In the mid-30's, Minneapolis-Moline was looking for a way to increase their share of the tractor market. Figuring that farmers, while plowing their fields - subjected to scorching sun, cold rain, and stinging hail - would like a bit of shelter, they came up with the revolutionary idea of making a tractor with a completely enclosed cab. While they were at it, they also had the unusual idea that farmers would like a tractor that could also be used as a car. Cars and tractors are expensive, they thought, and the Great Depression wasn’t doing anyone any favors, so why not build a vehicle that could be both car and tractor? The result: The Minneapolis-Moline Comfortractor.
Although it was based on the design of their Model U tractor, the modifications were extensive. It featured new bodywork with streamlined fenders and an upright grille with extra chrome and a fully-enclosed engine bay, as well as a fancy chrome bumper and the aforementioned enclosed cab, which sat so low that the driver would sit right next to the gearbox. But they didn’t just dress it up to look like a car, they also made some clever tweaks to the drivetrain to make it drive more like a car when you wanted to use it as one.
The rear axle remained the same as the Model U’s, but the engine received new bearings and the transmission was modified. The new transmission had a special housing with a second shifter. This second shifter would disable the first four gears at road speeds, reducing the number of moving parts by a quarter. Under tractor operation, the top speed was about 25 mph, which was about the most you could expect out of the average tractor at the time. But when operating as a car with the use of that fancy transmission, it could reach speeds as high as 40 mph!
That might not sound like a lot, but bear in mind that at this time, a lot of people were still driving Ford Model Ts, which only topped out at about 42. So at the time, you could totally have used this tractor as a car without holding up traffic too bad. Also, being a tractor, it had no suspension, so you wouldn’t have really wanted to exceed 40 mph anyways. Only one other tractor at the time - the Graham-Bradley General Purpose Tractor - could match that speed, but it didn’t have the car-like cab of the Comfortractor.
Speaking of the cab, on the inside, the Comfortractor featured several car-like luxury items as well. It featured a dashboard with a radio, speedometer, oil and water temperature gauges, a cigarette lighter, and a glove box. It was the unofficial Cadillac of tractors.
Sadly, this was exactly why it failed. When it was revealed amid much fanfare, farmers were shocked by the price tag of a whopping $1,900. At the time, you could buy a regular tractor for around $1,000 and a new Ford for $725, so the only real incentive to get a Comfortractor was the enclosed cab and the fact that if you used it as both a car and tractor, you’d only have to maintain one vehicle rather than two. But most farmers decided it simply wasn’t worth it. Buying a car and tractor separately was cheaper, and cars were much better at being cars anyway.
In the end, they only built about 150 of the things, and the few people that bought them complained about the cabin getting hot thanks to being in close proximity to the engine, as well as poor visibility, dismal brakes, and horrible ride quality on the road. Even then, it’s still a fascinating part of automotive and agricultural history (and significant in that it was the first tractor with an enclosed cab to sell in significant numbers) and it’s one of the most unique classic tractors out there.