Living the MM Life: Minneapolis-Moline Tractors

Minneapolis-Moline tractors and equipment are at the heart of an Iowa man's lifelong hobby.

Universal D tractors

Three of Loren’s five Universal D tractors, each likely built in 1920.

Photo courtesy Loren Book

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The histories of Moline Plow Co. and Minneapolis-Moline Power Implement Co. are interwoven with Loren Book’s own family history. His father, Donald L. Book, operated Book Implement in Nevada, Iowa, from 1949 through 1962.

“Dad’s business was located on old Highway 30,” Loren says. “After being in business for a year, he built a new building where he sold Minneapolis-Moline, Ferguson, Kewaunee and Valley equipment and featured a feed dealership. I spent a lot of time at the store sweeping, helping with assembly and joining employees for coffee breaks at the local restaurant.”

Donald used Minneapolis-Moline equipment on the family farm, spawning a fondness in Loren’s heart for the Minneapolis-Moline models R, Z, U and UB. Loren also recalls his father’s use of many Minneapolis-Moline implements.

“The first Minneapolis-Moline items I collected were things of Dad’s I found on the farm,” Loren says. “He had two 4- by 5-foot Scotch Brite Book Implement signs that were never used at the dealership. I also found Minneapolis-Moline memorabilia he had tucked away.”

Off to a Special start

On the heels of preserving those initial MM items, Loren decided to restore his father’s UB Special, which had been housed in a farm shed for at least 20 years. The MM UB was only manufactured in 1955. In Minneapolis-Moline Farm Tractors, Chester Peterson and Rod Beemer wrote that, “The ‘Special’ designation reflected a design change in the grille and radiator to allow for the option of power steering. At this time the Model B tractors also introduced interchangeable front-wheel equipment designed with a key lock configuration that allowed any of the front axles, U, E or N, to be mounted to these tractors.”

The MM Specials were fitted with a 283C-4 engine, giving customers a choice of using tractor fuel, gasoline or LP gas. Running on tractor fuel, the Special was said to be capable of generating 37 hp at the drawbar; with gasoline, 48 hp; and on LP gas, 44.

After restoring his father’s tractor, Loren decided he’d like to own tractors representing each of the three companies formed by Minneapolis-Moline in 1929. Loren’s 1920 Moline Universal D represents Moline Plow Co. His 1920 Twin City 12-20 represents Minneapolis Steel & Machinery Co. His 1928 Minneapolis 17-30 represents Minneapolis Threshing Machine Co.

The allure of the Universal D

Loren has long been intrigued by the small Universal D. He found the first of his five 1920 Universal D’s in western Nebraska. Because no records of Universal production exist, casting dates are typically used to determine approximate manufacturing dates. Loren’s Universal D’s appear to have been manufactured between 1918 and 1923.

“The 4-cylinder engine in the Universal D gave it 9 hp at the drawbar and 18 at the belt,” Loren says. “There may be a number of Universal D’s around, but you rarely see them on display at shows and other events because they’re so hard to transport. Ninety-eight percent of their weight is over the front wheels. When they’re loaded, they’re prone to tip forward.”

The Universal D weighs about 3,380 pounds, at least 1,500 pounds less than other tractors of the era. The tractor’s forward and reverse gears had a speed range of 1/2 to 3-1/2 mph. A Bennett air cleaner helped reduce dust issues and all control levers were within easy reach of the operator. Gasoline capacity was 15 gallons and standard equipment included one 16-inch or 18-inch sulky, a 2-bottom 12- or 14-inch gang plow, or a 2-disc gang plow. Extra equipment included a rear-carrying truck and attachments such as disc harrow, grain drill, planter, lister, cultivator, mower and grain binder.

Supreme in the field

The “ample clearance” of the Universal D’s cultivator (29-1/2 inches) was a major advertising point. The tractor and 2-row cultivator were said to “form a unit much easier to handle than four horses and a 2-row cultivator.”

Advertisements for the Universal D also highlighted the tractor’s electrical starting and lighting system, electrical engine governor, “perfected” overhead-valve and lubrication of the engine under 35 pounds pressure. The tractor’s 2-wheel construction was said to be “the best for general farm use.”

