Minnie-Mo Steals the Show

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Golden steam

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The prairie just north of Lennox, S.D., was awash with gold this past August - prairie gold paint that is. The South East South Dakota Threshermans Association hosted the national Minneapolis- Moline show at its 19th annual threshing bee held on the grounds of Goemen Auction Co. This year's showing of the gold included fine examples of Minneapolis-Moline-related brands such as Moline Plow Co. horse- drawn implements, as well as tractors from Universal Tractor Mfg. Co., B.F. Avery & Sons Co., Minneapolis Threshing Machine Co. and White Motor Co.

The Threshermans Association membership ensured a good variety of 'other' implement colors were on hand, but the vast majority of exhibits were Minneapolis-Moline tractors sporting their trademark prairie gold paint. Visitors also witnessed harvesting and threshing machines in action. In fact, the prairie-gold spectrum included everything from the powerful Minneapolis-Moline Vista 1000 front-assist tractor to the diminutive Jacobson Mfg. Co.-built Minneapolis-Moline garden tractors.

Rare tractor treats

Among the unusual tractors at the show was a 1949 French-built Mathis-Moline VRTE vineyard tractor owned by Dennis Parker of Arlington, S.D. The striking tractor is one of only 168 of that model built in 1949 - and one of only 338 manufactured. The tractor is exceptionally narrow, with a 36-inch width and adjustable front end that allowed it to fit between rows of grapevines. Dennis Solvie of Hancock, Minn., displayed his 1954 Minneapolis-Moline ZB Nursery Special designed to ride high above seedling trees. Bill Schultz of New Holstein, Wis., brought his very rare 1949 Waterloo Bronco tractor, built by the Waterloo Mfg. Co. in Canada. Waterloo was the Canadian distributor for Minneapolis-Moline and painted its tractors prairie gold with red trim on the wheels. Allen Dougan from Jamestown, Calif., displayed a beautifully restored 1956 Minneapolis-Moline Model 445 propane-powered tractor that he found on an Air Force base in northern California. Allen also brought his 1968 Jetstar 3 Super diesel-powered tractor to display. While many Jetstar 3 Supers were produced, Allen's tractor is one of only 60 diesel models manufactured in 1968.

The 1938 Minneapolis-Moline UDLX Comfortractor is perhaps one of the most collectible tractors of any kind. These unique machines, with sweeping sheet metal, enclosed cab, heater, windshield wipers, jump seat and 40-mph road gear, look like a three-way hybrid between a tractor, a truck and a 1930s coupe. The UDLX was marketed as a comfortable tractor by day and a family car by night, but it wasn't as well received as Minneapolis-Moline hoped, and only 150 units were produced. Its limited success was partly due to the tractor's exorbitant price during the Great Depression. Farmers who could afford its $2,155 price tag in 1938 shied from its comforts lest they be judged as 'soft' by their neighbors. A nicely restored UDLX sold in 2003 for $98,000, which indicates that attitudes have indeed changed since its introduction, and now the UDLX is a big attraction at any tractor show. Two beautifully restored UDLX Comfortractors respectively owned by Al Nordstrom of Aberdeen, S.D., and Paul and Kay Weiss of Reinbeck, Iowa, made the trip to Lennox and appeared in the tractor parades. Minneapolis-Moline installed similar cabs on a portion of its Model R tractors built in the late 1930s, but operator comfort didn't become popular until well into the 1960s.

Threshermen at work and play

The influence of the Threshermens Association's sponsorship of the Minneapolis-Moline show was evident from the equipment demonstrations. Club members put up a bin of ear corn in the fall of 2002 used to feed two Minneapolis-Moline corn shelters during the show. These ingenious machines process ear corn in one end and deliver the grain, cobs and chaff to three separate locations. Modern combines accomplish all those tasks in addition to harvesting corn. An oat field and a wheat field, planted adjacent to the show grounds, also were harvested during the event. With plenty of ripe grain standing in the fields, vintage-harvesting machinery got quite a workout. Mike Klingbile of Lennox, S.D., cut oats with a Minneapolis-Moline M-96 pull-type windrower powered by a 1953 Model R tractor of the same make. The windrower and tractor are both owned by Fett Farms based in Lennox, and Phillip Fett, a club board member, was instrumental in hosting the Minneapolis-Moline show at Lennox.

