As legend has it, John Deere, a native of Vermont, moved to Grand Detour, Illinois in 1836 to escaped the depressed eastern economy. Within two days of his arrival in Illinois, he built his own forge and was busy serving this rural community. He founded his blacksmith company in 1837, which had become famous for his highly crafted and polished forks and shovels.
In 1848, John Deere opened his own plow factory. His was the first company to produce plows made from cast steel. John Deere had noticed that local farmers were trying to use eastern, cast iron plows to plow the heavy Midwestern soil. The heavy soil stuck to the moldboards of these plows thereby causing the plow to become ineffective. By using self polishing steel, John Deere revolutionized farming in “the West”.
In 1868, John’s son, Charles, incorporated under the name “Deere & Company” and expanded the product line to include cultivators, corn and cotton planters, plus other implements. In 1911, Deere’s third president, William Butterworth, bought six non-competing farm equipment companies, thereby establishing Deere & Company as a full-line farm equipment manufacturing company. In 1918, Butterworth purchased Waterloo Gasoline Engine Company to get into the tractor business. Their tractor, the Waterloo Boy, was first sold in 1914. The Waterloo Boy, Model N, the first to bear the John Deere name, had 12 HP at the brawbar and 25HP on the belt. Over 21,000 of these tractors were built between 1917 and 1924.
The legend states that it was during this early period that Deere & Company first experimented with producing a small farm passenger vehicle based on technology acquired from the Waterloo Gasoline Engine Company. Butterworth’s code name for the development project was “The Waterloo Toy”. However, the economic downturn of 1918 and the tremendous success of Henry Ford’s Model T caused Butterworth to scrap the project after building only one prototype model. The prototype vehicle was purchased for $25 by Ole Svenson, a Deere factory employee in Waterloo, Iowa, and handed down to his son, Lars, before it finally disappeared.
This one-of-a-kind vehicle was discovered in a scrap heap at the estate sale of Lars Svenson in 1999 near Taylors Falls, Minnesota by Jack Deschene. Jack has painstakingly restored this vehicle to near original condition, based on pictures provided by Lars’ son, “Sven”. Several enhancements were made, such as inflated rubber tires, but it is basically in the same new condition that William Butterworth saw it back in 1918!
Now, do you believe this legend involving Ole, Lars, and Sven? Or do you think that it was just another “Ole” story, and that Jack designed and built “The Waterloo Toy” himself?