Cars

Is it a tractor, is it a car … it’s both!

Curtis Rink never expected his rare 1938 Minneapolis Moline UDLX tractor would be a hit at a car show. But the beautifully restored machine, the first factory-built tractor with a cab, was a hit at this year’s Starbird-Devlin charity car show. He plans to show the tractor at more car shows, as well as tractor events, from now on.
Curtis Rink never expected his rare 1938 Minneapolis Moline UDLX tractor would be a hit at a car show. But the beautifully restored machine, the first factory-built tractor with a cab, was a hit at this year’s Starbird-Devlin charity car show. He plans to show the tractor at more car shows, as well as tractor events, from now on. The Wichita Eagle

Curtis Rink is a brave man.

How else would you describe someone who would take a 79-year-old tractor to a custom car show?

But this wasn’t just any tractor, this was a beautifully restored 1938 Minneapolis Moline UDLX, the first American-built tractor with a cab. And it proved to be a hit at this year’s Starbird-Devlin charity car show in Wichita.

“Last year, I was visiting at the car show with Lauren Worley, a friend from church, and I asked him, ‘Do you think this would fit in here?’ ” Rink said. “He said it would attract a lot of attention and he was right.”

Rink, who grew up around Twin City and Minneapolis-Moline tractors on a farm inside what is now the Wichita city limits, was in the process of finishing a complete restoration of his unusual art deco-styled tractor. It is one of only about 150 built, only in 1938.

His father and his uncle had restored several tractors, but he said they had never owned a copy of the UDLX.

“My uncle Harold bought this one from a collector in Illinois. It was originally a South Dakota tractor. It was in pretty rough condition,” Rink said. A partial restoration was done shortly after the tractor arrived in Kansas. After his father and uncle passed away, the tractor was handed down to Curtis Rink.

“In 2008, it was damaged in a fire. I had always intended to do a more complete restoration and that ensured it,” he said.

The tractor not only has a fully enclosed cab, it features swoopy, full fenders, a car-like grille and a direct drive road gear that would allow it to potentially reach highway speeds of 40 mph. The unique tractor/car was nicknamed the “Comfortractor.”

“My personal view is the company did it for promotion, that this was the modern farm machinery company … and this tractor was the best of the best,” Rink said. Ironically, his grandfather had sold Minneapolis-Moline tractors for a few years and enjoyed taking tractors out to farmers to entice them to buy. He quit when he was told he needed to stay in the office and take orders.

“Salesmen would drive these into town in 1938 and for several years later to lure buyers,” Rink said. A veterinarian at Dodge City who owned two farms located a long distance apart used a UDLX to cover the miles in between when it came time for fieldwork, he said.

The experiment didn’t exactly take hold, though, as the tractors were expensive, costing $2,155 new. They were powered by an inline 4-cylinder gasoline engine generating 36 PTO horsepower, which was perfect for running corn shellers. Rink said the sleek-looking tractors also did duty plowing snow and some even apparently were used as rural mail delivery vehicles.

“If you look at the pictures of them, you can tell that they got used on the farm,” he said.

The UDLX, which stands for a U model Deluxe, was built on a conventional tractor frame, using a conventional gasoline engine, Rink explained. But instead of have twin wheel brakes for sharper turns while plowing, the tractor has a car-like setup of a foot-operated clutch pedal, a single foot brake pedal and a floor-mounted accelerator pedal. There is a dash-mounted throttle control for field work.

The transmission is a 5-speed unit which can be shifted into direct drive for over-the-road travel by means of a separate lever; when that lever is engaged, the engine governor is disconnected so engine speed can be doubled – if you have the nerve.

“I’ve driven a tractor 25 mph, and that’s pretty much the limit,” Rink laughed.

The dashboard, fitted with a full complement of gauges, looks like it belongs in an upscale late 1930s model automobile, not a tractor. There’s even a glovebox and a rear view mirror. Each of the three windshield panels features its own windshield wiper and the glass in each can be opened an inch or so for flow-through ventilation when the rear cab door’s window is rolled down.

The interior features a fold-down jump seat for times when there’s a passenger on board. The rear bodywork, however, means the drawbar is hard to access, so there is a trap door in the floor of the cab so the operator can pin the hitch of an implement without having to crawl underneath.

A Philco tube-type radio is mounted atop the steering column and the tractor is equipped with an electrical starter. Rink did upgrade the electrical system to 12 volts from the factory 6-volt system.

Rink was able to collect parts for his restoration project from online resources. Morgan-Bulleigh handled the upholstery duties, while Clint Troyer sprayed the distinctive yellow paint job.

He says up to 90 of the original UDLXes remain, many of them suitable only as parts tractors, but adds that is a remarkable survival rate. Last year at Mecum’s farm auction sale in Michigan, a pristine example sold for $200,000.

Rink finished his restoration in time for this year’s Starbird-Devlin show and now plans to show his unusual tractor at both area car shows and tractor shows.

“When you take it out in public, people are just astounded,” said Rink. “Probably a third to a half think it’s something I created.

“But I’m not that smart or that creative,” he notes.

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