Gold: A precious metal; The color of kings and royalty. The color of vast fields of ripe wheat shimmering under the bright sun and cloudless skies of the prairie states.
Prairie Gold: The color Minneapolis-Moline selected for its machines to differentiate them from other manufacturers’ equipment.
Bright colored tractors adorned fields beginning in the late 1930s. Even then, tractor manufacturers used design and color to set their products apart. Farmers felt considerable loyalty toward various tractor brands, and manufacturers did not want anyone to confuse their product with that of another line. Because of the design and color combination, most farmers soon learned to identify tractor brands in a quick glance.
For instance, Farmall was all red with silver wheel rims. John Deere was Granny Smith apple green with bright yellow wheels. Olivers were clad in dark green with red wheels. Massey-Harris chose bright red with yellow wheels. Allis-Chalmers used Persian red. Minneapolis-Moline stood out with Prairie Gold paint on the sheet metal and a blood-red tone on the wheels and radiator grille.
Both sides of the family
At today’s antique tractor shows, those golden tractors still stand out. In 2010, the Farm Days show in Mount Gilead, Ohio, featured Minneapolis-Moline. Among the exhibitors were Dale and Debbie Elder, Clarks Mills, Pa., showing a 1937 Model Z row-crop and a 1940 Model R standard with cab.
The Elders brought along mascots as well and those generated plenty of attention – especially “Uncle Harry” driving the row-crop tractor. A distinguished looking fellow, Harry sported wire-rimmed glasses, a suit (complete with white shirt and tie) and straw hat. Driving the standard tread Model R was another mannequin dressed as a farmer in bib overalls and ball cap.
Debbie explained that the blood running in the Elders’ veins is not red but gold – Prairie Gold. Debbie’s grandfather, Bob Peterman, began selling the Minneapolis-Moline line out of his gas station in Sheakleyville, Pa., in the 1940s. A few years later, he quit and Dale’s uncle, Harry Elder, took over, selling the line from his father’s farm. Before long, he moved the operation to Clarks Mills. His brother, Don, ran the parts department and another brother, Harold, was the lead mechanic.
Harry spent many days driving the back roads, stopping to visit with farmers, talking about their crops and livestock, asking what they might need to improve their farm operation, offering friendship, help if he could provide it and great deals on farm equipment.
He eventually outgrew the facilities in Clarks Mills and moved the business to Stoneboro, Pa. He continued to sell the MM line until the company was taken over by White Motor Co. When White folded, Harry began selling John Deere tractors and equipment.
Restoring the Model R
Debbie’s father, Glenn Peterman, worked with his father, and he too was bitten by the MM bug. Eventually, Glenn moved his family to a 110-acre farm near Sheakleyville where he farmed with Minneapolis tractors and started a tractor collection that grew to about 100 MM tractors. In failing health, he set a goal of hosting the Prairie Gold Rush winter convention in March 1995. He died in August 1994, but the event proceeded as planned and was in fact held in his honor.
Glenn had hoped to display a 1940 Model R standard with cab at the winter convention. He and his sons worked together on the restoration, but the project stalled out after his death. In June 2004, Dale and Debbie brought the Model R out of storage with the intention of completing the restoration. Finishing touches were applied in June 2007, just in time for the 2007 Prairie Gold summer show in Rochester, Ind. – held, appropriately, on Father’s Day weekend.
From that first show with the Model R, the Elders never looked back. They’ve completed several other tractors since. The first was a 1951 Model U that originally belonged to Dale’s dad, Howard Elder. Howard had sold the big U to Debbie’s dad, Glenn, who used it in his farming operation for many years. The Model U was the first Minneapolis-Moline at the Elders’ house, so they dubbed it “The Golden Heirloom Tractor.” The couple has also restored a 1968 Model G 900 gas tractor that Glenn and Dale found at an Indiana auction in the early 1970s. After farming with it for several years, they sold it to a farmer in a neighboring county. When it later appeared on an auction offering, the Elders bought it and brought it home again.
Rough and ready
Minneapolis-Moline produced not only brightly colored equipment but also rugged machines. The product line included three sizes of row-crop tractors with 4-cylinder engines: the 2-plow Model R, the 2- to 3-plow Model Z and the 3- to 4-plow Model U. The company also produced a rugged 6-cylinder standard tread 4- to 5-plow Model G for large farms and wheatland farmers.
With their long-stroke engines, MM tractors would lug down and keep going during tough work where other tractors might stall out or drivers would have to shift to a lower gear. To paraphrase John Cameron Swayze in his ad for Timex watches, “these tractors can take a mugging and keep on lugging.” MM pioneered the use of LPG (liquid petroleum gas) in its tractors in 1941. Other agricultural manufacturers soon followed suit.
Add to this array of tractors the company’s harvesting machines, such as the heavy combines, hay balers (the Bale-O-Matic) and corn pickers. MM also produced machines designed for custom work, such as the portable PTO-powered corn sheller.
Ahead of the rest
A leader in innovation, MM designed what it considered to be an all-purpose tractor, the UDLX Comfortractor, in 1938. The UDLX was a first-class machine built decades before its time. In an era when tractors of the day were completely devoid of creature comforts, the UDLX offered a cab, lights, cigarette lighter, radio, passenger jump seat, heater, full-vent windshield, roll-down wide windows, cab-mounted spotlight, foot accelerator, automobile-like styling and road speeds of up to 35-40 mph. Suspicious of luxury in their tractors (and likely put off by the $1,900 [$30,525 today] price tag), farmers rejected the newcomer. The tractor flopped in the marketplace – only about 100 of the 150 built were sold – and it was soon removed from the product line.
In about 1939, MM offered the Model R with cab that also traveled at road speed. This tractor could be equipped with a front-mounted, 2-row cultivator. It sold slightly better than the UDLX, but was pulled from the offering in 1941.
In the 1950s, MM developed a 3-wheel machine called the Uni-Harvestor. The Uni-Tractor was intended to be the chassis and power unit for a complete line of self-propelled farm harvesters. The lineup included a Uni-Foragor (forage harvester), Uni-Harvestor (combine) and Uni-Picker (corn picker). Later additions included a Uni-Baler (hay baler) and a Uni-Sheller (corn sheller). New Idea Spreader Co., Coldwater, Ohio, bought the Uni-Harvestor in 1962.
To enter the small tractor market with minimal engineering and start-up costs, Minneapolis-Moline bought B.F. Avery Co., Louisville, Ky., in 1951. Avery’s 1- to 2-bottom plow was the Model R. To avoid confusion with the MM Model R, the Avery product was renamed the Model BF.
In 2011, the Elders displayed tractors in Pennsylvania, Ohio, New York and Michigan. “We enjoy sharing our love for these golden tractors and hope they help keep the memory of the Prairie Gold alive,” Debbie says. When you plan your show schedule for 2012, check for a show that features Prairie Gold tractors. It will be a sight to behold and maybe, if you’re lucky, you’ll see Uncle Harry and the Elders. FC
For more information: Dale and Debbie Elder, 308 Laver Rd., Clarks Mills, PA 16114; (724) 253-2362; email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
James N. Boblenz grew up on a farm near New Bloomington, Ohio. He now lives in Marion, Ohio, and is interested in antique farm equipment, particularly rare and lesser-known tractors and related items. Email him at email@example.com.