The History of John Deere Riding Mowers: 1960s to 2000s
With a long line of history in producing riding mowers. John Deere has introduced hundreds of models that have played a significant role in the evolution of our lawn and garden equipment today. When looking at a John Deere riding mower, many questions arise like – What year was it produced? How did the technology evolve? Is there a larger model available? Which one is right for me?
It would certainly be difficult to address all of these questions for every riding mower model that has ever existed. However, we wanted to put together this series to help you get a better understanding of the history behind John Deere riding mowers.
In this post, we’ll look at the evolution of the John Deere riding mower from the 1960’s to present time. Enjoy!
History of John Deere Riding Mowers: The 1960s
The 1960s was an exciting decade for John Deere as it laid the groundwork for years of success to come. From the creation of the original model 110 to the introduction of the model 140, there is no denying that the foundation for the history of John Deere riding mowers was a strong one.
Where It All Began
In 1963, John Deere first broke into the lawn tractor market by introducing the model 110. The John Deere 110 had a 4-stroke petrol-fueled engine with 7 horsepower.
At the time, lawn mowing was becoming a much more popular leisure activity. This prompted John Deere to dive into the marketplace by offering many similar features and implements that the bigger farming tractors incorporated. The 110 was a big hit, likely because of the impressive design and futuristic features.
After proving success with the model 110 mower, John Deere introduced the model 60 shortly after. This was particularly designed with more urban customers in mind – those who had less land and didn’t necessarily need the larger model 110.
The John Deere 60 was useful for customers who needed to conquer their lawn work with a versatile machine, as this model offered a variety of attachments, including:
Taking Things a Step Further
Continuing on the success of the 110, Deere decided to launch a larger model that carried a similar style only with a bigger motor and wider deck. For customers who needed a machine for larger jobs than the 110 and 60 were capable of, the 112 was perfect.
Shortly after, Deere also introduced a small machine that offered a ton of power – the model 140. With 14 horsepower (compared to the 110, which offered 7 horsepower), the 140 was far ahead of its time.
For a complete list of riding mowers by model, year and serial number, check out the chart below.
History of John Deere Riding Mowers: The1970s
Despite having produced lawn tractors for nearly a decade by the time the 1970s rolled around, John Deere did not take this time to sit and rest. Instead, the 1970s were a time of advancement, resulting in 3 new series of mowers that were designed to go beyond expectations.
Improvements to Riding Mowers in the 1970s
Although a few existing models that were originally introduced in the 1960s were upgraded in the early 1970s, Deere took on some major advancements in 1975 when the 200, 300 and 400 Series riding mowers hit the market. These machines provided customers with new and exciting features, which we’ll dive into below.
This series included some similar features to the John Deere 110 and 112, like the V-belt Variator Drive and mechanical clutch PTO. However, the new design gave customers engine options between 8-16 horsepower, a rubber Iso-mounted, a fully-shrouded engine with a low tone muffler system, and a new style hood and grill. The design of the 200 Series mowers took on the styling of full-sized Deere agriculture tractors with a back-sloped brow.
The 300 Series was a hydrostatic model that was upgraded to a 16 horsepower Kohler K-Series engine. Most upgrades to this machine were made to the body, as it took on more of a square hood design with integral headlights, engine side panels, and a black instrument panel. One of the biggest changes included the engine being moved from under the hood to under the rear fender pan.
Following the trend of design improvements, similar to the 300 Series, Deere continued making more visible advancements with the 400 Series. This included the wheelbase on the 400 becoming 6 inches longer than the 140, a track that was 7 inches wider, and the weight of the machine being 250 lbs more. Along with the size and style of this machine being updated, Deere also added power steering, which was a complete game changer at the time.
Check out the chart below for a complete list of riding mower by model, year and serial number.
History of John Deere Riding Mowers: The 1980s
At John Deere, the 1980s were a time for evolution and reaching milestones. In addition to introducing new designs, such as the R and S Series, John Deere also manufactured its millionth lawn and garden tractor during this decade!
Deere Goes Diesel
In 1984, Deere’s first tractor to combine a diesel engine with hydrostatic drive and power steering made quite the impression in the tractor industry. This impressive machine was the John Deere 430, which was very similar to the 420 model, but powered with a Yanmar 3-cylinder water-cooled diesel engine instead. The 430 weighed 1,170 lbs, making it the heaviest and strongest John Deere of its time.
