John Deere 4020

New Generation of Power – 1960.


This white paper examines John Deere’s role in the modernization of row crop agricultural power, which became of size in the last half of the twentieth century. Although it might not have been evident at the time, plowed acreage kept getting more extensive, and skilled farm equipment operators were less. The various equipment manufacturers changed roles, small organizations became significant, and some large organizations went broke.
These days it seems like John Deere is everywhere. They are the number one agriculture equipment manufacturer, and the change came in the latter part of the twentieth century.

This paper provides information on how John Deere revamped their row crop tractors, specifically including the 4020 series tractors.


Even though John Deere has long been a significant player in the agricultural market, they were not always number one. In the 1950’s it was second in sales to International Harvester (Farmall).

The rivalry was there, and the two companies carried on verbal jousting, with some farmers saying that “Farmall red means keep ‘em in the shed” and others saying, “John Deere is green so you can hide the son of a **** in the ditch where the tall grass grows.”

And all the while, farmers were leaving for another life in the city, so farms were growing more massive, and with hired help getting more expensive, the farmers needed more ability to get more done in a day.

Manufacturers of agricultural equipment knew farms were adding acreage. Engineers researched new ways to enhance tractors’ pulling power.

Fewer men were available to get the work done, so American ingenuity came into place, and while the farmers could not very well make larger tractors, they began to find ways to work two or more together. Various tandem versions of two and three tractors came along. They could pull a lot, but they were gangly and awkward to control.

John Deere Model Ds in Tandem

In 1955, the model 80 series (later known as 820 and 830) was their largest tractor, and it sold well. The Model 80 had a 475 cubic inch, two-cylinder diesel engine. The weight was around 8000 lbs. About 60 horsepower was adequate for many tasks. Looking back, we can see that the 80 series held the competitors at bay, and the hidden work for modernization went forward in Moline.

The JD 80 was a good machine, but it wasn’t large enough or well enough equipped to meet the requirements.

John Deere 80 – Two Cylinder Diesel Power

As the acreage under tillage kept becoming more extensive and the farmers were clamoring for more power, it was evident that more substantial, more powerful, and faster tractors would be needed.

The horsepower the two-cylinder engine could produce was limited, so CEO William Hewitt began steps to lead the company into introducing the ‘New Generation of Power’ tractors. With this, John Deere made a change that brought their line of tractors well ahead of their competition.

In 1960, the new generation tractors were brought into the public view, with much fanfare, in Dallas, Texas. Two of the stars in the promotion were the four-cylinder 3010 and the six-cylinder 4010.

John Deere’s groundbreaking 4010 tractors were quickly becoming one of the greatest triumphs any tractor company ever had. The 4010 included an overabundance of advanced features that the rest of the industry was only beginning to consider. The 4010 featured horsepower numbers that far exceeded that of the competition. If those reasons weren’t enough to astonish everyone, the new model came so quickly and unexpectedly that even Deere’s salespeople were astounded at its release.

The “10 series” soon transitioned to the John Deere “20 series” in 1963, and with it brought in the “best of its class” John Deere 4020. These tractors channeled John Deere into a leading sales position, just a few years later surpassing their biggest rival, International, for the first time.

John Deere made the 4020 until 1972. The 4020 still had the good looks of the 4010. The instrument panel was modified, and the tachometer/hour meter was also updated. Instead of using the “STOP” button on the 4010 diesel tractors, the 4020 diesel engines were now shutdown by pulling outward on the throttle knob and pushing the throttle beyond the idle position.

The 4020 came had several different engine types, which included diesel, LP fuel, and gasoline. It was easy to maintain and reliable. Also available was the choice between two-wheel drive and four-wheel drive. Several configurations could be purchased: standard, high crop, and row crop. The 4020 was so popular that between 1963 and 1972, nearly 200,000 4020s came off the assembly line.

With a horsepower rating of around 95, a 4020 was a good fit for the small to medium-size farm. Most farms of 100 or so acres, had crops to plant, fertilize, and harvest. The PTO on the back of the tractor has both 540 and 1000 rpm velocities, making the tractor highly multipurpose for a small to mid-size farm. The 4020 is a tractor that performs fieldwork well, but can, with some adjustments, be just as useful for other work.

John Deere issued a new head for 4020. The main alteration between this head and the original one was that it now accepted 6mm fuel injector nozzles rather than the larger, 26mm nozzles. The smaller devices were more accessible to service and saved many farmers from annoyances when making repairs.

The two-cylinder John Deere tractors had too many tasks for the operator’s hands. Having a hand-rather than a foot-operated clutch meant that the operator could not steer, stop, and operate machinery at the same time. This arrangement made some tasks extremely difficult to accomplish.

The New Generation tractors had replaced the hand clutch with the foot clutch, but the addition of multiple pieces of equipment was becoming making the operation confusing. Suddenly the control levers were required for many more farm duties than before.

