One of a Kind: Minneapolis-Moline UDLX

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This handsomely restored Minneapolis-Moline UDLX sold for $200,000 at the Mecum Auctions "Gone Farmin'" sale in Michigan in 2016.
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The Minneapolis-Moline UDLX Comfortractor stands in a class by itself.
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"As a tractor, (the UDLX) performed nearly as well as the U model, which itself proved exceptional," wrote Daniel Strohl in a 2005 article in Hemmings Classic Car. "It was a really good three-plow tractor, and most tractors of that day were two-plow."
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The Comfortractor featured a shift-on-the-fly five-speed transmission and a foot throttle.
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Never mind the wholesome young girl in overalls or words of wisdom from "Minnie Moline" — "Take your choice. Get the MM Special with or without cab, but better get your order in early. First come, first served" — farmers gave the UDLX the cold shoulder.

Considered by many to be the holy grail of tractor collecting, the Minneapolis-Moline UDLX is one of the most sought-after collectable tractors of all time. The best estimates are that 150 were made by Minneapolis-Moline between 1938 and 1941. Very few were delivered to actual farmers who, as company advertising suggested, could work them in their fields by day and drive them to town in the evening.

The marketing strategy predicted the UDLX Comfortractor would appeal to young people and help to keep them on the farm, but the tractor’s unique design fell flat and was never accepted by farmers of any age. Most of those sold were driven by custom threshermen able to scoot between jobs, towing the thresher at 40 mph. Stories recount Minneapolis-Moline zone managers driving Comfortractors when they visited dealerships, but that appears to have been a rare event, indeed.

Leader in innovation

Minneapolis-Moline tractors were immediately recognizable by their Prairie Gold color. They helped break the prairies at the dawn of the 20th century and were a factor in moving farming toward mechanization into the 1960s. M-M, as the company was known, began operations in 1929 with the merger of three firms: Minneapolis Threshing Machine Co., Moline Plow Co. and Minneapolis Steel & Machinery Co.

As Minneapolis-Moline, the company was also known for innovation: M-M produced the first tractor with a selfstarter, was the first to use LPG fuel, built the first articulated tractor and, with the UDLX, produced the first enclosed factory cab.

The UDLX (or U-Deluxe) Comfortractor was a version of the M-M Model U Series tractors, their “top of the line” four-plow tractor: the UTU – row crop; UTS – standard-tread; UDLX – Comfortractor; UDOPN – roadster; UTIL – industrial (with a shuttle shift), and the UB – an improved U.

As with others of the U Series, power for the Model UDLX came from an overhead-valve, 4-cylinder high-compression 283.7-cubic-inch engine (4-1/4in x 5in bore and stroke). It produced 41-1/2 belt hp and 37.8 drawbar hp at 1,275 rpm; 1,785 rpm was available for road travel. The UDLX weighed about 6,400 pounds. Rear tires were 34 x 8, fronts were 6.00- 16. A total of 21-1/2 gallons of gasoline was available from the tank, plus a 2-1/2-gallon reserve.

Dry — but noisy and hot

The UDLX’s fully enclosed cab offered comfortable protection from the weather during road trips, but was unusually noisy and hot. The windshields and door could be opened for ventilation. All glass was safety glass. Rubber floor mats were provided.

The cab was made of steel sheet metal, but the internal structure was wood. The cab itself could be deleted, although it is not known if any of these “roadsters” were delivered that way. Cabs were later offered for other versions of the Model U. Because there was no hydraulic system, for control of trailed implements, the back door had to remain open.

“Once running, heat built up quickly inside the steel cabin,” wrote Daniel Strohl in Hemmings Classic Car, April 2005. “Tip-out windshields, using locking Ford window slides, provided some ventilation, but the side windows remained fixed. Many owners removed the hood to help the tractor run cooler and also removed the door to help reduce the cab’s interior temperature. The enclosed cabin amplified the noises that came from transmissions as they aged.”

Standard equipment for the UDLX included a starter, hot-water heater, electric windshield wipers, sun visors, horn, dome light, glove box, headlights with dimmer switch, spot light/work light, taillight with brake light, cigarette lighter, ashtray and a rear-view mirror (which included a clock). An optional radio could be mounted on the dash above the steering wheel.

