Serving Minnesota and Northern Iowa.

Couple works to fully restore Minneapolis Moline tractor

By Renae B. Vander Schaaf

Date Modified: 05/28/2013 8:20 AM

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HUDSON, S.D. — Les and Bettie Spies are looking forward to the 73rd annual Tulip Festival scheduled May 16-18.

With good luck, their special tractor will be completely refurbished by then.

The Tulip Festival began in 1936, and two years later, Minneapolis Moline introduced a new tractor. The UDLX was known as the "Gentleman's Tractor."

Advertised as a tractor that could work in the field all week and then take the wife to church on Sunday, it was the first tractor to come with a cab and a buddy seat for passengers. Top speeds on rural roads could reach 40 miles per hour.

Less than 100 models are known to exist today. The tractor was more expensive than other tractor makes, and the Great Depression sharply reduced demand and World War II caused factories to switch to military equipment production.

"At that time, no self-respecting farmer would be seen in a tractor with a cab," said Les Spies. Spies and his wife, Bettie, own the tractor and keep it on their western Sioux County, Iowa, farm.

The tractor has been in Bettie's family for a long time. It was thought that perhaps a tractor with a cab would be safer for her epileptic brother to operate. Her father, Harry Erickson, a farmer and a Minneapolis Moline dealer near Sloan, bought the tractor used.

The tractor was parked for many years in a cattle yard. Cattle rubbed against it and weather and time caused its condition to deteriorate, she said.

The Spies encouraged her mother and brother to store the tractor inside, but the Minneapolis Moline stayed where it was.

Les and Bettie eventually received the tractor as a gift. They immediately stored it inside, and Spies worked on it as time allowed.

Work began in earnest a decade ago. Many parts were needed, and many hours were spent on the telephone searching for authentic parts.

"One just could not go to town for the parts," said Bettie. "Minneapolis Moline dealers are no more, and there is no back room filled with parts. When Les located front fenders in Manitoba, we took a trip there."

Les has a gold prospector's ability to locate obscure tractors and parts. The scavenger hunt for the Minneapolis Moline would lead to dead ends from time to time. Their travels have taken them to seven or nine states.

"The headlights on the tractor were the same headlights used on cars at that time," said Bettie. "A company in California makes those."

The tractor's tires aren't normal sized. Spies contacted a tire company in Ohio that said if he could get an order for 100 tires, they would make them. Word soon spread among collectors and enough orders came in.

Little things like a sediment bowl on the gas line took Spies hundreds of hours to locate. The tractor was the first one manufactured with a radio, and the Spies are still trying to locate a replacement.

Although he could do the mechanical restoration himself, his goal was to restore it to original showroom quality. With Parkinson's disease affecting his life more, he knew he needed someone to help.

He met Dave Vander Wel, of Orange City, who suggested Brian DeKock at Elite Body Shop.

The couple plan to put the UDLX in the Tulip Festival parade. If it's finished on time, it will be displayed with in the Antique Tractor Show that will be held in the parking lot of the First Christian Reformed Church. The 2012 show featured 75 tractors. Ten tractors will participate in the parade on Thursday an Friday. On Saturday, all the tractors will be driven.

The couple farmed with Minneapolis Moline machinery as long as the company existed. He kept all his tractors and implements and acquired more through the years.

His collection includes 10 grain drills, a rock and roll corn picker, a 1925 walking plow, a one-row lister planter, a 1930 Moline dump rake, a self-propelled sprayer from 1960, a cotton picker that he bought in North Dakota, a Minneapolis Threshing Machine and combines, tractors, plows and much more.