Minneapolis-Moline Prairie Gold Rush Convention

Minneapolis-Moline collectors come out in force for annual National Prairie Gold Rush.

1920 Universal D tractor

Loren Book, Nevada, Iowa, at work with his 1920 Universal D. Loren’s Universal was the oldest MM tractor at the show.

Photo by Loretta Sorensen

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Precious pieces of burnished gold blazed across southeast South Dakota prairies Aug. 8-11, 2013, during the four-day Minneapolis-Moline National Prairie Gold Rush Summer Convention in Humboldt.

The show was held in conjunction with the Humboldt Threshermen’s Assn. annual threshing show and the Siouxland Collectors Club (attracting members from South Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas and Indiana) and hosted by Prairie Gold Rush magazine. It attracted a diverse display of Minneapolis-Moline tractors, plows, combines, shellers, threshers and collectibles that shone under beautiful prairie skies.

Combine collector

Siouxland Collectors Club President Phillip Fett says the group hoped to provide a visual history of Minneapolis-Moline as well as provide opportunity for people to relive memories of their own MM equipment. Tractors and equipment were featured in static displays as well as demonstrations of corn shredding, shelling, threshing and plowing.

“It’s much more interesting for people to see how equipment works,” Phillip says. “Many people no longer understand how this older equipment was used. It’s rewarding to demonstrate it for others to see.”

Phillip brought pieces from his unique collection of self-propelled MM combines. The MM Harvestor, a remnant of the early days of combine design, was advertised as the first lightweight, high-capacity combine and offered “the best way to ensure a profit every year.”

Minneapolis-Moline was well-known for innovative plow designs and many industry firsts, including what may have been the first two-way (or rollover) plow. Organizers of the Humboldt show had planned a 100-bottom MM plow demonstration, in what they hoped would be the largest MM plowing demonstration ever. Unfortunately, untimely rains left fields too muddy to plow. However, show attendees found no shortage of interesting machines to enjoy.

“Even though the demonstration couldn’t be held, we had more than 170 bottoms ready to plow and over 120 tractors registered for the Plow-A-Rama,” says Lorin Brass of the Siouxland Collectors. “It was the centerpiece of our show. Overall there were tractors from six states, operators from seven states and spectators from at least 16 states.”

Collection starts in the field

Morris, Minn., farmer and longtime MM collector Dennis Solvie was among those displaying rare tractors — including an MM G900 front-wheel assist, one of only 25 built. Dennis’ tractor and restored pickup are part of a collection that numbers more than 200 MM pieces.

“We had Moline tractors when we farmed,” he says, “and my father-in-law’s cousin was head of the MM gear department for years. My father had a small MM tractor. When I started farming with him, we purchased a Minneapolis-Moline M-5. When MM sold out we switched to IH tractors, but I still have the M5 we bought in 1963.”

Dennis was treasurer of the Minneapolis-Moline Collectors (a national collectors group) for six years. During that time he began seriously collecting MM items. “We have an MM U302 diesel and an M670 we sometimes use for small jobs,” he says. “I blade our road with an MM G750. We even put in 4 or 5 acres of wheat and used our MM combine to harvest it.”

Dennis recently built a 72-by-130-foot shop where he and a friend work on MM tractors. “We make repairs and then take tractors to a nearby shop where they sandblast and prime them,” he says. “We bring them home and paint them, put decals on and so forth.”

Well-traveled UTS

One of the show’s unique pieces was a 1958 MM UTS Diesel owned by Gary Olsen, Altamont, Mo. One of the most successful models built by Minneapolis-Moline, Model U tractors utilized MM KEC and KEF engine types, with 283-cubic inch displacement from a 4-1/4-by-5-inch bore and stroke operating at a governed speed of 1,275 rpm. “Tires on this UTS could be original,” Gary says. “From the looks of the drawbar, it doesn’t seem like the tractor was used much.”

A version of the UTS, the UTSD-M Diesel was shipped partially disassembled to Turkey from 1954 through 1958 (though Gary doesn’t think his tractor ever left the U.S.). “Some experts believe most of these tractors never made it to Turkey as many have turned up in the U.S. and Canada,” Chester Peterson and Rod Beemer wrote in Minneapolis-Moline Farm Tractors. “One way to spot these tractors is the German Bosch injector pumps. Except for these tractors, injector pumps on the Model UTS Diesel were American-made Bosch products.”

