Minnesota collector brings pair of unique Minneapolis-Moline-Avery BF tractors back from the brink.
When Wayne Gunsolus went to an auction in 1999, he was looking for a car. But he came home with a tractor: a 1951 Minneapolis-Moline-Avery BFW (wide-front) tractor. Built in Louisville, Ky., during a four-year stretch when Minneapolis-Moline owned the Avery line, the BFW stands out from the crowd in Minnesota.
“I actually went to the auction of a Minneapolis-Moline dealer near here to buy a car,” Wayne recalls. “I helped him load 14 wagon loads of parts for four days before the auction. At the sale, I did not buy the car and I didn’t know about the tractor until then.”
The tractor had been sold new in 1951 by Hoffman Implement, the local Pemberton, Minn., dealer, and the owner used it for cultivating and to pull a baler for commercial baling. “He blew a rod, so it sat in his shed for 20 years until he finally traded it back in to the dealer for an implement,” Wayne says. “The dealer rebuilt the engine completely and used the tractor for mowing and as a yard donkey, doing a little of everything. He even used it to move a heavily loaded boxcar down by the elevator when other tractors failed. He had the right gear ratio, and he knew how to do it.”
Wayne, who lives in rural Pemberton, decided to get back to tractors and machinery after he “semi-retired.” “I was born and raised on a farm,” he says. “When my father died, my brother took over our place. He was older, so I helped do chores and cultivated with single-row horse equipment, and we all pitched manure.”
Eventually Wayne found work elsewhere and left the farm, returning to help out on the occasional weekend. Meanwhile, his brother farmed with a 1939 Minneapolis-Moline Z, a 1954 MM Standard U and a MM G1000, although he had a few Deere and Ford tractors, too.
At the 1999 auction, Wayne bid against a Moline collector who wanted the Minnie-Avery pretty badly. “He bid pretty hard on it,” Wayne says, “but I ended up with it. I paid something like $1,750 for the tractor, a plow and a cultivator.”
After the auction, Wayne discovered he had an additional expense. The tractor had come with a belt pulley, but when he loaded the Avery on his trailer, the pulley was missing. “Somebody stole that one,” he says, “so I had to buy another one.” At home, he realized the tractor’s grille was wrong and the lifting roll used to attach the plow had been replaced with a homemade modification. “Maybe without a 3-point hitch they needed something to hold the plow up,” he says.
Finding replacement parts for the Avery was no picnic up north, far from the southern cotton and tobacco fields that were the Avery’s more typical home. In sourcing parts, Wayne had to cast a big net. “I had a guy in Baldwin, Miss., send up a 3-point hitch system, a new grille, the lifting roll and numerous smaller things,” he says. “It was a lot of heavy stuff, so my UPS bill was pretty high.”
Wayne spent all winter and the next spring getting the Avery back in shape. He replaced the grille, changed the seeping head gasket, fixed the lights and switched the ignition back (“these were born as 6-volt systems”). He ground out rust and set the plow correctly. “That Model RX 14-inch 2-bottom Avery Tru-Draft gang plow was one of the most difficult parts of the project,” he says.
The Avery RX is scarcer than the BFW, Wayne says. Mounted from the front, it prevented the front end from rising when the tractor pulled hard. Built in the late 1940s, the Tru-Draft plow was like new when Wayne got it. He has yet to see one like it at shows. “I talked to a guy in Nebraska that had one in the back of his shed,” he says, “but he said it wasn’t in the painted condition that mine was. I’ve never seen another one that pulls clear from the front.”
The pinholes that hold the wheels when they’re slid out for cultivating were badly worn, so Wayne drilled them bigger and added larger pins. He cleaned the radiator and added new hydraulic lines to prevent the repeat of an accident he experienced at a pulling contest, when a fluid-filled front tire on a Farmall F-20 behind him at a pulling contest exploded, blowing fluid all over him and the tractor. “I don’t believe in old hydraulics,” he says.
He added a new wire harness and had a used belt pulley repapered. “Some pulleys are steel and some are papered,” he says. “If the core is shot, you send it to a paper pulley outfit, and they repaper it.” Wayne put linseed oil on the paper so it would weather better. He also had the steering wheel redone. “If your ring is good,” he says, “you just have it recoated with the black finish.”
Wayne’s neighbor has a paint booth, so he sandblasted and painted the Avery. “I did a Ford one time, so that wasn’t out of the question,” Wayne says. “But if you want a really nice job, you need a dust-free painting stall, so I had my neighbor do it.” Otherwise, Wayne did most of the work himself.
