The 4440: It deserves a place beside other JD classics
By Benjamin Hain • May 2012
Many of you may have read the title to this article and are already thinking something along the lines of, “Yep. This is what happens when you let a kid write the articles for a magazine like this.” Well, maybe it is. After all, nearly all of the 4440s built are older than I am, so I suppose they look like old tractors to me. On the other hand, though, I’ve never farmed with anything as new as a 4440, so in a way, I can only dream of their “modern” conveniences. In my neck of the woods, one of these Iron Horses is a common sight in the farmyards of some of the local producers, so their durability and longevity can hardly be challenged. Before you judge me too harshly for choosing such a young tractor as the featured model for this month, I would like you to know this: it wasn’t my idea. Although, it did not take me long to realize why the 4440 deserves a place in this magazine alongside all of the other Deere classics.
The end of the New Generation tractors was marked when the Generation II tractors were released on August 19th of 1972. What the public got with these tractors was unprecedented levels of comfort in their new Sound-Gard bodies, adaptability from their 16-speed Quad-Range transmission, durability in their Perma-Clutch and Deere’s reliable power from upgraded engines. The Generation II tractors were also wrapped in the newest of Henry Dreyfuss and Associates’ styling schemes, making them almost as handsome as they were productive. However, they were mechanically very similar to their predecessors in the New Generation, and in some of the ways in which they did change, they may have even taken a step in the wrong direction.
However, the Generation II tractors were, on the whole, extremely successful. After all, one ride in the cab of one of these tractors and a farmer would be immediately hooked, astonished by how quiet and comfortable it was (especially anyone who might have grown up in a steel pan seat). Not surprisingly, the sales leader of the group was the medium duty 4430. This tractor was basically the replacement for Deere’s “Super 4020,” the 4320. The 4430 shared the 404 cubic inch diesel engine that had proven to be one of the best that Deere ever produced. It ran the engine turbocharged and produced more than 125 horsepower at the PTO with it. While the engine was one of the strongest in the field when it was spooled up, some customers did complain about a lack of torque at lower RPMs.
Other complaints came into Deere about the Generation II tractors, as well. Most of them regarded the hydraulic performance of the machines. The capacity of the rockshaft was generally below expectations at just 4,550 pounds. With the ever-increasing size of equipment, this was quickly becoming too little.
Did any of this surprise Deere and Company? Most likely not. In fact, Deere’s engineers were already at work sketching out a new line of tractors back in August of 1972, when the Generation II tractors were making their grand entrance. Deere felt that a model life of about five years was all that could be expected of any of its lines of tractors if it wished to keep ahead of competition, so the company set to work early to make certain it was ready.
Deere utilized the feedback that it got from its line of dealers and the farmers who had purchased the newest tractors. With that information, it was known that most customers were extremely pleased with their machines, but power and capacity were the two areas in which Deere could provide the most improvement. At the same time, Deere intended to remain at the top of the line with regards to operator comfort, a position that it had held for many years. The Sound-Gard body was the quietest cab available, but other companies were sure to utilize some of its features to create comfortable cabs of their own. Deere intended to once again be a step ahead when its new tractor was released.
Deere’s readiness to accept that its new models could not last forever put it in a great position down the line. The company was able to spend all of the five years that it forecast for the Generation II tractors in development and testing of a new series. It was early in 1977 when the new tractors were deemed ready for production and Deere shut down the tractors being built in Waterloo in the middle of that year, so that retooling and other preparations could be made for the release of the new models.
Just one month was all that was necessary to get the factory rolling again and “The New Iron Horses” were announced in the September/October issue of The Furrow. The 4440, Deere’s replacement for the 4430, was released alongside its brothers, the smaller 4040 and 4240 and the larger 4640 and 4840. The 4840 was meant to take the place of the 6030.
The 4430 was a marvelous tractor, but the 4440 took care of any faults or shortcomings that a person could have found with its predecessor. To start things off, the 4440 had a brand new engine. Its 466 cubic inch powerplant was based upon the old 404, but showed improvement in many areas. The most evident of these was its torque in the low and medium RPM ranges—where the 4430 had a hard time keeping up. The engine was turbocharged but not intercooled and Deere claimed that it could put 130 horses through the PTO. In reality, the tractor could probably do significantly better than that and dynamometer test readings of 150 horsepower or better were common. Deere may have been selling itself short, but it did not bother the company.
“Horsepower ratings give no indication of drawbar pull,” Deere wrote in its advertising material. “Only by a field demonstration with you at the wheel of a 40 series tractor can you arrive at final ‘feelable’ proof. Horsepower ratings indicate nothing about acceleration at the move of the throttle control…or recovery rate after you get by ‘Aspirin Acres’…or governor action as you hit a rise, a pothole or an alfalfa root…or how much work is being done on a single fill of fuel. All of these dimensions of the new John Deere tractors come exuberantly alive when you work one in the field—and there only.”
