Ahead of its Time: Minneapolis-Moline UDLX Comfortractor
By Collections Curator Ruth Bitner
Harvest time on the Clark farm, Ardath, Saskatchewan, 1940s.
WDM file 81-S-197
In 1938 Saskatchewan was mired in the depths of the Great Depression.
Prolonged drought, dust storms, grasshoppers and other disasters combined to
bring the prairie farming community to its knees. 1937 had been the worst
year for Saskatchewan with two thirds of farm families on relief and an
average crop yield of 2.7 bushels per acre. The mid-western United States
farming community was also seriously affected by the Depression. Farm
machinery manufacturer Minneapolis-Moline could not have picked a worse time
to market an expensive, stylish and innovative tractor, the Model U DeLuXe,
or UDLX Comfortractor. Had the UDLX debuted 20 years later, it might have
had a chance at success.
Minneapolis-Moline designed its new tractor for the comfort and safety of the operator. The Comfortactor boasted at least six tractor industry firsts: enclosed cab, heater, cigar lighter, windshield wipers, clock and radio. Sales literature boasted “closed car comfort. When the farmer is inside the cab operating the tractor, he is as comfortable as he would be in a modern automobile.”1
The steel cab offered many revolutionary features:
- protection from wind and rain; insulation to reduce engine noise
- headlights, brake light and spotlight on the roof
- safety glass windows with wipers
- two upholstered seats, one for the driver and another for a passenger
- radio with telescopic aerial
- cigar lighter and ashtray
- glove compartment
- sun visor
- rear view mirror
- electric clock
- hot air defrosting vents
- instrument panel lights
- rubber floor mats
The UDLX Comfortractor, with its streamlined look,
echoed the design trends of the automobile industry. Like the
automobile, it was equipped with a horn, speedometer, electric starter,
front and rear fenders, bumper and foot-operated dimmer switch for
headlights. Capable of speeds up to 65 km/h (40 mph), the tractor was
promoted as suitable for field work during the day and a trip to town in
About 125 UDLX Comfortractors were made, but sales were slow and the company struggled to sell them. The new features were expensive luxuries and most prairie farmers could not imagine spending $2000 on a tractor, about twice the price of a John Deere or Farmall. It took several years for the company to sell them all.
J. Foster Clark’s new Comfortractor must have turned a few heads when he bought it in 1941. Clark liked the idea of headlights so he could work in the field after dark on his Ardath, Saskatchewan area farm. Clark’s son, Brad, recalled that a salesman drove the Comfortractor from Regina to Saskatoon, calling on farmers and dealers along the way before delivering it to the Clark farm. Brad also remembered the odd ride to school in the comfort of the Comfortractor and tuning in to an American radio station while out working in the field late at night.
After years of use on the Clark family farm, the Comfortractor was donated to the Western Development Museum in 1981. Restoration, undertaken by WDM staff and volunteers, included taking the tractor apart, cleaning, priming and painting. Missing pieces were found or manufactured. Chrome was cleaned and replated. Some of the wood components and metal panels of the cab were replaced. Gauges and other small pieces were refurbished. When the tractor arrived at the WDM, it had the wrong size tires - the only ones available when the Clarks needed new ones. Fortunately, the WDM found unused tires of the obsolete size to replace them.
The WDM has exhibited the Comfortractor at several events in Saskatchewan including the Draggins annual car show and Cruise Day in Saskatoon, and repeated showings at the Western Canada Farm Progress Show in Regina. The tractor’s admirers find it hard to believe that it was factory-made back in 1938. The Comfortractor is now on exhibit at the Saskatoon branch of the Western Development Museum where it still turns heads. Why not stop and see it for yourself on your next visit of the WDM in Saskatoon.
The Clarks and their Comfortractor, Ardath Saskatchewan, 1940s
WDM file 81-S-197
1. Minneapolis-Moline sales brochure, 1938 (WDM Library)
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