A Model D Worth Waiting For

Farmer and Moline-Universal reunited after a half century

| April 2005

  • NormKuper.jpg
    Below: Norm Kuper enjoys driving the Model D in parades, but says that it is still work to drive. From this angle, the black Remy Co. starter and generator/governor can easily be seen.
  • TheBareBonesOperatorStation-1.jpg
    Left: The bare-bones operator station on the Moline-Universal Model D, while Spartan, placed the governor control (black box above the seat), steering and other hand controls in relatively easy reach. However, it is easy to see that it was no place for a youngster, especially considering that if the operator were to become dislodged from the seat, it was likely he or she would get plowed under, quite literally.
  • 2RowCultivator.jpg
    Above: This 2-row cultivator was designed by the Moline Plow Co. specifically for the Universal Model D. Norm found this implement in Tea, S.D., after he had finished the tractor’s restoration.Left: Norm’s Moline-Universal Model D was delivered with this 2-bottom plow, which also provided the rear wheels. The black box visible above the seat is the dial-control for the tractor’s electric governor. Norm added the rubber tread to the wheels so he could drive the tractor in parades.Below: Wichard Ruhaak with the Model D shortly after it was pulled from the trees.
  • TheBareBonesOperatorStation.jpg
    Above: Even the drive wheel’s outer bearing was sealed from the environment with this attractive cover displaying the company’s logo. The rough texture surrounding the cap is concrete that was cast through the right hand (furrow side) drive wheel’s spokes for ballast.

  • NormKuper.jpg
  • TheBareBonesOperatorStation-1.jpg
  • 2RowCultivator.jpg
  • TheBareBonesOperatorStation.jpg

"I never got to drive it when I was a kid," Norm Kuper explains, as he proudly wipes a thin layer of South Dakota dust off the engine of his beautifully restored Moline-Universal Model D. "I had to wait 50 years." Soon after his father brought the tractor home in 1934, this Lennox, S.D., man says he was ever-eager to take the controls, but his father never let him - he was just too young.

"I was 10 when he sold it in 1937, and I thought I was plenty old enough (to drive the tractor), but really I wasn't," Norm admits.

When first released in 1917, the Moline-Universal Model D was arguably a tractor well ahead of its time. The small, relatively lightweight, 2-bottom plow machine was ideal for farmers who wanted to replace horses, but had no need for the large steamor petroleum-powered traction engines that still prevailed on the prairie. However, like the larger tractors of the time, the Model D was cumbersome to operate, and was no match for a youngster at the controls. But for the farmer who had been used to using horses, the Model D was a mechanized marvel.

Universal appeal

"I was young, but I knew it was a special day when Dad bought the tractor," Norm explains. "It took him nearly three hours to drive the 9 miles home." It is easily imaginable that the three-hour wait was excruciating for a young farm boy in the mid-1930s, but imagine anticipating one day driving the tractor, only to see it sold before getting the chance. "I was disappointed when Dad sold it," Norm says.

Norm isn't certain what kind of life the tractor had before his father purchased it; however, it didn't appear to have been abused. "It was already 15 or 16 years old, but the tractor and plow were in good condition as I remember," Norm says. "Dad used it to move the broiler house around and for some other chores," Norm says. "But I don't think he plowed much with it."

In the years that followed, that Model D toiled as the primary tillage tractor for brothers (and bachelor farmers) Wichard and John Ruhaak. "The Ruhaaks used it with the 2-bottom plow to work their ground until the mid-1950s," Norm says. "They never had indoor plumbing, but they made things last." That the Model D lasted into the second half of the 20th century as a working tractor is testament to both its robust design and to the care its owners took to maintain it. Eventually, though, the Model D was parked in the shelterbelt.


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