Universal favorite

| January 2002

It doesn't happen often anymore. The men who actually used to put their hands on these machines and work the implements into the soil have mostly gone on to their final reward. Twenty-five years ago, though, says Danny Buckert of Hamilton, Ill., it happened all the time. People would approach his father and him at antique farm equipment shows and launch into their childhood memories of the Moline Universal. Leaning against his own Universal - picked up at the Mount Pleasant Old Threshers' Reunion in 1968 - Danny would soak it up.

'Usually, these guys would just remember how far ahead of its time this tractor was,' Danny recalls.

And it was. The Moline Universal featured numerous advanced technologies on its final model and was so versatile many people today consider it the first practical row crop tractor, born a decade ahead of both the Farmall and the Fordson. The best-selling tractor of its time, it also spawned numerous imitations and was the patriarch of the long line of farm equipment that would be called Minneapolis-Moline.

The Universal was born of two ideas. First, it was obvious that farmers were ready for a lightweight, nimble row crop machine. Many had tried - or at least heard of - the large, unwieldy tractors on the market at the time. Few tractors seemed truly up to the tasks of daily farm work.

Second, many early-1900s farmers refused to retire their horses to the pasture. The reasons for this were many - a reluctance to change, a love of handling horses, but one of the biggest was the loss of control farmers felt when trying to operate the new-fangled equipment. They had to choose between looking forward to where the tractor was going or looking back to see how the implements were working.

The owners of the Universal Tractor Manufacturing Co. of Columbus, Ohio, solved both problems in 1914 when they released their Universal Motor Cultivator. Selling for a cheap $385 and featuring a two-cylinder, 10 hp engine, the machine soothed the discomfort felt by many farmers. It was lightweight, far more maneuverable than earlier tractors, and farmers could sit right above the actual ploughshares - on the plow itself - and operate the implement with levers at hand. In fact, with the engine and drive wheels placed far in front of the operator, the steering column, throttle and brake controls look like nothing so much as taut reins.