Four gauges were provided on the dash: fuel level, water temperature, oil pressure and an ammeter, plus a speedometer with an odometer. Seating for two was provided. A belt pulley was mentioned in advertising, but not seen on examples. One probably could have been mounted in the rear.

Known for waddling

A second “stick” on the transmission hump of the UDLX decoupled the bottom two of the five forward gears for highway travel. It also reset the governor to 1,785 rpm, which allowed speeds up to 40 mph. The transmission was then “shift-on-the-fly” but required double-clutching since synchronizers were not provided.

Speeds in the various gears: 1st, 2.7 mph; 2nd, 3.5 mph; 3rd, 4.7 mph; 4th, 10.2 mph; 5th, 40 mph; reverse, 3 mph. Semi-self-energizing mechanical brakes with 16-inch drums were provided on the rear wheels only. There was no suspension on either axle, making high-speed travel problematic except on smooth highways. Nevertheless, the UDLX tended to waddle down the road.

Entrance and exit were made through the rear door. The passenger seat remained folded against the right wall until the operator and passenger were in place, and then it would be unfolded. When pulling an implement, such as a plow, the back door remained open, allowing the operator to access the levers or trip rope.

“It took a manly man to withstand the abuses doled out by driving such an ox,” noted Strohl in the 2005 Hemmings article. “Despite the low cab height compared to today’s tractors, the farmer still had to climb up over the rear power take-off, which spun just inches from his leg while driving. He had to climb over the jump-seat and wedge himself in amid the back of the engine, the transmission and the rear axle.”

UDLX lives on — in small numbers

The Minneapolis-Moline UDLX is most unique among American classic tractors in that it was designed for use on highways and in the field. Of the 150 built in the model’s four-year production run, perhaps as many as 40 remain. Many were lost to World War II scrap metal drives.

By 1940, just two-thirds of production had been sold. The remaining inventory was returned to the factory, cabs removed and converted into Model U tractors, which sold for around $1,000, about $900 less than the baseprice UDLX.

Half of the known survivors have undergone extensive restoration. Those who have tackled such a project will say that it was not an inexpensive job. One of the main difficulties results from the fact that the tractor’s cab structure was made of wood. Wood is particularly vulnerable to the passage of time, and dry rot in structure members is a common problem.

The M-M Model U was not a low-cost machine in any form, but the UDLX was about half again more costly than the other versions. The original UDLX price of about $2,200 (roughly $37,000 today) put the model in a premium category: a new John Deere Model A could have been had for less than half that price.

Two restored UDLX tractors are known to be in museum collections (Keystone Truck and Tractor Museum, Colonial Heights, Virginia, and Saskatchewan Western Development Museum, in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan). The rest are in private hands.

It seems unlikely that inexpensive “barn finds” remain to be found, given the model’s widespread notoriety, but auction prices sometimes approaching the $200,000 mark make restorers salivate over the possibility. FC

Point, Counter-Point

“… (the Minneapolis-Moline UDLX) really is quite revolutionary in style and design for comfort. I couldn’t help comparing it with the farming implements I used as a boy back on our farm in Ohio. We have come a long way in developing labor-saving machinery for the farmer, and now he can ride on a cushioned seat in a temperature-controlled cab and listen to the news of the world on his radio, while doing his plowing!”

— Tom L. Wheeler, The Indiana Farmer’s Guide, Oct. 8, 1938

“Minneapolis-Moline introduced, amid much fanfare of its own, the UDLX Comfortractor to a crowd of about 12,000 farmers in 1938. The tractor nearly immediately flopped. Farmers, still struggling with the Depression and well known for their thrifty hardiness, balked at the $1,900 price tag. At the time, the Model U and comparable John Deeres cost about $1,000. A 1938 Ford Deluxe Tudor sedan, by comparison, sold new for $725.”

— Daniel Strohl, Hemmings Classic Car, April 2005

After 36 years in the aircraft industry, Bob Pripps returned to his first love and began writing about tractors. He has authored some 30 books on the subject and several magazine articles. Pripps has a maple syrup farm near Park Falls, Wisconsin. In harvesting the maple sap, he relies on a Ford Jubilee and a Massey Ferguson 85.

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