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Streamlined Tractors: A Modern Look

Author Photo
By Sam Moore

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The author's just-completed 1946 MM ZTS.
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1934 MM calendar featred Lea Norgard, possibly the first young woman photographed in an MM tractor ad.
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An MM ad on the front cover of the Dec. 15, 1937, issue of Farm Machinery and Equipment.
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Miss Minnie Moline and the new Universal Z on the front cover of the Sept. 15, 1937, issue of Farm Machinery and Equipment.

By the late 1930s, most farm tractors began to emulate the cars of the day, taking on a streamlined appearance with compound curved fenders, sculpted hoods, cast or sheet metal grilles and sometimes even engine side covers.

Oliver Corp. was one of the first to make the change with the sleek and modern-looking 1935 Model 70 Row-Crop. The 1934 Massey-Harris 25 and its 1936 Pacemaker had radiator grilles, as did the 1936 Silver King, and in 1937 the Huber B with its rounded nose was introduced. Allis-Chalmers announced its streamlined tractor, the Model B, in 1938 and Avery came out with its unique “Rfo-Trak” model. Also in 1938, John Deere unveiled the new A and B models created by renowned industrial designer Henry Dreyfuss. The sleek Graham-Bradley sold by Sears was announced, and Massey-Harris demonstrated its streamlined “Twin-Power” Challenger and Pacemaker series.

The year 1939 brought many additional streamlined tractors, including the Allis-Chalmers C, RC and WC; Case DC; John Deere L, H and D; Massey-Harris 101 and Farmall A, B, H and M models. The Ford-Ferguson was introduced and Oliver Corp. brought out the 60 Row-Crop. J.I. Case announced the VC, S and LA models in 1940 and IHC unveiled its O4 and O6 orchard tractors along with the W-series standard-tread machines.

Minneapolis-Moline was among the early entries in the streamlined tractor field with the “Visionlined” Universal Model Z in 1937, joined by Models R, U and G two years later, and the firm seems to have been the first tractor manufacturer to use comely young ladies (fully clothed, of course) in its advertising. Pretty girls draped over the hoods and flowing fenders of automobiles had long been a staple of car advertisements and car shows, but advertising agencies for tractor and truck companies didn’t pitch these “manly” items to the fairer sex. Of course it can be argued that the pretty girls weren’t meant to attract women buyers at all and that’s undoubtedly correct.

Streamlined tractors with purpose

Minneapolis-Moline Power Implement Co. was formed in 1929 from three struggling firms: Minneapolis Threshing Machine Co., Minneapolis Steel & Machinery Co. and Moline Plow Co. Shortly after, the 1930 MM Yearbook carried an illustration of a pretty girl wearing high heels and a form-fitting red dress, waving her handkerchief to a man in a field on a Twin City tractor. I’m not sure just when the firm dubbed this gal “Miss Minnie Moline,” but before long that young lady, dressed in various costumes, graced many of the company’s color ads.

Although Moline Plow Co. had been selling the Universal tractor until 1923 and MTM had the big cross-motor Minneapolis 17-30, the Twin City tractors of MS&M Co. were the machines MM chose to retain in its line-up well into the 1930s. The Minneapolis-Moline Universal, introduced in 1931 and carrying both the Minneapolis-Moline and Twin City names, was the new firm’s first row-crop tractor. Improved Universal J and M models appeared in 1936.

When the Visionlined Universal Z was introduced in mid-1937, Chief Engineer A.W. Lavers explained the term “Visionlined.” “(It) means streamlining a tractor with a purpose (and) is more than a new word,” he said. “It means a new tractor design to give operators a much greater degree of operating vision and comfort. ‘Visionlined’ means — making a tractor with such lines that it is easy for the operator to see whatever job he may be doing. It also signifies a tractor with all parts more accessible — easier to inspect and service.”

Birth of a family business

The new streamlined tractor was the first from Minneapolis-Moline to wear the livery of prairie gold with red wheels (prior Twin City tractors had been battleship gray with red wheels). Thus, Miss Minnie Moline was usually clad in an outfit of gold and red.

The July 15, 1937, issue of Farm Machinery and Equipment carries a bit about what “is believed to (be) the honor of selling the first Minneapolis-Moline Universal Z visionlined tractor (by) Weidner Bros., the MM dealer at Freeport, Minn.” Joseph Overman, the buyer, is pictured sitting “proudly on his new tractor,” which was equipped with 2-row cultivators.

Another first that year was chalked up not far from the present home of your humble correspondent. In 1937, Enos Witmer, a farmer living between Salem and Columbiana, Ohio, was awarded a Minneapolis-Moline dealership. Mr. Witmer began quite inauspiciously, selling agricultural equipment from a shed on the farm. His very first new tractor sale — a Visionlined Universal Z — was to Carl Calvin of nearby North Lima, Ohio.

Witmer’s, Inc. is still in business a couple of miles east of Salem, and that same Model Z tractor, since refurbished, occupies a place of honor in the showroom next to a new Massey Ferguson. The firm today is managed by Enos’ son, Ralph Witmer; his grandson, Nelson Witmer, and granddaughter, Grace Styer. Witmer’s handles the AGCO line of farm equipment and runs a busy construction division.

End of an era

Many years ago, when I was attempting, with some success, to collect a 2-plow standard-tread tractor of each make, I bought a pretty nice 1946 Minneapolis-Moline ZTS. I still have the thing and am just finishing up a partial refurbishment. It looks and runs pretty well and seems larger than its contemporaries because of the big, flat rear fenders over the 12.4-by-38-inch rear tires. Bright prairie gold paint on the tractor, set off by red wheels, makes an attractive machine. When it’s completed, I’ll probably keep and show it for a year or two and then sell it.

While Minneapolis-Moline Power Equipment Co. was never in quite the same league as IHC or Deere, it was a strong second-tier company along with Massey-Harris, Case, Allis-Chalmers and Oliver, and built some good machinery. In 1963, White Motor Corp., which had already bought Oliver Corp. and Cockshutt, acquired the MM company. Miss Minnie Moline had long been retired, although as late as 1974 a White ad for MM and Oliver in Farm Journal magazine featured the beautiful Eva Gabor. White continued to badge tractors as Minneapolis-Moline until about 1974, when the name suffered the same fate as Moline Plow Co., Minneapolis Threshing Machine Co. and Minneapolis Steel & Machinery Co. did back in 1929. FC

Sam Moore grew up on a farm in western Pennsylvania. He now lives in Salem, Ohio, and collects antique tractors, implements and related items. Contact Sam by email at letstalkrustyiron@att.net.

Published on Oct 29, 2012

Farm Collector Magazine

Dedicated to the Preservation of Vintage Farm Equipment