One of Loren’s Universals is an orchard tractor. “Its smaller wheels were made to allow the tractor to fit under orchard trees,” he explains. “It’s one of the more rare Universal models.”

Promoted in its day as “supreme in the tractor field,” the Model D is challenging to steer. Loren is careful to plan ahead when taking the tractor to the field. “It takes a lot of room to turn the tractor,” he says. “If you’re plowing, you need a wide headland in order to turn around and get back into the furrow. It takes about 15 twists of the steering wheel to get around a corner. There’s a spinner on the steering wheel that helps, but it takes a strong arm.”

The Universal D’s are the largest and perhaps most impressive pieces in Loren’s collection of some 65 Minneapolis-Moline units. His collection includes Uni-harvesters, combines, power units, mowers, corn pickers, plows, horse equipment and a street sweeper powered by a Model 335 tractor. Tractors in his collection include many variations of models J, R, Z, U, G and the Jet Star. A G900 and G1000 are among the newest models in the collection.

Establishing a museum

Loren’s memorabilia collection has grown to the point that he’s set it up in a museum on the farm. “For years I had it all stored in boxes until I used it to create a display in 2012 as part of Minneapolis-Moline’s annual convention,” he says. “I realized then it was too valuable and interesting to hide away.”

Loren’s museum building was originally a 16-pen hog house that he’s since insulated and painted. Display cases house many of his artifacts, including MM sales aids, signs, wall hangings, toys, wrenches and manuals. A prized piece is a 1950s MM hat with an oversized brim and attached sunglasses. “I remembered wearing one of those hats when I was a kid and flipping my sunglasses up on that brim,” Loren says. “It’s the only one I’ve seen since.”

Loren’s toy B-2 sheller is one of the most rare pieces in his collection. Loren and the late Jerry Erickson came across the piece at a Minneapolis, Minnesota, auction. It was pictured in 1942 and 1943 MM literature promoting the company’s product line. The sheller is currently on display at the National Toy Museum in Dyersville, Iowa.

Promoting MM on a national stage

While his personal connection to MM greatly influenced Loren’s decision to display his collection, he hasn’t limited his passion for all things MM to just a personal hobby. Over the years, Loren and his wife, Ruth, have actively worked to preserve MM history. Loren has served on the Minneapolis-Moline Collectors Board of Directors and is currently working with the Floyd County museum in Charles City, Iowa, to explore the feasibility of organizing a larger presence of MM history, machinery and research materials there.

In early 2000, Loren and fellow collectors traveled to St. Paul, Minnesota, to visit the Minnesota Historical Society where MM negatives were said to be housed. Initially, the group intended to view the negatives to satisfy curiosity, but their visit inspired a much larger vision.

“The archivists at that time weren’t aware of Minneapolis-Moline Co., let alone the negative collection,” Loren says. “With our inquiry, they searched for it and located some 20,000 negatives that had been put into cold storage to halt deterioration. When we realized the collection was deteriorating and wasn’t available to museum visitors, we wanted to help change that.”

Independent photographer Arthur Jensen had served as an MM photographer for many years. In the late 1970s, his negative collection, now known as the Jensen Collection, was donated to the museum. The negatives represented products MM advertised in sales brochures. Loren and his group identified all of the negatives, selecting 2,000 of the most representative ones to be made available in a searchable database (available online). A full set of the negatives is also available for viewing at Loren’s museum and Charles City’s Floyd County Museum.

Preserving MM history

Loren and Ruth also maintain the Minneapolis-Moline web page and Facebook page for the Minneapolis-Moline Collectors Club. The web page contains information about the club and MM technical information. Such efforts, he notes, have been very rewarding.

“Ruth and I have made many friends through the Collectors Club and we’re proud to be part of preserving Minneapolis-Moline history,” he says. “We’d like to see Minneapolis-Moline history be sought after by the next generation. The only way that can happen is to make this available to them and get them excited about it.” FC

For more information on the Minneapolis-Moline Collectors Club, visit them online.

For information on museum tours, call Loren Book, (515) 231-6334.


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.