The John Deere 4230

When a Deere executive handed down the order in 1967 that it was time to create a replacement for the 4020—possibly the most successful and popular tractor that Deere ever built—it’s an easy bet that there were a number of groans from the engineering department. Improving upon the 4020 and 4010, tractors that revolutionized the industry was not going to be easy. The machines were tough, economical, and comfortable. What could be done?

Thankfully, Deere’s engineers were not an easy bunch to baffle. It didn’t hurt, either, that they had the firm of Henry Dreyfuss and Associates on their side. The developments that had made the New Generation tractors the incredible successes that they became were spawned from these two sources and the font of ideas was far from running dry. Deere’s engineers were good at making sure that the tractor was good at doing its job and Henry Dreyfuss added style and ergonomics—a field that Dreyfuss himself helped to define.

While Dreyfuss’ firm had been involved with Deere tractors since the machines were styled in 1939, some of their most impressive innovations came just recently in the New Generation tractors. When Deere created the New Generation tractors, it asked Dreyfuss not just to style the tractors in an appealing way, which he certainly did, but also to make the tractor as comfortable as could be for the operator, which was always high on Dreyfuss’ mind. When the tractors were released to the public, the deluxe seat, well placed controls and commanding view from the operator’s platform were lauded.


Deere also began looking at improving the safety of the operator on their tractors. Certainly the company was thinking of the farmer’s best interests, but “Local man killed when Deere rolled” was not exactly a sales-boosting headline and Deere certainly did not want to see that kind of publicity. Rollover accidents were unfortunately frequent with tricycle tractors, so Deere did some testing with a 720 and later a New Generation tractor in rollovers. This testing proved that rollover accidents could be made substantially less dangerous through the simple addition of some sort of rollover protection structure.

Deere developed the Roll-Gard and introduced it in 1966. This system was a simple two post structure that attached to the rear axle housing. When a tractor rolled over, the Roll-Gard either stopped the roll before the tractor could turn upside down or it left plenty of room between the tractor and the ground for the operator. A canopy could be added to the Roll-Gard for protection from the elements as well as a bit of extra protection in the case of a rollover. Farmers largely ignored the Roll-Gard, though, figuring that the added expense of a safety device was silly. Instead of spending that money, they would merely keep themselves out of that type of situation. Deere sold very few of these and ended up giving several away at fairs and John Deere Days just to put them in the public’s eye.

While operator comfort had come a long way, tractor cabs had not improved much in the last few decades. Most cabs were basically windowed tin boxes set upon the tractor. The cabs were loud, dusty and hot in the summer and loud, dusty and cold in the winter. While they were better than sitting in the cold wind or other adverse conditions, they also severely limited the operator’s visibility. Air conditioning and heating were eventually added to the cabs to make them a bit more comfortable, but the noise and dust was still constantly an issue.

Farmers were also demanding more power from their tractors as larger equipment was becoming more popular, as well as more transmission speeds to guarantee they could always be traveling the speed they wanted to be in the field while getting the power needed from their engine. Other companies were releasing tractors with more power and more speeds nearly every year. Deere was still in first place in tractor sales, but wanted to stay there and, if possible, extend its lead.

Putting together this list of ways to improve its tractors made it obvious that Deere was going to have to come out with a new line soon. Work on the next generation of Deere’s tractors began in late 1967 with an anticipated introduction scheduled for the late summer of 1972. Deere’s engineers set to work on creating tractors of the power classes they suspected the public would want as well as making various improvements to the transmission and other systems while Dreyfuss and Associates worked with Waterloo to improve operator comfort.

This second part would become important very quickly, as one of Deere’s design parameters for the new tractors was that they be made as comfortable as possible for the operator. Tractor cabs were seen as being nearly mandatory and it was decided they should be integrated with the Roll-Gard protective structures. This would keep safety first while utilizing the structure of the Roll-Gard to also support the cab. Building the rest of the cab just as had been done was not going to fix the problems with dust, noise, vibration and temperature, though. A new approach was needed to correct those issues.

Waterloo’s engineers and Dreyfuss and Associates eventually came up with the concept of a “body” rather than a cab. The body could be more isolated from the less attractive bits of riding on a tractor by separating it from the tractor’s chassis. The body consisted not only of the enclosure around the operator’s platform, but also the operator’s platform itself, along with everything that rode on it. Four corner posts supported the body. These posts were strong enough to hold up the weight of the tractor, but they were also separated from the chassis with rubber to substantially reduce the vibration and noise that got to the operator. The windows were curved and slanted to reflect sound away from the cab and operator.

One of Dreyfuss’ personal pet peeves was the vertical exhaust and intake stacks that protruded through the hood. Dreyfuss had gone to great lengths to try to motivate his industrial designers to find a way to eliminate those stacks. Unfortunately, no way was discovered to change the location of these parts, so another solution was devised. The door on the cab was to be offset to the left. This meant that the inside sill of the door was also slightly off-center to the left. Putting this directly in line with the intake and exhaust stacks meant that the three things were largely out of sight of the operator as they blocked each other and gave the operator a clear view of whatever was directly ahead of him. The name for this marvel of engineering and design was the Sound-Gard body.

To further satisfy customers, Deere also developed a new transmission for its new line of tractors. The new Quad-Range transmission gave operators 16 speeds from which to choose. Internally, the Quad-Range was basically a Syncro-Range transmission with a two-speed planetary unit installed ahead of it. Four forward speeds in each of four ranges along with two reverse speeds in the first three ranges gave plenty of options. These speeds were also devised in such a way that a power shift between the lowest or highest two speeds in each range was possible, allowing the farmer to quickly make a shift when field conditions changed.

