The Moline-Universal Model D: Early entry into motor-farming market marked by innovation

| April 2005

When the Moline Plow Co. (MPC) of Moline, Ill., purchased the Universal Tractor Manufacturing Co. of Columbus, Ohio, in 1915, the companies were no strangers. For a number of years, MPC had been building plows specifically designed for and sold with Universal's Model 10-12 Motor Cultivator. Eager to enter the motor-farming market, MPC prudently concluded it could better purchase a tractor than design one from scratch. Initially, MPC sold a 2-cylinder Moline-Universal tractor built in Columbus, but in mid-1916, with their new factory up and running in Moline, all tractor production was moved from Ohio. Two-cylinder models of the Universal were built at least into the late teens of the 20th century.

MPC's big tractor was the 4-cylinder Universal Model D, first introduced in 1917, with a 4-cylinder engine supplied by the Root & VanDervoort Engineering Co. of Moline. By the end of that year, MPC sold the Model D with a 192 cubic-inch-displacement engine of its own design. These tractors were rated for 2- to 3-bottom plows, depending on soil type, with an advertised 9 hp at the drawbar and 18 hp at the optional belt pulley. The stout 4-cycle overhead-valve engine featured pressurized lubrication, a drop-forged high carbon steel crank with 2-1/2-inch diameter crank pins, 3-1/2-inch bore, and 5-inch stroke. The engine was electrically governed from about 800 to 1,800 RPM using a Remy governor with potentiometer control. This wide range of engine speed allowed the tractor to be designed with single forward and reverse gears.

The Moline-Universal Model D was innovative in 1917 because it featured electric starting, ignition and speed control. It came standard with a headlamp, and its entire drivetrain was enclosed, with several components bathed in oil. MPC chose the forerunner in automotive electronics, the Remy Co., for major electrical components, along with Champion spark plugs and a Willard Co. battery. The heavy-duty, three-plate dry-disc clutch was a proven Borg & Beck Co. unit that required only periodic adjusting. The maintenance-free thermo-siphon cooling system employed an oversized radiator manufactured by the Modine-Spirex Co., and a fan driven by a belt off the engine's crankshaft. A Bennet Co. air cleaner removed dust from intake air as it was drawn into the Holley automatic carburetor to be mixed with atomized fuel for combustion.

The Model D tipped the scales at about 3,400 pounds, still lighter than most tractors of the day. With the engine and transmission located above the 52-inch diameter lugged drive wheels (right wheel with concrete weight), the tractor had no shortage of traction. When additional flotation was needed, the Model D's wheels could be equipped with 6-inch-wide rim extensions, increasing their contact patch from 8 to 14 inches. In any condition, if extra traction was needed, the operator needed only to engage the differential lock, which was standard.

As the Model D required a rear attachment to provide rear wheels, it was offered with one of several mold-board or disc plows as standard equipment. Optionally, a rear carrying truck, harrows, lister, cultivators, mowers, binders and other attachments were available. The Model D and carrying truck could also be used together to pull any number of horse-drawn implements. MPC literature claimed the Model D would take the place of six horses, but its purchase didn't require replacing every animal-drawn implement a farmer already owned.

By 1924, Moline Implement Co. (name change due to MPC restructuring) experienced financial difficulty and exited the tractor market by selling the Universal Tractor plant to International Harvester. The down-sized company again focused on the implement business, merging with the Minneapolis Steel & Machinery Co. and the Minneapolis Threshing Machine Co. in 1929 to form the Minneapolis-Moline Power Implement Co.