A Life of Giving: Marcus Griep’s Minneapolis-Moline Model ZAU Tractor

A Life of Giving: Marcus Griep’s Minneapolis-Moline Model ZAU Tractor

by

Brian Wayne Wells

As published in the May/June 1997 issue of

Belt Pulley Magazine

            At various antique tractor shows around the nation, you can see service tractors which have, at some point, been restored with a new coat of paint and the proper decals, but usually they are not as pampered as the tractors meant exclusively for exhibition.  Service tractors provide the day-to-day power needed to prepare a site for a show.  They are expected to start the first time, every time, in all kinds of weather.  They are expected to pull water wagons for steam engines, to pull graders and drags for grooming the grounds, and even to pull the other pampered tractors in attempts to start them.  Service tractors usually do the seed bed preparation and planting of the crops in the spring and the binding of the grain in the summer, well before the fall threshing shows.  More often than not, service tractors are neglected and taken for granted.  They usually are not registered for the show nor are they usually paraded with the other tractors.  Instead, they tend to be invisible to the viewing public as they perform the more mundane tasks.  In other words, they are treated much the same as a tractor on a working farm.  In this way, service tractors are the best example of a “real farm tractor” that a show may actually possess.

One such tractor on the grounds of the LeSueur County Pioneer Power Association is a 1949 Minneapolis-Moline ZAU, Serial No. 0064903012 (hereinafter referred to as “No. 3012”), last owned by the late Marcus Griep of nearby Henderson, Minnesota.  Marcus remembered No. 3012 from his childhood on his family’s farm.  In the years following the death of his father, Oscar Griep, in January of 1982, Marcus used No. 3012 to perform useful duties and impromptu acts of kindness throughout the Henderson community, like helping people get their cars started in the winter.  The very fine recent history of Henderson (Henderson: Then and Now) contains a pictorial record of Marcus Griep’s community involvement–helping city workers hang Christmas decorations and participating in the community beard growing contest.

His early membership and participation in the activities of the LeSueur County Pioneer Power Association led him to bring No. 3012 out to the Pioneer Power grounds to continue a family tradition of service to the Henderson/Dresselville/LeSueur community.  Although Marcus, himself, was most often in attendance at “work nights” on the new 93-acre site which had just been purchased by the Association in 1980, he made it clear that No. 3012 was to be used by association members in his absence if the need arose.  Soon No. 3012 became a regular sight around the grounds, performing all sorts of tasks.

In late April of each year, the tractor can be found pulling the road grader, leveling the roadways around the grounds in preparation for the LeSueur County Pioneer Power Swap Meet.  Also, No. 3012 is used to pull wagons loaded with seed corn and oats during the spring planting of the fields located on the grounds.  After the wheat and oats are ripe and have dried in the shocks in the fields, No. 3012 is once again used by the crews to pull the loaded bundle wagons.  During the Show, No. 3012 can be seen pulling water wagons for the steam engines and pulling the trash pickup wagon through the campgrounds in the morning.  In short, No. 3012 continues to give good service to the LeSueur County Pioneer Power Association, long after its previous owners–Marcus and his father Oscar–have passed away.  Even today, the tractor is continuing a Griep family tradition of community service to the LeSueur area.  (In the Second Hour portion of Tape #5 of the International Harvester Movies, No. 3012 can be seen doing just that–pulling the road grader in preparation for the 1993 Pioneer Power Swap Meet.)

The family tradition of service began with Marcus’ grandfather, Reverend A.O. Mann, who served as the last minister of the Salem-St. Paul’s Evangelical and Reform Church located in the small unincorporated settlement of Dresselville, Minnesota.  August Oscar Mann was born on January 29, 1885, in Detmold, Missouri, as the son of a local flour miller.  His family later moved to Washington, Missouri, where A.O. spent his childhood.  On April 23, 1911, he married Lydia Panhorst from his hometown and on March 2, 1912, had one daughter, Viola. 

