Written by Larry Gay
The first major event in the U.S. to compare tractors was the National Power Farming Demonstration held near Fremont, Neb., in September 1913. Twenty-three tractor companies demonstrated 39 tractors which were used primarily for plowing. This became an annual event and by 1916 there was a circuit of seven tractor demonstrations, with the companies moving their equipment from show to show. The 1916 Fremont demonstration with 80 plowing tractors attracted over 90,000 spectators, including Cyrus H. McCormick, J. D. Oliver and Henry Ford, who demonstrated three of his experimental tractors.
However, the plowing demonstrations did not identify which tractors were more reliable or how well they met their often exaggerated advertising claims. The tractor industry began to discuss the need for standardized ratings for tractors and an unsuccessful attempt was made to have the U.S. Department of Agriculture create a commission to test tractors. In 1918, comparison testing of tractors began when the Agricultural Engineering Department of Ohio State University measured the productivity and fuel economy of 20 tractors while plowing. Then in 1919, the state of Nebraska passed a law which required every tractor model sold in Nebraska to be tested. The testing responsibility was assigned to the Department of Agricultural Engineering at the University of Nebraska.
Ninety-one years ago, the Waterloo Boy N tractor had the distinction of being the first completed test by the Nebraska Tractor Test Lab. Tested in March and April 1920, the model N, with a two-speed transmission, traced its heritage back to 1914 when the Waterloo Gas Engine Company introduced the model R, which was similar but with a one-speed transmission. In March 1918, Deere & Company purchased the Waterloo Gas Engine Company and the Waterloo Boy tractor became part of John Deere.
The John Deere Waterloo Boy N was powered by a horizontal, two-cylinder engine which burned kerosene. The bore and stroke were 6.50"x7.00" and the rated engine speed was 750 rpm. As a result of the drawbar and belt power tests at Nebraska, the Waterloo Boy N was rated as a 12-25 tractor, meaning 12 drawbar horsepower and 25 belt horsepower. Although a total of 69 tests are listed for the 1920 test season, three of the tractors were withdrawn and their test results were not published. Although the test procedures have been revised several times as tractors have become larger and more complex, the Nebraska Tractor Test Lab continues to test tractors.
Larry Gay is the author of four farm tractor books published by the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers. These books may be obtained from ASABE at 800-695-2723 or asabe.org; click Publications and then Publications Catalog.