The Care And Feeding Of Twocylinder John Deere Tractors

by Arnold Voehringer

The big, green, two-cylinder John Deeres of the pre-Worid War II years stand almost in a class by themselves as models of appropriate technology. They were built with one goal in mind—to perform the jobs for which they were intended as simply and economically as possible.

The two-cylinder John Deere is a fine example of form strictly following function. With its low compression ratio, it seems to run on just about anything. That little tank behind the main tank is for gasoline to start the tractor and warm it up. Then you switch to the main tank, which can contain kerosene, heating oil, or diesel fuel, as well as regular gas.

"No better tractor," .fays Arnold Voehringer of his vintage John Dt eres. The 1936 and 1939 i ityled) Bs seen here are ad>tpted to a tvide range of jobs on farms of all sizes.

"No better tractor," .fays Arnold Voehringer of his vintage John Dt eres. The 1936 and 1939 i ityled) Bs seen here are ad>tpted to a tvide range of jobs on farms of all sizes.

The rugged elegance and almost primitive simplicity of design that are the trademarks of those machines that came out of John Deere's Moline, Illinois, shops are typified by features such as their flywheel starting system. While other manufacturers introduced fancy self-starters with batteries that went dead, and crank starters with their penchant for kicking back and breaking thumbs, John Deere opted for the big exposed flywheel, which almost always turned over on the first or second turn. The operator simply opens the petcock for each cylinder and pulls the flywheel (my wife can start our B with one hand) to top dead center, at which point the magneto fires and the tractor snorts to life.

The thermo-syphon cooling system bypasses the need for a water pump by capitalizing on that elementary law of physics that says hot water rises and displaces cold water in a closed system.

Another advantage of the old Deeres is the safety aspect of the hand clutch. When a foot slips off the pedal of a conventional clutch and the tractor lurches forward, the result is potentially catastrophic. Should the A or B with hand clutch jerk forward, it effectively pulls the clutch rearward and the tractor stops.

With their low center of gravity created by the horizontal engine, J.D.s are less prone to rolling over on hilly terrain. Also, with the engine closer to the rear axle, traction is improved. While this means the front end is correspondingly lighter, it can be correctd simply by the use of front-end weights.

But even beyond the hand clutch, the flywheel starter, and the interchangeabiiity of parts, the old Deeres had something else going for them. They sounded right. It's a sound no one who is familiar with the unmistakable, sunup to sundown putt-putt of a two-cylinder J.l). going about its business on some hillside halfway across the county, or who has experienced the magnificent, un-muffled din of that engine set at full throttle for filling silo, is ever likely to forget.

With just two cylinders, there are fewer parts to replace and repairs a>e easy, even for the operator with very limited mechanical aptitude. With a peak rpm of 975, the John Deere A is a relatively low-revving engine, and is much less sensitive to exact tolerances than modem tractors. Just about everything that can go wrong can be fixed by anyone with a maintenance manual and some basic tools. Adjusting the clutch, for instance, almost invariably .means an expensive trip to the

The hand clutch is a real safely plus, e$pecially with young operators.

The hand clutch is a real safely plus, e$pecially with young operators.

dealer whit any modern uactor. AH that's required to do the same job on an A or li are pliers and a 34-inch wrench. Likewise for the carburetor adjustment. You just turn in the screw till you hear the pop, then turn it out until the black smoke appears. With the bearings, both the main and the connecting rod beatings are simple to adjust—a far cry from some of today's sealed roller bearings. The same simplicity applies to work on the steering, ignition, brakes, and any number of jobs that are major headaches with mare sophisticated technology. Even the transmission, with its big, rugged ^ars and one-piece housing, is much less intimidating than its bewildering modern counterparts. Since the crankshaft turns parallel to the rear axle, not perpendicular as is the case with most later transmissions, the power is transmitted directly through the spur gears instead of around corners.

Unlike some other tractors of similar vintage, parts are still widely available for elderly J.D.s. The regional farm magazines regularly run ads from parts dealers. Many John Deere dealers still have parts on hand or can order them. The dealer is also the place to order a repair manual and parts book, both of which are worth their weight in goid if you do your own repair work.

