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John Deere’s history with a 2-cylinder tractor



 Starting in 5th or 6th grade, I cultivated with our Allis WC. Dad also had an old John Deere G, but the Allis was easier for me to start. Starting the G with the flywheel was a lot of effort, so he kept me on the Allis with my big brother on the G.

This was during the mid-1940s. Even though one of our tractors had a 4-cylinder engine and the other had 2 cylinders, I only recall a little discussion in our one-room school about that. We did argue about color. Both sides knew theirs was best.

Deere entered the tractor business virtually overnight by purchasing Waterloo Gas Engine Co. in 1918 for $2,100,000. The Waterloo company dates back to 1892, and by 1914, they had become one of the largest engine builders in the United States. That year, they introduced a new lightweight 2-cylinder tractor. Their Model N was built until 1924 and sold 20,000 units. That Waterloo engine became the power in all 19 models of Deere tractors up to 1960.

As the years passed, 4-cylinder and 6-cylinder tractors became common on every market tractor except John Deere.

While other manufacturers advertised smoother-running, quieter engines, Deere pointed out the major benefits of 2 cylinders: Two versus four or six pistons; only two connecting rods; four valves versus eight or 12 on 4- and 6-cylinder engines; four valve springs; 10 rings versus 16 or 24; and two main bearings versus three or five.

The main thrust of their marketing effort was lower fuel consumption, less maintenance cost, and more reliability.

Introducing the 2-cylinder model 70 was a milestone with several new features. A 3-point hitch was a big step, as was the Power-Trol draft control system. Later models included a 6-speed forward and one reverse transmission with a hi-lo range.

The model 70 had set a new Nebraska Test record for that horsepower, at 2.8 gallons per hour.

In 1960, the 2-cylinder engine was retired, as the 4010 6-cylinder model was introduced, followed by the 3010 with 4 cylinders. Thus, the 36 years of 2-cylinder mass production had ended.

But what an amazing run it had. The model 70, with its new features and record-breaking fuel economy, in particular, had sold exceptionally well, as did the Model 60 a year later.

Over the years, the 2-cylinder engine has been criticized for being outdated and making a strange sound.

Yet during its tenure, John Deere in 1958 surpassed its main computer, IH, in sales volume. The new 720 with optional power steering helped.

Since then, much speculation has existed regarding Deere, the new sales leader. Was it the fuel economy and low maintenance of the 2-cylinder engine that allowed Deere to pass IH?

Undoubtedly, it had something to do with this success. During the late 1950s, Deere dealers were surveyed regarding replacing the 2-cylinder. I’m told

that our neighboring dealer was among those who voted to keep the engine. He felt it was easy to sell as the new features came out. He was a progressive, well-regarded dealer, and was serious in his belief that change was not necessary. Maybe other dealers felt the same, but Deere moved forward to retire the 2-cylinder tractors.

Another speculation has always been that the John Deere policy of annual contract renewal kept dealers on their toes and modernized their stores more than competitors. That may have been another reason for moving ahead of IH in sales volume.

One thing cannot be ignored. The 2-cylinder engine, with its low fuel consumption and maintenance, had much to do with John Deere’s success during those years. It was a significant part of the company’s rise to number one in the industry.

And no one will ever forget the sound!


Paul Wallem was raised on an Illinois dairy farm. He spent 13 years with corporate IH in domestic and foreign assignments. He resigned to own and operate two IH dealerships. He is the author of THE BREAKUP of IH and SUCCESSES & INDUSTRY FIRST of IH. See all his books on Email comments to