Ellis Keystone’s Horse-powered Tread Mill

                           The Ellis Keystone Single Horse Powered

Tread Mill

by

Brian Wayne Wells

As Published in the November/December 2005 issue of

Belt Pulley Magazine

The horse was domesticated by early man in about 4000 to 3000 B.C.E. (Before the Common Era). (Encyclopedia Britannica [University of Chicago: Chicago, Illinois] Volume 5, p. 970.) Naturally, at first, the horse was ridden by man. However, around 2500 B.C.E. the chariot was developed. This was the beginning of the use of horses as a source of “draft” power. Draft power was converted for use in agriculture shortly after that time. From that time up to the middle of the twentieth century, the horse was in widespread use in agricultural fields around the world. Draft power provided by animals was a real step forward for agriculture technology and at first, draft horse power served all the needs of the farmer. However, as agriculture became more mechanized, stationary machines were developed to ease labor for mankind.   A different form of power was needed for these station stationary machines. At first, the power for stationary machines was provided by waterfalls or by the wind. However, these power sources depended too much on the whims of nature to be totally reliable as a consistent source of power for stationary machines. At some time in the past, farmers found that a tread mill could be used to capture animal power as a source of “brake” horsepower for stationary machines. The unit of measurement of force of strength necessary to operate these new stationary machines became known as “horsepower” based on the average pulling power of an average draft horse. Typically, the average draft horse was considered as having the “tractive” power to pull 1/8 of its weight for 20 miles traveling at 2.5 miles per hour. (Ronald Stokes Barlow, 300 Years of Farm Implements [Krause Pub.: Iola, Wisc., 2003] p. 24.) Thus, a typical 1,500 pound draft horse could develop 33,000 foot pounds per minute which became defined as one horsepower (hp.). By changing the nature of the power of the average horse from tractive pulling power to a stationary source of power, the treadmill actually improved on the horse’s ability. A 1000 pound horse on a treadmill inclined at a rate of 1 to 4 (an incline of one inch up for every four inches of length) could develop 1.33 hp. A 1600 pound horse on the same tread mill could develop 2.13 hp. (Ibid.) With the coming of the Industrial Revolution, there was an increased need for stationary power sources not only in agriculture but also in industry. The use of the treadmill was improved in design and efficiency. By 1830 the tread mill had become a very practical source of real power for the farm. Single horse treadmills were used on the farm for such tasks as butter churning, grinding feed for livestock, sawing wood and cutting fodder. The single horse treadmill could supply power at a rate of 32 to 36 revolutions per minute (r.p.m.) on the reel shaft. This speed could then be geared up to 96 to 108 r.p.m. on the main shaft and the attached band wheel. (C.H. Wendel, Encyclopedia of American Farm Implements & Antiques [Krause Pub.: Iola, Wisc., 1997] pp. 211 and 213.)

The stationary grain thresher/separator is one of the labor saving machines developed for agriculture which required brake style power. Development of the thresher started with simple, hand-fed machines to threshing machines with “apron” separating units which could thresh from 35 to 60 bushels per day. (Ibid., p. 336.) These early hand fed threshing machines generally used a single horse or two horse treadmill as a power source. Indeed, the treadmill was so closely associated with hand threshing machines that the horse tread mills were often sold together with threshers as a package deal. Such was the case with the Ellis-Keystone Company of Pottstown, Pennsylvania. The Ellis Keystone Company began as the brainchild of John Ellis from the small community of Ellis Woods, Pennsylvania in Chester County. John was first and foremost an inventor who was thrust into operating his own business. Sometime before 1876, John was engaged in attempting to develop a small hand-fed thresher which would be called the “Champion Grain Thresher.” In 1876, the company was chartered and a factory was built at the corner of Cross and Keim Streets in Pottsville, Pennsylvania for the mass production of the hand-fed thresher and the treadmill. He obtained a patent from the United States Government for part of his new hand-fed thresher on July 1, 1878. He obtained another patent for a different feature of the little thresher on July 25, 1880 and yet a third patent was obtained in October of 1884. Notice of these patents was stenciled onto every thresher made by the Ellis Keystone Company.       Continue reading

