Just before the United States entered World War II, John Deere updated its model “A” with a more powerful engine, six-speed transmission and a number of other improvements. As the war wore on, Deere continued to do research and engineer more upgrades for its tractor line under the directive of the president of Deere and Company, C.D. Wiman.
While these upgrades were not allowed to be added to their tractors due to a War Production Board edict in 1942, Deere, and Wiman especially, knew that research needed to continue so that the company could come out strong when the war ended. Even if they could have released these ideas as they came up with them, it wouldn’t have made much sense for Deere to do that when many of its customers were rather busy overseas.
Direct development of the newest rendering of the model “A” began in 1945. Six experimental tractors were pulled from the “A” production line and reworked by the engineering personnel to include many of their wartime improvements. The first and most significant difference put into these tractors was the gasoline engine. After decades of providing tractors that would efficiently and effectively burn cheap distillate fuels, Deere looked forward and saw that gasoline was going to be the fuel of the future.
Deere had spent a lot of time and money researching combustion in order to provide these cost-effective engines. This research allowed the company to produce engines providing higher compression ratios that resulted directly in more powerful and efficient engines. Gasoline’s higher octane rating allowed the compression ratios of the engine to be raised even higher, resulting in yet more power from an engine of the same displacement.
While Deere had long touted the low cost of distillate fuels to increase the cost-effectiveness of its tractors, gasoline prices were beginning to come down. Discoveries had been made during the course of World War II that allowed more gasoline to be produced from each barrel of crude oil. Some states began to rebate the gasoline tax when the fuel was used for farm purposes. These changes began to close the gap in the prices of these fuels to a very small one. An added advantage of gasoline tractors was the freedom from adjusting radiator curtains or shutters in an attempt to optimize the engine’s temperature to burn the heavier fuels.
Finally, Deere had been having a very difficult time in the three plow market. While the John Deere “G” was popular among those who needed a very heavy duty three plow tractor with the ability to burn heavier fuels, it was being drastically outsold by the Farmall “M” in the “average” three plow farm market. Experiments done by Deere had proven that an “A” with gasoline burning capabilities would be able to pull three plows in medium to light soils. A tractor of this type would be cheaper both to produce and to buy and was likely to become a much stronger competitor to Farmall’s “M.”
To further increase the power of these engines, Deere developed the new “cyclone” combustion chamber. This chamber included an “eyebrow” next to each intake valve. The presence of this feature caused the fuel and air mixture to swirl as it entered the engine. This created a better mix of the charge and combustion was made both better and more even because of it. A new DLTX-71 carburetor, higher compression pistons, and a new manifold were also included in the tractor. Each of these improvements allowed the gas engine to provide over 39 horsepower, nearly identical to the “G.” All-fuel engines were not left behind; they received the “cyclone” combustion chamber also, as well as the new DLTX-72 carburetor, a combination that provided two more horsepower to the tractor. This was a noticeable difference and one that increased the tractor’s fuel economy.
So, Deere’s salespeople were going to have to sing a new tune. After years of pushing the distillate idea into the minds of potential customers, Deere followed the world’s trend to gasoline. After all, a number of aftermarket parts had been produced to convert an older Deere to efficient gasoline operation. Deere felt that its customers would be better served with Deere-engineered parts than with an off-brand job. It should be an easy sell.
Electric starting and lighting had become extremely popular options for the “A,” so the new line gained these as standard equipment. Its six-volt battery was a common source of complaint, though, as it seemed to be a little too weak to turn over the engine as quickly as was needed for quick starts. In order to remedy this, a 12-volt system was brought in to replace the six volt.
Another problem with the six-volt system was that the starter and many of the other electrical components were exposed, welcome homes to rain, snow and the problems that they bring to electronics. Moving the starter to the bottom of the main case and its own sealed compartment solved this problem. This allowed the flywheel to be enclosed, which increased the safety of the operator and allowed the flywheel bolts to be relocated to the outside of the flywheel, increasing reliability and making it significantly easier to service.
The new gasoline engine in the “A,” with its higher compression ratios, further increased the need for Deere to incorporate a 12-volt electrical system. This created a new problem. The 12-volt batteries available at the time did not provide enough amperage to turn over the engine very quickly, so two six volt batteries were required. This meant that they could not be held under the hood as had been done with the six-volt system.
The remedy for this problem came about while Deere was working on improving the comfort of the operator. Henry Dreyfuss and Associates, the same firm that had brought style to the Deere line in 1939, was now a part of designing nearly all of Deere’s products. Through some experimentation and testing, Dreyfuss found that a foam cushion seat with a cushioned backrest without suspension was far superior to a pressed steel pan seat even with suspension. This seat required a solid mounting and a steel box just large enough to hold a pair of six-volt batteries was perfectly suited for the job.
