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Tractor Fills a Universal Need
The Manitoba Universal


By Collections Curator Ruth Bitner
December 2006

Phoenix log hauler with long train of log carriers
Manitoba Universal tractor on exhibit in the Implement Shop
on Boomtown Street, Saskatoon Western Development Museum
WDM photo by Garry Hayes

One of the rarest tractors in the Saskatchewan Western Development Museum collection came out of Winnipeg about 1915. The Manitoba Universal Farm Tractor was one of a small handful of tractors manufactured in Western Canada. It was a short-lived product of Western Steel and Iron Company Limited, a company that built other implements for the agricultural market.

Little is known about the Manitoba Universal. We do know that the company advertised in The Grain Growers’ Guide. A half-page advertisement in the July 28, 1915 edition proclaimed the Manitoba Universal as “the most practical light farm tractor in Western Canada.” With 8 horsepower on the drawbar and 16 on the belt, it could pull a two-bottom plow. The advertisement went on to point out that it was “absolutely a One-Man tractor.”

During the teens, steam traction engines and cumbersome, kerosene-burning tractors were beginning to give way to more affordable gas-powered versions suited to the needs of average farmers. Dozens of tractor companies, most of them in the United States, came up with all sorts of designs–and most lasted only a few years. The Manitoba Universal, a product of Western Canada, was one of these small tractor experiments.

Western Steel & Iron continued to pitch its tractor in The Grain Growers’ Guide, one of the leading farm papers of the day. An October 6, 1915 advertisement proclaimed, “The Manitoba Universal will pull 2 14 in. plows in breaking and 3 in stubble, at a speed of two miles per hour. It will pull a 24 disc drill, an 8 ft cultivator or a 10 ft. disc harrow. It will haul a 4 ton load on practically any road with ease. It will drive any machine requiring belt power up to 18 h.p. capacity. It can be used practically all the year round without regard to weather. It means bigger crop areas and less labor. It is so simple and durable that anyone can operate it efficiently.” And all this for $697.

Advertising was clearly aimed at the farmer who was looking to replace at least some of his horses with tractor power. The company’s 1917 sales catalogue asked the question, “What will the light tractor do for you,” and provided the answers. “It will do the work of from 6 to 8 horses. It will replace some horses and leave others for jobs they can handle better... It will keep on going without a high priced engineer to look after it. It costs less than horses when operating and eats no feed when idle. It will run a light threshing machine perfectly...Can you expect any better value for any less money?”

The Manitoba Universal was a three-wheel tractor. It had a double opposed four-cycle motor with 5-inch bore and 6 ½-inch stroke, magneto, force sight feed oiler, absolute governor and circulating pump. It ran at 800 rpm and burned gasoline instead of the lower grade kerosene. The frame was made of 6-inch steel channel. The large “masterwheel” was five feet in diameter with a 20-inch rim rolled out of steel plate. The front wheels were 42 inches in diameter.

Like many other tractors of its day, the Manitoba Universal was dangerous to operate. A story is told of two Alberta brothers who each lost an arm in the open drive chain of one of these tractors. Despite its claims to easy and efficient operation, the Manitoba Universal quickly passed into history. Only two examples are known to remain–one in the Western Development Museum collection, the other privately owned in Manitoba.

The WDM purchased its Manitoba Universal in Brandon, Manitoba in 1948. It is on exhibit in the Implement Shop on Boomtown Street in the Saskatoon Western Development Museum. Be sure to see this unique piece of Western Canadian manufacturing history when visiting Boomtown.

Sources:

Baxter, Pat; “Universal Farm Tractor,” Canadian Antique Power, July/August, 1994, p. 46
The Grain Growers’ Guide, July 28, 1915, p. 3
The Grain Growers’ Guide, October 6, 1915, p. 19
The Grain Growers’ Guide, December 1, 1915, p. 32
The Western Steel & Iron Company Limited catalogue, 1917, pp. 19 - 22


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