Minnesota-Based Tractor Companies

Since about 1905, 112 different tractor-manufacturing firms have called Minnesota home

| January 2004

The honor for the most tractor manufacturers goes to the state of Minnesota.

Best-known as the land of 10,000 lakes, the northern state has unofficially birthed 112 different tractor-manufacturing firms since about 1905. For comparison, industrial Ohio, agricultural Wisconsin and farmland-rich Iowa produced 81, 60 and 38 different tractor companies, respectively.

The Minneapolis-Moline Co.

A handful of those Minnesota tractor companies are very well known, such as the Minneapolis-Moline Co. The company was formed in 1929 by the merger of Moline Plow Co. of Moline, Ill., and two Minnesota tractor companies (Minneapolis Threshing Machine Co. of Hopkins, Minn., and Minneapolis Steel & Machinery Co. of Minneapolis).

The company manufactured – among others – the UDLX Comfortractor, designed so farmers could work in the comfort of an enclosed cab during the day, and drive the family into town on weekends. Farmers rejected the novel concept – only 125 or so were sold – but their rarity makes them more collectible. In fact, one recently sold at auction for the tidy sum of $111,000 (read more, “Going ... Going ... Gone!”).

Minneapolis Threshing Machine Co. originally sold steam traction engines, but the firm built tractors starting in 1912, ranging from the 22,500-pound Model 40-80, down through the 6,400-pound Minneapolis All-Purpose Model 12-25. Minneapolis Steel & Machinery Co. manufactured the well-known line of Twin City tractors between 1913-1920, which sported round, horizontal radiators and a large TC logo on the sides.

Prior to 1920, the company specialized in extremely large tractors such as the 28,000-pound Twin City Model 60-90 – which sold for an astounding $6,000 in 1917 – and the Model 40-65, which weighed 23,300 pounds and could pull up to 10,280 pounds. These behemoths usually pulled heavy breaking plows in the virgin sod of the prairie states. Minneapolis Steel & Machinery Co. also manufactured smaller tractors such as the 12-20 and 17-28 models.

The Pioneer Tractor Co.

Other well-known Minnesota tractor companies included the Pioneer Tractor Co. of Winona, Minn., that built the luxurious Pioneer Model 30-60 tractor. It came equipped with curtains in the cab, removable windows and 8-foot-high rear drive wheels.

Pioneer also produced the prototype Model 45-90 with 9-foot-high rear drive wheels. One farmer joked that when the Model 30-60 misfired, the owner saved a quart of gasoline. A Pioneer Model 30-60 in average condition is worth about $40,000, according to C.H. Wendel’s Standard Catalog of Farm Tractors.

The Bull Tractor Co.

Then there was the Bull Tractor Co., whose meteoric rise and fall from first to forlorn was among the fastest in tractor history. Within a year of the Little Bull tractor’s introduction in late 1913, the company led the market in tractors sold.

Four years later, persistent mechanical problems in the Little Bull – and its tendency to tip – led most farmers to return the machines to the company, subsequently sinking the business.

The Kinnard-Haines Co.

Kinnard-Haines Co. of Minneapolis manufactured the well-known and successful Flour City tractors in several sizes. The firm also turned out giants like the 21,000-pound Flour City Model 40-70 in 1910, down to the Flour City Junior and Junior Model 14-24, which weighed “only” 6,700 pounds.

Various Minneapolis-based companies

Minnesota companies also included Gas Traction Co., which made the Big Four tractor, P.J. Downes Co., which manufactured the Liberty tractor, but was better-known as a manufacturer of tractors for other Minnesota companies, as well as a tractor distributor, and the Nilson Tractor Co. and the Strife Tractor Co. All these companies operated out of Minneapolis, to varying degrees of success.

The companies of Harry W. Adams: Adam-Farnham Tractor Co. and Common Sense Tractor Co.

Besides equipment makers that gained attention far beyond Minnesota, the state also was home to many lesser-known tractor companies. The Adams-Farnham Tractor Co. built the Adams-Farnham tractor in 1909 and 1910. This gasoline tractor weighed 11,000 pounds, but quickly disappeared from the market.

One of its inventors, Harry W. Adams, resurfaced in 1915 in another Minneapolis concern, the Common Sense Tractor Co., which astounded the tractor world by actually testing the proposed machine in the field – in this case, North Dakota – and ironing out kinks before it was sold on the market.


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