It’s a tractor! It’s a car! No, it’s the Comfortractor!
Crossover between the tractor and automobile industries was fairly common 70 years ago, offering an easy opportunity for manufacturers to cross-market their brand to atypical buyers. Ford was building Fordson tractors, International Harvester started manufacturing passenger vehicles, and Porsche built both cars and tractors that sported similar shark-nose front ends. The thought was, perhaps Porsche-admiring farmers who had no use (or money) for a sports car might actually consider the German brand when it came time to purchase a utilitarian vehicle.
In the late 1930s, Minneapolis-Moline put a completely different spin on the crossover idea by offering a tractor-automobile “hybrid.” The ULDX tractor featured a streamlined cab, incorporated a styled grille and fenders into the design, and was equipped with windshield and wipers, headlights, taillights, speedometer, heater, cigarette lighter, glovebox, and even a dome light. In other words, it not only looked like a car, but it had some of the comforts and in many ways acted like a car. So after working all day in the field, a farmer and a passenger could comfortably drive it to town for dinner. It’s no wonder Minneapolis-Moline called the vehicle the Comfortractor.
The Minneapolis-Moline Power Implement Company was established in 1929 when three agricultural companies—Moline Plow, Minneapolis Threshing, and Minneapolis Steel and Threshing—merged during tough economic times. As the U.S. pulled out the Great Depression, and after Minneapolis-Moline had introduced many other innovative ideas, the company unveiled its new completely enclosed tractor in the late 1930s.
Although the Comfortractor was actually a little cramped inside, it was definitely comfortable compared to other tractors of the day, and farmers were protected from the elements. Entry was in back, and the rear looks an awful lot like the tail of a panel van; the passenger-side seat folded to allow passenger and driver to climb inside. According to Hemmings, the UDLX Comfortractor’s non-synchronized gearbox was still a five-speed with a direct-drive fifth gear, and it “featured a special housing and second shifter that disabled the engine’s first four gears at road speeds to reduce about a quarter of the rotating parts in the engine and a good deal of engine vibration.” The 6400-pound UDLX had a top speed of more than 40 mph, just right for the rural roads of the day.
The tractor also carried a hefty price tag for the time: $1900 —nearly twice the price of a John Deere. According to The Tractor Factor, a 2015 book written by Robert Pripps, only 150 or so Comfortractors were produced from 1938–41. Hemmings estimates that 25 or fewer remain. In 2017, Mecum auctioned a 1938 model for more than $135,000.
Financially speaking, the Comfortractor was a flop. But the innovative enclosed-cab tractor also proved to be the forerunner of today’s modern tractors, which are not only highly functional but also include every creature comfort imaginable.