Tractor Trendsetters: Waterloo Boy N
Written by Larry Gay
Production of steam traction engines peaked in 1911-1913 and the popularity of the large gasoline- or kerosene-powered tractors soon declined. As tractors became smaller, more companies started building tractors. However, many of these tractors were not reliable or did not meet their advertised ratings. In 1919 the state of Nebraska passed a law requiring every model of tractor sold in Nebraska to be tested. The Waterloo Boy N tractor became a tractor trendsetter when it was the first tractor to complete its Nebraska test in the spring of 1920.
The interest in power farming was fueled by plowing demonstrations such as the first National Power Farming Demonstration held near Fremont, Nebraska in 1913 where 23 tractor companies demonstrated 39 tractors. This became an annual event and by 1916 there were 80 plowing tractors demonstrating to over 90,000 spectators, including Cyrus H. McCormick, J. D. Oliver, and Henry Ford. By 1916, the Fremont event was just one stop on a circuit of seven plowing demonstrations with the companies moving their equipment from show to show.
However, the plowing demonstrations didn’t solve all the problems of exaggerated advertising claims. The tractor industry began to discuss the need for standardized tractor ratings and consideration was given to having the U.S. Department of Agriculture test tractors. The Agricultural Engineering Department of Ohio State University made a comparison test in 1918 by measuring the productivity and fuel economy of 20 tractors while plowing. After Nebraska passed its law in 1919, the testing responsibility was assigned to the Department of Agricultural Engineering at the University of Nebraska and the now-famous Nebraska Tractor Tests were started.
The Waterloo Boy N tractor was actually a John Deere tractor as Deere & Company had purchased the Waterloo Gas Engine Company in March 1918. The Model N was powered by a horizontal, two-cylinder, kerosene-burning engine with a 6.50- x 7.00-inch bore and stroke. The rated engine speed was 750 rpm and the transmission provided two forward speeds. As a result of its Nebraska test, the Waterloo Boy N was rated as a 12-25 tractor, meaning 12 drawbar horsepower and 25 belt horsepower.
A total of 69 tests were listed for the 1920 season, but three of the tractors were withdrawn and their test results were not published. Tractor testing continues today at Nebraska, but the test procedures have been revised several times as tractors have become larger and more complex.
Larry Gay is the author of four tractor books published by the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers, including Farm Tractors 1975-1995 and Farm Tractors 1975-2005. The four books may be obtained from ASABE by calling 800-695-2723.