Evolution of the 300 Series
The redesign of the 300 Series led to the introduction of the 318. What was great for customers was that many attachments of the 140 and 300 Series could still be used on the new model 318; however, many exciting features were added:
- Rear-frame redesign from “closed” to “open” configuration
- Annunciator lights implemented into the dash panel
- Square-shaped fender deck
- Reserve fuel tank for increased productivity
The best part? During this time, John Deere hit the big 1 million milestone – manufacturing its millionth lawn and garden tractor, with the 318 model outselling any other models.
The R and S Series
As we know, Deere always looked to accommodate customers managing both big and small operations, which is why the R Series and S Series were introduced.
The R Series (R70, R72, and R92) was a good fit for customers needing a solution for smaller pieces of land. Key features included 5-speed gear-drive transmission, in-line gearshift, full-length welded steel frame, and a tight turning radius of 27 inches. This provided operators with even more dependability, long equipment life, as well as on-the-go shifting.
For those with a lawn slightly bigger than what was fit for the R Series to undertake, Deere produced the S Series riding mower (S80 and S82). These machines had a 30-inch cutting width, electric start and 8 horsepower engines.
For a complete list of riding mowers by model, year and serial number, check out the charts below.
John Deere Riding Mowers in the 1990s
Not to be undermined by the previous decade, the 1990s carried on the trend of growth for John Deere lawn and garden tractors. With the introduction of several new models, including the LT, LX, GT, and GX series, John Deere hit 2 more exciting milestones before the close of the millennium.
The 90s were known for many things but for Deere specifically, this was a time for exponential growth in both numbers and technology. In the 1990s John Deere hit both the 2 million and 3 million milestones, manufacturing its 2 millionth lawn tractor with the LX188 model and its 3 millionth tractor with the LT133 in 1998.
This is certainly a sentiment to how the company increased sales during this time; however, it’s not the only thing Deere was working on during this time. Let’s look through a few landmark models that were critical to the history of the John Deere riding mower.
In the late 1990s, the LT Series (133, 155, and 166) became one of the most popular John Deere mowers ever. With this series, operators could experience high-quality wide cuts and a greater amount of fuel compared to competitive models in its class. An emphasis was put on comfort with the adjustable operator seat for those who spent long hours on their equipment The new Xenoy material instead of steel-hood also kept this machine in better condition.
The LX Series was first introduced in the 90s and remained for 16 years to follow. Customers remember this series for its versatility, as each model was compatible with several sizes of mower decks to meet operators’ needs. The LX Series was also great for a variety of other projects around the yard. For example, owners could latch a snow blower attachment to the machine to help fight off winter storms.
GT and GX Series
The GT and GX Series were very similar to one another when it comes to style and uses. For customers with plots of land around 4 acres in size, both machines can hook up to other implements like snow blowers, baggers, carts, front blades and a variety of rear attachments like aerators, and utility carts. These machines were best fit for owners who needed a little more power and size for their weekend activities.
Check out the charts below for a complete list of riding mowers by model, year and serial number.
John Deere Riding Mowers in the 2000s
Last but certainly not least, Deere made a few noteworthy updates to existing models in the 2000s. The FOCUS here has largely been around offering more power to customers thanks to models in the LA and X Series.
This model combines power and versatility to make a perfect fit for medium-large-sized lawn owners. Key features include the full-length steel welded frame, full pressed lubrication, cast iron front axles, headlights, translucent fuel tank including a sight gauge, comfortable operator station, Edge Cutting system, and option for Reverse Implement. Backed with plenty of power, this series also incorporates John Deere’s trademarked CargO Mount system, allowing for a large bagger or other heavy rear-mounted equipment to be easily attached. Other attachments like lawn sweepers, front blades, tractor shovels, mid-mount blades, carts, snow blowers, sprayers, and aerators can be easily added to the LA.
What’s unique about this series of John Deere riding mowers? The technology is what sets this machine apart, as it transfers power to the wheels through the use of the hydrostatic transmission to save time during operations and eliminate unnecessary gear-changing to speed up or slow down. The X Series also incorporates the Edge Cutting System and tight turning radius. This all helps improve convenience, performance, and reliability.
The charts below provide a full list of these riding mowers by model, year and serial number.
We hope this historical breakdown helped you get a better idea of how riding mowers got to where they are today. Still interested in learning more about the history of John Deere riding mowers? Be sure to check out some of the related articles listed below.
History of John Deere Riding Mowers FAQs
When did John Deere produce their first lawn tractor?
In 1963, John Deere entered into the lawn tractor market by introducing the model 110. The John Deere 110 had a 4-stroke petrol-fueled engine with 7 horsepower.
