I remember the first spoke flywheel model “D” I saw when I was a kid. The county mowed the grass along the roadside with a tractor or horses pulling a sickle bar mower. One day, a tractor with the mower went by our farm and I saw it was an old model “D” pulling the mower, but we could only see the pulley side. The next morning, my dad sent me to another farm on our 1937 model “A” to cultivate. About a mile down the road, the old “D” and mower were sitting, apparently having run out of fuel. I stopped to look at the tractor and saw the spoke flywheel. Other model “Ds” I knew about had a solid flywheel so I was amazed at this tractor and never forgot about it as I grew up.
I started collecting old tractors, implements, engines, Chevy and Ford cars and motorcycles in my teen years. I started collecting slowly as I could afford them. I stopped a few years when I was in the military and one year in the Korean War. My dad took care of my collection for me while I was gone even though he didn’t understand my fascination for old things. On my return, I resumed collecting and repairing ones I already had acquired. Along with marrying and starting a family, I continued to pick up old tractors and engines and driving the old autos. When I searched for old tractors, I was still looking for a spoke flywheel “D” but never came across one.
A school teacher I knew was rebuilding a model “T” roadster and would come to my place to take measurements of my model “T.” One time he came when I was working in my shop on a “BR” John Deere on full steel. He told me he had an old John Deere tractor that “looks like your tractor, but is bigger.” I asked him if it was a spoke flywheel model “D” and he said he didn’t know but would see when he went home. I asked him to take pictures of the tractor on the flywheel side. When he came back with the pictures, I was astonished to see it was a spoker “D.” I asked if he would consider selling me the tractor and he said he was not interested in keeping it. I paid him some money and old car parts, which seemed a high price but at today’s prices was a good deal. I purchased the tractor from looking at the pictures because the tractor was out of state. It looked rusty but mostly there in the photos.
I went to get the tractor with my 1969 Chevy pickup and a tandem trailer. I took my come-a-long and cutting torch with me. When I got there, the tractor was outside and had one fender off, incorrect steering wheel, no seat and extension rims. I had to torch off the bolts on the extensions to get it to fit on the trailer. Lying alongside the tractor was the transmission case cover broke in half. The serial tag was still on the tractor and the number was 30607. The tractor had been used hard in its working life, but I was very happy to have it no matter its condition.
I pulled it on the trailer and tied all the parts and headed home. It was a very long day and a lot of work to get it home.
After I got home, I looked it over better and saw it had a cracked block, only one part of the magneto and one front wheel was from a later tractor. I pushed it in the shed and didn’t start restoring it but started locating replacement parts. It was many years before I got it into my shop to start tearing it down.
I acquired another spoke flywheel model “D” in a similar circumstance to how I had gotten the first one. For many years, I would go to the Great Oregon Steam in Brooks, Oregon. Quite a few years after getting the first tractor, I was at the show with my son, Matt, when we ran into an old friend who had a 1937 “D” on rubber on display and we started talking old “Ds.” He told us he had a spoke flywheel “D” that he was going to restore but the tractor was missing the flywheel. He also had two other old “Ds” he would use for parts. He told my son that his serial number was 30608 and Matt told him it was the next number to the one I had.
I was trucking at the time and would periodically go past his place and stop to talk to him, look at the tractor and see how he was coming on a restoration. He had not progressed on the tractor and seemed to have lost interest in the project. One day when I stopped, he told me he would never get around to restoring it and would sell it to me. He told me I would have to buy the other two tractors that included a 1926 “D” in sad shape and a 1930 “D” with Buick car steering that worked pretty good.
I made three payments to him as I did not have all the money needed to buy them outright. When I finished paying, I went to haul all three home. I took a working tractor from my farm to pull them out of the brush. I hauled the 24 home on my trailer with my ’69 Chevy pickup. A few days later, I hauled the 1930 on my trailer and Matt hauled the ’26 on my other trailer with his ’67 Chevrolet pickup.
The two spoke flywheel “Ds” sat in my sheds for a few more years as I was busy operating my trucking business and farming while Matt was in college. Both tractors were in rough condition and I knew that many parts would have to be found. I attempted to find a flywheel for the missing one by putting advertisements in tractor magazines but got no results. Through another friend, I heard about some flywheels that were cast from John Deere original molds that were located in Nebraska. So I contacted Ken Burns, who had the casting done and he had one available so we purchased it from him.
When Matt was out of school, he started working on number 30608 and I told him if he helped me restore number 30607, he could have the other tractor. Matt was able to purchase a parts tractor that was pretty well stripped out but had a good set of wheels and some other usable parts. He started dismantling and cleaning his tractor. Both sets of wheels were sandblasted and repaired. The tractor hulks were steam cleaned with an old Sioux Falls steam cleaner in my yard. We also used lots of elbow grease, scraping and wire brush. Carburetors were in bad shape so we cleaned and rebuilt them. We purchased two original type rebuilt marnetos from Magneeders. My cracked block was welded and we repaired the head with new valves and springs. Matt’s block was poor but we were able to purchase a good block and head at an auction in British Columbia. The transmissions and differentials were repaired. The first reduction gear on 30607 was worn so thin on the cogs they were as thin as a knift blade. I purchased new old stock gears from Bill Krumwedde in North Dakota and he told me they had been lying on his work bench for 25 years. My transmission cover was broken in half so I had it welded and it turned out real good.
Sheet metal was bad on both tractors so we ordered new fenders from Lefever in Pennsylvania. Both radiators needed new cores so we ordered them and installed them ourselves using bolts from Correct Connection. The front wheels on my tractor were an issue so I checked with Ken Burns and we were able to purchase a set and we repaired them here. My front axle was wrong and I could not find a correct one so I used one from a 1926 and I am still looking for the right one, part number D483R.
We reassembled the two tractors and Matt painted both with correct John Deere paint. Decals were purchased from Travis Jorde.
With both tractors restored, we decided to take them both to the 1997 Expo in Chehalis, Washington. Matt had to go out of the country temporarily for his job so my wife and I hauled them both to the show. The show was a two-day affair on a Friday and Saturday, where they were on display, and we brought them home on Sunday. I unloaded Matt’s tractor first and backed it into the shop. Then I unloaded mine and backed it in; I stood and listened to it run. I was ready to shut off the gas when I heard an odd noise and the tractor started misfiring. I jerked the spark plug wires and when it stopped, I looked at the flywheel and saw it was cracked from the keyway out through the hub. I was sad and disheartened to see it after all the work to fix the tractor.
I did some research to see if the flywheel could be welded but decided not to do that. I decided to call Ken Burns in Nebraska to see if he had any of the 10 flywheels cast at the Deere foundry left. He told me he had one left and I could buy it. He also said he had an original 1924 block that was rebored with new old stock pistons and would I be interested in purchase that, too? So I purchased both of them.
I took the crankshaft and new flywheel to a machine shop that was owned by a father and son. He said he had worked in that shop since 1929 and hadn’t seen old stuff like that in a long time but had worked on similar ones in years past. He built it up and refashioned the flywheel end of the crankshaft. When we put the flywheel on it, the fit was perfect. As long as I had the crankshaft out, I replaced the welded block with the block and pistons from Ken. With a touch up paint job, the tractor was ready to use again.
After acquiring both tractors, I contacted John Deere Archives when you could get the information directly from their archivist and their data showed that both tractors were shipped in March of 1924 to Portland Plow Works Branch House in Portland, Oregon. These tractors were manufactured together, probably shipped on the same rail car and are now restored and back together again.
By Dave and Kathy Gallant