Latest articles

Kerosene powered tractor

The Minneapolis Threshing Machine Company 25-50 tractor

The Dickson-Henderson family of the Boissevain area donated to the Manitoba Agricultural Museum digital copies of photos taken on the farms operated by these families.

One of the photos shows a “prairie style” tractor breaking sod in 1913. Prairie style is a term applied to early gas tractors, all of which were large, heavy and borrowed design elements from steam tractors. The photo contains the handwritten caption “Minneapolis Kerosene tractor plowing on the farm of Duncan Henderson three miles west of Boissevain Fall 1913.” The man on the plow has been identified as Earl Henderson, the son of Duncan Henderson.

Earl Henderson was born in 1898 so he would have been 15 years old in this photo. Earl went on to gain a degree in agriculture at the University of Manitoba. He then returned to the Boissevain area and farmed in the area until the mid-1950s. Apparently he was mechanically adept, building a snow plane out of a wrecked Cessna airplane and modifying the steering of early John Deere tractors with the steering boxes out of Starr autos, in order to achieve easier steering. For many years after retiring from farming, Earl and his wife, Alberta, operated a lapidary shop in Boissevain, the first rock shop in Manitoba.

It is quite noticeable in the photo that the engine man has plowed straight. Given the crude nature of the chain steering common on tractors at this time, the engine man knew his business. In many other pioneer photos, arrow-straight furrows are also very noticeable. Probably a plow man who could not plow straight could not hold up his head in the community!

While the tractor was identified in the photo as a Minneapolis tractor, it caused some confusion to the interpretation committee, as the tractor had an inline engine and the prairie style Minneapolis tractors the committee was familiar with, had cross-mount engines. As well, the tractor had an elaborate cab and no fenders. The Minneapolis tractors the committee was familiar with, had simple cabs and had fenders. In this time period there were two Minneapolis companies active in tractor manufacture, the Minneapolis Threshing Machine Company (MTM) and the Minneapolis Steel and Machinery Company (MS&MC). MTM tractors are generally known as Minneapolis’s and MS&MC sold their tractors under the Twin City name brand. The committee then wondered which company the photograph label was referring to.

But after research, the tractor was identified as an MTM 25-50. The MTM 25-50 is the only MTM prairie style tractor with an inline engine. The committee identified the tractor after one of the members found a photo of a 25-50 in a recent U.S. auction sale bill. The 25-50 was not equipped from the factory with fenders while other MTM prairie style tractors had fenders as factory equipment after 1912.

The tractor features a fairly elaborate cab for 1913. The cab features a clerestory roof, a windshield and canvas side curtains on the side windows. It appears the windshield was also equipped with slides as the right-hand side of the windshield appears open. It appears the photo shows the Henderson crew plowing in the late fall of 1913, so the engine man probably appreciated the protection the cab would provide on a cold, windy fall day.

The Minneapolis Threshing Machine (MTM) originated as the Fond Du Lac Threshing Machine company of Fond Du Lac, Wisconsin in 1874 but soon went bankrupt. However, one of the investors in the company, a Mr. MacDonald, reorganized and restarted the manufacture of threshing machines under the name MacDonald Manufacturing Company. He was successful and attracted the interest of investors from Minneapolis.

They struck a deal with MacDonald to invest in his company but with the condition it move to Minneapolis, Minnesota. This move took place in 1887. Around this time the company became known as the Minneapolis Threshing Machine Company. In 1893, the company began to manufacture steam traction engines with an initial production run of 250 engines.

In 1908, MTM entered the gas engine business by selling the Universal Tractor Company’s (UTC) 20-40 tractor also known as the Universal 20-40. The Universal was also sold by the American Able Company and the Union Iron Works.

Around 1910 Walter McVickar of the McVickar Engineering Company designed the 25-50 kerosene tractor. Somehow MTM came into possession of the design, either they commissioned McVickar to design the tractor or paid McVickar for the design. Lacking a gas tractor-manufacturing plant, MTM in 1911 contracted the Northwest Threshing Machine Company to build the tractor for MTM. Northwest was capable of manufacturing gas tractors as it built the Universal 20-40 for UTC. MTM ordered 25 tractors in 1911 and 48 in 1912. By 1913, MTM had built its own gas tractor-manufacturing plant and began manufacture of 25-50 along with a 40-80 tractor of MTM’s design and the Universal 20-40 design. Steam engine manufacture continued through this period as well.

McVickar Engineering was active in this time period, and in 1909 designed a large tractor for the Joy-Wilson Sales Company, which was sold under the name Joy-McVickar. These tractors were built by the MS&MC.

Walter McVickar is thought to have been employed by MS&MC around 1912. MS&MC began to build its own tractors in 1910 after its experience building the Joy-McVickar tractors. It is also suggested in some quarters that O.E. Espy, who is thought to have designed the Universal 20-40 tractor, was working for McVickar Engineering at the time he designed the Universal tractor. This points out how limited expertise and knowledge of tractor design was in this era, so companies often obtained designs from wherever they could.

The story of the MTM 25-50 design also explains why the MTM 25-50 was so different from the other MTM tractors of the time. The designers were completely different people with different ideas.

Not much is known about the technical details of the 25-50 only that it was equipped with a four-cylinder engine with a bore and stroke of 6×8 inches governed at 530 r.p.m. and equipped with a jump spark ignition. The 1911 production came with a tank-type radiator cooled by an induced draft from the escaping exhaust. In 1912 this was changed to an automotive-type radiator, cooled using a fan driven off the engine.

The six-bottom plow is thought by the committee to be a J.I. Case Plow Works engine gang plow. This design featured one lift lever for every two bottoms, a tail wheel on the left-hand bottom and a second set of shorter levers alongside the longer lift levers. The shorter levers are thought to have worked the depth stops for the bottoms. The plow in the image features these design elements. While John Deere engine gang plows also featured one lift lever for every two bottoms, the JD design did not feature a tail wheel or depth stop levers.

About the author

explore

Stories from our other publications

Comments