After 20 years in education, serving as a teacher in various country schools in the German-American community of Washington, Missouri, and serving as superintendent of schools in Gasconade County, Missouri, August decided to change course.  He enrolled in Eden Theological Seminary in St. Louis, Missouri, on his way toward becoming a minister in the Evangelical Reform Church.  In 1923, he graduated from the seminary and was installed as minister at the Evangelical Reform Church in Cambridge, Maryland.  In 1926, however, he was able to transfer back to Missouri to take up a vacant pulpit in his parents’ church in Washington.  Viola grew up, and in the fall of 1930, she enrolled at the University of Missouri at Columbia.  She wished to follow in her father’s footsteps and become a school teacher.  In a time when a two-year certificate was most common for a teacher, Viola graduated with a full four-year baccalaureate degree.

By the time Viola graduated, her parents were living in North Dakota, where A.O. Mann was serving as minister in New Salem.  Viola moved to her parents’ home and obtained a teaching position which was scheduled to begin in the fall of 1935.  However, before Viola could begin teaching, her father was called to St. Paul’s Evangelical and Reformed Church in the little town of Henderson, Minnesota.

Henderson (pop. 672 in 1930) is a small town nestled on the west bank of the Minnesota River, about 60 miles south of Minneapolis and St. Paul.  The town was incorporated in 1855.  A ferry connecting the town of Henderson with LeSueur County on the east side of the Minnesota River was started in 1856 and would continue in operation until 1877 when a bridge would be built spanning the Minnesota River at Henderson.  In the days when river boats plied the Minnesota River, Henderson served as an important supply center for eastern Sibley County.  Henderson’s economic focus was directed primarily to the west.  Goods would be off-loaded at the landing and dispersed to all points west in Sibley County.  (See the newly published very fine history of Henderson, Henderson: Then and Now 1852-1994 [Crow River Press: Hutchinson, Minn. 1995], p. 106.)

Symbolic of this westward outlook of Henderson is Main Street, which begins at the steamboat landing and proceeds steeply up hill, curving gently to the south and then to the north before curving to the west again and emerging out of the Minnesota River Valley onto the flat tabletop prairie that is Sibley County.  Henderson is a river town, but the city limits extend all the way west to the crest of the heavily-wooded bluffs to the point where the prairie begins.  The coal black soil of this prairie was and still is the primary source of wealth in the community, reliably delivering bountiful crops of wheat, corn and oats.

In about 1913, William Griep and his wife Bertha (Kiep) Griep bought a farm west of Henderson.  They moved to their new farm from another farm located across the Minnesota River near Ottawa, Minnesota.  On their new farm they raised four sons–Oscar, Arthur, Francis and Clarence.  In Henderson, the boys went to school and made friends with some of the other boys in this German community.  In particular, from a very early age, they played with Frank, Fred and Harold Steckman.  Oscar Griep–who was born on November 11, 1905–eventually became a partner in his parents’ diversified farming operation.

The Griep family were members of the Evangelical Reform Church in Henderson when, in 1935, Pastor Mann and his family came to occupy the pulpit.  During the church activities, Oscar Griep was attracted to the pastor’s daughter, Viola Mann, who by this time had obtained a teaching position at Independent School District No. 2, a country school located in Henderson Township west of the city of Henderson.  (Henderson, p. 583.)  Viola taught school here in 1936-1937, and then began teaching first grade in the Henderson city school system in the fall of 1937.  While teaching, Viola continued to live with her parents in the church parsonage, and she and Oscar courted each other.  After some time, they became engaged.  Anticipating the marriage and anxious to set out on his own, Oscar purchased an 80-acre farm on the prairie west of Henderson.  Indeed, Oscar’s new farm bordered the western edge of the city limits of Henderson, and was located right at the very point where the valley abruptly changed into flat prairie.