When was the first John Deere diesel lawn mower created?
In 1984, Deere created their first tractor to combine a diesel engine with hydrostatic drive and power steering.
What riding mower series were released in the 1970s?
3 new series of mowers that were designed in the 1970s including the 200 Series, 300 Series, and the 400 Series.
What decade did John Deere produce their millionth lawn and garden tractor?
John Deere manufactured its millionth lawn and garden tractor in the 1980’s.
What’s unique about the X series of John Deere riding mowers?
The technology of the X series is what sets this machine apart. It transfers power to the wheels through the use of the hydrostatic transmission to save time during operations and eliminate unnecessary gear-changing to speed up or slow down.
If you have any questions about John Deere lawn care equipment, you can contact your local John Deere dealer.
If you enjoyed this post or want to read others, feel free to connect with us on , , or !
Rainbow of Antique Mowers
Dennis Merlau astride his GEMCO Reelrider. “Anybody can afford an old mower,” he says. “You can get one for anywhere from 25 to 200. But they do seem to reproduce. Sometimes they just plain follow you home.”
This mower kit was produced in the late 1940s by Sensation Mower Co., Ralston, Neb. The kit contained a wooden deck, rotary mower, spindle, handle and wheels; the buyer provided his own engine. “I put a first year Kohler K7 (about 2 HP) on it,” Dennis says. “Kohler only made that model in 1949-’50 and then stopped.”
You won’t see a Jacobsen as complete as this very often: Hoods for this 1949 mower are scarce as hen’s teeth. Designed for use on golf course greens or upscale residential lawns, the 2-cycle mower has a Jacobsen engine. “I just love this mower,” Dennis says. “The cast iron is so ornate and heavy, and it’s a very quiet running mower.”
This 1957 Model 75 Farm-Ette was built by Tom Moore Tractor Co., Mantua, Ohio. Equipped with a Kohler 4 HP engine, the mower’s transmission is positioned sideways. “It’s a good transmission, especially compared to a Wheel Horse or Bolens,” Dennis says. “But as clean as it looks, this mower was not user friendly. The controls are impossible to reach. It has go-kart steering and the lift mechanism is atrocious. It was one crude dude; it’s not a fun little rider. It was just ‘hurry up and get something on the market; we can refine it later.’”
This 1958 GEMCO General was built from a kit that the buyer attached to a self-propelled reel mower (in this case, a Montgomery Ward Master Quality), converting it to a rider. This one (equipped with a Lauson engine) has a centrifugal clutch like a go-kart. When Dennis got the mower, its frame was in bad shape but the sheet metal was good. The seat — a unique design crafted from heavy metal screen — was shot, but Dennis was fortunate to find a NOS replacement. In the early days of riding mowers, kits like this made riders affordable for the working class.
This three-wheel GEMCO Reelrider, built by General Mower Corp., was sold in the late 1950s as a kit. “Everything I’ve painted reddish-brown was part of the kit,” Dennis says. “Frame, wheel, seat and clutch control. You mount it to the deck of a self-propelled reel mower. This one is on a Delux Pincor mower. The mower has a transmission with forward and reverse gears and a very intricate multi-disc clutch.”
When Dennis got this 1956 Fairbanks-Morse Model 24 riding mower, it was not running. He also had to build new fenders for the unit. Built by Root Mfg. Co. for Fairbanks-Morse, the Model 24 has a Clinton 1100 engine (about 2-1/2 HP). “The piece has three wheels (one in back) and was hand built,” he says. “It was all stick welded. It was a tremendous amount of handwork by today’s standards.”
The original fiberglass seat on this 1957 Garden Mark (built by Moto Mower Co. and sold by Montgomery Ward Co.) flips up, providing access to a Clinton engine. The rear wheel functions as a wheel but in effect is a roller. “To my knowledge, this was the only company to develop a mower like this that allowed you to roll the lawn while mowing,” Dennis says. “The step-through design was great for older users, and it had a very stable design for mowing or rolling.” The three-wheel mower has an all-aluminum body and a lightweight engine (with forward and reverse but no brake).
When it comes to antique mowers and garden tractors, Dennis Merlau knows what he likes. Red ones. Green ones. White ones. Orange. Blue. You get the picture.
“We like color,” he says, describing one aspect of the hobby he and his wife, Deb, share. “We would not want a line-up of just one color. We very much appreciate those who do that, as they are the ones to go to if you need answers on their line of equipment.”