Tobacco Farming with a Farmall Super C

                  Tobacco Farming in West Virginia

with the Farmall Super C

by

Brian Wayne Wells

As Published in the September/October2005 issue of

Belt Pulley Magazine

Ever since the Surgeon General’s report of January 11, 1964, linking smoking of tobacco with lung cancer, smoking of cigarettes has been on the decline. Today, with only 22.8% of the public of the United State still engaging in the habit of smoking, it seems hard to imagine a time when the majority of the American public smoked. In 1949, 44-47% of the nation’s total population (50% of all men and 33% of all women) smoked. Cigarette manufacturing was a large and lucrative business. Supplying that large and lucrative business with at least some of the raw product—tobacco plants—were North American farmers, particularly the farmers of the southeastern part of the United States. West Virginia does not produce much tobacco. Currently West Virginia is 16th among all the states in the production of tobacco. In 1953, West Virginia ranked 15th out of the 21 tobacco growing states, ranking just ahead of Missouri in tobacco production. Despite the drought in 1953, West Virginia produced only 4,542,000 pounds of the light burley type of tobacco out of the 2 billion pounds of tobacco produced in the United States that year. Lincoln County in West Virginia produced 31.4% of the State’s total production of tobacco with 1,426,000 pounds grown that year. Hamlin is the county seat of Lincoln County. State Road #3 runs through the center of Hamlin from west to east. About 1½ miles east of Hamlin, State Road #3 intersects with State Road #34. About a mile north of this intersection on S.R. #34 is Harvey’s Creek Road. Living on the first farm on the left down Harvey’s Creek Road in 1953 was Raymond and Edyth Marie (Byrd) Thompson. Raymond worked off the farm and was employed by the Tennessee Gas Company. However, ever since they purchased their 85 acre farm on Harvey’s Creek Road from J.A Pack in January of 1944, Raymond and Edyth had dreamed of making their living from their own land. Much of their farm could not be cultivated because of the rough terrain. Thus, they made the rough terrain profitable by making it a permanent pasture for the Hereford beef cattle they raised. Given the terrain of the State, beef farming is a natural choice for most farming operations in West Virginia. Indeed beef farming does constitute a great deal of the farming conducted in the State of West Virginia. Within the West Virginia beef cattle industry, Hereford cattle are predominant. Additionally, a surprising number of Hereford farmers in West Virginia have become interested in improving blood lines of their Hereford cattle. Toward this end a significant portion of West Virginia beef farmers raised “purebred” Hereford beef cattle. These purebred Hereford farmers will generally register the best cows and bulls in their herds with the American Hereford Association in Kansas City, Missouri. Native West Virginian B.C. (Bud) Snidow, now retired and living in Mission, Kansas, worked for the American Hereford Association from 1951 until 1983. Born in Princeton, West Virginian, Bud Snidow, throughout his career, naturally kept track of the registered Hereford beef industry in his native state. He noted that following the Second World War there was an increase in the number of registered Hereford cattle in West Virginia. This increased pushed West Virginia to a position of 20th among all states in the number of registered Hereford cattle herds. Raymond did not follow the purebred blood lines of the Hereford breed like some beef farmers, but he did insist on raising only Hereford cattle on his farm. He liked his Hereford cattle. Because most of their farm was taken up in the hillsides and bluffs which are common to Lincoln County, West Virginia, leaving only a very small quantity of flat bottom land that was arable, Raymond rented two other 15 acre fields from Eb Oxley. Eb Oxley was actually a distant relative of Raymond and Ethyl Thompson. These two 15 acre fields were located about one mile north of Raymond and Edyth’s farm on S.R. #34 just across the county line into Putnam County. On these two fields rented from Eb Oxley, Raymond raised hay and corn every year alternating the crops from one field to the other every other year. On the very small arable acreage of his own farm, located in the bottom of the Harvey’s Creek “hollow” where they lived, Raymond and Edyth raised oats that they needed for the horses and they also set aside 7/10s of an acre for their tobacco allotment, issued by the United States Department of Agriculture. Pursuant to this allotment Raymond and Edyth were permitted to raise up to 7/10s of an acre of tobacco. Like his neighbors, Raymond knew that, despite the small size of the acreage, tobacco could become a major crop on any farm. For this reason, tobacco allotments were highly prized by farmers. Tobacco raising had been strictly controlled by means of acreage allotments since the 1933 Agricultural Adjustment Act. The original intent of the tobacco acreage allotments was to provide the tobacco farmer with the security of price supports. However, since the end of the Second World War, these price supports had hardly been necessary. The price of tobacco had led all other farm commodities in return for the time and labor invested. Indeed, it was said that the tobacco allotment “paid for many a farm.” As time went by, tobacco allotments added a great deal to the value of a farm. So much so, that some buyers insisted that a particular paragraph be added to the deed of sale of the land they were purchasing which would make specific mention of the transfer of the tobacco allotment with the purchase of the land. (Paragraphs, like these really provided no protection for the buyer of a farm. The Farm Service Agency (F.S.A.) of the United States Department of Agriculture issued acreage allotments, each year, only to the person owning a particular farm that particular year. Any attempted transfer of the acreage allotment not tied to the sale of the farm would not be recognized by the F.S.A. Instead the purchaser of a farm would have to file an application with the F.S.A. each year, to obtain a tobacco allotment for that year.) For Raymond and Edyth Thompson the growing season of tobacco came in the middle of March every year with a trip to Stone’s Southern States, a feed and seed farm supply store on the west end of Hamlin. Raymond would drive off to Stone’s in his Chevrolet pickup and there he would buy the small packet of certified tobacco seed he needed for his tobacco crop. Returning home after picking up a few other things