The windrowed oats were processed with a Minneapolis-Moline Model 69 pull-type, pick-up combine owned by Randy Blass of Estherville, Iowa. Randy used Lloyd Raves' 1956 Minneapolis-Moline 5-Star tractor to power the combine. Although many people believe that pick-up combines are old-fashioned and antiquated, they're still used in regions where small grains must be cut in order to properly dry. Modern windrow pick-up heads are available for most combines, including some of the very largest. Even though self-propelled combines are widely available, not every farmer uses the machines, opting instead to continue using pull-type variants.

Phillip brought his 1950s vintage Minneapolis-Moline Model SP self-propelled combine to harvest wheat. Phillip's combine, with its open operator's station and round grain tank, is a good representation of an early, self-propelled combine. To many farmers, a day in the dust and noise from driving one of those machines was considered easy work compared with the labor-intensive cutting, binding, shocking and threshing processes. Not only was it easy to operate, the Model SP combine left the wheat straw in a nice windrow for easy baling.

Kevin Waltner's Uni-Farmor baler was one of the most-interesting pieces of equipment on hand. Kevin, from Freeman, S.D., brought his early 1950s Uni-Tractor and its Uni-Balor attachment, and he baled wheat straw behind Phillip's combine. The early Uni-Farmor system consisted of a tractor with the two large drive wheels in the front and a single tail wheel in line with the left front tire on the rear. The operator sat atop the left drive wheel, and the implement attached to the unit over the front axle, which extended to the right. The Uni-Farmor baling system was used by farmers who wanted to get the most out of their power unit. Attachments included a windrower, corn picker and sheller, forage chopper and corn husker. Minneapolis-Moline offered the Uni-Hoist and Uni-Carriage to help remove and move implements, and claimed that most implement changes could be accomplished in 30 minutes.

More than tractors

The Lennox show wasn't all about farm machinery. Clint Stamm of Washington, Kan., displayed his 1944 Minneapolis-Moline Model NTX Jeep. This four-wheel-drive machine was built for the military during World War II as an aircraft tug. Other unusual equipment included Al's beautiful and rare 1958 Minneapolis-Moline 2-Star crawler. A couple of airport baggage cart tugs made by Minneapolis-Moline were also on hand, as well as an American Roadrunner rubber-tread pavement roller. The American Steel Works based in Kansas City, Mo., built the Roadrunner in 1957 using a Minneapolis-Moline 445 tractor as a power unit. The roller is owned by Gary Olson of Altamont, Mo. Like many mid-20th-century tractor companies, Minneapolis-Moline supplied power units to a number of manufacturers to power irrigation equipment, road graders, cranes and more.

From the golden straw left by the combines, the kernels of corn piled in wagons by the shellers, the wheat and oat grain elevated into trucks, to the gold paint on the tractors, the prairie indeed glowed with a familiar golden hue at Lennox. Those collectors who missed this year's show can find similar thrills at the 2004 Minneapolis-Moline show in Penfield, Ill., July 8-11, sponsored by the Illinois and Indiana Antique Tractor and Gas Engine Club. It's sure to be a golden opportunity to view some fine old iron.

- For more information about the Minneapolis-Moline antique farm show schedule, contact the club on the Web at www.minneapolismolinecollectors.org. For information about the South East South Dakota Urreshermens AssSociation write to P.O. Box 356, Lennox, SD 57039.

Oscar 'Hank' Will III is an old-iron collector and restorer who retired from farming in 1999 and from academia in 1996. He splits his time between his home in Whittier, Calif., and his farm in East Andover, N.H., and writes about the machines and people he meets in between. Write him at 13952 Summit Drive, Whittier, CA 90602; or call (562) 696-4024; or e-mail: owill@mail.whittier.edu