It All Started with a Minneapolis-Moline Tractor

or a Minnesota family, old iron becomes a shared hobby.

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by Bill Vossler
Ed Determan’s 1948 B.F. Avery Model A tractor. Photo by Bill Vossler
When Ed Determan attended the Almelund, Minnesota, Threshing Show seven years ago, he didn’t realize that one single event would change his life. “It’s only about 6 miles from our house in North Branch,” he says, “so my son, William, who was 3, and my father, Roger, and I went there and started walking around.”

Ed’s father grew up working on farms and had some tractors himself. At the show, he took a picture of his grandson next to a restored Minneapolis-Moline 445 tractor.

“My dad had a 445 in his backyard and the engine was stuck,” Ed says. “After I saw the one at the show, I thought, ‘I bet I could fix that one up and paint it, and make it look like that.'” As it turns out, he could – but it would take the next two years.

The project allowed him to spend more time with his father, who helped with the work. “We tore the engine down and it turned into a hobby pretty fast,” Ed says. But the project also resulted in a bit of stress. After getting underway, Ed learned that Minneapolis-Moline was the featured line at the next Almelund show.

“At that point, we only had a three-month window to get it torn down, sandblasted, painted and put together so we could take it to that show that year,” he says. “I worked on it for three or four hours every night with my dad,” he says. “It consumed me. My wife (Jaime) told me that on the next one, I should take my time.”

“And,” Jaime teases, “you didn’t listen to me, did you?”

Piecing together clues from the past

In restoring old tractors, Ed enjoys discovering each one’s story. “As we started getting into the 445, we began to piece together what might have happened to it in its prior life,” he says. “It’s a 1957 model that my grandfather and father bought in 1984. But nobody had any idea what that tractor had gone through during those 27 years before they bought it.”

As the pair sandblasted the tractor and peeled back the paint on the hood, they began to get a sense of what the old tractor had gone through. “We found that the hood had been damaged pretty badly,” Ed says. “The gauge cluster had been replaced with just three regular gauges, so the tachometer and speedometer were gone.”

They also discovered that the seat had been replaced. “We knew it wasn’t the right seat, but didn’t know where it had come from until we sandblasted it and found a John Deere sticker on it,” he says. “So we pieced together that, at some point in its life, either a tree limb or something big and heavy fell on it and smashed the hood and everything else. We had to be detectives to figure out what happened to it.”

Not an easy tractor to find

Surprisingly, considering that the Minneapolis-Moline line was manufactured in Minnesota, the Model 445 is difficult to find there. “You don’t see a lot of them around,” Ed says. “I’ve seen maybe one or two others in Minnesota. In fact, at the Albany Pioneer Days  Machinery & Threshing Show two years ago, they were featuring Molines and had 160 different tractors. But there were only two 445s, and mine was one of them. You might be able to find some if you go to a salvage yard, and probably if you go out of state you could find one.”

Ed says most people would be surprised by the history of Minneapolis- Moline, about how the company came to be, its locations and the role the company played in World War II, building military machines – including the jeep (see sidebar). “A lot of that history isn’t known,” he says, “because it happened so long ago.”

The Minneapolis-Moline/Avery connection

After his success restoring the 445, Ed and Jaime began looking around at tractor shows, “We were just having fun,” he says. “I took the 445 to the Donnelly, Minnesota, Threshing Bee, and a guy asked me what I was going to work on next.”

Ed was looking for something small to clean up and fix for his wife to drive, something like an Avery – as in Avery Power Machine Co., Peoria, Illinois, not B.F. Avery & Sons Co. of Louisville, Kentucky. But when an offer came his way, Ed took it and added a B.F. Avery to his collection.

In August 2015, he and his father went to work on the tractor, a 1948 B.F. Avery Model A. They pulled apart the tractor’s carburetor, cleaned the entire tractor, and worked on the fuel tank and the electrical system. “We turned it over, and it fired and ran,” Ed says. “We were really happy. I was happy I didn’t have to tear into it like the other one, with a deadline at the end. So I could relax a bit more as I worked on it.”

A bonus came in discovery of the fact that B.F. Avery Co. was bought out by Minneapolis-Moline in early 1951. Since Ed was a Moline fan, that fit right into his interests. At that point, the remaining B.F. Averys were painted Minneapolis-Moline Prairie Gold.

With the Avery, Ed had to be a tractor detective all over again. “The fork had been broken and brazed in a repair,” he says. “The front tricycle wheel rim must have been bent or something, because the original rim had been cut off, and a regular car rim, which was bigger, welded on, with a regular car tire on it. I ended up replacing all that to return it to the original.”

Finding parts was difficult, he says. “I’m still searching for the side panels that cover the side radiator, and I had to make a battery box.”

