I knew that it was a pretty good deal at $75, even if I was relatively new at the time to the antique tractor business and did not know it was a John Deere “AO Streamline.”
It was June 1979 and my job had me working with a farmer in Utah. Since I was in the area for several weeks, I spent my evenings and weekends looking for antique tractors. One day I followed up on a lead that there might be an old tractor lying idle in a car junk yard near the small town of Willard. After talking to the owner, who knew there was an old tractor in among the old cars, but did not know what kind it was and couldn’t care less, I began to look around on my own. As I walked to the far side of the yard, I spotted a tractor I thought at first to be an Oliver because of the shape of the grill. I was quickly corrected when I saw the flywheel, which told me I was dealing with a John Deere. I had never seen an “AOS“ before, but I could definitely tell that there was something different about this machine.
Abandoned in an irrigation ditch and missing its rear wheels, the mysterious tractor was lying on its side. I tried to sum up its condition. A badly cut and crushed pair of rear fenders revealed a wrecker had, at some time, moved the tractor by wrapping a cable around the now damaged fenders. The grill had also been banged up a bit, but except for the missing wheels, it appeared to be complete.
Ignoring the technicalities of how I would manage to get the tractor from this junkyard in Utah to my home back in Iowa, I quickly accepted the owner’s offer to part with it for a mere $75, only slightly more than scrap value.
My obstacle now became getting the tractor out of the ditch it had called home for so long. First, I got some rear wheels from a burned-out Oliver the farmer I was working for owned. One tire was flat, but the other held air. Then I borrowed his pickup truck and rented a trailer normally used to haul a Ditch Witch from the local rental firm. The junkyard owner used his wrecker to lift the tractor and set it upright. This time I had him be more careful as to how he hooked on so as not to do any more damage to the tractor. The Oliver’s rear wheels were installed by placing the center hole in the rim around the outside of the studs on the “AOS.” They were held on by a big washer.
As the rusty old tractor was unloaded at the farm shop, I was asked several times, “Why would anybody want that old thing?” Then the farmer bet me a steak dinner that I could never make it run again. The challenge started, unfortunately, the engine wouldn’t. It was stuck, so I removed the head and found that one cylinder was completely full of rust. Even with a long bar fastened to the flywheel, the pistons wouldn’t budge.
Deciding to divide and conquer, I unbolted one cylinder rod at a time and tried again. Eureka! One piston, the one with the least rust, moved! However, the other piston wouldn’t move—even when a jack was placed under the bar and the front of the tractor was raised off the ground.
My next attempt was to cycle hot and cold water through the water jacket. On about the third or fourth cycle, the front of the tractor came down with a thud and I was more than relieved to see the piston had broken loose. After jacking up the bar again and working it back and forth several times, I was able to get the piston out. A light tapping freed up the rings and the cylinders were cleaned with a scraper and then honed and oiled. Surprisingly, there were no major pits in the cylinder walls. The local dealer didn’t have the gaskets I needed, so I cleaned the old ones as best as I could and put the engine back together. I installed new points and plugs, cleaned the carburetor, blew out all the lines and filled the tank with fresh gas. Then the big moment came and with a lot of hope, I pulled on the flywheel. I turned it a few times and it fired, and after a couple more tries, it started. It was a beautiful sound. The farmer’s mouth dropped open. I don’t know which one of us was more surprised. Anyway, I got dinner.
Now it was time to deal with the dilemma—how to get my treasure home to Iowa. A co-worker, after witnessing my success getting the “AOS“ started, decided to purchase a JD “H.” I also found a good deal on a JD grain binder that was in excellent condition. So we traded in our plane tickets, found the best deal we could on a rental truck and loaded up the two tractors and binder.
Our rental truck had a maximum legal gross of 19,000 pounds. With our three machines onboard, it weighed in at the local grain elevator at 18,960 pounds. And that was a near-empty fuel tank and no luggage!
We started home one pretty fall morning, driving through a mountain pass. It took three hours and 25 gallons of gas to travel the first 100 miles. That Ford 351 engine was getting a workout.
We made it to Cheyenne, Wyoming the first night and left again bright and early the next, frosty morning. However, the truck didn’t seem to have the power it had before—we couldn’t get it to go faster than 40 miles per hour on the interstate. Confused, we pulled over to the side of the road and the truck began to roll backward. We hadn’t realized that we were on a long uphill grade. After we got to the top, it was all downhill.
