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INTERESTING IRON

Fencerow Fugitive: 1937 Minneapolis-Moline YT Prototype

Author

Ryan Roossinck

April 13, 2023

Interesting Iron 041223

(In full disclosure, I’m not sure if it actually spent any time on a fencerow – I just thought it was a catchy name.)

If I’m being honest, I hadn’t really planned on writing this week’s Interesting Iron about this Minneapolis-Moline YT. When I called it a day last Friday, I planned on writing about a really clean fleet of potato trucks in Idaho this week. Really clean, old skool 10-wheelers with B Model CATs and straight pipes.

Then on Monday morning, I got some sad news that made me change my mind. We’ll get to that in a few minutes.

First, the auction details. Then we’ll talk about this rare little Moline.

This one’s for you, Brice.

Auction Date: April 20, 2023 – 6PM CDT soft close.
Auctioneer: Aumann Vintage Power
Format: Online (Bidding is open now)
Location: Nokomis, IL
TZ Auction Listing

Minneapolis-Moline YT prototype #13
Could the Minneapolis-Moline YT be the Deere-slayer that MM wanted? Tap the photo to see the listing on TZ! (Photo: Aumann Vintage Power)

By the time 1937 rolled around, the small tractor market had really blown up – and every tractor company was Deere hunting. The John Deere B sold faster than just about any other tractor in history (at the time), and for good reason; it was a great machine!

Minneapolis-Moline was a little late to the party with the 29-hp four-cylinder Z in late 1936, but it made a big splash. The Visionline styling skinny’d up the hood and gas tank, which improved the operator’s line of sight when cultivating. The Prairie Gold paint coupled with the snazzy new sheet metal was a radical departure from previous dark gray models, and farmers liked it. The problem was that it made about double the power of the B. As such, it wasn’t a great fit in the small row-crop game. But…MM had a plan for that.

They shrunk the tractor. They literally cut the Z’s engine in half and dropped it in a smaller chassis with the same style tin work.

Honestly, it wasn’t a half-bad idea…Deere had done it pretty successfully with the B. It was basically a 2/3-scale copy of the John Deere A. But Moline had forgotten one thing.

If you’re going to take a shot at the king (which Deere definitely was at this point), you’d best not miss.

That’s a bold strategy, Cotton…

111022Yarbro UnstyledB
Chuck Yarbro sold this 1937 model from Moses Lake, WA back in November for $5,250. It was part of his November Virtual Auction. (Photo: Chuck Yarbro Auctioneers)

Deere pretty much owned the small row-crop market, and they’d had plenty of time to dial in the two-cylinder engine. By the mid-30s, they weren’t changing the engine architecture, just resizing to fit the need. It was a strategy that worked for them for nearly four decades. Harvester was still ahead in sales; the F-series Farmalls were selling fairly well. However, Deere was picking up speed pretty fast. Between 1935-1938, they rolled over 55,000 of them off the line in Waterloo.

The Minneapolis-Moline YT used a 93 ci two-banger mated to a five-speed transmission in a small chassis. No mechanical frills, just a barebones tractor with very modern styling. It was a bold move. If it worked, there was a big upside. However, if it bombed, it could really set the company back.

Before they pushed all their chips in, MM built 25 prototypes in late 1937/early 1938 to test the market. They wanted to see if the YT would work in a small row-crop application. To the best of my knowledge, the test records aren’t available to the public. Ultimately though, it didn’t pan out. The little two-cylinder only made about 14 horse, from what I’m told, and that wasn’t enough to keep up with the competition.

Calling the horses home…

Minneapolis-Moline YT emblem & front grill
Sadly, the Minneapolis-Moline YT just wasn’t to be. Fortunately, the company realized it before they’d gone all-in. (Photo: Aumann Vintage Power)

Rather than sell the prototypes, the company opted to recall the tractors and go back to the drawing board. About a year later, they introduced the R, which was a much better fit in the grand scheme of things. It didn’t put much of a dent in John Deere’s sales, but the R was in production from 1939-1954. The R got its power from a 165 ci four-cylinder, and at almost 24 horse on the drawbar, packed a pretty nice punch in a small row-crop size.

Meanwhile, MM had introduced the bigger U tractors in 1938, including the UDLX “Comfortractor” (which flopped at the time, but has become highly collectible since). The U was a fairly powerful machine, testing at over 35 hp on the drawbar. It was pretty well-recieved, especially in wheat country.

