Tracing the History of a Twin City Tractor

Restoration and research add up for Twin City tractor

Weiss's Twin City tractor

Weiss's Twin City tractor

Photo by Gary Van Hoozer

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The background on most antique machinery is usually easy enough to come by. Previous owners, experts and reference materials are good sources. But sometimes you have to be a bit of a sleuth. 

That's been the case for Dean Weiss, owner of a Twin City tractor. Dean and his father-in-law, Jerry Chase, have restored the tractor to original running condition, but had no information on the model number.

"We remember Dean's father (who originally purchased the tractor in Papillion, Neb., in about 1930) saying it's a Model 17-28," Jerry said.

Twin City tractors were mostly made prior to the Minneapolis-Moline line by the same Minneapolis-based firm. In that company's system, the first digit in the model number refers to drawbar horsepower, and the second digit to the belt pulley rating.

The 17-28's were manufactured from 1930-35, and a similar model, the KT, was made from 1929-34. Several other Twin City models were made at about the same time, and were identified by power rating or (more commonly) model letters.

Dean's Twin City is almost identical to a tractor featured in The Prairie Gold Rush, which focuses on M-M technology. But there's no model number mark on the engine block. The serial number - 23530 - was there, but it more nearly resembled a number for the 17-28 series than those used on KT's.

The pair's conclusion? Since it was bought in 'like new' condition in 1930 (though it was two years old at the time), their best guess is that Dean's tractor is an early 17-28 test model made in 1928.

Dean uncovered two Twin City tractors in the Omaha area with 27000+ and 28000+ serial numbers and air cleaners. (His tractor, though, lacks a large cleaner.) The Omaha tractors are believed to be pre-1930 issue.

"With this tractor, the serial numbers on parts - like the carb, air cleaner and oil pump - were early ones, too," Jerry said.

The tractor may have been one sent by the manufacturer to the University of Nebraska Tractor Test Lab in Lincoln for official rating. Professor Louis Leviticus, now retired but still active at the lab, said tests were conducted on a TY model with the 17-28 designation (serial number 19220 and engine number 19040), a 12-20 (in the early 1920s), and two model 21-32 tractors (in 1926 and 1928). In 1930, a KT 11-20 was tested. He's certain, he said, that Dean's tractor was never tested at the Nebraska lab. (The lab, incidentally, has its own museum, featuring 38 vintage tractors. Look for a Moline Universal and the first Allis-Chalmers Model U on rubber tires.)

Dean's father purchased the tractor during the Depression for $500 (with a new three-bottom, 14-inch plow thrown in to sweeten the deal).

"We think the tractor may be one used by the company's Council Bluffs, Iowa, branch office as a demonstrator, and was then sold by the Papillion dealer," Jerry said.

Later, a new rear axle was installed to replace the original one, which wore out due to strain during plowing.

"It's mainly a plow tractor that runs at about 900 rpm," Jerry added.

Even the top speed was slow: there were only two forward gears.

"They often left the tractor in the field," he said, "since it was faster to walk, or ride something else, back and forth to the house."

Penetrating oil was used to free a few of the valves. The tractor has dual camshafts and four valves per cylinder. It starts on gasoline, and runs on distillate or tractor fuel, but neither could be located today.

"We tried diesel fuel, and it wouldn't run well, even with gas mixed with it," Jerry said. "So we finally got some kerosene, which was costly."

Times have changed, he noted.

"Kerosene used to cost about 13 cents a gallon."

The transmission-shifter detent springs were rusted, and had to be replaced in order to shift gears. Springs were purchased from a Case-IH dealer, then cut to the right length.

The spark plug wires and the magneto drive gear also needed to be replaced. Jerry also made a new exhaust manifold gasket. The Bosch magneto was inoperable, and was replaced.

A heater coil from the exhaust heats the fuel before it enters the carburetor. A couple of holes on the coils had to be welded shut.

The tractor has no brakes except the one that retards the belt pulley, Jerry said.

"But it had a water pump, when few tractors had them that early," he noted. "It also has an overhead oiler on top of the valve cover. They had to add oil every day to lubricate the rocker arms, sprints and tappets. It was recommended that the crankcase oil be drained after every four to five working days. The transmission worked in steam cylinder oil, which is very heavy."

Finally, at start-up time, Dean and Jerry realized they still needed an operable fan belt.

"Some neighbors and friends were there, and helped cut and splice one out of an Allis-Chalmers baler belt," Jerry said.

The two have no plans to further restore the tractor, nor will it be put on the market. It's a cherished part of the landscape now: they even hang Christmas lights on it at the holidays. FC 

For more information: Dean Weiss, RR 1, Northboro, Iowa, 51647.
For more information on the University of Nebraska Tractor Test Lab: (402) 472-2442; on-line at http://tractortestlab.unl.edu; e-mail: tractortestlab@unl.edu.

Gary Van Hoozer is a Missouri writer specializing in vintage agriculture and farm history.