A ‘his and hers’ pair

Ed likes the Avery because it’s small and very easy to transport. “For a beginner driver, it’s a good tractor, because there’s not enough power in first gear when you’re operating the clutch for it to jerk,” he says. “It’s a really simple tractor, which I like. No magic. No computer or anything like that. It just needs gas, oxygen and a spark, and in theory with those three things, it should run.”

Adding a fun touch, Ed put a 1/64-scale John Deere toy in the air cleaner jar. “We saw that done with a bunch of restored Farmalls, and I thought it was funny because my son loves John Deere,” he says. “Jaime told him she was going to put a John Deere in it so it looks like the B.F. Avery ate it!

Jaime loves the Avery because it’s hers, and because it’s a bit unusual. “When we first started looking at them online, I never saw the uniqueness of them or knew how few of them exist,” she says. “When people hear that it’s my tractor, they think it’s pretty cool.” At shows, she enjoys talking to people about it, and she drives it in the daily two-hour parade at the Almelund show.

But she didn’t stop there. “When we saw a Moline 335 at a show, I said, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool if I had a 335 and you had the 445, for a ‘his’ and ‘hers’? Since Ed is now working on the 335 we bought,” she says, “that’s going to be mine.”

Before Ed bought it, the Minneapolis-Moline 335 had been sitting in a field. “The seller said the radiator was punctured, or something went wrong with it, so the first owner fixed it – with a milk can,” he says. “He hung the milk can on the front with a hose going into the water pump, and a PVC pipe going back into the milk can. I can’t imagine that it worked very well, and it just made me chuckle.”

Engine design stands out

Ed and Roger continue to buy tractors. Roger likes a bit of variety, like Allis-Chalmers or John Deere (he even bought a John Deere B for William), while Ed specializes mostly in the Moline line.

“I like the older Molines because of the Prairie Gold color,” Ed says. “Anything older than 1959 has that deep dark yellow, but anything after that gets Prairie Gold II, which I call ‘school bus yellow,’ and I just don’t care for that color.”

Ed restored a couple of Moline tractors in the past year. “I don’t know what attracted me to them, but the more I learned about the history of the Minneapolis-Moline brand, I stuck with it,” he says. “I like the design of their engines. They used a double-jug engine block so the engine block itself isn’t one big block. You can dismantle it in pieces. Most of their engines are four or six cylinders, cast so they have half the cylinders per jug, so you can take them out and replace them. The cylinder sleeve and everything fits in the double jug. Minneapolis-Moline was the only company that did that.”

Hobby brings generations together

Ed’s favorite tractor is the Minneapolis-Moline 445, he says, “primarily because of its sentimental value.” It was, after all, the one that got him started in the hobby and into a stronger relationship with his father.

“We always had a really good relationship, and he has always been very involved with tractors and mechanics, but he never really had the need to show me these things because we didn’t live on a farm when I was growing up,” Ed says. “We just had one tractor – that 445 – to clean the driveway, and that’s it.

“But once he saw that I was taking an interest in old iron, and that my 3-year-old was taking an interest in it too, and wanted to go to shows instead of wanting video games, we could look at tractors and talk about them. It really sparked our relationship to do a hobby together instead of other projects of working together, like working on the houses or whatever needs to be done hands-on. This hobby is something we could have a good time doing.” FC

For more information: Ed Determan, 37230 Lincoln Trail, North Branch, MN 55056;; (763) 233-8965.

Bill Vossler is a freelance writer and author of several books on antique farm tractors and toys. Contact him at Box 372, 400 Caroline Ln., Rockville, MN 56369; email:


Many people have strong opinions on the identity of the inventor of the jeep. A 1944 booklet titled A Wartime Report: Food, Too, Fights for Freedom, carries a section headed The Original Jeep is a Product of Minneapolis-Moline. “Current national publicity has obscured the fact that the first war machine named ‘JEEP’ was born at Minneapolis-Moline and christened at Camp Ripley, Minn.,” the pamphlet reads. “Back in 1938, Minneapolis-Moline engineers were already experimenting with the conversion of a farm tractor to an artillery prime mover. And in 1940, in collaboration with Adjutant Gen. E. Al Walsh, commander of the Minnesota National Guard, models were tested in maneuvers at Camp Ripley. “This new Minneapolis-Moline army vehicle wasn’t yet a crawler tractor, truck, nor tank, and yet it could do almost anything and it knew all the answers. Because of this, it brought to mind the Popeye cartoon figure called ‘Jeep’ which was neither fowl nor beast, but knew all the answers and could do most anything. The National Guardsmen therefore named the Minneapolis-Moline vehicle the ‘Jeep.’ The Jeep name, therefore, isn’t a contraction of the term General Purpose (GP).”

– Bill Vossler

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