for of the farm, Raymond opened the seed packet and blended the contents together with some corn meal in a coffee can. The individual tobacco seed is so small that a single teaspoon full will contain a million tobacco seeds. Thus, the certified seed is mixed thoroughly with a small quantity of corn meal to allow the seed to be sown in a uniform manner. Tobacco seed which is packaged and sold every year is raised by some tobacco farmers. Indeed a little further up Harvey’s Creek Road where the road crosses the county line into Putnam County, was the 100 acre farm of Stanley and Garnet (Painter) Young and their sons. In addition to their own large tobacco allotment in the early 1950s, the Young family had an additional plot of tobacco that they were “letting go to seed.” The flowers on these tobacco plants would not be removed. Instead the flowers were allowed to bloom and the seed pods were allowed to form. In the fall of the year after these tobacco plants had fully ripened, the seed pods would be harvested and sold to the tobacco warehouse in Huntington, West Virginia. There had been very little snow over the winter of 1952-1953. Although temperatures had been colder than usual in late February, it looked as though March was “coming in like a lamb” with higher than ordinary temperatures. Raymond Thompson burned off a small patch of ground on his farm. This patch was just big enough to be covered by a wooden frame with a large piece of cheesecloth stretched over the wooden frame. After working up this small patch of ground with a garden hoe to form a seed bed, he sowed the corn meal/tobacco seed mixture on the newly worked ground and covered the ground with his “hot house” frame. This frame, which was used every year was made of wooden boards placed edgewise and was nailed together at the corners. This frame was taken down out of storage in the barn. There were some small nails sticking upward out of the frame which would allow a large piece of cheese cloth to be stretched across the frame. The wooden frame and the cheese cloth formed a hot house over the small seed bed where the tobacco seed had been sown. The porous nature of the cheese cloth allowed the sun to shine through to the seed bed and allowed the rain to keep the seed bed moist. However, the heat from the sun was trapped under the cheese cloth and kept the little seed bed warm enough to allow the tobacco to germinate, despite the cold weather and occasional snows of the late winter and early spring . Indeed, Raymond and Ethyl also started a bed of leaf lettuce under the same cheese cloth “hot house” to get an early start on the family garden. Raymond would make daily inspections of the hot house under the cheese cloth. Gradually, he would begin to see the young tobacco sprouts poking up out of the ground under the cheese cloth. After the spouts leafed out and became small seedlings, Raymond would start removing the hot house frame from the seed bed during the daylight hours and cover the bed again at night. This procedure allowed the tobacco seedlings to absorb the direct sunlight during the day and to “harden,” or become accustomed to the warming weather outside the hot house. Eventually, the weather would be warm enough to allow the hot house frame to be removed altogether. The tobacco seedlings would continue to grow as Raymond began his seasons work on the rest of his farm. He tilled the ground on his farm with his horses to form a proper seedbed. Then, he sowed the oats that he would need for the next year to feed the horses. Next, he planted his corn. As in years past, he borrowed a wire-check corn planter from a neighbor to plant his corn. The wire-check planter came complete with a roll of wire that was long enough to stretch all the way across any field. This wire contained little wire buttons attached to the wire at intervals of 42 inches. This wire was stretched across the field along the side of the field where the farmer wanted to begin planting corn. The wire was attached to the checking mechanism the located on the side of the planter. As the horses pulled the planter across the field the buttons would slide through the checking mechanism and trip the planter releasing seed into the ground with each tripping action. The result would be that the corn would be planted uniformly in 42 inch spaces along the rows. When the horses and planter reached the end of the field, the wire was temporarily disconnected from the planter. The horses and planter were then turned around to line up for the next two rows of corn to be planted along side the first two rows just completed. The wire was then attached to the checking mechanism on the opposite side of the planter. As the planter moves across the field again, the wire passing through the checking mechanism, again, tripped the planter to release seed corn to the ground at 42 inch intervals and the seed placement in these next two rows exactly matched the seed placement in the first two rows just planted. Thus, the corn would be in a grid of 42 inch rows and with “hills” of corn located 42 inches apart along each row. This would allow the corn to be “cross-cultivated” as well as cultivated lengthwise. This way, the weeds within the rows between the hills of corn could also be controlled. Next it was time to transplant his tobacco to the field. Because, tobacco plants remove a great deal of nutrients from the soil during the growing season, Raymond had to rotate the tobacco crop to a different field each year to prevent the soil from becoming “exhausted.” This year, as an additional guard against soil depletion, he started the practice of adding some artificial fertilizer to the tobacco ground. He “broadcast” the fertilizer on the ground with a horse-drawn fertilizer spreader after disking the soil and before he finalized the seed bed with a peg-tooth harrow or drag. Following suggestions of tobacco experts at the F.S.A., he spread the fertilizer at a rate of 200 pounds per acre. Tobacco allotments are issued by the F.S.A. in sizes ranging from as little as 1/10th an acre upwards in steps of 1/10th of an acre. Generally, in Lincoln County, tobacco allotments ranged from ½ (or 5/10s) of an acre to a full-acre. As noted above, Raymond’s allotment was 7/10s of an acre. The transplanting stage was one of the stages where he really “felt” the size of this large allotment. To be sure the ground intended for the tobacco that year could be worked up into a seedbed with the horses, just as in the other fields. However, the transplanting of the tobacco was all handwork. The little tobacco transplants were carefully dug up and placed in a large tub and then taken to the field. Then a long string with