Bathtub D

100 Years of Tractors: the “Bathtub D”

After purchasing the Waterloo Gasoline Engine Company in 1918, John Deere sold the Waterloo Boy Model “N” until 1924, overlapping for a brief time with the John Deere Model “D,” which debuted in limited numbers in late 1923. The Model “D” stayed in the line for thirty years, and has since become one of the most recognizable tractors in John Deere history. But what about that new and improved Model “N” Waterloo Boy tractor?

For the answer, we need to fast forward to 1992. That’s when a main case from a tractor was discovered by a construction crew
working near the original John Deere tractor factory; a collector purchased the case for $50; it remained in storage until current owner Dan Thomas bought it in 2011.

The restoration was unlike any Thomas had undertaken. For starters, this was a one-of-a-kind tractor, so there were no blueprints. All Thomas had to work from were the written notes of Louis Witry, an early designer at Waterloo. According to Witry’s notes, in 1930, “an experimental motor of the enclosed type, which was called the ‘bathtub’ tractor, was built and was put on the Northey farm
for test.” The tractor got its name because the main case was bathtub-shaped.

Wendell Kelch, who assisted Thomas in the restoration, said they had to think like an engineer of 100 years ago and focus on the technology of the day. Photos of a later, 1919 version of the tractor were not of much use either, as the design had changed dramatically. The restoration reflected the two
men’s “make-do” approach. They used contemporary Waterloo Boy parts, and analyzed competitor tractors of the day to determine how the tractor might have been built.

“I think this tractor was the only one of this design,” Thomas told Antique Power magazine in early 2017. “This casting was too weak to handle the strain of the all-gear drive. It cracked and the engineers had to use straps to hold it together while they tested it.”

Ultimately, more than 160,000 Model “D” tractors were built over a thirty-year period. But it may have all started with an experimental tractor dug out of a Waterloo street in 1992. When the restoration was completed, the parts unearthed in Waterloo were painted gray, and the rest of the tractor was painted based on known Waterloo Boy paint schemes of the day.

Thanks to the time and attention of Dan Thomas and friends, the “Bathtub D” once again fills its important place in the lineage of the John Deere tractor. Be sure to visit the “Bathtub D” tractor, currently on exhibit at the John Deere Tractor & Engine Museum.


Credit to The Furrow.