The True Universal Tractors: Stillwater Universal and Moline Universal

While many tractors claimed to do it all, only two lived up to the "universal" billing

| April 2010

  • Because the Universal tractors were all alike, they could simply put their logo on the blank front of the tractor, like this stylized Rumely GasPull, simply a renamed Universal.
    Because the Universal tractors were all alike, they could simply put their logo on the blank front of the tractor, like this stylized Rumely GasPull, simply a renamed Universal.
    Bill Vossler
  • A front-side view of a Universal tractor.
    A front-side view of a Universal tractor.
    Bill Vossler
  • A stencil on the cab of this Minneapolis Universal tractor (photographed at Pioneer Days, Albany, Minn.) reads,
    A stencil on the cab of this Minneapolis Universal tractor (photographed at Pioneer Days, Albany, Minn.) reads, “Minneapolis Universal Farm Motor.” The tractor was built in 1911, probably by the Minneapolis Threshing Machine Co.
    Bill Vossler
  • The operating platform for Universal tractors has all the levers within close reach.
    The operating platform for Universal tractors has all the levers within close reach.
    Nikki Rajala
  • The operating platform for Universal tractors has all the levers within close reach.
    The operating platform for Universal tractors has all the levers within close reach.
    Nikki Rajala
  • Universal tractors had a 50-gallon fuel tank, suitable for a full 24 hours of use.
    Universal tractors had a 50-gallon fuel tank, suitable for a full 24 hours of use. Operating speeds were universal on all the Universals, plowing speed at 2 and 2-3/4 mph, road speed 2-1/2 and 3-1/2 mph.
    Nikki Rajala
  • Steering for the Universal tractors was
    Steering for the Universal tractors was "of the automobile type, quick action and absolutely positive, requiring very little attention from the operator," advertising literature said.
    Nikki Rajala
  • Side view of a Moline Universal Model D.
    Side view of a Moline Universal Model D.
    Bill Vossler
  • It is interesting to note how similar the Pioneer tractor body structures are to the Universal tractors.
    It is interesting to note how similar the Pioneer tractor body structures are to the Universal tractors. The origin of Pioneer tractors came about in 1909 or 1910, about the same time as the origins of the Universal tractor. What makes this especially intriguing is that the design of the Universal/Pioneer is fairly unique at this time.
    Bill Vossler
  • 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
  • Carl Lund’s 1917 Moline Universal Model D.
    Carl Lund’s 1917 Moline Universal Model D. The Model D was built from 1917 until 1923 and was rated a 9-18. It had a 4-cylinder, 3-1/2- by 5-inch bore-and-stroke engine. The Model D sold for $1,325 in 1920.
    Bill Vossler
  • This view of the circa-1920 Moline Universal Model D gives a sense of how high the engine was set, making the tractor vulnerable to tips.
    This view of the circa-1920 Moline Universal Model D gives a sense of how high the engine was set, making the tractor vulnerable to tips.
    Bill Vossler
  • In the early days, and perhaps later, this steering wheel assembly (called a cart or trailer) was optional equipment for the Moline Universal Model D 2-wheeler, at a price of $35.
    In the early days, and perhaps later, this steering wheel assembly (called a cart or trailer) was optional equipment for the Moline Universal Model D 2-wheeler, at a price of $35.
    Bill Vossler
  • The basic information about the Model D Moline Universal is shown on this tag.
    The basic information about the Model D Moline Universal is shown on this tag.
    Bill Vossler
  • The steering gear on the Moline Universal Model D swiveled the entire front end engine assembly left or right while implements hooked on the back, one at a time, trailed behind.
    The steering gear on the Moline Universal Model D swiveled the entire front end engine assembly left or right while implements hooked on the back, one at a time, trailed behind. Each implement had a seat for the operator, as the main part of the machine – the 2-wheeler that included the engine – had no seating.
    Bill Vossler
  • The steering gear on the Moline Universal Model D swiveled the entire front end engine assembly left or right while implements hooked on the back, one at a time, trailed behind.
    The steering gear on the Moline Universal Model D swiveled the entire front end engine assembly left or right while implements hooked on the back, one at a time, trailed behind.
    Bill Vossler
  • There is not much to the Model D Moline Universal tractor by modern standards.
    There is not much to the Model D Moline Universal tractor by modern standards.
    Bill Vossler
  • The Moline Universal Model D was perhaps the first tractor with electric lights as standard equipment.
    The Moline Universal Model D was perhaps the first tractor with electric lights as standard equipment.
    Bill Vossler
  • This Power Farming ad circa 1918 discusses how the Remy Electric equipment helps the Model D Moline Universal run at night.
    This Power Farming ad circa 1918 discusses how the Remy Electric equipment helps the Model D Moline Universal run at night. The Model D Moline Universal was perhaps the first to have an electric starting and lighting system.
    courtesy Bill Vossler
  • This Rumely GasPull tractor is typical-looking for the Universal tractors made in Minnesota.
    This Rumely GasPull tractor is typical-looking for the Universal tractors made in Minnesota. Like GMC of today selling the same car under different badges, Universal tractors were sold similarly, with a different name stenciled on the front.
    courtesy Bill Vossler
  • The cover from Rumely’s 1912 booklet at the time when they had recently acquired the rights to the Universal tractor.
    The cover from Rumely’s 1912 booklet at the time when they had recently acquired the rights to the Universal tractor.
    courtesy Bill Vossler
  • Minneapolis Threshing Machine Co. sold the Universal tractor as well, probably about 1911, getting its models from Universal Tractor Co. of Stillwater, Minn.
    Minneapolis Threshing Machine Co. sold the Universal tractor as well, probably about 1911, getting its models from Universal Tractor Co. of Stillwater, Minn.
    courtesy Bill Vossler
  • A page from Rumely’s 1912 booklet at the time when they had recently acquired the rights to the Universal tractor.
    A page from Rumely’s 1912 booklet at the time when they had recently acquired the rights to the Universal tractor.
    courtesy Bill Vossler
  • The origin of Pioneer tractors came about in 1909 or 1910, about the same time as the origins of the Universal tractor.
    It is interesting to note how similar the Pioneer tractor body structures are to the Universal tractors. The origin of Pioneer tractors came about in 1909 or 1910, about the same time as the origins of the Universal tractor. What makes this especially intriguing is that the design of the Universal/Pioneer is fairly unique at this time.
    courtesy Bill Vossler
  • The design of the Universal and Pioneer tractors is fairly unique in the early 1910s.
    It is interesting to note how similar the Pioneer tractor body structures are to the Universal tractors. The origin of Pioneer tractors came about in 1909 or 1910, about the same time as the origins of the Universal tractor. What makes this especially intriguing is that the design of the Universal/Pioneer is fairly unique at this time.
    courtesy Bill Vossler
  • It is interesting to note how similar the Pioneer tractor body structures are to the Universal tractors.
    It is interesting to note how similar the Pioneer tractor body structures are to the Universal tractors. The origin of Pioneer tractors came about in 1909 or 1910, about the same time as the origins of the Universal tractor. What makes this especially intriguing is that the design of the Universal/Pioneer is fairly unique at this time.
    courtesy Bill Vossler
  • An early version of Moline Plow Co.’s Universal tractor.
    An early version of Moline Plow Co.’s Universal tractor.
    courtesy Bill Vossler
  • Early photos proclaim that
    Early photos proclaim that "even a woman could operate the Model D Moline Universal."
    courtesy Bill Vossler
  • Users of the Model D Moline Universal touted its various virtues.
    Users of the Model D Moline Universal touted its various virtues.
    courtesy Bill Vossler
  • Early photos proclaim that
    Early photos proclaim that "even a woman could operate the Model D Moline Universal."
    courtesy Bill Vossler
  • There is not much to the Model D Moline Universal tractor by modern standards.
    There is not much to the Model D Moline Universal tractor by modern standards.
    courtesy Bill Vossler
  • The Minneapolis-Moline Universal ZBU model shown here was built in 1952.
    The Minneapolis-Moline Universal ZBU model shown here was built in 1952.
    courtesy Bill Vossler
  • It is interesting to note how similar the Pioneer tractor body structures are to the Universal tractors.
    It is interesting to note how similar the Pioneer tractor body structures are to the Universal tractors. The origin of Pioneer tractors came about in 1909 or 1910, about the same time as the origins of the Universal tractor. What makes this especially intriguing is that the design of the Universal/Pioneer is fairly unique at this time.
    courtesy Bill Vossler