The couple’s rainbow philosophy supports the other hallmark of their collection. “I love color and I love stuff that’s different,” Dennis says. “If it looks old and mechanical, I’m interested. I like funky.”
An early enthusiast
Collector interest in lawn and garden tractors is at an all-time high today. Small units are easy to store and haul, they’re affordable and they’re family friendly. “Little kids love this stuff,” Dennis says. “Going to a show with Grandpa is not something to be dreaded.”
Dennis got an early start in the hobby. While mowing his grandmother’s lawn when he was about 10, he decided her mower needed some work. “I remember her coming out of the house after it got quiet, when there should have been mower noise, to find me with her mower all apart, ‘fixing it.’ I’m sure as she walked back in the house, in her mind she knew she would have to get it repaired or buy a new one,” he says. “But in a short matter of time I was back to mowing with it. She was surprised and pleased, and I was just pleased.”
After that there was no looking back. Dennis took a job right out of high school working on lawn and garden equipment at a John Deere dealership. “I learned about the large tractors and equipment as well,” he says, “but my favorite equipment was and is the small things.”
Today he and Deb head the Michigan chapter of the Vintage Garden Tractor Club of America. They enjoy the friendships made through the club as well as the connections that help them in their hobby. “To me, it’s just history and it’s fun. Some of our older collectors have sold their big tractors but stay in the hobby with garden tractors,” he says. “They can continue to be part of the hobby and they can use their garden tractors to get around shows. And it’s fun to watch the little ones walk up and jump right up on a riding piece as though they owned it, like it was just made for them.”
A riding mower in every garage
Dennis’ collection reflects a unique era. “After World War II, a lot of people wanted to have their own small businesses,” he says. “At that point everybody had a self-propelled lawn mower. Then in the late 1950s they came out with the rider. General Mower Corp. (GEMCO) comes out with a kit that you can put on a self-propelled mower. And it’s cheap: All of a sudden, the average guy could afford a rider.”
Manufacturers big and small scrambled to get a rider on the market. It didn’t necessarily matter if it was well-designed: The important thing was to get a piece of the action. The big players even came out with implement lines. “And if everything was lined up just perfect,” Dennis says wryly, “they might even work.”
But technology continued to advance. Machines that were only a few years old were quickly pushed aside by advanced engineering. “A lot of this stuff quickly became junk,” he says. “It was thrown out or destroyed.” Decades later, collectors turned to the Internet. Suddenly everyone could find an old mower. Today, Dennis says, the supply is drying up.
A balanced approach
Dennis and Deb prefer complete units. “But if they’re not — and that is usually the case — I very much enjoy the challenges of building parts and painting,” Dennis says. “My life’s work has been mechanical work and metal fabrication and that helps me in this hobby.”
The Merlaus do their own restoration work and they try to make it as authentic as possible. “We do try to research and find the correct colors to stay as close as we can to what they should look like,” Dennis says. When it comes to parts, they do their best to find replacements but they aren’t obsessive. “Some parts just plain will never be found,” he says, “so we get it as close as possible and get it to the shows for people to see and appreciate. Why leave it in the shop for years, waiting for that special little piece, when it can be made and we can enjoy it? Get out there and have fun: You might be dead tomorrow!”
After years in the hobby, Dennis finds his tastes shifting a bit. “We used to redo everything but in the last few years the trend has been to leave it as original as possible,” he says. “The ‘it’s only original once’ idea is good, I like it, but sometimes the things we find are in real need of help, so we rebuild them. As an example, we have a couple old seeders from the early 1900s. They’re good solid pieces, but there’s no paint on them and no one even looked at them. So we painted them and now they’re a big hit. It goes both ways.”
Mowers that find their way into Dennis’ collection rarely leave. “We don’t sell very often, usually only if we find a duplicate,” he says. “Deb always warns me, ‘Be careful! You may want one like that someday and not be able to find it again.’ Believe me, those words have came back to haunt me more than once.”
For the Merlaus, the hobby is more than machines. “Our goal is to open people’s eyes to history and let them see and touch it,” he says. “We encourage young people to try a hobby that really gives back to others. It is a real joy for us when people come along and see a mower or little tractor that spurs memories. Maybe no words will be spoken, but that’s OK; just a smile is good.” FC
For more information:
— Dennis and Deb Merlau, 5850 Otis Lake Rd., Delton, Mi 49046; phone (269) 623-8545; email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Leslie McManus is the editor of Farm Collector; contact her at LMcManus@ogdenpubs.com.