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

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In profile the Model D looks very much like a 2-wheeled walking tractor with a sulky-mounted plow in tow. What is deceiving about this advertising image is how large the tractor really is.
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The text in this advertisement refers to horses, not other tractors. Note the Universal is pulling a Moline Plow Co. reaper and the steering shaft has been extended through a universal joint to extend the wheel back to the operator’s station on the reaper.

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

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.

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