a stake on either end was uncoiled and stretched across the entire field. The string was tightened into a straight line across the entire length of the field and the stakes were pounded into the ground on either end of the field. Transplanting was an affair for the whole Thompson family. One family member would walk along the string with a stick or a pole and make little holes in the ground along one side of the string—each hole was 18” apart along the string. Another member of the Thompson family could then follow with the tub full of tobacco transplants and place one plant in each hole and then close up the hole around the roots of the transplant with dirt. Packing the ground around the new transplant assured good contact of the root with the dirt of the seedbed and guaranteed the best start possible for the new transplants. When one row was completed over the entire length of the field, the stakes at the ends of the field would be moved over in the seedbed 42”. The string was again tightened out straight across the field and the second row of tobacco transplants was set out in the field. This process was repeated until the whole 7/10ths-of-an-acre field was planted in tobacco. Almost as soon as the whole field had been completely transplanted, the cultivation of the tobacco was begun.   Under the hot summer sun the tobacco transplants grew very fast. Generally, within three weeks after the transplanting of the tobacco, the young plants had grown to the point where the horses and the one row cultivator could not move easily between the rows without damaging the plants. Thus, all cultivation of the tobacco to eliminate weeds had to be completed within the three week period of time following the transplanting of the tobacco crop. Because of the rapid growing nature of the tobacco plants, there was no need to worry about cross cultivating the tobacco. The plants would soon be big enough to cover the space between the plants and shade out any weeds attempting to grow there. In the crush of the summer time field work, Raymond felt himself lucky to cultivate the tobacco three times in the three week period of time that he had to complete the cultivation of the tobacco. Especially since he needed to begin cutting and putting up his hay crop at the same time as he was attempting to cultivate the tobacco three times. Then there was the need to continue the cultivation and cross-cultivation of his corn crop. It was always a busy time. There just were not enough hours in the day. Raymond also knew that he would have to cultivate his corn at least once prior to hay season. Haying was started at about the first of June. He needed to get the hay down and raked into windrows quickly. Cecil Lewis, who provided custom baling of the hay for the farmers in Harvey’s Creek, would be scheduling his New Holland Model 77 baler and Ford Model 8N tractor to visit the farms in the area rather soon. Raymond wanted to have his hay ready for any convenient time that Cecil might have to come to the Thompson farm. However, as he mowed and raked his hay, Raymond had to keep an eye on the tobacco to notice when plants began to grow buds in preparation for flowering. June was the time that the tobacco plants would begin to flower. Some times as soon as one week following the end of cultivation the tobacco plants would begin to flower. To keep the energy of the growing tobacco plants directed toward the growing leaves rather than into the production of flowers, the emerging buds had to be removed from the plants as soon as they started to develop. The operation of removing the flowering buds was another task that had to be completed by hand. The entire tobacco field had to be walked and the buds removed from each individual plant. Even this was not the end of the hand work in the tobacco field, however. Once the flower buds had been removed, some of the tobacco plants would develop “suckers” or additional shoots which would spring up out of the same stem and root system. If allowed to grow these suckers would also sap away energy from the leaves of the plant. So, within a week after the deflowering of the tobacco plants, the field had to be walked again by the family to remove these suckers which may be attempting to grow. These tasks had to be fitted in to the summers work whenever time could be found during their busy summer schedule—whenever the family was not involved in putting up hay and/or cultivating the corn.   There was no time to rest and scarcely enough time to get all the field work done. Then, there were usually rainy days in which no work was accomplished at all. This year in 1953, however, Raymond fervently wished for a few more rainy days. He could see that the leaves of corn were starting to roll up, indicating the lack of water. August was incredibly dry. The radio reported that over in Kentucky the rainfall for the growing season was 12 full inches less than normal. In late August, approaching Labor Day, the leaves on the tobacco plants began to turn from the dark green color of summer to the light green or yellow-green color that indicated that the tobacco plants were beginning to mature. All plants that mature or ripen in the fall, go through a process, whereby, the vital fluids of the plant are returning from the leaves to the roots in the ground for the winter. As the fluids flow out of the leaves, the leaves begin to loose their green color and start to yellow. The more yellow the leaves are, the more fluids have departed the leaves. In tobacco, these fluids in the leaves, and the ingredients that are contained in the fluids, are the very elements thing that make the tobacco leaves marketable. Thus, the proper time to cut the tobacco plants is just when the maturation of the leaves has begun. In this way all the fluids will be retained in the leaves. Accordingly, the tobacco plants are cut off at the stem. Harvesting the tobacco is hand work which requires the work of the whole family. Cutting and handling is performed carefully so as to not damage the outside leaves. These outside or lower leaves are called flynes and are the most valuable leaves. The tobacco plants are then “speared” or placed on a thin 4 foot long stick. The stick full of tobacco plants is then hung upside down on a rack in the barn. Hanging upside down allows any fluids in the stem to flow back into the leaves. The barns in tobacco growing areas of the country are not like barns in other areas of the United States. Usually barns are built tight to prevent cold weather from infiltrating the inside of the barn. However, a tobacco barn is purposely constructed with the boards on the sides of the barn spaced so as to allow cracks between the vertically-placed boards in the walls of the barn. Observing a tobacco barn, a person will see daylight showing through the walls. These cracks allow air to pass through the walls of the barn and air-dry the tobacco hanging inside the barn. The process of air drying tobacco in the barn takes six to eight weeks. During this time Raymond harvested his corn. The yield on the corn was disappointing because of the dry weather. Across Lincoln County in 1953, the yield of corn was down by 9%, from the year before—from 31.8 bushels per acre to 28.9 bushels per acre. (From the National Agricultural Statistics Service page on the website of the United States Department of Agriculture.)   