So despite a misstep or two, MM did end up finding their way during the 40s and continued to build high-quality tractors for another three decades. Interestingly enough, those two big missteps (the YT and the UDLX) have become some of the most sought-after models the company ever built from a collecting perspective!

Minneapolis-Moline UDLX
For what Minneapolis-Moline termed a commercial failure, the UDLX sure does bring some big money! I watched this one sell at the Mecum Gone Farmin’ auction in March of 2021. Hammer price? A whopping $215,250! (Photo: Ryan Roossinck)

BTW – If you want a little deeper dive on the UDLX, Brian Lohnes (yep, the NHRA announcer) recorded a great YouTube video about them. Definitely worth the watch!

The Minneapolis-Moline YT you can buy next week…

Minneapolis-Moline YT prototype #13
The 25 Minneapolis-Moline YT prototypes were recalled in 1938, but a few of them managed to sneak out the back door before they could be destroyed. (Photo: Aumann Vintage Power)

When the tractors were recalled to Minneapolis, I think the plan was to either destroy them or put them to work within the factory walls. However, a few of them managed to escape the factory before they met their fate. That actually happens more than you might think. It wasn’t just a Moline thing; there are a handful of interesting tractors in history that have been saved from destruction that way. Somebody knows somebody, a check gets written, and a tractor goes out the back door.

At any rate, there are only a handful of these tractors that survived. Moline collectors are pretty sure it’s between six and eight. I’ve personally seen photos of six.

serial number plate
This particular YT is lucky number 13. (Photo: Aumann Vintage Power)

This particular tractor is serial number 630013, which I assume means that it was the 13th one built. It was repainted some time ago, and it runs and drives just fine! As far as the history of this one goes, I’m fairly certain that it spent the better part of the last decade or two in a private collection in Missouri.

What’ll it bring?

Minneapolis-Moline YT Prototype #13
The last Minneapolis-Moline YT that sold at auction (in 2016, I believe) hammered home for $62,500. Will this one do the same? (Photo: Aumann Vintage Power)

So there aren’t many of these left, and the ones we do know about are pretty well-known amongst Moline collectors. Furthermore, since it’s highly unlikely that another one will magically appear any time soon, there’s a finite supply. At the end of the day, lucky number 13 is probably the only one we’ll see change hands for the foreseeable future. Given the fact that these are still sought-after, I don’t think there’ll be a shortage of bidders. It’s currently sitting at just over $10K with eight days left.

Now, that said, I don’t think the market for the Minneapolis-Moline YT is what it once was. Ten or fifteen years ago, these tractors were very hot. I don’t believe it’s quite as strong today, but I’d be very surprised if it didn’t sell for north of $40K.

Either way, it’ll be interesting to see where it ends up. I’ll be watching it for sure.

So what was wrong with the Minneapolis-Moline YT?

Honestly (and this is just my opinion, so take it for what it’s worth) there wasn’t anything wrong with the tractor itself. It was a little tractor for little tractor jobs. It wasn’t a John Deere B-slayer – it was too small for that.

But…I’ll bet that if Minneapolis-Moline would’ve pointed it at the small utility tractor category, it would’ve thoroughly manhandled John Deere’s L/LA. It would’ve made the same or more power, had two more gears, and probably weighed a little more, too. Plus it was a pretty stylish tractor (personally, I’m not a fan of the L/LA styling – too boxy).

That’s just me armchair quarterbacking this deal, though, and quite frankly, there’s a lot I don’t know. There’s not much recorded information about why the project was 86’d, so unless that’s stashed away in a museum filing cabinet somewhere, we may never know why. To the best of my knowledge, nobody knows what YTs were going to sell for, but I know that you could buy a John Deere B pretty darn cheap at the time. Maybe they couldn’t compete on price. Sadly, we’ll probably never know.

Here’s the details on the auction one more time.

Auction Date: April 20, 2023 – 6PM CDT soft close.
Auctioneer: Aumann Vintage Power
Format: Online (Bidding is open now)
Location: Nokomis, IL
TZ Auction Listing

So why did I write about this tractor?

Well, because we lost a young Minneapolis-Moline collector this past Easter Sunday in a car crash. His name was Brice Gravert, and he was only 18 years old. Three weeks away from graduating high school.

