Young collector-turned-businessman delves into Minneapolis-Moline garden tractor history.
Jay Stamm, 19, mines for long-buried nuggets of Minneapolis-Moline history. A 10-year-old's fascination with lawn and garden tractors has grown into a full-blown business for the north-central Kansas teenager. He restores prized relics, and he ships salvaged parts to Minneapolis-Moline garden tractor owners around the country.
And now, Jay is on a mission to help create a reference listing for serial numbers from the small tractors MM only offered between 1962 and 1969. The company's garden tractor serial number records were destroyed or misplaced when the company ceased to exist, rather than being preserved with other Minneapolis-Moline records at the Minnesota Historical Society. To date, Jay's collected more than 200 serial numbers from 24 states and Canada.
As the popularity of collecting the little tractors grows, Jay says, so does the importance of being able to authenticate a true Minneapolis-Moline from other brands made by Jacobsen Mfg. in the 1960s.
"If you don't have a serial number plate, you can't always tell whether it's an actual Moline or one that's just been painted Moline colors," he says. "Jacobsen built identical garden tractors for Ford, Minneapolis-Moline and themselves during the 1960s, with the main differences being the paint schemes, the serial number plates and their numbering sequences."
Jay gleaned some information from price sheets provided by other MM garden tractor enthusiasts. He's also trying to locate former MM employees who might know about the garden tractor records.
Jay followed his dad and granddad to Minneapolis-Moline shows from the time he could walk. When he was 10, he met Alan Goodwin, Platte City, Mo., at a show and saw his garden tractor display. Inspired, Jay saved his money. At age 12, he bought his first garden tractor: a decrepit 1965 10 hp model he found on a used implement lot near his Washington, Kan., home. "It ran, but the paint was really bad," Jay recalls.
That first lawn tractor is still one of his personal favorites … in part because it turned out to be rare. "I later learned that the white band trim on the grille of that tractor is a unique design only found in the 1965 models," he says. So far, he's recorded the serial numbers of just two other 1965 110s.
Those numbers are key to values. In 1965, Minneapolis-Moline garden tractors sold new for $683. By 1969, the hydrostat model was priced at $1,143 (without a mower deck). The company marketed a full line of attachments for the little tractors, from snow blowers to cultivators.
Today, unrestored garden tractors start at about $500. Those in better condition, particularly hydrostat models, Jay says, may go for as much as $1,200 or more. "A really nice restored Moline garden tractor could be worth as much as $2,000," he estimates.
Before long, business deals began to support Jay's hobby. "I needed parts, so I started buying extra garden tractors to fix mine up," he says. "Then people started asking me if I could find parts for them, so I kept buying extra Molines and selling them." What started small has today grown into StaMM Tractors.
His parts business includes reproduction seats, battery covers, grille screens and decals, all of which are produced exclusively for Jay's business, and which are not sold through other outlets. His sales area spans 22 states and Canada. For collectors, Jay provides a valuable service.
"There's only one or two parts you could get from a dealer, or maybe if you're lucky, an older dealer might know what you're talking about and find it on a back shelf," he says. "Mostly, if you can't find salvaged parts, you've got to make them. They don't even make the tires for some models anymore."
Jay often hits the garden tractor mother lode by accident. Once, after hearing Jay speak about garden tractors, a collector at a Minneapolis-Moline convention tipped him off to a good deal on unique MM garden tractors and attachments several states away. Jay's dad, Clint, had a customer coming through that area with an empty trailer, and he agreed to transport the load for Jay.
"Dad's network of friends and fellow MM collectors around the country have helped me a lot," he says. Other MM collectors learn of him through word of mouth, advertisements he's placed in collector publications, or through his garden tractor website: www.stammtractors.com
Along the way, Jay's hobby-turned-business helped him develop friendships with other MM collectors. Alan Goodwin, fellow Kansan Roger Kinne and Ron Becker, Plymouth, Minn., became mentors for the young collector. Ron, who owns at least one of every model of MM garden tractor ever made, says Jay's serial number project is a boon to enthusiasts.
"I'm glad to see younger people take an interest in collecting," Ron, 65, says. "Jay's out to help everybody, he's willing to learn and he's willing to jump in and go into an area where no one else has ventured."