Following their wedding on August 8, 1940 (at which Fred Steckman served as best man), Oscar and Viola set up their farming operation.  Viola continued to teach first grade in Henderson and, in addition, helped with raising the pigs, milking the cows, feeding chickens, and gathering eggs.  Together, she and Oscar worked hard to make the farm their own.  They sold their eggs to Schultz’s Grocery in Henderson and to the egg plant in Henderson which was owned and operated for a short time by Chester (“Chesty”) Narr.  (Henderson p. 253.)  Each year, Viola and Oscar would save about 200 eggs to be taken to the hatchery in Arlington, Minnesota, to start their new flock of laying hens for the next year.  Oscar obtained an Angus bull and bred their 12 to 14 Holstein and Guernsey dairy cows and then sold the crossbred calves.  In the summer, when Viola was not teaching, she was helping with the crops.  They raised winter wheat, oats, corn and hay.  For threshing the small grains, Oscar joined a threshing ring with Ed Wudalmann and Ed Bertrang–from adjacent farms to the north of the Griep farm–and together the three farmers purchased a 26″ x 46″ Woods Brothers thresher.  In the middle of the summer, this thresher would be pulled by Ed Bertrang’s Farmall F-20 from one farm to the next to thresh all the oats and wheat on the three farms.

Oscar and Viola worked hard during their first two years on the farm, performing all the field work with horses.  The agricultural depression which had begun in 1921 still had a grip on the farm economy of the country.  However, by 1942, big changes were afoot in the world that would directly affect the midwest.  The United States had entered the Second World War in December of 1941, and this caused an increased demand for farm products to feed the armed forces fighting a two-ocean war.  This huge demand put a quick end to the lingering agricultural depression, and farmers once again began to see good prices for their products.  Now, for the first time in a long while, farmers had the money to begin modernizing and expanding their farming operations.  So, too, Oscar and Viola Griep began thinking about purchasing a tractor to mechanize their farm.

Small as it was, Henderson was home to two farm equipment dealerships.  On Main Street, down near the bridge over the Minnesota River, was the Wieland Oliver dealership, owned and operated by brothers Fred and Walter Wieland.  Further to the west and across Main Street was the International Harvester dealership, once owned and operated by Herman Lindorff, but, since 1937, owned and operated by the Steckman brothers (Oscar’s old childhood friends).  In 1942, both the Wieland and Steckman dealerships were taking advantage of the great increase in demand for tractors and other modern farm machinery which was being propelled by the war.  However, they were also feeling the pinch of the shortage of new farm equipment as the war effort began to dominate all of the industrial capacity of the nation.  Indeed, as early as April of 1941, the Office of Price Administration (OPM) had been operating under an executive order by President Roosevelt.  (James McGregor Burns, Roosevelt: The Soldier of Freedom [Harcourt, Brace Jovanovich, Inc: New York, 1970], p. 116.)  As war loomed and the Lend Lease Assistance to Britain and the Soviet Union demanded more and more of the industrial capacity of the nation, OPM exercised increasing authority over prices and wages and placed heavy restrictions on the production of new farm machinery.  Consequently, when Oscar Griep walked into the Steckman Bros. dealership to see his old friends about a tractor, they could not be very encouraging about the possibilities of selling him a new tractor; however, they were able to offer him a used tractor–a Minneapolis-Moline Model RTU.

The Model RTU had been introduced in 1939 by the Minneapolis-Moline Company as the latest and smallest of its line of “Prairie Gold” tractors.  The Model RTU was intended to serve as a downsized version of the first Prairie Gold tractor, the Model Z, which had been introduced in 1936.  It contained the same simplified engine with a 3-5/8″ bore that was contained in the Model ZTU, except that the stroke of the RTU engine was shortened to 4″ rather than 4-1/2″.  Tests at the University of Nebraska in 1940 found that the two-plow RTU delivered 21.63 horsepower to the belt and 15.66 horsepower to the drawbar.  (C.H. Wendel, Nebraska Tractor Tests Since 1920 [Motorbooks Publishers: Oseola, Wis., 1985], p. 125.)  The tractor had been intended as the perfect tractor for the small farmer who wished to mechanize his farming operation.  In other words, it was a tractor intended for farmers just like Oscar Griep.