Brice4
Brice loved antique and farm stock pulling, and he was quickly becoming a heck of a driver. (Photo: The Gravert family)

I know the Gravert family reasonably well; they’re antique and farm stock pullers from about an hour and a half northwest of Lincoln. I don’t shoot a ton of antique tractor pulling, but I try to get to a few to catch up with old friends when I can. They’re a fun bunch, they’re great competitors who are very passionate about what they do, and they’ve always treated me like family.

Like other pulling families, I’ve had the opportunity to watch Brice grow up. Actually, for the first few days I knew him, I didn’t even know what his real name was! Nobody called him Brice – not even his teachers! They all called him Slim.

While I didn’t know Slim as well as other tractor pulling kids, I still got the chance to talk to him a few times down at the end of the track. He made an impression on me, and it was a good one. See, he was an old soul. He never gave a rip about social media or the popularity contest. Slim was one of those kids who hated being indoors. He wanted to be doing something; running, tearing down a tractor, or helping his dad pull an ancient piece of machinery out of a fencerow.

Slim had an unbelievable mechanical ability. You could’ve given that kid a busted refrigerator and a day or two later, he’d have fixed the darn thing and had it running colder than it did when it was new (and he’d probably have scavenged some parts to bolt into one of the tractors he was fixing).

Brice "Slim" Gravert
Brice in his happy place…wrenching. That was his dad’s reaction when he saw the photo for the first time. (Photo: The Gravert family)

Slim was such a neat kid. He was a renaissance man if there ever was one. He loved tractors, distance running, the color purple, old rock ‘n roll, and collecting spoons (of all things). For several years, and long before they became cool(ish) again, he rocked an absolutely killer mullet. Didn’t care what you thought of it, either. If ever there was a kid who marched to the beat of his own drummer and made it cool, it was Slim.

Brice2
There’s the glorious mullet, and the infectious smile. (Photo: The Gravert family)

Whenever I saw Jeff & Amber (his folks) at an antique pull, I knew I could count on three things. Slim was there, probably filthy from working on whatever tractors they brought that weekend, his hair probably looked like he’d stuck his finger in a light socket, and he’d be grinning ear to ear. Those characteristics were as constant as gravity and water being wet.

His smile and personality lit up rooms wherever he went. I watched it happen on a number of occasions, and you couldn’t help but have a better day when you bumped into him.

Slim and his dad had a really neat relationship that was fun to watch; they went together like peas and carrots. You’d rarely ever find one without the other nearby. Jeff runs a tractor mechanic and restoration shop, and Slim had been his right hand man ever since he was old enough to hand dad a wrench (or lose a 10mm socket).

Brice5
Amber caught this photo of Jeff & Brice at the kitchen table for one of the most important moments in Brice’s young life – being accepted to one of WyoTech’s engine technology programs. He was to move to Laramie to start this fall. (Photo: The Gravert family)

Brice was so excited to go to WyoTech to learn more about the engines he loved. He didn’t care that he’d have to chop his beloved mullet off and shave on the daily. He went to the barber a couple days later and chopped it all off five months early! Mom was so proud, and even though Jeff’s got that glazed-over look on his face (bad timing with the camera), I know for fact that his heart was so full that he could barely contain himself. Just like Slim.

Brice3
Just a couple of weeks ago, Slim picked out a tux for prom. Sadly, I don’t believe he got to go. (Photo: The Gravert family.)

Brice Gravert lived his days to the fullest. He legitimately loved life and the people around him. My life was better for having occasionally being part of his. If there’s one lesson that he can teach us, it’s that life is far too short to waste a day without a smile on your face.

Folks, please keep Jeff & Amber Gravert in your hearts as they go through this.

I don’t know if anybody’s going to read this before the funeral service tomorrow morning (4.13.23), but if you do, I’d like to ask you to do a couple of things in Slim’s honor.

  1. Wear purple. It was Slim’s favorite color.
  2. Blow a little smoke in his honor if you’ve got a diesel with the pump turned up.
  3. If you don’t have anything that smokes, light up the tires a little bit at a stoplight just for fun. (It can even be a minivan; he’d still get a kick out of it.)
  4. Smile. Life’s too short not to.

‘Til next time…make it a great day, folks.

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