It may have taken a few attempts and there were a few missteps along the way, but by the mid-1930s, Deere and Company had become a success with its farm tractors. With the largest markets well satisfied with the model “D,” “A” and “B” tractors, Deere was able to devote some time and energy to smaller markets. Among the first of these was the farmer who needed a smaller standard tread tractor. For some, the “D” was more tractor than they needed, and adding one to their farm would have been a poor decision economically. Therefore, they either looked to other brands for a tractor that would better suit their needs or they simply pressed on with draft animals.
The introduction of the “AR” and “AO” in 1935 did what Deere had hoped and opened a new audience to the company. These machines were solid competitors to IHC’s 10-20 tractor and were well received. When IHC released the 15 horsepower McCormick-Deering W-12 in 1934, it surely inspired Deere to make the logical next move and create a standard tread tractor out of the model “B.” On June 24, 1935, Decision No. 5600 proposed the engineering and construction of such a tractor. It was also pointed out in this decision that the “reduced overall dimensions of 115 inch length, 49-1/4 inch width and 50-1/2 inch radiator height render this tractor particularly suitable for orchard and vineyard operations when a low air stack is used and all other classes of service where small size is of importance.”
Eight days later, on August 1, a complete “BR” tractor was photographed. Therefore, either Deere had a number of extremely fast working engineers or they had already been working on the “BR” for a while. The second scenario seems significantly more likely.
To make this tractor, Deere took the “B” and narrowed the rear axle housing to provide a tread width of 41-1/4 inches. This width could be expanded by three inches, if needed, by reversing the rear wheels. The main case of the “B” had to be altered, as well, so that a steering sector could be mounted to the top and a tube and steering shaft were sent down vertically through the case. Holes were drilled and tapped in the case, as well, to support the front axle brace pivot. To provide a parking brake on the tractor, the differential shaft was extended and sent out of the main case. The “BR” used smaller rear wheels than the “B” did, to provide a lower stance and center of gravity. This change made it necessary to alter the gear ratios in the transmission so that the “BR” and “B” would have approximately the same operating speeds.
In addition, the operator position was moved down to keep the operator lower, which was a much better and safer place to be during orchard work. To make this lower position more comfortable, the operator’s position was also moved to the rear. Not doing so would have put the poor guy’s knees by his ears.
The clutch assembly had to be narrowed to allow enough clearance when the rear wheels were set in the narrow position. A new front end support was engineered, along with a new front axle and steering system, largely matching that on the “AR” tractor. The 149 cubic inch engine from the “B” was left largely untouched, though a new exhaust manifold was equipped, which allowed the installation of a special “orchard” muffler that could be installed upward, downward, or forward. A few of the parts in front of the engine had to be shortened because of the shorter wheelbase of the “BR.” These parts included the fuel tank. However, since the hood of the tractor was not tapered as it was on row crop tractors, the tank could be made wider and so the 12-gallon fuel capacity was maintained for the “BR.”
Development of the “BR” continued through the summer but was swift and production was scheduled to begin in September. Before production began, though, another decision (Decision No. 5701) was made and formally introduced the “BO” tractor. The decision stated that Deere would “adapt the model ‘BR’ tractor design to orchard requirements; we will adopt a model ‘BO’ orchard tractor, differing from the ‘BR’ tractor in being provided with differential brakes for short turning, lowering the air stack and shields for the air stack, fuel and gasoline filler caps.”
The “BO” had a set of differential brakes similar to those used on the “AO” tractor. In standard dress, the “BO” differed from the “BR” in the brakes and filler cap shields only. Citrus fenders were available only at an additional cost to the basic tractor and so many “BO” tractors never had them. Deere built the “BO” largely because it was an easy adaptation of the “BR” and Deere felt that it could make a few dollars out of it. It was not expected to be a big seller though and Deere projected figures of about 300 tractors per year.
Production of both the “BR” and “BO” began on September 24, 1935. The first “BR” down the line wore serial number 325000. Not too long afterward, Deere built the first “BO,” numbered 325084. Deere did not make the production of the “BR” and “BO” a priority, as the company still had many orders to fill with the rest of its lineup. Soon, though, as the public became aware of the new tractors, demand rolled in and the little standards began to warrant a bigger place on the production line. Sales of the “BO” blew the estimates away and it took only four months to surpass the 300 tractors that were projected for the year. The “BR” also sold well, displacing four to six horses or mules on many farms in a most economical way.