Since Steckman’s Bros. was an International Harvester dealership, we do not know for certain how this particular Model RTU had found its way to Steckman Bros. nor do we know where the RTU was originally sold.  However, if it were a local tractor, it is likely that it was originally sold through the Ewald Brandt Dealership in nearby LeSueur, Minnesota.  Although Minneapolis-Moline offered optional lights, electric starting, and a battery for the Model RTU, this particular tractor did not have these very common optional features.  Nonetheless, the RTU did have rubber tires on the front and the rear.  Oscar felt that the tractor would meet his needs, and so a deal was struck for the Model RTU and for a new International Harvester Little Genius 2-14 bottom plow on steel wheels.  Oscar took his newly purchased farm equipment home and put them to work on his farm.

In 1942, Viola quit teaching to be able to spend more time at home on the farm.  She also became a mother when, on June 20, 1942, their first a son, Kenneth, was born.  Viola, however, remained active in the Henderson community, serving as organist in her father’s church, and she also began to teach piano lessons out of her home.  Later, she pursued her intellectual concerns by working at the local weekly newspaper–the Henderson Independent–which came out every Thursday.  The convenient location of the Griep farm at the edge of the city limits of Henderson allowed Viola to pursue the community service work that was her passion.  On July 26, 1947, another son, Marcus, was born.  Later, their family was made complete by the birth of a daughter, Karen, on November 8, 1950.  Young Marcus became enthralled with tractors even as a toddler, an interest that would follow him the rest of his life.

The Second World War flung many of Henderson’s young sons to the far reaches of the earth.  When they returned in 1945, they sought to settle into their community again.  This was not always easy.  One of the many returning Henderson veterans was Willard Busse.  Willard had always been interested in mechanics, and upon his return, he entered the vocational school at Mankato, Minnesota, to pursue this interest.  Near the end of the course of study, each student was required to perform some apprenticeship work in an actual mechanic’s garage.  Willard was able to obtain an apprenticeship at the Weiland Oliver dealership in his hometown of Henderson, where he was working when Oscar Griep’s Mineapolis-Moline Model RTU was brought in for repair.

On the whole, the Model RTU was performing well on the Griep farm; however, there was one small problem.  The tractor appeared to work well for short periods of time, but then suddenly would lose all oil pressure for no apparent reason.  Oscar returned the tractor on numerous occasions to Steckman’s to have the problem fixed.  However, the mechanics at Steckman’s were baffled as to the source of the problem.  Following repeated unsuccessful attempts to fix the problem, Steckman’s turned to Weiland’s to get a second opinion.  Eventually, the problem tractor was assigned to Willard Busse to diagnose the problem.  He set to work on the oil pressure regulator where he suspected the real problem existed, and eventually settled on a valve in the oil pressure regulator which appeared to become stuck intermittently.  This valve consisted of a steel ball which was held into a seat by a sleeve and a spring behind the sleeve.  The spring and sleeve pressed the ball against the seat to allow oil to pass through the valve only when the proper amount of oil pressure was created by the engine.  When stuck open, oil would flow through the regulator on a continual basis and all oil pressure would be lost.  Willard found that if he removed the sleeve and the spring was allowed to press against the ball directly without the sleeve, the tractor ran with no problems.  Consequently, he removed the sleeve from the tractor and let the spring act alone against the ball in the regulator valve.  The tractor was returned to Oscar Griep without any additional problems thereafter.  To this day, Willard still does not understand why the tractor ran better without the sleeve in the regulator valve, but suspects that there must have been some imperfection in the sleeve that would catch inside the valve and would cause the valve to become stuck in the open position, thus the tractor would have no oil pressure.  Nonetheless, following the repair, Willard’s continued employment at Weilands was assured!  Willard continued to work at Weiland’s until 1950 when he left to pursue his own business.