Another major and obvious change to the “A” was in the front end support. Rather than the cast iron or fabricated steel supports used by previous tractors, Dreyfuss created a pressed steel support. This attractive new part provided more mounting holes for implements including the new Quik-Tatch cultivators, eliminated the need for spark plug covers and simply looked good. While it was believed upon their adoption that these supports would be stronger than the previous types, it was eventually found that this was not the case, as the rate of these breaking down in the field has been higher than that of their predecessors.
Deere’s engineers had one more trick up their sleeves, as well. Throughout the war, they had been developing what would be one of Deere’s longest running innovations and an exclusive to the company. The Roll-O-Matic, a front end suspension system for tricycle tractors, provided much smoother and easier driving on rough, soft or uneven ground, lightening the strain on both the tractor and the operator.
The new “A” tractors were continually developed through 1945 and 1946 and production of them was slated to begin during the first days of 1947. Some delays in obtaining the tooling needed to produce the tractors caused in part to the strong postwar demand for tractors pushed that date back, however, and the first new “A” wasn’t finished until March of 1947. Customers had been waiting anxiously for the tractor because the “B” had received many of the same updates and was released two months earlier to a very satisfied public. These two redesigned tractors sent the Waterloo assembly lines into full steam.
Mercifully, those assembly lines had a bit of pressure taken off them by a reduction in the number of options and models available. Making electric start and lighting standard, eliminating the special order high and low speed transmissions and canceling the “ANH” and “AWH” models streamlined the production process and allowed the factory to produce tractors a bit more quickly than they had for the previous model.
Now, before I cause a bunch of letters to be sent to the editors of this magazine claiming, “That boy ain’t right,” let me make a distinction regarding the “ANH” and “AWH” tractors. With the new model “A” came the “AN” and “AW” tractors. These tractors were standard equipped with 42 inch rear wheels and the “AN” got a 7:50 x 16 front wheel. If desired, a customer could shave a few dollars from the purchase price by purchasing their “AN” or “AW” with 38 inch rear wheels. An “AN” tractor ordered like this would receive a 9:00 x 10 front wheel. An “AW” ordered on 38 inch wheels received its adjustable front end with spindles that were two inches shorter than standard. The new two-piece pedestal for the “AN” and “AW” could also be interchanged, allowing a farmer to use whichever front end he needed for operations that day.
The tricycle version of the “A” came with a few more options for wheel equipment. Rear tires could only be had in the 11 x 38 size, but they could be worn on either pressed steel or heavy cast rear wheels. Cane and rice tires could only be had on the cast wheels, though. Front tires were 5:50 x 16 inch. The only option on the front was whether or not to spend a bit more for the Roll-O-Matic front end.
Each model of “A” came with hydraulic Power Lift as standard equipment. Powr-Trol, a revolutionary new development by Deere, was made optional on the tractor. This system was the very first for farm tractors that allowed the operator to precisely control the position of the rockshaft and operate a remote hydraulic cylinder. This became such a popular option that Waterloo was unable to keep up with the demand for them. In an effort to appease those customers who were told that they would have to wait to receive the Powr-Trol for their new tractor, Deere promised them that they could have one as soon as they were available and for a lowered cost. The only other option for the “A” was a set of fenders.
It did not take long for this new line of “A” tractors to climb into the spot of sales leader of the Deere fleet, a position that the “B” had held for the last eight years. Customers loved the tractor and its capabilities and convenience, but it was seen that a few improvements could be made to it. Many farmers envied the single stick transmission of the “B” and some also wanted an extra low “creeper” gear for doing hard work with a PTO-driven implement. Also desirous were the owners of the tricycle tractors. They longed for the two-piece interchangeable pedestal that the “AN” and “AW” had. A couple of reports of cracking cylinder blocks and heads had also come into Deere. It was clearly time to make a few more changes to the “A.”
Beginning with serial number 648000 in November of 1949, a new and improved version of the “A” was released. These tractors included the single stick transmission and “creeper” gear that many customers had requested. The cylinder head and block castings were revised; their strength improved. The “A” could now be had with the two-piece pedestal and any of four front ends could be fitted to it. These tractors gained a different product code from their predecessors, as Deere felt the multitude of changes were enough to justify this. Also, it needs to be pointed out that, while built in November of 1949, Deere considered “A” serial number 648000 a 1950 model in its serial number register. You may call it a ‘49 or ‘50 as you wish, but Deere and I will stick with 1950.
These changes weren’t enough for Deere, though. At serial number 650764, a new “square” rear axle housing was introduced. This also brought on new “clamshell” fenders for the tractor. “AN” and “AW” tractors did not use these new housings, so adapter brackets were required to add fenders to these tractors. At serial number 659290, distributor ignition was released as an option. This worked using a Wico “XD” distributor. These looked much like the “X” magneto, but didn’t work as well in the field. The idea was popular, though, and was much easier to use than a magneto. At serial number 662874, Deere, now as standard equipment, adopted a more reliable distributor, a Delco-Remy. Magneto ignition was still available as an option for no extra cost. Also, as a note of importance to those seeking absolute authenticity in their restoration: A Wico “C” magneto was used from serial numbers 584000-598518. A Wico “X” was used on those with magneto ignition after that.