Deere chose to call these tractors its “Iron Horses” and backed that line up with “More Horses, More Iron.” Indeed, many of the parts were strengthened to the point where it looked like Deere was trying to win a stoutness contest. The whole drivetrain was fortified to handle the increase in power, as was the transmission. Nearly all of the castings throughout the tractor, including the frame rails, were built up to guarantee that there would be no issues with the machine’s sturdiness. The 4430 had no trouble keeping cool, but nothing got by Deere. The engineers increased the size of the radiator and fans and redesigned the shroud to improve cooling and used a new dual-pressure cooling system to further update the system.
Not many had chosen the available Syncro-Range or creeper transmissions in the 4430, so Deere discontinued them and offered the 4440 only with the 16 forward and six reverse Quad-Range or the eight forward and four reverse Power Shift transmissions. The Quad-Range had four forward gears in four ranges and two reverse gears in all but the highest range. A power shift could be done between gears one and two or three and four in each range and a synchronized shift was possible between two and three. The reverse gears could also be power shifted, but the clutch had to be used and the tractor had to be brought to a full stop before shifting between ranges or between forward and reverse. The Power Shift, on the other hand, allowed full power shifting between all of the available gears. The other differences between the transmissions included the fact that the Quad-Range had significantly more transmission speeds available in the typical working range than did the Power Shift. It was also $1,507 less expensive.
Those who felt that the 4430 was lacking in hydraulic lift capacity were certain to be happy with the 4440. Directly addressing those concerns, Deere installed a new rockshaft assembly that allowed for 26 percent more weight to be carried. If that still seemed insufficient, Deere also provided the option of a lift assist cylinder, which raised the lift capacity to 6,774 pounds, 48 percent more than the 4430. The hydraulic pump itself was also made larger for the 4440, to the degree of 17 percent, and a reservoir which could feed oil to the pump on demand made certain that it was never starved or waiting for oil from another system.
Deere retained the basic premise of the Sound-Gard body for the 4440, but improved upon it to keep it the jewel of the industry. To make the cab an even quieter place to be, Deere added more lead septum, foam, fiberglass and padded upholstery. The Personal Posture Seat was still a great place to be, but for $334, a 4440 could be outfitted with a hydra-cushioned suspension for the seat. This seat offered hydraulically controlled seat adjustment, as well as a soft or hard ride quality adjustment. Of course, not everyone needed or wanted the Sound-Gard body, and at more than $5,000, maybe some decided that they could not afford it. For them, Deere still offered the choice of the four-post Roll-Gard body with fenders.
The 4440 was also offered in a Hi-Crop version, allowing farmers to get up and over tall crops. The option list also showed power front wheel drive, which came with an adjustable front axle. This option was rarely chosen, however, as it cost over $7,000. A tractor with both of these options would be an extremely rare find, although it is not known if one even exists. Deere also offered nearly every axle/wheel/tire combination that anyone could possibly have desired for these tractors, as the price lists show.
After ordering a 4440 and waiting patiently for it to arrive, a farmer would have surely been satisfied with the machine that he got. The 4440 had a gutsy, responsive engine that was a sure step up from the 4430’s. While fuel economy had slipped just a bit, the numbers were still very close and the torque from the new 466 more than made up for the difference. The machine itself, despite being almost a ton heavier than the 4430 before ballast was added, was a nimble and maneuverable tractor, allowing it to take on most any farm job with ease.
Like the 4430 before it, the 4440 spent five years in production before being left behind for another new and improved model. During that run, sales of the tractor averaged at over 13,000 units per year, putting the 4440 at about the tenth most popular tractor in Deere’s history. Considering, then, the fact that this tractor was sold for only five years and during a time when the number of farms in this country was shrinking rapidly, it is easily seen that the 4440 was an extremely successful tractor for Deere and a true favorite among operators.
It does not take much work to find a farmer who will happily tell you that their 4440 is their favorite tractor and that they think Deere had never built a better all-around machine. As I mentioned earlier, 4440s are a common sight around here, still working, often without even a sniff of an overhaul.
This, then, brings about the reason for this article. The 4440 held all of the values that Deere had prided itself upon since its beginnings in the tractor business. The tractor was solid to the point of over-engineered, it had more power than it needed for the work at hand, it was so versatile that it could have been the only tractor on many farms, it was every day reliable, competition-beating economical, affordable for pretty much everyone who could use one and it led the field in comfort. While that may sound like a lot of hyperbole, it is actually true. It may be the case that these Iron Horses are not yet collectible, but one day they surely will be. Until that day, enjoy these tractors in the field. That’s where they are at home.