On the afternoon of the second day, a Saturday, we pulled into Ogallala, Nebraska for fuel. My co-worker noticed a small puddle of water under the front of the truck, which we soon deduced was due to a water pump leak. The truck rental company had an outlet at a small service station in town. As we pulled into the station, we had visions of being stranded there until Monday.
The mechanic—the only person on duty—didn’t have a new pump on hand, but said he knew the parts manager of the Ford dealership, which was right across the street but closed for the afternoon. After a phone call, the parts manager left his favorite football game, came to the store and got us a new pump. Unfortunately, it turned out to be the wrong one, so after a second trip on his day off, he got us the right pump.
It was installed and we were on our way again less than two hours after we had first arrived in Ogallala. There are definitely some good aspects of small towns where people know each other and everyone is helpful.
For the rest of the trip, we held our breath at every weigh station, but we were never questioned. On the afternoon of the third day, Sunday, we pulled in to home, unloaded our prizes and returned the truck on Monday.
A check with the John Deere archives revealed that my tractor was indeed one of the only 824 “AO“ Streamlines (AOS) that John Deere built. I also learned that it was built on March 15, 1937 and shipped to the Salt Lake City Branch.
At the time, Deere was building four versions of the “A”: general purpose “A,” “AR,” “AI” and the unstyled “AO,” in addition to the streamlined “AO.” Compared to the unstyled “AO,” the streamlined version is 5 inches lower, 5-1/4 inches narrower and had a 7 inch shorter wheelbase. The turning radius of the “AOS” was reduced by using the “AI” front end. In order to reduce the width, a narrower belt pulley was used and the tractor was offset to the left since the belt pulley was still wider than the flywheel. The hand clutch lever was bent backward and worked in an up and down motion instead of the fore and aft motion normally used. The seat was also lower so that the operator could duck under tree limbs. When on the seat, the operator is down between the fenders, behind the instrument panel and cannot see any of the wheels. This feature makes it interesting when loading the tractor on a trailer.
The shrouds on the sides of the hood force the operator to get on one knee and directly in front of the left-hand compression release when starting the tractor. The above shrouds make space for servicing the tractor limited. It is no wonder that many of the side shrouds, even if not damaged by tree limbs or other objects, were removed and discarded.
The first winter I had the tractor, I took the engine apart again, this time with more care, and put it back with new gaskets, etcetera. I still didn’t have the correct rear wheels. I found and installed a set of “GP“ wheels and tires that would fit. Now I could drive the tractor, but the sheet metal was still in bad shape and I had recently learned that you couldn’t buy replacement sheet metal parts for an “AOS.” So the “AOS” remained in this condition for a couple of years until I found a sheet metal man who would work on the fenders. I didn’t know exactly what the fenders were supposed to look like, but from the old crushed ones, I knew that they had a wire rolled in the edge and we could estimate the general dimensions. First, he cut off the top of the fenders, rolled new pieces with a wire edge and welded them back together. Then I hammered out the other parts and sandblasted them. With the aid of lots of body putty, they were finally put back together and mounted on the tractor, which had also been sandblasted and painted.
I still didn’t have the correct wheels for the tractor since the “AOS” only came with steel wheels or cast center rubber tires. When I saw an ad for an auction offering a JD “AR” with cast rears—the correct wheels for the “AOS,” I decided to check it out. The “AR” was also stuck, but otherwise, it looked complete. It went for more than I had wanted to pay, but I bought it anyway. It wasn’t until later that I discovered the block was cracked. I traded the wheels between the “AR” and the “AOS.” I later found out that “ARs” have two types of rear cast wheels, depending on their turning brakes. My “AR” didn’t have turning breaks, but my “AOS” did. Luckily, the “AR” had the wheels used with turning brakes, which will fit either type of tractor so they still worked with the “AOS.” That “AR” could’ve ended up being a real waste of money.
With the tractor finally, in top form, I took it to several local shows where it was always the focal point of much discussion. One of the biggest honors came when the announcer for the parade at the Old Thresher’s Show in Mt. Pleasant, Iowa, which has hundreds of tractors every year, said that he had never seen an “AOS” before.
It had come a long way from that junkyard in Utah and was certainly worth every penny of the original selling price of $75—plus all the work and expense that has gone into it since.
Neil L. West