Yet because the drought was limited to the eastern Kentucky and West Virginia areas there was no dramatic rise in price of corn. (Ibid.) Indeed, of the 81,574,000 acres of corn planted across the nation 98.6% (or 80,459,000 acres) was harvested in the fall of 1953, resulting in a nationwide bumper crop of corn that actually depressed corn prices. Additionally, the nationwide “per acre yield” from the 1953 corn harvest averaged 40.7 bushels per acre—fourth highest yield in the history of United States corn farming. On the Thompson farm, this condition meant that not as much corn was actually harvested and the price obtained for the small amount of corn that was harvested was low. Thus, Raymond Thompson would feed a great deal of his corn to his beef cattle. Feeding more corn to the young calves would cause them to gain weight faster and be ready for market at an earlier date. This was one means of diversification of the corn crop that Raymond could employ on his own farm. If corn was not getting a good price then using it for cattle feed could possibly be a way of getting a more money for the corn. However, although surpluses were not as big a problem in the beef market, beef prices had been on a slow, but steady, decline since the December in 1952. After reaching a high of 35 to 36 cents a pound caused by the demands of the Korean War, beef prices had dipped to 20 cents per pound and even now was only was hovering around 25 cents per pound. (Omaha Choice Historic Beef Steer Prices from 1950-2005 page at the United States Department of Agriculture website on the Internet.) So, in 1953, even the beef market was a disappointment for Raymond. Thus, Raymond’s hope for a successful crop year lay with his tobacco crop. Tobacco plants can withstand dry conditions better than corn. Proof of this was shown when the tobacco was harvested. Over all of Lincoln County a new record level tobacco harvest was reached with 1,426,000 lbs, over the entire county—up 2% from 1952. Considering that only 920 acres of tobacco were planted in 1953 as compared with 950 acres in 1952, this was a staggering result considering the extreme dryness of the growing season. The 1953 average yield in Lincoln County was 1,550 lbs. per acre—up almost 5½ % from 1952. The only explanation, that Raymond could find for the higher yield in a dry year was the fact that he had joined many of his neighbors in adding artificial fertilizer to the tobacco ground. Before the tobacco leaves could be sold, however, the Thompson family had to strip the leaves off the stem of each plant. Starting, generally, in November, the process of stripping was also a long process which involved the most hand labor of all the tobacco growing procedures. The sticks full of dried plants were taken down from the drying racks in the barn. The plants were removed from the sticks and the leaves were then stripped from the stem. In order that the leaves would not be too brittle to be destroyed by handling, Raymond usually waited for one of the uncommonly humid days in the fall to get the racks down from the barn and begin the process of stripping. Handling the leaves in a relatively humid environment would not damage the leaves especially the outer or lower leaves which were the most valuable leaves. Handling the leaves at this stage was somewhat messy work. While stripping the leaves by hand a dark residue would settle on the hands. Still it was with some anticipation that the family performed the tasks. At the end of the process, Raymond knew that, in an ordinary year, the 7/10 of an acre allotment would allow his family to load the Chevy pickup up with a thousand pounds of leaves for delivery to the Huntington Tobacco Warehouse at 20 Twenty-Sixth Street in Huntington, West Virginia. Once at the tobacco warehouse, the tobacco would be auctioned off to the highest bidder. Auctions were held at the warehouse from November through January each year. Buyers from the R.J. Reynolds, American Tobacco, Phillip Morris and all the other tobacco companies would be present at these auctions to bid on the tobacco. Coming this late in the year and being the major cash crop on the farm, Raymond would use a portion of the money he would receive for the tobacco to pay off the debts. Then they would get the new shoes and clothes that the children would need. (Carol [Young] Mullins, granddaughter of Stanley and Garnet Young, remembers that she and her family too anticipated Christmas as they worked to strip the tobacco leaves. The Young children looked forward to a happy Christmas which would be financed in part by the money the fetched at market. Anticipating Christmas led the children to work diligently at stripping the tobacco leaves.) This year, in the late fall of 1953 Raymond looked over at his children as they worked together stripping the tobacco. They were becoming adults. Eleanor Gay (“Gay”) and Patricia Fay (“Fay”) were already teenagers and would soon be setting out on their own. Soon he would be more shorthanded that he already was in doing his farm work. He became aware that he would soon have to think about doing something to save time in his farming operation. Toward this end he had been considering the purchase of a farm tractor. He felt this was the year that he would have to make his move to purchase a farm tractor and replace the horses on his farm. Accordingly, over the winter of 1953-54 he visited Henderson Implement Company in downtown Hurricane, West Virginia. Hurricane, West Virginia is located across the county line into Putnam County about 14 miles north of the Thompson farm. Bernie Henderson had started selling horse drawn McCormick-Deering equipment from his dealership located on Main Street in downtown Hurricane. However, since the end of the Second World War, he had found that the market for small tractors was really growing by leaps and bounds. In addition to the Farmall C and Super C, he found that the Farmall Cub was becoming a mainstay of the sales from his dealership. Continue reading

