| July/August 1977

  • Shoveling muck to free the tractor
    Shoveling muck to free the tractor. Morris by left driver and myself by the platform.
  • Shoveling much and roots
    Knutson and Blomgren shoveling much and roots. Note the winch dumped off into the rushes.
  • About to cross the alder brush island
    About to cross the alder brush island and heading for the hill.
  • Highlift jack to raise the Universal
    Morris working the highlift jack to raise the 'Universal' from its grave.

  • Shoveling muck to free the tractor
  • Shoveling much and roots
  • About to cross the alder brush island
  • Highlift jack to raise the Universal

Route 1, Box 309, Frederic, Wissconsin.

For some time Morris Blomgren (Siren, Wis.) had known about this 1911 tractor sunk in a bog, not far from Milaca, Minn. It was driven out there during the depression and the dry years of the 1930s. It seems the owner Ray Oskey, had a fantasy some forty years ago, that by mounting a winch on the frame of this tractor, it could be used as a dragline to excavate gravel from those hills on the back forty, up the road a half mile. The thought of selling gravel for roads, to the township, or even the county in those depression years was not to be underestimated, and if it could be done without the usual hand shoveling, all the better. Oskey was a thresherman, as well as a farmer and owned several tractors, but this Minneapolis Universal farm tractor was 'just the checker' for this gravel project. He removed the original opposed motor (keeping all parts) and placed a Dodge motor under the horizontal channel iron frame. Somewhere, he obtained a power winch complete with brake and ?' cable. This unit built on a cast iron base 3x5 feet was fitted on top the tractor frame, and so arranged that the motor could propell the tractor as well as operate the winch. One would have to admit the work of a genious and the hopes for a fortune.

The time had come when Oskey and his two sons were to make the trip to the prospective gravel pit and go into business. What a picture that would have made as they came down the road with that most modern monstrosity. In those years wild hay was salvaged from every meadow, since all farmers had cattle and roughage was at a premium. To avoid hilly ground to the pit site, they would chance a shortcut across this meadow where they had harvested hay. In so doing for some reason the machine came to a grinding halt. In efforts to get it going, somehow a fire started and burning the hay stubble, set the peet bog on fire and thus ended a project, after all that preparation and anticipation.

The following years this meadow was again under water and in that time, muskrats had seen fit to use it for their home and it was now evident, even beavers had anticipated its possibilities. About fifteen years ago Morris met Oskey for the first time, and did buy a Hart-Parr tractor and several gas engines. At that time he was told about this ill-fated tractor. Very few people knew of this stalemate in the swamp and couldn't care less. From a certain point on a town road it was possible to see the cab of the tractor protruding above the catails. (See Although Morriss- hopes to ever retrieve this illusive item were very remote, he still could not perish the thought; what a 'conversation piece,' if, getting it out was possible. He often stopped at Oskeys to visit and salvage original parts. Sifting thru the, heaps of junk on the hillsides, was hampered by brush, bees, and hornets. Although many parts are to be found, he has the gas tank, radiator, and numerous motor parts.

In the spring of 1976, he could no longer resist the temptation to wade out to the tractor and size up the possibilities, knowing too well, if word got out some collector would take up pursuit. Thus in the month of June, Morris, using a 6 foot pole to probe ahead of him for underlying snags or depressions, clambered thru cattails and mud; at one point in water to his waist. To his surprise the cab was in good condition, and the winch above water, but to retrieve it seemed beyond the bounds of common sense, at this time. The serious drought in this northwest area, prompted another checkup in Sept. To his surprise the water had now disappeared, and he could now walk out to the tractor, though it was spongy and damp underfoot. This was indeed a breakthrough for renewed anxiety, and his conclusion was, 'now or never,' lest a rainy spell might occur.

Morris then contacted Richard Knutson, a collector near Braham, Minn, who has an implement truck with tilt bed and winch. Thus the countdown was on for Sept. 28.1 was to ride with Morris for the 75 mile trip in his '67 Rambler, which was loaded with cables, chains, jacks, and blocking. About 5 miles northwest of Milaca, we met Knutson at the Oskey place. Oskey drives a hard bargain, but finally agreed to sell the outfit, as is, minus the winch. Oskey now in his 80s had recently purchased a D7 Cat. Speculation was that it could be rented for $10.00 per hour, but Oskey added, as how he had been down to that swamp and sunk a 15 foot pole and no bottom, and to mire that 7 ton beast would be something. Knutson to the challenge dared think he could pull the mired tractor with his truck winch, and willing to give it a try.


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