The story of Michael Moeller’s collection of Minneapolis-Moline tractors is the story of how an entire family got hooked on one brand. “A Minneapolis-Moline dealership, Bernsen Farm Equipment, was located 5 miles from Rosebud, Texas, where my grandfather, Manard Moeller Sr., lived,” the 33-year-old CPA says. “There was another dealer about 15 miles away.”
Manard liked Moline tractors because they were heavily built, quality tractors that had a lot of torque and quite a bit of power. In 1950, he bought a Minneapolis-Moline ZA, a tractor with a single front wheel. “Ever since he bought that Moline,” Michael says, “my dad and brothers and the whole family have been partial to those Moline tractors, both big and small.” Michael and his family have about 30 big Molines in their collection, including some rare models.
“That ZA originally came as a gas tractor, but grandpa converted it to propane,” Michael says. “Over the next 12 years, three more tractors were bought with factory propane. He never bought a diesel until it was his only option.”
Michael says he’s heard northern collectors say propane tractors in general are scarce, but that’s not the case in Texas. “I’d say anywhere from 60 to 80 percent of the 1950s-era tractors in Texas were propane,” he says, “because propane was easy to get with all the refineries down here.”
The ZA was used for general farm work, including stripping cotton. In 1972 Michael’s grandmother took a picture of the tractor in the cotton fields. “That was when it was actually used on the farm,” Michael recalls, “long before anybody ever thought of restoring it.” In 1998, Michael’s uncle, Lewis Moeller, restored the ZA, repainted it and converted it back to gas.
Raised on Moline
The family got Michael interested in Molines early. “When I was 3 years old, they gave me the only farm toy I had as a kid, a Minneapolis-Moline G1000 Mighty Mini Puller tractor,” Michael says. “I still have it, though it’s in well-played-with condition.” He used the toy extensively in the dirt, pretending to have a plow and other implements.
Boyhood visits to tractor pulls also made an influence. “When I was 7 years old, we’d go to tractor pulls and I was impressed with what the Molines did,” Michael says. “They won a lot.”
But then tractor pulling fell off. Michael didn’t attend another pull until 1997, when once again he saw Molines performing well. He started thinking about getting some of his own to restore. Two years later, Michael’s father, Raymond Moeller, happened on to a 1954 MM UB Diesel (one of the first diesels Moline made) about two hours from Rosebud. “Grandpa had purchased a UB Special new in 1956, but that was on propane,” Michael says, “and finally finding one with a diesel was a super great discovery.”
The seller wanted $250 for the diesel. Michael asked his dad whether he had written the check, but Raymond said he wasn’t sure Michael wanted the tractor. “About two weeks later we went out there and bought it,” he recalls. “It came in several pieces. We basically loaded the tractor up on the trailer and the engine in parts, the head and the block, on back of the pickup and brought it home.”
From there, it took about two years to get it running. “It hasn’t been restored, but it’s really fun to take to tractor pulls because it wins about 90 percent of the time. So that’s kind of how I got started in tractors.”
An embarrassment of riches
Michael admits his family sometimes takes an interest in too many Molines at once. “Unfortunately, when we buy tractors we intend to restore them, but instead of finishing one restoration,” Michael says, “we go ahead and start on another one, so we always have four or five that need repairs, more just outside the shed, and we’re always buying more.”
In May 2005, for instance, they learned of a rare 1968 G1000 Rice Special FWA tractor for sale, a machine Michael wanted. He was willing to pay up to $2,000 for this sought-after tractor (only 89 were made, according to one source), but discovered to his surprise the owner wanted only $200. “He knew he wouldn’t have time to get it going, so instead of selling it for a big check and having it shipped away where he would never see it again, he gave us a good deal on it because he wanted to see it run.”
Additionally, the seller had six other Moline tractors he wanted to get rid of so he could clean up the property. “That meant seven tractors for $1,100,” Michael says. It presented a nice challenge, he adds, because most of the tractors’ cylinders needed to be rebored and head work was needed. “But that’s kind of a fun winter project,” he says.
Moline tractor parts are very interchangeable, Michael says, which makes them easy to work on. “If you know your Moline tractors,” he says, “you know which pistons and blocks and heads will interchange with others.” He says it’s possible the head off a 1966 Moline gas tractor will bolt on a Moline from 1937, if they were the right tractors. Or if the bolt patterns are the same, a larger crankshaft can be bolted right up to the flywheel of a smaller Moline tractor for additional power for pulling. “That’s a pretty neat thing about these Molines.”
The Moellers have picked up all their Molines in Texas, three-quarters of them within a 100-mile radius of Rosebud. “Those seven we bought were only 20 miles away,” Michael says. The family’s collection includes a 1967 G1000 Vista, which belongs to Michael’s uncles, Manard Moeller Jr. and Lewis Moeller. “They weren’t really looking for a Vista,” Michael notes, “but bought it because it was a Moline and it had a pretty good price on it, and only 564 of them were made.”