Gravely Motor Plow and Cultivator Company

    The Gravely Motor Plow and

Cultivator Company

of

Dunbar, West Virginia

by

Brian Wayne Wells

           with the assistance of

James O. (“Boone County Jim”) White of Bim, West Virginia

As published in the July/August issue of

Belt Pulley Magazine

            Some individuals are so bathed in inventiveness that they can apply their creativity to whatever field they which they happen to inhabit. Move such an individual from one field of endeavor to another and they will still shine with success and ingeniousness in that field. One such person was Benjamin Franklin Gravely. Born on November 29, 1876, the son of an owners of a chewing tobacco business in Dyer’ Store in Henry County near Martinsville, Virginia; Benjamin attended a school for boys at Mount Airy, North Carolina. After his schooling, Benjamin was employed as a salesman for the Eastman Kodak Company of Rochester, New York.

After a short while of employment at Kodak, Benjamin obtained another job which brought him to Huntington, West Virginia in 1900. There, Benjamin met a young photographer named Charles R. Thomas. They decided to become partners in a photographic business. Thus, was established the Gravely-Thomas Studio located at 948 Third Avenue in Huntington, West Virginia. Benjamin put his inventive mind to work on a problem that arose in the photographic business and soon had invented a photographic enlarger. This machine was called the “Gravely auto-focus Camera Projector.” Over the course of his life, Benjamin would possess 65 patents. However, most of these patents were for products not connected with photography. Most of the patents owned by Benjamin would be related to product which was to become much more closely associated with his name than anything in his photography business.

During this time in Huntington, the tall and handsome, Benjamin Gravely became acquainted with Elizabeth Susan Downie from Pomeroy, Ohio. They fell in love and were married in the fall of 1902 in Pomeroy. Together they would eventually have five children including a son Charles and daughters, Virginia and Louise. Seeking to improve the prospects of his photography business, Benjamin and Elizabeth moved to a house located on east Washington Street in Charleston–the state capitol of West Virginia. Benjamin’s photography business was first located in the Burlew building in Charleston, which housed the Burlew Opera House. Later, Benjamin formed a partnership with his cousin-in-law Marguerite Moore. The new partnership moved to the Sterrett Building located at 124 Capital Street in Charleston. This new location would remain the place of business for Gravely and Moore Photographers for more than 60 years under the guidance of Marguerite, then Benjamin’s son Charles and then his daughter, Louise. The business closed its doors only in 1963.

In May of 1911, Benjamin and Elizabeth moved to a new home in South Charleston. At this new home, Benjamin undertook gardening as a hobby. This gardening was quite a substantial operation as Benjamin not only undertook to raise vegetables to feed his growing family, but undertook to raise fruit trees in addition. The necessity of having to operate the photography business meant that there was very little time left for working in his garden. Thus, Benjamin took advantage of every labor-saving device that he could find for work in his garden. His creative mind led him to design and build his own small “walk behind” tractor for use in his garden. From parts of an old Indian motorcycle, donated to him by a Mr. Doney of South

Charleston, Benjamin began to experiment with many configurations for the tractor that he was now calling his “motor plow.” Benjamin spent five years designing and redesigning the motor plow. Finally, in 1915 he found a successful design that worked in his garden satisfactorily. The tractor was a single-wheeled tractor powered by a small 2 ½ horsepower single-cylinder internal combustion engine which Benjamin built himself. The crankshaft of the engine passed directly through the hub of the wheel. Thus, the weight of the engine served as ballast to provide traction for the tractor. To maintain some semblance of balance on the one-wheeled tractor the engine and flywheel were located on one side of the wheel and the gearing of the transmission was located on the other side of the wheel. The wheel however, was powered by a belt on pulleys on the transmission side of the wheel. Once the neighbors saw the garden tractor working in the yard around his house, they began expressing a real interest in the tractor, which he was now calling a “motor plow.” Based on this interest, Benjamin began to think that he could make a living manufacturing and marketing the motor plow. On December 15, 1916, Benjamin obtained a patent for his little motor-plow. Despite, the fact that the market for the tractor was still viewed as being limited to Benjamin’s friends and neighbors, and despite the fact that production of the tractor was still largely in the hands of Benjamin Gravely himself, Ben filed papers of incorporation for a Gravely Company to be formed. Continue reading