  • Because the Universal tractors were all alike, they could simply put their logo on the blank front of the tractor, like this stylized Rumely GasPull, simply a renamed Universal.
  • A front-side view of a Universal tractor.
  • A stencil on the cab of this Minneapolis Universal tractor (photographed at Pioneer Days, Albany, Minn.) reads,
  • The operating platform for Universal tractors has all the levers within close reach.
  • The operating platform for Universal tractors has all the levers within close reach.
  • Universal tractors had a 50-gallon fuel tank, suitable for a full 24 hours of use.
  • Steering for the Universal tractors was
  • Side view of a Moline Universal Model D.
  • It is interesting to note how similar the Pioneer tractor body structures are to the Universal tractors.
  • A 1919 Moline Universal Model D from the Buckert Farms collection in Hamilton, Ill.
  • Carl Lund’s 1917 Moline Universal Model D.
  • This view of the circa-1920 Moline Universal Model D gives a sense of how high the engine was set, making the tractor vulnerable to tips.
  • In the early days, and perhaps later, this steering wheel assembly (called a cart or trailer) was optional equipment for the Moline Universal Model D 2-wheeler, at a price of $35.
  • The basic information about the Model D Moline Universal is shown on this tag.
  • The steering gear on the Moline Universal Model D swiveled the entire front end engine assembly left or right while implements hooked on the back, one at a time, trailed behind.
  • The steering gear on the Moline Universal Model D swiveled the entire front end engine assembly left or right while implements hooked on the back, one at a time, trailed behind.
  • There is not much to the Model D Moline Universal tractor by modern standards.
  • The Moline Universal Model D was perhaps the first tractor with electric lights as standard equipment.
  • This Power Farming ad circa 1918 discusses how the Remy Electric equipment helps the Model D Moline Universal run at night.
  • This Rumely GasPull tractor is typical-looking for the Universal tractors made in Minnesota.
  • The cover from Rumely’s 1912 booklet at the time when they had recently acquired the rights to the Universal tractor.
  • Minneapolis Threshing Machine Co. sold the Universal tractor as well, probably about 1911, getting its models from Universal Tractor Co. of Stillwater, Minn.
  • A page from Rumely’s 1912 booklet at the time when they had recently acquired the rights to the Universal tractor.
  • The origin of Pioneer tractors came about in 1909 or 1910, about the same time as the origins of the Universal tractor.
  • The design of the Universal and Pioneer tractors is fairly unique in the early 1910s.
  • It is interesting to note how similar the Pioneer tractor body structures are to the Universal tractors.
  • An early version of Moline Plow Co.’s Universal tractor.
  • Early photos proclaim that
  • Users of the Model D Moline Universal touted its various virtues.
  • Early photos proclaim that
  • There is not much to the Model D Moline Universal tractor by modern standards.
  • The Minneapolis-Moline Universal ZBU model shown here was built in 1952.
  • It is interesting to note how similar the Pioneer tractor body structures are to the Universal tractors.

