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Documents of tractor history donated to Floyd County museum

By James Grob, jgrob@charlescitypress.com

The Floyd County Historical Museum was the beneficiary of a large load of tractor history on Thursday, courtesy of a Duane Starr.
“These are all sorts of service letters for Minneapolis-Moline tractors,” said Mary Ann Townsend, director of the museum. “These are very important when people call and ask us questions.”
Starr, who worked for the Oliver Corporation out of Omaha, brought binders filled with historic records of maintenance manuals, shop manuals and tech service manuals and other documentation to the museum.
“This is all Minneapolis-Moline information, it’s what we had at the Oliver branch in Omaha,” Starr said. “When they married M-M and Oliver together, this was the stuff that came from the Minneapolis-Moline company, and I was the branch service manager.”
Starr has saved the documentation for more than 30 years. He said when he left the company, he knew the documents were likely to be “thrown in the dumpster.”
“Somebody needs to do some good for somebody,” he said. “I thought this would be the place for it.”
Townsend said the museum uses the manuals to help provide information to customers — tractor and farm implement collectors and others who contact the museum to learn more about vintage tractors. This also helps to provide a revenue stream to support the museum.
Charles W. Hart and Charles H. Parr built their first traction engine in Charles City in 1901. By 1907 they were exporting tractors abroad and were first to use the word “tractor” in their advertisements, coining the word.
In 1929, Hart-Parr and three other companies merged and the new company was called the Oliver Farm Equipment Company. In the 1940s, Minneapolis-Moline was acquired. At one time, the Charles City location employed more than 3000 workers.
In the 1960s. Minneapolis-Moline lines were blended into that of Oliver until there was virtually no difference between them anymore. Starr said the M-M records he donated go all the way back to the 1930s, up through 1972. He started working in the Omaha branch in 1966.
Starr has also done extensive research on what are known as “bill cards.”
“People are looking for this information all the time and Mary Ann is really able to provide it for them,” Starr said.
He explained that in 1954 the company used IBM punch cards and built five cards for every tractor built. The cards were “like birth certificates for tractors,” they followed the life of a tractor down assembly line until it was released for shipment.
“What I’ve done is, I’ve recorded serial numbers and how the tractor was equipped and compiled the records,” Starr said. “People can purchase a copy of the card, take the card home and learn all about the tractor.”
“People really want to know this stuff,” added Townsend. “It’s like if you bought an old Chrysler — you’d love to have this information, the day it was built, when it was shipped, who it was shipped to.”
Starr worked as branch service manager for Oliver, then became western division manager, which included everything to the west coast. He ended up in Coldwater, Ohio, when tractor assembly operation was transferred there in the 1980s.
“I did a lot of sales work while I was there, and so the last I worked for the company, I was the product training manager for North America,” he said.

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