The new machines would plow as much as nine acres a day, disk 40 or 50 acres, drill 20 to 25 acres, pull a one-row potato digger, and power any number of belt or PTO-powered implements. The little tractors were quite versatile machines for the day and age and could be seen doing more than you would expect from a standard tread tractor, including mowing parks and golf courses. Eventually, it was also proven that they were a great platform for a crawler tractor, as built by the Lindeman brothers of Yakima, Washington.
The “BR” and “BO” came with steel wheels as standard equipment, but it was known that rubber tires were the next big thing in the agricultural world and Deere made sure that plenty were available for these tractors. 11.25-24 inch tires were available with either cast or round spoke wheels and 9.00-28 inch tires could be had on cast wheels. A one-piece A1106R wheel for 11.25-24 inch tires was available for the tractor during its first days in production, but are very rarely seen. The only option at the front end was 5.50-16 inch tires on round spokes.
“BO” tractors were always equipped with turning brakes, but the “BR” only had a parking brake. Farmers who wanted a “BR” with turning brakes needed not to fear; they could simply order a “BO” with a tall exhaust. The tractors were mechanically identical, anyway. This little trick caused a number of “BO” tractors to be sold and shipped to locations where they would probably never see a fruit tree and buoyed the sales numbers of the tractor.
The “BR” and “BO” required very few modifications during their production life. Since Deere started with such a solid machine in the “B” and modified it very little, what they ended up with was a reliable machine that kept Deere’s service people quiet. These tractors did gain a few improvements as they were made to the other tractors in Deere’s lineup. Deere added a water temperature gauge to the tractor beginning at serial number 325367. A high speed gear assembly was added to the options list at 325582. The front end support had an eyebolt added at serial number 326225 and radiator shutters replaced the radiator curtain at number 327158. The days of round spoke wheels for rubber tires ended when, at serial number 327910, a pressed steel wheel replaced the older style. Finally, a slow speed gear assembly option was added at 328629.
If the “BR” and “BO” had one shortcoming, it was a slight lack of power. In heavy (or even average) soil, the tractor had a hard time with a 2-14 inch plow. In 1939, Deere managed to add an additional five horsepower to the machine by increasing the bore and stroke by 1/4 inch each, providing a 4-1/2 inch bore, 5-1/2 inch stroke and 175 cubic inches, overall. With this extra boost, the “BR” was made capable of pulling that 2-14 inch plow in nearly any soil and conditions and could even be tasked with a 3-12 inch plow in sandier orchard soils, provided that it was not asked to plow too deeply. To maintain the tractor’s reliability, Deere made a couple of refinements to the main case and power train.
Another change for 1939 was the addition of electric starting and lighting to the options list. While this option certainly appealed more strongly to the owners of the larger tractors that were more difficult to turn over by hand, the convenience of the system eventually caught on with those who bought these smaller tractors, as well, and they slowly became more popular.
Production of the “BR” and “BO” continued until January 16, 1947. During that time, World War II slowed the output of the machines and completely halted the assembly line a number of times. When the war ended and demand spiked, sales of the tractors rose dramatically, then tapered back off as orders were filled. Deere had hoped to get the replacement for the “BR,” Dubuque’s new model “M,” into production sooner than it did. If that had happened, the lifespan of the “BR” most likely would have been shortened. As circumstances stood, though, the last tractor built was a “BR” numbered 337514.
The “BR” and “BO” have done well over the years, attaining a good value among collectors who want something just a little bit different than what everyone else has. About 10,000 of these tractors were built, combined, not including those tractors that were converted into Lindeman crawlers. The fact that these tractors share so many parts in common with their row crop parent, the model “B,” means that many parts are fairly easy to come by. While it is always best to start with as whole of a tractor as you can when beginning a restoration, even a rough “BR” or “BO” deserves some attention, as it is only the parts unique to these standard tread machines that will require serious scrounging. That said, sometimes even the sheet metal and fenders will show up at a swap meet here and there.
As far as can be known, every one of these tractors was painted green with yellow wheels. Some say that there may be a “BR” out there that was painted industrial yellow after the “BI” was canceled in 1941, but none of these have appeared.
The “BR” and “BO” may not be everyone’s cup of tea. In fact, some might say that they look like a tractor that someone accidentally left the “McCormick” decal off. However, for those who like them, there is little that could replace one. There is hardly a two-cylinder tractor built by Deere that is more agile or fun to drive and their size makes them better suited to the weekend handyman than almost anything else Deere built.