For early manufacturers eyeing the market, it didn’t take long to figure out that a multi-tasking tractor had enormous commercial potential.

Delivering the goods, however, was another matter. Many tractors over the years have carried the name “Universal,” but only two came close to the ideal.

The Universal of Stillwater, Minn., and the Moline Universal, both launched before 1920, were designed and used for a broad variety of farm chores at a time when the definition of the word tractor was still evolving. “The Universal is well-suited to the running of the clover huller, corn shredder, corn sheller, feed grinder and many other various uses,” notes a booklet published in 1917 by the Universal Tractor Co., Stillwater, Minn., “as well as in pulling binders, manure spreaders and hauling heavily loaded wagons and in fact for all general purposes on the farm.”

The early 4-wheel Universal

The first mention of the early 4-wheel Universal came in 1909 from the Universal Tractor Co. “offering a tractor by year’s end,” built in Crookston, Minn., but supported by Stillwater-based capital, according to R.B. Gray in The Agricultural Tractor 1855-1950. That machine, which resembled a smaller version of the Pioneer tractor built in Winona, Minn., had a 2-cylinder opposed engine with a 7-1/2- by 8-inch bore and stroke and was capable of producing 18 hp.

Even before it was finished, the tractor drew industry interest. “The engine is not completed yet,” noted an account in Power Farming, “and the test Saturday was made with two ordinary gang plows, and the engine showed all kinds of power. The test was made on Timothy sod that had not been plowed for six years and was very tough. The plowing was done 6 inches deep and was an excellent job.” The writer credits A.O. Espe with engine design, and reports that manufacturing took place at the Espe foundry in Crookston.

The landscape changed quickly for the Minnesota-type Universal. In May 1910, Gas Engine magazine (unconnected to Farm Collector’s sister publication of the same name) announced, “The property of the Universal Tractor Co. has been taken over by the Northwest Thresher Co., Stillwater, which will continue to manufacture the tractors and place them on the market.”

In 1911, Minneapolis Threshing Machine Co. started selling the Universal as the “Minneapolis Universal Farm Motor.” That company’s 1914 catalog shows the tractor as a beefed-up 20 hp machine; 1915 was the last year the company sold the Universal.



Meanwhile, in about 1911, the Ski­bo tractor was launched and sold by Union Iron Works, Minneapolis. The Skibo – simply a renamed Universal – was dubbed an 18-25 and sold for $1,600 ($36,500 in today’s terms). Although all other Universal engines were of the same size (7-1/2- by 8-inch bore and stroke), Union listed its Skibo as a 7-1/2-inch bore and stroke tractor, a noteworthy distinction.

Rumely gets involved

A year later, in 1912, Rumely Products Co., LaPorte, Ind., bought the rights to the tractor (but not to the company producing it) and partnered with Northwest Thresher to enter the tractor sales business in a big way. From a report in Gas Engine: “The company announces it will hereafter sell in all its branches in the U.S. and Canada the GasPull tractor, which is the new name given by this firm to the Universal tractor. The Northwest people will still manufacture the engine and the arrangement is only a selling one, but the extensive (Rumely) selling organization expects to provide a greater outlet for the output of the Stillwater plants than before.”

A report in the September 1912 issue of American Thresherman took note. “This was a very successful small tractor which has been on the market for several years under the name Universal,” the article comments. “Rumely Products Co. is preparing to sell a large number in other countries next year. The Northwest Thresher Co. continues to do the manufacturing. The name of the tractor has been changed to GasPull, which is considered more distinctive and which fits well with the names OilPull and TigerPull which have been given to other Rumely gas tractors.” In 1913 the GasPull was re-rated a 15-30; it remained in production until 1917.



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