The family has a 1967 G1000 Row Crop Diesel bought strictly because it was a Moline. “We bought that one back when we only had seven or eight of them, before the collection was really started. Nowadays we wouldn’t be nearly as interested in it.”
They also have a 1966 G1000 LP with a dozer blade and brush rack. “That tractor was bought new in 1966, and was the primary farm tractor until 1978, used to cultivate, plant, disc and so on,” Michael says. “Sometimes it was used to push trees together, clear out brush, push dirt to make a crossing on a creek, that kind of stuff.”
That tractor represented a sea change for Michael’s grandfather, requiring the purchase of 6-row equipment instead of the former 4-row. “That 1966 G1000 LP was a big improvement over the UB Special, which he had farmed with since 1956.”
Another neat Moline in the Moeller collection is the 1966 Jet Star 3 Industrial: Only 191 of that model were made. Michael’s uncle, Michael Carpenter, spotted it on his UPS route and they bought it for $150. “It’s not running, with a broken camshaft and connecting rod, and it’s missing a radiator and carburetor,” Michael says. “It’s not on the project list until we get parts for it. We bought it because of how rare it was and how close it was.”
When the Moellers bought the 1948 UTI, there was water in the rear end. Michael removed the oil filter (which turned out to be an original MM piece that went on the shelf), but couldn’t find the source of the water problem. Then he discovered that the rubber boot around the shift was bad. “Usually it just takes a little $8 boot and it’s rainproof again.”
The UTI gets a lot of attention at tractor pulls. “The first time I took it to a tractor pull last June it probably got more attention than any other tractor there,” Michael says, “because people had never seen a tractor like that before.”
Earning their keep
Besides being collectible, the Moeller Molines are also used on Michael’s father’s farm. “Our 1968 M670 Diesel gets used quite a bit for shredding and raking hay, and we’ve drilled wheat with it,” Michael says. “Now it’s primarily used to turn the grain auger. The 1964 M602 also turns a grain auger for my uncles, and the 1967 G900 has a forklift attachment on the back for unloading feed and pallets and that kind of stuff. They rebuilt the engine on the G900 three years ago, and now it runs really nice.” The LP tractors in the collection are no longer used, Michael says, but they are started once a year to lubricate the engines.
The Moellers also use a pair of Moline A4T 1600 Diesels with four-wheel drive, both about 1970 models. “My dad bought the yellow one in 1980 because he’d always wanted it, and restored and repainted it yellow that year, and used it quite a bit around the farm. He added a propane injection system to up the horsepower from 60 to 75, for discing through a tight spot in a field.” The tractor ran really hot with all that fuel going through it, so a gauge was added to monitor the exhaust temperature. “He probably used only 100 gallons of propane every three years or so.”
The red A4T was discovered when Raymond was looking for parts for his other A4T, and discovered an entire tractor for sale in south Texas. “They came red from the factory, but a lot of people restored them to Moline yellow,” Michael says.
Michael’s uncles and his cousins (Brandon Moeller and Eric Moeller) do much of the restoration work. Michael helps with reassembly, and says he’s learned a lot in the process. “With the UTI, the only one of our Molines with a magneto, I had to figure out how to make the magneto work,” he says. “That was a neat learning experience.”
Besides collecting Molines and using them on the farm, the Moellers love to take them to tractor pulls. “Tractor pulling took off down here about the spring of 2000,” Michael says. “There were seven or eight pulls within a 150-mile radius then. Now there is at least one per weekend from April to late October. Some weekends there are as many as four within 300 miles of here.”
The popularity of tractor pulls may be related to using antique tractors, those built before 1960. “You can take an old tractor that your dad or grandpa used out of the barn and see how it compares to others that are still close to stock,” Michael says. “Some of the tractors have been modified, but I think the real attraction for a lot of people is just using the old tractor and seeing what it can do.”
Moline people are like a family, Michael says. “When you show up with a Moline tractor at a tractor pull, 10 or 15 people crowd around your trailer even before you get it unloaded. Even though they are not the most popular tractor, and not everyone has them, the people that know about them really like them.”
The Moellers are no exception, though they’re not adding tractors to the collection as fast as they once did. “We’ve gotten to the point where unless it’s something we’re really looking for, and it would be useful on the farm, we don’t want to pay a lot of money for them,” Michael says, “because the newest Moline was built in 1973, and even the best technology from 1973 is pretty outdated nowadays. But that doesn’t stop us from really enjoying all those Molines we have.” FC
For more information: Michael Moeller, 599 County Road 347, Rosebud, TX 76570; (254) 773-5080.
Bill Vossler is a freelance writer and author of several books on antique farm tractors and toys. Contact him at Box 372, 400 Caroline Lane, Rockville, MN 56569; email: email@example.com