1917 Moline Universal Model D – Restored

Though Carl Lund is a Deere man, he bought a 1917 Moline Universal Model D

A 1919 Moline Universal Model D from the Buckert Farms collection in Hamilton, Ill.

A 1919 Moline Universal Model D from the Buckert Farms collection in Hamilton, Ill.

Bill Vossler

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Though Carl Lund is a Deere man, he put that preference aside when he bought a 1917 Moline Universal Model D tractor built by Moline (Ill.) Plow Co.

“My uncles’ dad had one like that when they grew up, so when they had a chance to buy one just like it, they did,” he recalls. “They bought it used and restored it as a reminder of what they had on the farm when they were kids. When my uncles decided to sell it at auction, I decided to buy it and keep it in the family.”

Carl drives the Universal in the daily Cavalcade of Power at the Midwest Old Threshers Reunion at Mt. Pleasant, Iowa. “I just pull the wagon in the parade with kids on it,” he says. For Carl, the best part of owning the Universal is driving it. “It’s so much different than any other tractor,” he says.

The Universal gets its share of second looks. “It’s a fairly rare tractor and you don’t see a lot of them around,” Carl says. A Mt. Pleasant resident, Carl leaves his Universal on the Old Threshers grounds year ’round so others can see it.

Ahead of its time

People are often surprised by the tractor’s progressive design.

“This is a 1917 model and it has a 6-volt battery to start it, headlights, a differential lock and electronic throttle linkage, which means there is no rod going from the carburetor to run the throttle,” Carl says. “Instead, it’s run by a rheostat. You turn a knob on the rheostat that sends more electricity down to open the throttle,” which gives the machine more gas, power and speed.

The differential lock is activated by moving a lever. “If the land wheel starts to slip, the operator could lock the differential so both wheels pull together,” Carl explains. “This is a front-wheel-driven machine.”

Searching for implements

Looking to create a complete display, Carl began looking for implements for his Moline Universal.

“I authorized a guy to buy a plow for the Universal at an auction last fall in Ohio. I told him to go as high as $2,000,” he recalls. “Unfortunately, it sold for $3,500. Those implements (cart, plow, cultivator, mowing machine and grain binder) are difficult to find and very expensive.” One option exists. In his Encyclopedia of American Farm Tractors, author C.H. Wendel says that with slight modifications, almost any farm implement could be adapted to the Universal tractor.

For general tractor use, the operator sits in the seat on the cart, but when using either the plow or disc, the cart is removed. “There’s just one pin to take off to unhook the cart, and you hook up the plow or disc with that same pin,” Carl says. “Then you sit on the plow or the disc and operate it that way. It steers and turns with the drive wheels at the front.”

For all its progressive features, the Universal will strike some as primitive. “But you have to remember that the machine is 90-some years old,” Carl says, “and it still works.” – Bill Vossler