This discussion is confined to the A and B models, since many more of them were made and, consequently, are still available. The two models were designed for two specific categories of farmer.

On m,' own hillside farm near Kemptyn, Pennsylvania, I use my 1936 B for mowing in the su\nmer and sowing firewood in the winter, my 1939 B for cultivating, a 1947 A for disking, drilling,

"ju.fi turn in the screw until you hear the pop, then back it off until the black smoke appean."

"ju.fi turn in the screw until you hear the pop, then back it off until the black smoke appean."

and spreading manure, a 720 diesel for plowing, baling, combining and picking corn, and a 1939 G for hayridges, secondary tillage, pulling wagons, and running a hammermill.

For the small farmer with five or ten acres and no more four-legged animals than, say, a horse and a goat or cow, the B is ideal. Unless it's a late model, big-piston B, or you have exceptionally loose soil, don't count on pulling more than a two-bottom, 12-inch plow. The A is a different story. You can run a 60-inch flail chopper, a baler, a combine, or a four-row front-mounted cultivator with an A. It may not get over the ground quite as fast as some of today's behemoths, but it's just right for most jobs on the small farm.

The big difference between john Decve's letter series (A and B) and their corresponding number series (60 and 50) is that the latter offers live hydraulics and live power take-off, a real asset when it comes to baling, combing, and corn picking. If you have live PTG and your baler starts to jam, you ran putt out (he clutch to stop the tractor without stopping the baler. Without the live PTO, the bater stops too, ami once you stop a jammed baler, you'll never get it started again without unplugging it by hand. Three-point hitch attachments can be purchased for the A or B, enabling tiie operator to use the full range of newer implements.

The B started out in 1935 with a drawbar horsepower rating of nine and ended up in 1952 with a rating of 20. The A started out as a 16 horsepower drawbar tractor in 1934 and finished in 1952 with 20. Until the big tractors (40 horsepower and up) started to arrive on the scene around wartime, these tractors were generally regarded as the best source of power. Today, by virtue of their ske and weight, they are often better-adapted to operations on the small farm than their streamlined modern counterparts.

Fortunately, many two-cylinder John Deeres in good condition are still available at sales. In the eastern U.S.A. (in 1977), Bs are bringing from $00 to §700, As about §1,000. The 50s and 60s are a little higher.

When sizing up old jf-D.s at a farm sale, how do you tell a good one from a clunker? Here are a few easy checks:

h Check the side play in the hand clutch. There is no grease fitting at the bushing, so unless a new bushing and pin have been installed (which you can usually tell), this play is a good indication of haw hard the tractor has been used. Anything over three-inches play should be viewed with caution.

2, Check the play in the radiator fan. Again, three inches should be about tops, although I've seen four and five inches of play in tractors still being used daily.

3. Check the steering wheel play and the brake pedal side play. The left pedal may be a little looser, especially if the tractor has been used mainly for plowing with a conventional plow.

4.Grab the flywheel and try to shake it. If it moves more than the slightest bit (.010 inches), steer clear.

5. Check for large leaks from oil, water, transmission, gear oil, and hydraulics. There should be no signs of oil in the radiator or water in the crank case.

6.Check the block and manifold for cracks. With two cylinder J.D.s, if you can't see the cracks there probably are none.

7. Cheek the rear-end housing. The best of the three types John Deere used is the Power-Trol, which allows the use of either a single- or double-acting hydraulic cylinder.

With so much to recommend them, what are the chances that John Deere might be prevailed upon to reintroduce a two-cylinder tractor in the 20 to 40 horsepower range? After all, the stock of parts around the country won't hold out forever. Not very likely, say f.D. marketing people, who argue that the largest of their current line of garden tractors and the smallest of the "Long Green Line" of utility farm tractors (the 36 horsepower 830) effectively overlap to serve this market. Maybe so, but speaking as one who has his doubts, I can see a legitimate case to be made lor the two-cylinder as the tractor of the future,

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