The A Before the Model A

An Experimental Tractor Is Reborn

How do you rebuild something that existed for only a short time in 1933, then became something different in 1934, then was scrapped, and then salvaged? Wes Malcom can tell that story through his rebuilt John Deere Model AA-1, a special experimental version of the Model A, which will be on exhibit at the John Deere Tractor & Engine Museum in Waterloo, Iowa.

The Model A: A Brief History

Deere built approximately 300,000 Model A tractors between 1934-1952, so they are not exactly rare. But among the thousands of Model A’s are hundreds of configurations, customizations, design changes, and, of course, early experimental models.

Studio shot of the Model AA-1 tractor

By the early 1930s, the John Deere Model D had a strong following, but Deere sought to build a versatile tractor specifically for row-crop farming. In 1931, a Deere group called the Power Farming Committee was formed by company president Charles Deere Wiman. The group’s goal was to build upon the row-crop principles of Model GP Wide Tread tractor, which was only built in small numbers. The committee’s initial plan was to develop a tractor to handle row spacings ranging from 20–42 inches, have a higher crop clearance that the Model GP Wide Tread, and overall greater adaptability. The committee also recommended developing both two- and four-cylinder engine designs.

The revamped Model A tractor was equipped with 50-inch skeleton rear wheels in place of regular steel rear wheels.

The first working prototype, the FX, was completed in December 1931, followed by the GX and additional prototypes tested in 1932 and 1933. Now deep in the Great Depression, Deere decided to abandon the four-cylinder engine concept and focus on the two-cylinder engine, avoiding costly engine retooling that would ultimately increase the purchase price of the tractor. In early 1933, Deere built ten pre-production prototypes under the designation of AA. The prototypes were designated further by their transmission type: four-speed units were named AA-1; three-speed units AA-3. Retaining one of each model for factory testing, Deere sold the other eight units to customers for field testing.

The revamped Model A tractor was shipped on July 14, 1934, and included 50-inch skeleton rear wheels in place of regular steel rear wheels. Only a destination code is included (the Archives does not hold a key to the codes), and the build record does not reference the original number 410003.

Malcom’s Extraordinary Find

Malcom, who clearly remembers his dad’s un-styled Model A tractors, found his “needle” in a salvage yard haystack. From the highway, a fellow collector saw two tractors at a salvage yard and stopped to inquire. He told the owner the tractors were worth more than the price of scrap, and to hold on to them. One of those tractors was an early Model A, and he knew Malcom was looking for one. Neither knew it would turn out to be an experimental version. That was nearly 30 years ago.

His Model AA-1 tractor was built on April 15, 1933, and according to his research, was sold to Charles Michel in Marion, Iowa. At the time, experimental tractors were sold, tested, and then often bought back by John Deere or traded for a new model. Malcom discovered that this tractor was traded to Deere for a 1934 Model A. In this case, model AA-1, serial number 410003, was returned to John Deere. Its status was changed to “scrapped” on August 22, 1934, according to the build records. Its serial number was then changed to 411298. A scrapped status did not necessarily mean the tractor was salvaged and thrown on the junk heap. At the time, Deere commonly brought an experimental tractor back to the factory, reused most of it, updated it with new parts, gave it a new serial number, and then sold it as new.

Through his research, Malcom learned that the tractor was actually an AA-1 and set out to restore it to its original appearance. The tractor is a survivor, and Malcom has shared his passion and dedication to it with many tractor fans over the years.

Visitors to the John Deere Tractor and Engine Museum will be able to see his AA-1 tractor and learn more about its journey and its owner through May 20 – September 2020.

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The A Before the Model A

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