With the tractor back to top-notch original condition, Wayne added optional items: the 3-point hitch (one of Moline’s first 3-points); cultivator brackets and others for anchoring different implements. “You can see the brackets where this tractor had a cement mixer on it at one time,” he says.
When Wayne found his 1951 Minneapolis-Moline-Avery BFD (dual front tires), it came with a couple of surprises. The tractor’s IXB3 SL Hercules engine was in pieces in a bushel basket, but some were missing — so Wayne began another parts search. He put new sleeves in the flathead 4-cylinder engine, which produces about 26-27 hp, and redid the generator, starter and lights, to the tune of $2,500.
The second big surprise came when he started the tractor. “I discovered it had four reverse gears and only one forward,” he says. “The ring gear had been put in backward. That was an unpleasant surprise.” Wayne tore out the axles and started over, switching the ring gear. He also changed the electrical system back to the original 6-volt system.
The only features that aren’t original to the two tractors are buggy tops he added. “But I didn’t drill any holes, so you can remove them and the tractors will be back to stock,” he says. “The tops fade in the hot sun and rain, so my wife, Bonnie, dyes them to get that color back. She’s my partner in all of this.”
With the Avery BFD Wayne runs a Minneapolis-Moline 2-row 3-point-hitch PXDA check-row and drill planter, one of Minneapolis-Moline’s first 3-point hitch planters. “I found it in Owatonna, Minn.,” he says. “It had been sitting in the woods for 40 years, so everything was frozen up. I paid $100 for it, took it home, and spent all winter taking it apart piece by piece and getting it limbered up. I worked for two years to find the boxes and new fertilizer equipment for it.”
He sandblasted and painted the piece and added new rope. Wayne likes to pair his tractors with implements at shows. “I have parts from five different planters in it,” he says, “so I could get the parts and options I needed to have on it,” like corn and bean plates.
Wayne has a preference for show displays that are unusual in the north country. About 10 years ago, he saw a half-dozen Averys at a show in Waverly, Neb. “But now there’s just these two or three,” he says. “You don’t see many of these this far north. Over the years I’ve seen very few that have been redone, so I’ve saved them from the iron pile, I guess. Maybe there are some around that just don’t make it to shows.”
His collection started by accident, he admits. “Originally my idea was to have one tractor of each of the four makes manufactured in the early 1950s: the wide-front, dual front, single-wheel front and high-crop.”
As he became more familiar with the line, that goal became less important. He learned he could make a single-wheel model by switching it with the dual wheel. Plus, only 150 Minneapolis-Moline-Avery high-crops were manufactured, making that model a tough find. “I missed out buying one recently because I didn’t get the ad in time,” he says. “It’s just flat hard to find. I haven’t seen or heard about one since. I’ve kind of decided to stick with the two of them.”
At one point or another Wayne has had four 1951 Minneapolis-Moline-Avery tractors: the pair he has now, a Model BF dual front wheel with good rubber (which he got running, painted and sold), and another 1951 BFD dual that he’s been parting out. “Parts are very expensive if you have them shipped in,” he says, “so this works for me.”
In recent years, Wayne’s turned his focus to MM memorabilia. “I’m 77 years old, and I can’t do this tractor stuff all my life,” he says. “Plus the memorabilia is a lot easier to carry.” It’s hard to find, though. “It’s like pulling teeth,” he says, “but you run out of teeth after a while.” Watch fobs are among his favorite pieces; he also has a pocket watch featuring a Minneapolis-Moline Model R with a single front wheel.
It’s funny, the way things turn out. When Wayne was a teenager one of his friends was Gerald Hoffman, brother of the owner of Hoffman Implement. The two boys occasionally visited the dealership on their school lunch break. “One day a Standard U, the one that my brother bought, was sitting in the showroom, and right alongside it was that 1951 MM-Avery BFD. Sitting side-by-side, I thought the MM-Avery was pretty ugly,” he recalls a lifetime later. “But now I own a couple of them.” FC
For more information: Wayne Gunsolus, 31660 West County Line Rd., Pemberton, MN 56078; (507) 317-4866.
Bill Vossler is a freelance writer and author of several books on antique farm tractors and toys. Contact him at Box 372, 400 Caroline Ln., Rockville, MN 56369; email: firstname.lastname@example.org.