Minneapolis Moline Antique Tractor - Family History in Action

Posted by Wheels On Edge about 8 months ago

The fall fair, once an important social gathering and celebration of success, has diminished over the years. While there are still displays of handcrafts, baked goods and produce, and of cattle, sheep, chickens, rabbits etc. these are much smaller in scope. The mid-way rides remain popular as does our desire for dubious carnival food. There may no longer be horse races, but there are horse and dog shows and even some competitions that may puzzle urban visitors. Tractor pulls are one of those and here is one story and its genesis.

Orono Fair, September 7, 2019. It was while talking with family members over the roar of unmuffled antique tractor motors that it occurred to me that this gathering rivaled a family picnic for attendance. It also takes place at the same time and place every year.

Along with catching up on the family news: “How’s school this year?, there are also pressing tractor issues: “Should we lower the drawbar on this one?”, history: “When did grandpa buy his first tractor?”, and the unusual: “What are babbit bearings?”.

So it seemed that with so many family members involved in this decidedly country activity we should record this bit of history. How did it progress from Grandfather Ard buying a Minneapolis-Moline tractor (affectionately referred to as a Minnie) in 1940 to there being about 35 of them in the family?

And so developed the idea of a video with tractors in action and stories and archival pictures to have a record to pass on. To begin, enthusiasts haul their old, unaltered or polished up tractors to a corner of the fair grounds, weigh them in, and line them up for a few hours, on what you always hope will be a glorious afternoon. All this to be able to hook a tractor to a sledge full of concrete slabs and see how far they can pull the sledge before the wheels dig in and finally spin uselessly on the track thus ending the run.

Every year my brothers, Ralph and Grant Greenwood, with the assistance of sons, grandsons/granddaughter, drive a dozen plus tractors to the Orono Fall Fair (about an hour east of Toronto just off the 35/115 highway on route to Peterborough). They go to Orono because it is their local fair and close to the family farms. They also go to the Millbrook, Roseneath and Norwood fairs as they are nearby and because they also feature tractor pulls. Only 4 tractors make these trips as they have to be transported on flat bed trailers.

Along with the actual competition there is a chance for those not consumed by the actual pulls to see the history of farm tractors. Tractors will be lined up in front of you. You see historic names like Massey, Ferguson, White, David Brown, Cockshutt and, our family favorite, the Minneapolis Moline.

My brother Ralph estimates that their collection is 35 or more Minneapolis Molines (MMs) and while this may seem a tad excessive to the casual observer the brand has been part of the family since our grandfather bought his first gasoline powered tractor at the end of the Great Depression. Our grandfather, Robbie Ard was a custom thresher, travelling with his steam powered tractor and threshing machine from neighbour to neighbour for threshing bees. The threshing separated the grain from the straw. Granaries were filled and straw stacks built.

Robbie’s assistant was a younger man, John Stone, who became a close family friend and it was John who first decided to buy a gas tractor. He wanted a MM tractor as a few were being used in the surrounding area. They were imported from the USA to the Waterloo Manufacturing company in Waterloo. In the spring of 1940 John, Grandfather and 2 other neighbours went to Waterloo and drove the tractor home along the old #2 highway. A 2 day trip, I might add, at 12 miles an hour. By that fall Grandfather Ard followed John Stone’s lead by buying his own Minneapolis Molene. This was precipitated by his steam engine blowing out its boiler on the side of the road as he was heading out to a farm.

From that day on the family would be stout supporters of the Minneapolis Molene brand. Ralph was immersed in the culture. “I got to listen to the adult discussions of which tractor was best and all their features and those carried on throughout my public school years as to which father’s tractor was best. My first memories of threshing as a child was watching out the house window and hearing the distinct noise of the big Moline tractor running the machine.”

My brother Grant also has vivid memories of the old MMs. “I remember driving this tractor in the field pulling the wagon while my Grandfather and his son, Uncle Jim, loaded it with hay. I also remember being at my Grandfather’s when he was running the threshing machine and when he was running a “hammer mill” which was used to grind oats and rye into chop”. Associating milestones in our lives with objects is not unusual and for Grant one of these events happened when his father bought a new MM tractor: “When I was five years old in 1950 my father purchased a new MM model ZTS from John Stone but possibly it lost some of its significance as that was the same year that we got electricity at our home.”

These days the MMs have become a family affair with myself, my brothers’ sons, grandsons, and a granddaughter, cousins (as well friends) coaxed into participating in the tractor pulls. As you can see in the video everyone has a good time trying to pull as much weight as far as they can without stalling or rolling the tractor. It can be harder than it looks. And it’s not for the money as a win might net you $10-$15 or a small trophy. It must be for the “glory” or being part of the family or just the fun of the competition!

Full Video here:


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