Jay , with help from other Minneapolis-Moline garden tractor fans, is working to compile a reference guide to help collectors determine if their little tractor is real "gold."
Some serial number data can be obtained from 1960s-era MM price lists and manuals. But Jay is taking the process a step further and compiling individual serial numbers taken from MM garden tractors he has seen in person or in photos, or has learned of from descriptions and serial numbers provided to him by owners.
Jay believes a reference guide will help educate collectors. He plans to include photos of what each model should look like, explain what the digits within the serial number mean and provide other facts to help collectors recognize authentic MM models.
For instance, 1962 and 1963 models were tagged as 100s, painted brown and had 7 hp engines. In 1964, the company painted the tractors yellow and boosted them to 8 and 10 hp. In 1967, the mowers came out with a 12 hp engine. The popular 100s were reincarnated in 1968, as 107s painted yellow. The final model introduced, a 114 in 1969, was "a big seller," Jay says. The company also produced a line of implements for garden tractors: snow plows, discs, harrows, snow blowers and tillers.
When it comes to restoration, it's a matter of personal preference. "What's original or acceptable becomes a matter of opinion," he says. "I can sometimes locate salvage Fords or Jacobsens more easily and cheaply than Molines, so I might use a Ford hood to restore a Moline without compromising the brand, so long as I don't switch the framework that carries the serial number sticker or plate.
"I believe as these little tractors become more collectible, providing buyers with tips to watch for - like tags and paint schemes that don't match suggested ranges, or tractors without any serial number identification at all - is very important in order for authentic tractor collections to be worth top dollar."
Jay's interest in vintage equipment has spawned numerous opportunities for the rural Kansas youth. In 2002, Jay applied for a grant from the Minneapolis-Moline Collectors Inc. Preservation Grant program. He received $650 to restore a 1965 10 hp garden tractor. In 2003, he applied again, and received $1,000 to put toward restoration of a 1969 114 hydro.
His hobby has also helped Jay hone his public speaking skills, and brought him state and national attention in the FFA organization. He was a national winner in the Agri-Entrepreneurship program in 2005, and in 2006, with the help of vocational agriculture instructor John Kern, achieved his personal goal of being named FFA Star Agribusinessman for the state of Kansas.
It's poetic justice that a Minneapolis-Moline maven would have a last name that includes the famous double M. There's no mistaking the Stamm family's rural residence, with MM logos emblazoned on buildings and a brick welcome sign in the front yard, evidence of the family's other enterprise, a masonry business. The only place you probably won't find evidence of the Stamm family's fascination with Minneapolis-Moline is in the neatly manicured lawn.
"Oh no, we don't use any of my garden tractors to mow," Jay says with a laugh. "At least not the restored ones. I wouldn't want something to happen to them." FC
For information on contributing serial numbers to the Minneapolis-Moline registry, or for help finding numbers on your garden tractor, contact Jay Stamm, 2154 17th Road, Washington, KS 66968; (785) 325-2720; email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Deb Hadachek writes from her family's farm in north central Kansas. Her work has appeared in Farm Collector, Farm and Ranch Living and Kansas!. Write her at email@example.com
Jay Stamm got more than funding from a grant program established by the Minneapolis-Moline Collectors Inc., a group dedicated to preservation of Minneapolis-Moline history.
"Receiving these grant funds changed my life," Jay says. "Being involved with the program spilled over into other areas of my life in a positive way. I'm kind of shy and don't like public speaking, but once I shared what I'd learned about garden tractors for the first time, I noticed that people were really interested, and it gave me confidence to continue to tell others."
While the program is aimed at a new generation of collectors, grant applicants can be any age. Grants are awarded to individuals and groups. Eligible projects include restoration of tractors and implements, oral histories, research into company history and displays. The association recently expanded the grant program to encourage more oral and video interviews of persons with relevant, historical information on MM companies and their products. Grant recipients must create a display to be shown at the MMCI Winter or Summer Show.
For more information on the preservation grant program, select the Projects link on the Minneapolis website: www.minneapolismolinecollectors.org
- Farm Collector staff