The tractors built by Deere to replace the New Generation machines were ready for their release right on time, on August 19, 1972. Deere’s salespeople were flown to New Orleans and shown the new tractors just as they were being shipped throughout the country. The release was meant to be nearly as sudden and secretive as the release of the New Generation tractors 12 years before. The changes were complete enough that Deere decided to give the lineup a new moniker, “Generation II.”

While the whole line of Generation II tractors is worth a closer inspection, this article will focus only on one, the direct descendant of the venerable 4020: the 4230. The 4230 used the same 404 cubic inch engine from the 4020, but it did manage to create a few more horsepower, topping out at 100.32 at the PTO.

The 4230 was available in row crop, standard, Hi-Crop and Low Profile variations. This was more configurations than any of the rest of the Generation II series. From release, the 4230 could be ordered with either diesel or gasoline engines. People who purchased 4230 tractors with gasoline engines did not have the luxury of ordering a Sound-Gard body along with it. The standard tread tractors were little more than row crop tractors with particular wheel and axle options and both the row crop and standard had the options of Sound-Gard, four post-Roll-Gard or an open station. A Sound-Gard body was not available for the Hi-Crop tractor, possibly out of fear of making it too top-heavy. A two post-Roll-Gard was an option for that tractor. The Low Profile was only available with an open station. Putting a structure of any sort over a Low Profile tractor would be counterproductive, as they were designed to have a low center of gravity and to leave plenty of clearance overhead. Each version was available with the Quad-Range, Syncro-Range or Power Shift transmission.

Front end equipment options for the 4230 row crop were numerous. Not many tricycle tractors were demanded anymore. A lack of a market for mounted cornpickers had also reduced the tricycle’s use. Nonetheless, a convertible front end option was available for the 4230, allowing Roll-O-Matic, double front wheels or a single front wheel to be mounted to the tractor. If the convertible front end was not equipped, the tractor had an adjustable wide front end in any of three versions: narrow, regular and wide.

Rear-end options were broad for the 4230. Regular, long, extra-long and special long rear axles could be purchased and tire sizes from 15.5-38 to 21.1-30 could be equipped on them. Dual rear wheels were available in everything but 21.1-30 inch tires. Other options included hydraulic front wheel assist, power weight-transfer hitch, three-point hitch, wide-swinging drawbar and various weight packages.

Deere offered the gasoline engine for only the 1973 model year and only row crop tractors were sold with gasoline engines. That said, there has been a photo discovered of a Hi-Crop with a gasoline engine. This was an experimental tractor, though, and may never have been released. Only 33 model 4230 tractors were built with gasoline engines, making them one of the least common of all Generation II tractors.

Deere’s 4000 Low Profile had been introduced for the 1972 model year for operators of orchards, groves and similar operations. During that year, only 46 tractors were sold. Nonetheless, Deere brought the machine back in the form of the 4230 Low Profile. Modified fenders, a non-telescoping steering wheel, a seat from Dubuque utility tractors, rear underslung exhaust and adjustable or fixed tread front axle made up the tractor. The convertible front pedestal was equipped on these tractors, allowing the front axle to be set in the “short wheelbase” position, which allowed the tractor to be more maneuverable. Tires in sizes 18.4-26 and 18.4-30 inch were the options for the machine. All three transmission types were available for the 4230 Low Profile, but most were equipped with the Power Shift. In five years of production, only 90 of these tractors were built.

At the other end of the stature spectrum were the model 4230 Hi-Crops. The 4020 Hi-Crop was the most popular Hi-Crop that Deere had ever built, so it was no surprise that the company decided to offer the 4230 in the same configuration. Deere did not record how many Hi-Crop tractors were built, but it is likely that there were less than 400. Again, any of the three transmissions were available for the 4230 Hi-Crop, along with a wide or narrow three-point hitch and a few choices of tires.

Few modifications to the 4230 were necessary during its production. The basis of the tractor in the 4020 and the careful planning by Deere’s engineers created a tractor that required little improvement during its lifetime. A couple additional options were released for the 4230 during its lifetime, however. The first of these was a “creeper” transmission. This consisted of a manually operated planetary unit in front of the Syncro-Range. The creeper transmission provided five extra slow ground speeds starting at .43 miles per hour and spanning up to 1.45 miles per hour. The creeper transmission was perfect for operators who utilized PTO-driven equipment that required a lot of power. Available beginning in 1974, this option was available on any type of 4230 tractor, but was an exceptionally rare option.

Another option for the 4230 was the personal posture seat. This was also offered beginning in 1974. It was a cloth covered seat that offered significantly more support for the operator than the standard seat. Only tractors ordered with the Sound-Gard body were allowed this option, as cloth covered seats did not fare well out in the elements.

The oldest 4230 tractors are over 40 years old now. For those of you who remember the introduction of the Generation II series, I apologize if this makes you feel old. My point in mentioning this is that these tractors, as modern as they may look, are well within the age that would typically be considered “classic” or even “antique.” It seems that the Generation II tractors are the new frontier when it comes to collecting, but many collectors have already begun to scoop up and restore these machines, especially the less common models. Since these tractors are still quite useful on a farm and are far from outdated with regards to comfort, many are still in use. As such, prices for these tractors are not bringing bargain prices. On the other hand, they are more affordable than a lot of the two cylinder machines. Of course, in the end it all comes down to what suits your fancy or what fits your collection.