When Jack Kreeger of Omaha, Nebraska attended antique tractor shows in the early 1980s with his collection of “L” series tractors, he would display a sign stating that he was looking for a model “Y” tractor or parts of one. At the Mount Pleasant, Iowa show one year, a man stepped up and told Jack that he had a two cylinder Novo engine like those used on the early model “Ys,” complete with a tag indicating it had been shipped to Deere and Company on June 22nd of 1936. A deal was made and Jack became owner of the engine. I should add here that whether this Novo was destined to be installed in a “Y” or in some other application isn’t known for sure.
Can we do it? Yes, we can!
Sometime later, a friend told Jack about a Deere employee magazine that had an article about retired engineer Willard Nordenson, who had worked on the “Y” project. Jack tracked down a copy of the magazine and then Mr. Nordenson, who was retired and living in Dubuque, Iowa.
On a visit to the Nordenson residence, Willard brought out a pair of albums containing 214 photos. The photos showed many breakdowns of the parts, including those built by Deere and those like the steering column and transmission bought from Ford. The photos also showed early Deere engineers like Theo Brown, Max Sklovsky and others.
Jack received permission to make copies of the photos, took them back home to Nebraska and showed them to his friend, weldor and machinist Dan Schmidt, and asked him, “Can we do it?”
Dan’s reply was, “Why not?”
The tractor shown at the top of the opposite page and at right was the result. Everything was built as close as possible to the original, using parts Kreeger found or Schmidt fabricated. A few internal parts in the rear axle and final drives weren’t exactly what the actual “Y” would have had, but the pair used what they could find that would work—besides, unless someone tore the tractor apart, they would never know.
Construction began on November 28, 1986 and was completed on June 5, 1987—just in time for Deere’s sesquicentennial.
The “Y” reproduction shortly after completion
The “Y” leaves Nebraska
The current owner of the “Y” is Marvin Swanson shown here with his grandson.
Jack sold the tractor to Jimmy Dillon of Lebanon, Tennessee in the early 2000s, with the intention of beginning a new project—the even more rare “LW,” a narrow front wide rear axle version of the “L.” After Mr. Dillon’s death, the “Y” didn’t see much light of day until his sons sold his collection several years later. Marvin Swanson of Orion, Illinois is the owner of the ”Y” today.
That’s an “LW” on the right.
So as not to ever deceive anyone into thinking it was the real thing, Kreeger and Schmidt gave the tractor a serial number tag reading “101RP,” the “RP” standing for reproduction. Though it will never be a “real” John Deere model “Y,” it will always be a testament to the dedication of Jack Kreeger, the skill of Dan Schmidt and the ideas of past Deere engineers.