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Tractor Trendsetters: Moline Universal D

Sep 10, 2012

Written by Larry Gay

The Moline Plow Company traced its history back to 1852 when Henry Candee and Robert Swan began building fanning mills in Moline, Illinois. Candee, Swan and Company added plows in 1865 when a former Deere employee joined the company. The company’s 1866 catalog with “Moline, Ill” plows was almost a duplicate of Deere’s Moline Plow Works catalog. After a legal battle between the two companies over the Moline name, Deere incorporated as Deere and Company and Candee, Swan and Company became the Moline Plow Company. Over the years, the Moline Plow Company expanded its line of implements and became known for its Flying Dutchman sulky plows.
In 1915, the Moline Plow Company entered the tractor market by purchasing the Universal Tractor Company in Ohio. This tractor’s configuration was similar to a motor cultivator with two 52-inch diameter drive wheels in front with a horizontal, 2-cylinder, opposed engine located above the front axle. However, it was different than a motor cultivator in that it could be equipped with a variety of implements. Either a 2-wheel sulky or an implement, such as a 2-bottom plow, disc harrow, planter, grain drill, or mower, was required to complete the tractor. With an attached cultivator, the tractor was capable of cultivating row crops. The operator sat on the seat provided by the implement or the sulky.
A new tractor factory was built at the east end of Rock Island and by 1918 the tractor became the Moline Universal D with a 4-cylinder, vertical engine. The belt pulley was now located at the front of the tractor for easy accessibility. The Moline Universal D tractor was unique as it was equipped with a Remy electrical starting and lighting system as standard equipment. The generator for the system was driven by the camshaft gear and the 6-volt battery was mounted in a spring hanger to protect it from jarring. There were two lights, one mounted in front and one pointed down under the control box to illuminate the working area of the implement. Another feature was an electrical engine governor which enabled the operator to turn a dial on the control box to adjust the engine speed between 300 and 1,800 rpm.
The configuration of the Moline Universal D tractor was not adopted by the tractor industry, but the electrical starting and lighting system was. Production of the Universal D ended in about 1923 as the company suffered financial problems due to the agricultural depression of 1920-1924. The company reorganized several times with revised company names and new officers. The tractor factory in Rock Island was sold to International Harvester who used it to produce Farmall tractors.
Larry Gay is the author of four tractor books published by the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers, including Farm Tractors 1975-1995 and Farm Tractors 1995-2005. These books may be obtained from ASABE at 800-695-2723 or, click publications and then click book catalog.
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