In 1952, although the RTU was now operating well, Oscar Griep felt that it was time to upgrade his farm machinery and to expand his farming operation.  Although there had been a dip the prices of farm commodities following the Second World War, this economic crisis ended with the coming of the Marshall Plan, as has been discussed elsewhere.  (“The Anthony Company of Streator Illinois” Belt Pulley, Vol. 8, No. 4 [July/August 1995], p. 19.)  Stabilization of the whole farm economy created an opportunity for agricultural expansion, and the Korean War extended this opportunity.  Sometime following the Second World War, Oscar Griep purchased a pre-October 1936 gray Farmall F-20 to help out with the farming.  In 1952, he purchased another 80 acres of land adjacent to his farm.  Although much of this new acreage was covered with timber and was not arable, the increase in the size of the farming operation meant that there would be more work for all.  Because he had two growing boys who could help with the field work, Oscar felt that he could work more effectively with more and newer farm equipment.  Accordingly, in 1952, he sold the gray F-20 and bought a newer F-20 from a  neighbor Ray Gasta.  This newer F-20, one of the red post-October 1936 models, was outfitted with a manure loader which was to ease the task of hauling manure to the fields.  Also, he went back to Steckman’s and made a deal on a new McCormick-Deering W-4 standard tractor.             The next year, 1953, Reverend Mann was called to the pulpit of the Salem-St. Paul’s Evangelical and Reformed Church in the small unincorporated hamlet of Dresselville, Minnesota.  Four years earlier, in 1949, the German Evangelical Salem Church, located a little over three miles away in Tyrone Township, had closed its doors and merged with the St. Paul’s Church to form the Salem-St. Paul’s Evangelical and Reform Church.  (Although the Salem church has not been used as a church since 1949, the building still stands and is maintained in good repair by volunteers from the Tyrone township community as a monument to the first settlers of the area who built the church in 1868.)  Dresselville was settled by German immigrants in 1856 and named for Phillip Dressel who ran the Dresselville Post Office out of his home.  Even at its height of development, Dresselville contained only a Post Office, a creamery, and the St. Paul’s Church and parsonage.  By 1953, Dresselville itself was in distinct decline.  Today, nothing is left at the site of the Dresselville settlement except the church cemetery, but the name Dresselville lives on.  Today, the memory of the unincorporated settlement of Dresselville is carried forward in a more concrete way.  Prior to its official incorporation in March of 1977, the LeSueur County Pioneer Power Association had been holding its annual threshing shows under the name of Dresselville-Tyrone Threshers.  In February, 1980, the Pioneer Power Association purchased the old Dresselville Creamery building from LeSueur County for $1.00, moved the creamery building to its present location on the Showgrounds and restored it to its original appearance.  Some years earlier, the creamery building had been moved from Dresselville by LeSueur County to a location near German Lake, where it was being used as a garage for highway equipment.  (The restored structure can be seen on the cover of the November/December 1996 Belt Pulley magazine as a backdrop for Charlie Schleeve’s Minneapolis-Moline Model ULDX.)

Reverend Mann continued as minister at the Dresselville Church until 1960, when the little congregation at Salem-St.Paul’s Church voted to close its doors and merge with Zion United Church of Christ in LeSueur, Minnesota.   Following his last sermon on June 26, 1960, Reverend Mann and Lydia retired to a house located on 20 acres of land across the road from the Griep farm.  Reverend Mann died in 1967; however, Lydia continued to live in the house until 1972.

Meanwhile, improvements continued to be made on the Griep farm.  In 1959, Oscar Griep once again upgraded his tractors by trading in the RTU to Steckman Brothers on the purchase of a Farmall 300 and a 1949 Minneapolis-Moline ZAU (the above noted No. 3012).  Minneapolis Moline introduced the ZAU to replace the Model ZTU which had been the first “Prairie Gold” tractor in 1936.  The ZAU contained the same engine as the Model ZTU with its 3-5/8″ bore; however, the stroke had been lengthened to 5″ and the engine speed had been accelerated from 1400 rpm to 1500 rpm.  As a result, the ZAU had a rated drawbar horsepower of 25.18, over the 15.98 of the Model ZTU.  The ZAU also offered optional hydraulic power.  No. 3012 came with the optional hydraulics, complete with a Minneapolis-Moline mounted two-row cultivator.  This cultivator is still located on the Griep farm.