To improve this situation, Deere decided to move many of the tractor’s controls to a single location and to make that location as easy to reach as possible for the operator. A suitable site was found just in front and on the right side of the driver’s seat. It was an ideal location for the worker’s right hand to rest. It made it easy to control any of the hydraulic controls or the three-point. The PTO lever, which now controlled the power take-off, was repositioned to the left side of the instrumentation dash.

Deere’s new PowerShift transmission, released with the 4020, was an entirely new transmission. A single lever enabled an operator to switch between Park, Neutral, eight Forward speeds, and four Reverse speeds. Other tractors typically required two or more gears and a foot pedal. Most tractors had a large number of forward-moving speeds, and the 4020’s eight rates were a reduced number for tractors built in this era, but Deere felt that they had selected these speeds to handle all jobs that a farmer would attempt. If a need pressed farmer felt that no gear quite fit the task at hand, he could use the variable speed engine and run more efficiently by pulling the throttle back and lowering the engine RPM. The clutch was no longer needed to shift the tractor, so it was renamed the “inching pedal” and could be used to move a few meters. It was a unique advantage when hooking up to implements.

The 4020 standard equipment still came with Deere’s trustworthy Syncro-Range transmission, and the Power Shift came at an added cost. To compensate for the additional horsepower that the 4020’s souped-up engine put through the powertrain, Deere strengthened both the Syncro-Range transmission and the final drives.

The PowerShift transmission had one problem. When starting a tractor in cold weather, most farmers first push the clutch in to disconnect the engine from the transmission, which allowed the starter to more naturally turn over the engine. A 4020 equipped with a Power Shift had no clutch, so there was no relaxed way to accomplish this undertaking. Deere’s engineers had considered this, however, and supplied an engine uncouple lever to the tractor to disengage the engine from the transmission.

By 1969, Deere wanted to hold their lead, and it was evident that the 4020 could use refurbishing. It was not that the tractor was doing poorly in sales; in fact, Deere was already beginning to call it a “field leader” but Deere’s competition had been closing the gap with the 4020. Tractors built by the other companies were adding new features and power, and Deere wanted to be sure that they remained in the lead.

Deere went on to resize the engine block, pistons, rings, and liners on the 4020. The air cleaner had been changed from an oil bath type to a dry type in 1966, and later supplied with a dust unloading valve. An oval version of the muffler was used, and this improved the operator’s line of sight by a few inches while making the tractor more streamlined. The intake valve was increased in size which helped bring more air to the engine. Eventually, the electrical system in the console 4020 was updated from 24-volt positive ground to 12-volt negative ground. This required that an alternator replace the generator. This change made the tractor’s electrical system more reliable and made easier finding for electrical accessories for the 4020.

From their initial release, 4020 tractors could be ordered with a cab. One variety for tractors without a three-point hitch had the doors in the back, the other, for row crop tractors, had entries in the front. These all-steel enclosures had windshield wipers and were available with heat but no air conditioning. Updated cabs eventually replaced the earlier models. These new versions slanted inward from the midpoint down and included a protracted first step for mounting and dismounting. Deere contacted the Hinson Company for new cabs while still buying Updated cabs. Hinson cabs included Deere’s rollover protection system (ROPS) and cost nearly $1,000 more than Updated cabs, but either could be supplied for some time. Eventually, though, Deere decided it better to eliminate the customers’ choice of whether or not they wanted to be protected in the case of a rollover. With the result that only the Hinson cabs were available.

Air conditioning became available on the 4020s equipped with cabs sometime between 1968 and 1970. The earliest 4020 tractors with built-in air conditioning were released in 1970. At least one John Deere document, however, noted that the option was initially available starting with the 1969 model year, which began in the fall of 1968.

The days of 4020 were about done. In the fall of 1972, Deere’s Generation II tractors were introduced. These tractors used all of the successful technology that had gone into the 4020. Some owners were in no hurry to upgrade, however, pushing some to ask the question, “Did Deere build the 4020 too well?” These tractors continued to perform day after day, they had more horsepower than their similarly sized Generation II cousins, and some farmers felt more comfortable driving their 4020. The tractor was incorporated into the farms so well that a farmer couldn’t imagine working without it.

Some older equipment is junked out because of a lack of parts. Even today, parts for 4020 tractors are still easy to find. Deere still sells many parts for the tractors, as do aftermarket suppliers. Some 4020s have been scrapped, and the used part supply is vast. In some cases, the original parts are of higher quality, in others, the new version of the component is the way to go. In some cases, the new part is an exact copy of the original.

Many of the owners of the older 4020s have benefited from getting the tractor updated to the 12-volt system. This is not a challenging project to undertake, and in so doing, you will make your tractor much more reliable. Just remember to keep the old 24-volt parts if you are worried about needing to make a reversion to the original configuration.

The 4020 continues to be the quintessence of John Deere tractors. Deere took an excellent tractor and made it better when they enhanced the 4010. You could easily verify that if you polled a group of 4020 owners who use several other tractors and asked them which they would give up if they had to, none of them would choose the 4020. It is no miracle that there are so many models, documents, and books devoted to the tractor.

Disclaimer: I was not commissioned by John Deere to prepare this Article. However, it gives you a sample of my writing.