A moment in history: The Minneapolis TMC’S 25-50 kerosene tractor

The Dickson-Henderson family of the Boissevain, Man. 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 hand written 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, who was 15 when the photograph was taken, went on to gain a degree in Agriculture at the University of Manitoba. He returned to the Boissevain area and farmed 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.

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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.

While the tractor was identified in the photo as a Minneapolis, it caused some confusion to the interpretation committee as the tractor had an inline engine. The prairie-style Minneapolis tractors the committee was familiar with had cross-mount engines. The tractor also had an elaborate cab and no fenders. Minneapolis tractors the committee was familiar with had simple cabs and 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.

After looking deeper into the matter, the committee identified the tractor as an MTM 25-50, the only MTM prairie-style tractor with an in-line engine. 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. It has a clerestory roof, a windshield and canvas curtains on the side windows. It appears the windshield was also equipped with slides as the right hand side of the windshield appears open. 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 autumn day.

The Minneapolis Threshing Machine (MTM) originated as the Fond Du Lac Threshing Machine company of Fond Du Lac, Wis. in 1874, but soon went bankrupt. One of the investors in the company, a Mr. MacDonald, reorganized and re-started the manufacture of threshing machines under the name MacDonald Manufacturing Company. His success 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, Minn. This move took place in 1887 around the time the company became known as the Minneapolis Threshing Machine Company.

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

Two years later, Walter McVickar of the McVickar Engineering Company designed the 25-50 kerosene tractor. MTM came into possession of the design by either commissioning McVickar or paying McVickar for the design.

Lacking a gas tractor manufacturing plant, MTM contracted the Northwest Threshing Machine Company to build the tractor in 1911. 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 the 25-50 along with a 40-80 tractor of their own design and the Universal 20-40 design. The company continued to manufacture steam engines through this period as well.

Not much is known about the technical details of the 25-50. It was equipped with a four-cylinder engine with a bore and stroke of six-by-eight inches governed at 530 rpm 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 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.

–      Complements of the Manitoba Agricultural Museum.

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