The Waterloo Gasoline Engine Company was the first company to manufacture and sell gasoline tractors.
The company was formed in 1893 by John Froelich and a group of Iowa businessmen. Froelich built the first successful gasoline tractor in 1892 using a VanDuzen engine, mounted on a chassis built by the Robinson Company. This tractor completed a 52-day threshing run in the fall of 1892. As a result of this successful run, Froelich decided to go into the manufacture of tractors, formed the Waterloo Gasoline Engine Company and built four tractors. However, only two were sold and both were returned as unsatisfactory.
The Waterloo Gasoline Engine Company then decided to move into the manufacture of stationary engines and abandon tractor manufacture.
In 1911, Waterloo moved back into the manufacture of tractors after several years of research and experimentation. By 1914 the company had introduced the Model R. By the end of R production in 1918, 9,994 had been built. The Model R was subject to considerable design change during the production of the tractor; some changes were minor such as the substitution of flat spokes in the rear wheels for round spokes. However, some changes were major such as the introduction of a detachable cylinder head partway through production. The Model R was rated by the company as a 12-25 tractor.
In 1916, Waterloo introduced the Model N which also proved to be a good seller for the company. The Model N stayed in production until 1923. Late Model Rs were quite similar to the Model N with the exception of the transmission. The N had a transmission with two speeds forward and one reverse. The R’s transmission had one speed forward and one reverse.
The N started production with chain steering gear, however, partway through production, steering changed to worm gear. In total, 23,034 Model Ns were built. Both the N and the R were rated as 12-25. However, in a Nebraska tractor test the Model N was tested at 16 horsepower on the drawn and 26 horsepower on the belt. As the Model R was out of production by the time the Nebraska tractor tests were instituted, the R was never tested.
By 1915, John Deere recognized that without a tractor in its product line, it was in a weak position against IHC which offered a full line of farm equipment. The introduction of the Fordson Model F tractor in 1917 was a great success for Ford and posed further problems for John Deere. John Deere was experimenting with tractors but had developed no promising designs.
John Deere liked the Waterloo Boy designs as they were simple, reliable and could be built at a price farmers found reasonable. In 1918, John Deere put in an offer of $2,350,000 for the Waterloo Gasoline Engine Company and it was accepted. Waterloo Boy tractors continued to be sold under the Waterloo Boy name until 1923. Production ended to allow the Model D to enter production.
John Deere discovered after its purchase of the Waterloo Gasoline Engine Company, that Waterloo was experimenting with a new tractor design that used the basic engine design used by the Waterloo Boy tractors combined with a cast iron “bathtub” enclosing the transmission with the final drive. John Deere continued development of this design which resulted in the Model D design. Production of the Model N ended in 1923 to allow the Model D to enter production.
The Manitoba Agricultural Museum’s collection holds two Waterloo Boy Model N tractors. One Model N is a 1917 model with chain steering which was donated by the Mayhew Brothers of Treherne. The other N is later production N with worm gear steering. It was donated by the estate of August Eliason of the Gimli area.
2017 is the 180th anniversary of John Deere and, in celebration, the 2017 Threshermen’s Reunion and Stampede featured 180 Years of John Deere presented by Enns Brothers.
As well as the John Deere machinery in the museum collection, the museum saw a wide selection of John Deere machinery from outside collectors to appear at the John Deere Expo. The John Deere collector group is quite strong with a number of outstanding pieces in its collections.
The Manitoba Agricultural Museum is open year round and operates a website which can provide visitors with information on museum and the reunion including location and hours of operation.