth Manufacturing Co., until in 1911 when it finally ended up as Novo Engine Co.

The company over the years made two-cycle marine engines, small farm pumps and vertical four-cycle hopper cooled engines of between 2-15 hp.

Marvin said his and Alex’s tractor is not a completely original Y, as all of those were supposedly destroyed by Deere. His has been made from what they think is original scrapped Model Y components back in 1936 that were found in Nebraska and documented. Marvin bought his tractor at an auction.

After the Y, he has one of the next production tractors that Deere went to, in 1937: A Model 62. “I have one; they sold 72 of them. Six they didn’t sell. Mine is one of the ones they didn’t sell,” he noted.

“It was a factory mule. I was around it because I worked at the John Deere Harvester Works in Product Engineering. They used it to pick up parts at the factory for 50 years.”

Next to their machine was another historic tractor they also owned, a 1938 Deere Model L. This beautiful original tractor was used on the Deere family “Friendship Farm,” which is south of Moline that later became the T.P.C. Deere Run golf course. Marvin said this was the 10th Model L built at Moline Wagon Works and that the L “was the only John Deere tractor built in Illinois.”

The 1938 Deere Model L has an NXA two-cylinder gas engine and sold originally for $450. Marvin calls the original tractor Old Ugly.

“The reason I have that tractor Old Ugly is that I bought up all tractors from that vintage because I was pulling mini-rods and I was using the final drives and transmissions. Deere over-designed them and they lasted forever, and Old Ugly was never touched. I bought it in 1970 and put it inside, I knew there was something special about it even back then.”

Eight or nine years ago, he and Alex took it into the shop to take apart and reassemble.

The Gathering of the Green was March 21-24 at River Center Conference Center. Show planners estimate more than 3,000 Deere enthusiasts made their way to the show from 41 states and countries that included Canada, United Kingdom, Germany, Australia and South Africa.

The next gathering will be held in 2020 and it will be the 11th annual show; learn more at


Readers with questions or comments for Cindy Ladage may write to her in care of this publication. Learn more of Cindy’s finds and travel in her blog, “Traveling Adventures of a Farm Girl,” at