Navy Bean Farming (Part III): The Innes Company

       Navy Bean Farming (Part III): The Innes Company of Bettendorf, Iowa

by

Brian Wayne Wells

As published in the May/June 2005 issue of

Belt Pulley Magazine

As noted previously, a revolution in edible bean farming occurred in 1937. (See the article called Navy Bean Farming [Part II] in the March/April 2005 issue of Belt Pulley magazine.) The effect of that revolution can be seen in the harvest production figures for 1937. Also as noted previously, across the nation that spring, 1,911,000 acres of edible beans were planted. (From the National Agricultural Statistics Service page of the United Sates Department of Agriculture website.) In the fall of that year, 88.7% of this acreage was harvested. (Ibid.) The yield per acre was a record 934 pounds per acre. (Ibid.) This was a 23.7% increase in the average yield of 712 pounds per acre of 1936. After 1937, the average yield never again fell below 800 pounds per acre. (Ibid.) As noted previously, this dramatic and permanent increase in the average yield of navy beans was due in large part to the introduction of the small combine to navy bean harvesting in place of the stationary thresher.

The year 1948 was another revolutionary year in the per acre yield of edible beans. Nationwide, there was a nearly 11% increase in the average per acre yield of edible beans. For the first time the average per acre yield of edible beans rose above 1000 pounds per acre (1,074 pounds per acre). In 1949, the per acre yield rose another 6% to 1,134 pounds per acre. After 1949, despite some growing seasons with adverse weather conditions and mediocre harvests, the average annual yield of edible beans never again fell below 1,100 pounds per acre. If the drastic improvement in the per acre yield of 1937 was the result of the invasion of the combine into the edible bean threshing market, the further drastic improvement in yield in 1948 was the result of the small combine finishing the job of total domination of the edible bean market.

In both cases, the improvement in yield was largely due to the reduction of loss of beans in the harvesting and threshing operation wrought by the combine as opposed to the losses incurred by the stationary thresher method of harvesting and threshing edible beans. The savings in losses were twofold in nature. First, savings in loss of beans were obtained by the fact that combining edible beans resulted in much less “handling” of the beans. Secondly, combining sped up the harvest. Thus, there was less chance of the navy beans being affected by mildew and the resultant discolorization.

As noted earlier, navy beans grown in the state of Michigan composed the largest part of the United States edible bean harvest. In years past, upwards of 80% of the nation’s crop of navy beans were grown in Michigan. Within Michigan, Huron County, lead all other counties in production of navy beans.

The navy bean plant grows to only about 18 inches in height as compared to the 36“ height of a good crop of soybeans. Consequently, every pod of navy beans on the plants in the field becomes important. Thus, whereas the soybean farmer may cut soybeans off at a level 1½ inches above the ground and consider the loss of any pods attached to this 1½ inch stubble left in the field as a very negligible loss, the navy bean farmer, on the other hand, would suffer a considerable loss of yield by leaving 1-½ inch stubble in his navy bean field. Furthermore, prior to the introduction of the first hybrid bush style navy bean variety (the Sanilac variety in 1956), all navy bean varieties were “vining” plants that grew along the ground. Thus, navy beans were harvested by “pulling” the plants. The process of “pulling” involved cutting off the navy bean plants below the ground. Traditionally, this was accomplished with a horse-drawn one-row cultivator fitted with “knives” that would pass under the ground and cut the row of navy bean plants off at the root below the ground. The navy beans vines would then be left lying on top of the ground. After the navy bean crop had been pulled, the farmer would return to the field with a pitch fork and stack, or “cock” the vines into conveniently located piles spaced throughout the field. The vines would, then, await the day that the neighborhood thresher arrived on the farm before they were forked onto the wagon and hauled to the thresher and then forked into the thresher. Each handling of the vines would result in a further loss of beans as the pods either fell off or were cracked open letting the beans fall on the ground. Furthermore, additional handling of the beans occurred if a rain fell while the vines were cocked in the field, as the farmer would have to return to the navy bean field with his pitchfork and turn each pile of navy bean vines to allow the vines to dry thoroughly without mildewing.

Even the navy beans which successfully, made it through the harvesting process were not necessarily saleable. Once delivered to the grain elevator, the navy beans were inspected by hand. All discolored navy beans were removed. Only the pearly white beans that passed inspection were then marketed. Generally, the farmer would “buy back” the discolored, or “cull,” beans from the elevator. Usually, the cull beans were fed to the pigs or other livestock on the farm. The farmer’s purchase of the cull beans paid for the process of hand inspection of the total bean crop. All over Huron County, Michigan, the inspection of the navy bean crop was done by workers hired by the grain elevator. These workers sat at specialized machines designed to allow navy beans to flow past the eyes of the worker. The cull beans would then be removed by worker one bean at a time. (These machines have since been discarded in favor of faster more efficient automatic machines. However, some of the old machines are kept as antiques of a by-gone era. One such machine is, currently, owned by Dave MacDonald of Bad Axe, Michigan. The machine is kept in his garage and is used to entertain visiting children and grandchildren. Today, instead of separating cull beans from good beans this old machine in the MacDonald garage is used to separate red marbles from white marbles.)