Another change was in store for the “A.” The tractor did not have enough fuel capacity to get through half a day of heavy work. To remedy this, Deere first added an auxiliary fuel tank to increase the 14 gallon capacity. This simple solution used the tank and hood from an all-fuel tractor. Tractors from serial number 655572 to 666728 were subject tºo this and are now easily confused with an all-fuel tractor. If you come across a tractor in this range, a look at the manifold of the tractor is the best way to determine whether it is a gasoline or all-fuel tractor. At serial number 666729, an 18 gallon fuel tank replaced the old one. The parts required to convert older tractors to hold this tank were also made available.
With the success of the “A,” Deere felt it had a candidate to tackle another agricultural market. Very high clearance tractors had been one type that Deere had not yet put much of a mind toward. In order to keep at least some restraint on International Harvester and the Farmall “MV” in the high clearance tractor field, Deere decided to produce an “A” Hi-Crop. In conjunction with the “G” Hi-Crop, testing of the “A” was done on Louisiana sugar cane land, some of the most difficult work that can be asked of a tractor. The “A” and “G” were able to share front end assemblies and rear end housings, the only difference being in the bolt pattern and machining. This greatly reduced the cost of tooling and testing these tractors.
The new “AH” was released to the public beginning at serial number 665000 in July of 1950. These tractors sat 33 inches from the ground at the axles. Front wheels were of the 7:50 x 20 size and rear wheels could be had as 11 x 38, 12 x 38 or 12 x 38 cane and rice tires. The tractor’s width could be adjusted from 60 inches to 84 inches in the front and 60 inches to 90 inches in the back by six inch increments, allowing the tractor to work around a wide number of row or bed widths. With 427 tractors sold, the “Famous Model ‘A’ on Stilts” was the best selling two cylinder Hi-Crop made.
Just as World War II influenced the beginning of the late model “A,” the Korean War forced a change for the last tractors. The copper in the radiator cores was required by the war effort, so steel finned radiator cores replaced copper at serial number 700200. The lower heat conductivity of steel forced Deere to include a water pump to ensure that circulation was complete enough to keep temperatures low. This further required a different front end support to be equipped so that the pump would fit and a new lower water pipe was also incorporated. Due to the borderline efficacy of the thermo-siphon cooling system in extreme conditions, a kit with the water pump, bottom radiator tank and lower water pipe was made available to convert earlier tractors to the newer system.
May 12, 1952 was the last date in the 18-year production run of the “A.” Serial number 703384 was that last tractor. The last five years of its production run saw 118,000 tractors sold, making these late “A” tractors the best selling of all 18 years. Many consider these to be the best of the “A” tractors—that is a debate that this author refuses to partake in—but, at any rate, the late “A” did a great job competing with the Farmall “M.”
The “A” series includes tractors for collectors of nearly every financial standing. All-fuel “AN” and “AW” tractors are quite rare, especially since many of them were converted to gasoline some time ago. The “AH” tractors are also rather uncommon and, while gaining popularity, can still be found for a somewhat reasonable price for a Hi-Crop. On the other end of the spectrum are the extremely common gasoline tricycle “A” tractors, of which more than 90,000 were produced.
Parts for these tractors are fairly easy to find, but some of them are getting a little more difficult to find intact. Many hoods have been cut to make muffler removal easier and uncracked blocks for tractors from the first phase are also becoming a little more rare. These blocks are fragile enough that uneven tightening of the block’s bolts is more than enough to crack them.
Each “A” in the production run was painted standard Deere green and yellow. Generators, headlight and taillight housings were painted semi-gloss black. Seat cushions and backrests were in black upholstery. Replacement decals from reputable aftermarket suppliers are the most accurate available, much more so than those available from even your John Deere dealer.
Two cosmetic changes took place in the middle of the production of the late “A.” The “John Deere” decal on the side of the hood was moved from the center of the hood to 1-1/2 inches to the rear of the seam between the hood and the grille at serial number 648000. Further, gauge faces were changed from white to black at serial number 700200, though some white gauges may have been installed after this number. For a complete rundown of all of the changes made to the “A,” a parts book should be obtained.
While the late “A” may not be one of the most popular attractions the tractor show, it is not a tractor that anyone would be embarrassed owning. Of course, with the addition of a piece of matched working equipment or two, an “A” would begin to turn a few more heads. These tractors can still be used on the farm for a bit of fun and most would thrive being “stretched” like this after a long rest in the shed.
Most of these tractors are still a bargain and the amount of pleasure that can be garnered from a “run-of-the-mill” “A” is likely to offset the cost a lot more quickly than will one of the more expensive tractors. You never know, perhaps one will fit you just right and you’ll fall in love.