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Old Iron: Behold, a Minn-Mo in prairie gold

Lance Phillips for Progressive Forage Published on 30 January 2018
1953 Minneapolis-Moline GB-LP gas tractor

Minneapolis-Moline gave us several other mechanical innovations still in use today. I have often thought about what the agricultural equipment industry would look like today if Minn-Mo, Allis-Chalmers and especially Oliver were still in business.

Since the past couple of articles have covered International Harvester machines, I would like to take this opportunity to cover a manufacturer that may not be as popular or as well-known. The Minneapolis-Moline Power Implement Company (Minn-Mo) was formed in 1929 by the merger of the Moline Plow Company, Minneapolis Threshing Company, and the Minneapolis Steel and Threshing Company.

The company was headquartered in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and here they produced models ranging from the early Twin City tractors of the 1920s to the A4T-1600 articulated tractors of the early 1970s. The Minn-Mo name was phased out in the mid-1970s after being acquired by White Motor Company, the same folks that unfortunately took over Oliver and Cockshutt.

Growing up here in Virginia, I never had much experience with Minn-Mo, since there hadn’t been a dealer in our area. We might have seen some while traveling on vacation up north or in the Midwest. The first Minn-Mo tractors I recall in the area were a U and a UB Special a close family friend bought for stock antique tractor pulling.

He is a huge fan of the “prairie gold” paint scheme and the “staying power” they have from the long engine stroke. The next one to show up was a GVI with its big six-cylinder LP gas motor, and it was a monster. It weighed 12,000 pounds, and I had to pull against it with my Oliver 990 with the 3-71 Detroit diesel. I’m proud to say I could hang right in there with him. It has since been sold and has almost fallen into disrepair.

Our first experience with Minn-Mo came when we bought the GB-LP gas. It has turned out to be a great tractor. The weakest things about it when we first got it were the cut tires somebody had put on it for tractor pulling, and it was lacking a wiring harness. At some point, I hope to add the generator and headlights to have a more complete tractor, as all that was missing when we bought it.

We have another GB-LP that’s still in its “work clothes,” and they are both equipped the same way – no power takeoff or belt pulley, but they do have one set of auxiliary hydraulics. There is also a G Minn-Mo in the collection that runs on regular gasoline that has auxiliary hydraulics, belt pulley and power takeoff. There was also a diesel version of these tractors, and it was known as the GB Diesel and had a six-cylinder engine.

I often get some head scratching from people at tractor shows when they notice something unique about the engine design of a Minn-Mo. The 55- to 60-horsepower four-cylinder engines, like the GB, are divided into two individual cylinder sections (jugs), and the six-cylinder engines have three separate jugs.

Each jug has its own cylinder head and set of pistons, yet all the piston rods are connected to one crankshaft. This design had several advantages. The jugs used on these engines are interchangeable with several other Minn-Mo engines, which is convenient for parts availability.

If any repair work needed to be done, it could be completed more quickly with less labor cost than having to tear down an entire engine. This design also allowed air to circulate around more engine components, resulting in cooler operating temperatures.

Minneapolis-Moline made several historical contributions to the agricultural industry. They were the first company to introduce the option of LP gas as a fuel source for tractors. The thing I really like about LP gas is: You don’t have to worry about carburetors getting all gummed up by the ethanol gasoline we have these days. (It’s definitely not friendly to an old tractor or anything that sits around a lot.) LP gas tractors usually start easily without choking the carb, even if they’ve been sitting.

Some farmers liked the LP gas because their farmhands couldn’t steal it to use in their vehicles, but storage of LP gas was sometimes problematic. Some farmers mounted LP gas tanks on wagons to take to the field with them. When it came time to fill up, they could do it right there in the field without having to backtrack all the way to the barn.

Minn-Mo was also the first manufacturer to introduce a fully equipped, factory-installed tractor cab. This model was the UDLX. It was equipped with a radio and heater as well as a road gear with speedometer, lots of curvy sheet metal and a chrome front bumper. Their pitch was: They wanted the farmer to be plowing with the UDLX on Saturday and unhook it to take the family to church on Sunday.

These cabs certainly don’t compare to the luxurious cabs we have today, but I can bet the farmers that could afford one thought they were in high cotton. Anything that would provide a little shade and keep off some wind, rain and snow would have been an improvement over full exposure to the elements.

Minneapolis-Moline gave us several other mechanical innovations still in use today. I have often thought about what the agricultural equipment industry would look like today if Minn-Mo, Allis-Chalmers and especially Oliver were still in business. Guess we’ll just have to preserve as many of these treasures as we can so their legacy is never forgotten.  end mark

PHOTO: This 1953 Minneapolis-Moline GB-LP gas tractor sits waiting for action on a fall morning at the farm in Bristol, Virginia. Photo by Lance Phillips.

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