Oscar’s son Kenneth remembers that ever since Oscar originally purchased the RTU in 1941,  Steckman’s always seemed to bring any Minneapolis-Moline that they took in on trade out to the Griep farm to try and sell it to Oscar.  In the case of No. 3012, the Steckman’s were successful, and Oscar made a deal on the two tractors.  As a result, the Oscar Griep family came to have four tractors: the Farmall F-20 with loader; the International W-4; and the two recent additions, the Farmall 300 and No. 3012.  However, even with these tractors, Oscar continued to use work horses on the family farm until 1962.     Over the years, Oscar also purchased two additional International Harvester Little Genius 2-14″ plows from Steckman’s, such that both of his sons could help in the fields during busy times of the year.  This help was needed, as Oscar and Viola began farming another 12 acres down by the river, down the hill and to the south, just outside of Henderson.

Eventually, the Griep children grew up and moved off the farm.  Kenneth attended Mankato State University, South Dakota State University, and the University of Minnesota, becoming an electrical engineer.  He is now employed at General Electric in Schenectady, New York.  Karen graduated from Mankato State University and became a teacher and Middle School counselor, following in the footsteps of her grandfather, A.O. Mann, and her mother, Viola.  She now lives in New Brighton, Minnesota.  Marcus remained on the farm and became partners with his father in the farming operation.  He also worked at McGraw Monument Works in LeSueur, Minnesota.  Upon the death of Oscar Griep in January of 1982, the family held an estate auction to sell most of the farm machinery.  At the auction, with his attraction to farm tractors now a permanent part of his psyche, Marcus unexpectedly outbid all buyers to keep No. 3012 and the other three tractors in the family.  Marcus continued to live on the family farm after his father’s death, but his life was cut short all too soon when he died of lung cancer on November 17, 1991.  While inventorying the estate of Marcus Griep, the family found that No. 3012 was located on the grounds of the LeSueur County Pioneer Power Association.  The tractor ran well and had been restored with a new coat of paint and the proper decals.  The family also found that No. 3012 had become an established part of the operations at the Showgrounds, not as a pampered show tractor, but as a service tractor which was started on a regular basis (even in the winter) and used to perform all kinds of work around the grounds.

Pioneer Power member Charlie Schleeve has given the tractor a tuneup, and also has donated a Minneapolis-Moline wheel weight which will be mounted on the left side of the tractor–the left side being the land-wheel side while pulling a moldboard plow.  This wheel weight will facilitate the use of #3012 in plowing demonstrations to be held during the August 22-24, 1997, LeSueur County Pioneer Power Threshing Show which will feature the Minneapolis-Moline Collector’s National Convention.  To be sure, the Charlie Scleeve collection of rare Minneapolis-Moline models will attract much attention at this particular Show.  (See the article on Charlie’s Minneapolis-Moline Model UDLX by Cindy Ladage in the November/December 1996 Belt Pulley.)  However, the 1997 Minneapolis-Moline National Convention will offer visitors a chance to see No. 3012 hitched to an appropriate 2- or 3-bottom Minneapolis-Moline plow, doing a couple of rounds during the field demonstrations, and, in addition, visitors will also see #3012 in its more typical role–making the rounds performing daily duties.

Although in the intervening years Viola has moved to New Brighton to be near her daughter and none of the Griep family members remain in Henderson, the family has retained ownership of the 160-acre home farm and the 20-acre house site across the road which served as the retirement home of their grandfather A.O. Mann.  Three Griep family tractors–the Farmall F-20 with the loader, the Farmall 300, and the International W-4–are still housed indoors on the Griep farm.  Meanwhile, on the Pioneer Power Showgrounds, No. 3012 continues to carry on a Griep family tradition of service to the community.  There can be no better remembrance for the departed members of any family.

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