Gary, whose collection includes about 45 MM tractors in various stages of repair, also displayed a 1930 Twin City 21-32 that he restored. (The Twin City line was a product line of Minneapolis Steel & Machinery Co., which became part of Minneapolis-Moline Co. in 1929; see Birth of Minneaplois-Moline Co.) “My uncle owned the tractor before I did,” he says. “He probably found it in Kansas. He used it in antique tractor pulls.”

A business and a pleasure

Clint and Kelly Stamm, Washington, Kan., were among a dozen or more vendors offering MM products and services to collectors and enthusiasts. The Stamms operate a hobby business, selling MM tractors and parts.

“Most are original, salvage-condition parts,” Clint says. “However, we do stock some reproduction parts, some of which come from major suppliers of all brands of ag parts. For many reproduction items, we take a good original pattern to a fabricator who makes a prototype we can approve or tweak until we get as close as possible to a perfect match with the original.”

Clint has collected MM tractors for about 35 years, purchasing his first “Minnie” as a teen. “We farmed with those tractors, too,” Clint says. “As an adult, I started seeing so many Minneapolis-Molines go to the salvage yard to get crushed that I wanted to try to save some. I had my own masonry construction company so I was able to split my time between job sites and my salvage yard. In winter, when it was too cold to do outside construction, I tore down salvage units and organized parts on shelves. As that progressed I started setting up a booth at winter shows so potential customers could see what we had to offer.”

Minneapolis-Moline by design

Mike Verhulst, Ottumwa, Iowa, has a special fondness for MM, having worked at the company’s Minnesota factory as a design engineer. “After graduating from college, I worked for a year at Allis-Chalmers,” Mike says. “Then they divided their engineering department and asked me to move farther east. I wasn’t fond of that idea and found a new job with Minneapolis-Moline.”

One of Mike’s first projects at MM was design of the A4T-1400. It was the line’s first articulating four-wheel drive tractor, featuring 139 hp. “The 100 hp tractors limited what farmers could do with some newer equipment,” he says. “The four-wheel drive concept made sense for all farmers, but especially those in areas where they farmed vast wheat fields. The A4T could be adapted to plant, cultivate and perform other farm chores. It was very popular in the corn belt.”

At the same time Mike worked at MM, he also farmed, using MM tractors of course. “I have many good memories of working there,” he says. “It was a small company and you could implement things quickly. I was there for 25 years.”

His collection includes pieces from the 1940s through the latest models the company produced before it ceased production in 1963. “Farmers liked the Molines because they were reliable, weren’t hard on fuel and lasted a long time,” he says.

Curtis Rink, Goddard, Kan., brought his 1927 2-speed Twin City 21-32 in hopes of participating in Saturday’s plowing exhibition. His tractor was a forerunner of the 3-speed 21-32, which was formally introduced in 1929.

“The earlier Twin City model was the 17-28,” Curtis says. “That engine had 16 valves, four per cylinder. When people worked on that model, they got tired of grinding all those valves, so Minneapolis-Moline started making an 8-valve engine. This tractor is the earlier chassis with the 8-valve engine. That’s one of the reasons I bought it, because it’s unique.”

Curtis has about 20 vintage tractors. Not all are MM. His interest in old tractors goes back to his days of growing up on a Kansas farm. “My family had a history with Minneapolis-Moline,” he says. “As I read and studied the company’s history, I liked what I learned about Twin City models. When this one came up for sale, I knew I would buy it.” FC

Read more about MM Tractors in Birth of Minneapolis-Moline Co.

For more information:

— Humboldt Threshermen’s Assn., Lowell Grave, 46182 265th St., Hartford, SD 57033; (605) 526-3459.

— The 2014 Prairie Gold Rush summer show, June 27-29, held in conjunction with the Hungry Hollow Steam & Gas Engine Club, Rice Lake, Wis.

— Loretta Sorensen is a lifelong resident of southeast South Dakota. She and her husband farm with Belgian draft horses and collect vintage farm equipment. Email her at sorensenlms@gmail.com.