The inspection of navy beans at the elevator had serious consequences for the navy bean farmer . A navy bean farmer could find that 50% of his crop was lost through discolorization. Discolorization was caused by mildew. It was bad enough that the navy bean vines grew so close to the ground, but the hand cocking of the navy beans in the field left the vines lying on the ground and susceptible to mildew. A rain falling on the cocked beans would add even more exposure to mildew.

No wonder then that the combine became so popular in the navy bean fields. The harvesting process was reduced to “pulling” the beans two rows at a time with a tractor. The tractor mounted bean puller would fold the two rows into a single windrow lying on top of the ground. After pulling the entire field of navy beans the farmer would then return the next day, or maybe even the same day to combine the navy beans. As a result there was very little “handling” of the beans. Additionally, after the navy bean vines were “pulled,” the vines spent very little time on the ground in a windrow, exposed to rain and weather, before being threshed by the combine. Thus, mildew and discolorization would have less chance to form on the navy beans.

As noted earlier, the Allis Chalmers All-Crop harvester was the pioneer small combine that led the way in crowding the stationary thresher out of the navy bean field. (See the article called “Navy Bean Farming in Huron County [Part II]: The All Crop Harvester” contained in the March/April 2005 issue of Belt Pulley magazine.) The All Crop Harvester was introduced in 1935. Although by 1947, the suggested retail price of an All Crop Harvester had risen to $885.00 farmers continued to flock to their Allis Chalmers dealers to purchase the little orange combine. The Allis Chalmers Company was turning out 150 All Crop Harvesters per day at the LaPorte, Indiana plant, just to keep up with the huge demand. This was the peak year of production for the All-Crop Harvester. Allis Chalmers had a 40% share of the small combine market. (From the 1954 Allis Chalmers promotional movie called “The All-Crop Story” available on VHS video tape from Keith Oltrogge, Post Office Box 529, Denver, Iowa 52622-0529. Telephone: [319] 984-5292.)

Just one indicator of the role the All Crop Harvester played in this revolutionary change in farming in Huron County, Michigan, was the number of Allis Chalmers dealerships that sprang up all across Huron County. First was the H.A. Henne & Son of Bay Port, Michigan. As noted earlier, although addressed 8982 Henne Road, Bay Port; the Henne dealership was actually located in McKinley Township, 1½ miles east of the city limits of Bay Port. (See the article, cited above, called “Navy Bean Farming in Huron County [Part II]) Henry A. Henne and his son, Floyd, organized this Allis Chalmers dealership business in 1932.

Meanwhile, the privately owned grain elevator in the small town of Ruth, Michigan, had re-organized itself as a farmer owned co-operative elevator in 1933. In 1938, the Ruth Cooperative Elevator also obtained a franchise to sell Allis Chalmers farm equipment and Roman Booms began his long tenure as the chairman of the board of the cooperative. (Roman Booms is mentioned in this capacity in the book called Plow Peddler written by Walter M. Buescher [Glenbridge Pub. Ltd.: MaComb, Illinois, 1992] p. 100.) Over the years, the machinery dealership side of Ruth Co-operative employed a number of local citizens including LaVern Hanselman as service manager and Earl Edwards as parts manager. Also in 1938 Harold Leese obtained an AllisChalmers dealership franchise. Harold established the dealership on the 60 acre farm that he and his wife, Gertrude (Champagne) Leese owned in Gore Township. Located on Kaufman Road, near the village of Port Hope, the Leese farm was just one mile north of the country school/Gore Township Hall on route #25. In 1940, Al Bowron and his son, Harold, started the Al Bowron and Son dealership in the county seat of Huron County—Bad Axe, Michigan. These new dealerships and, indeed, all the Allis Chalmers dealerships in Michigan were served by the AllisChalmers warehouse and branch office at Toledo Ohio. Personnel from the Toledo Branch Office including Ed Howe, Branch Service Manager, often traveled to the individual dealerships to provide any assistance required by the new dealerships.

The post-World War II era, brought forth a new generation of farmers who had new ideas about farming. One of the young farmers walking into the Henne dealership to inquire about the an All-Crop Harvester in 1947 was John Prich. John was the second son of George Prich, of rural Bach, Michigan. As noted earlier, the 80 acre Prich farm was located in Brookfield Township in Huron County. (See the article, cited above, called “Navy Bean Farming in Huron County [Part II].) John’s older brother, George Jr., took over the farming operations from their father, George Sr., on the home farm. Although he continued to live at home, John Prich struck out on his own and started renting and farming what land he could find in the neighborhood. He raised wheat, oats, sugar beets and of course, navy beans. In addition to the horses, John and his brother George Jr. shared ownership of an unstyled model A John Deere tractor as a source of power in their respective farming operations. The tractor had rubber tires and, thus, the Model A could be driven down the public roads to the fields that John rented in the neighborhood. For planting his wheat and oats John and his brother used a 9-foot grain drill made by the Ontario Drill Company of Despatch, New York. This grain drill contained fifteen planting units. By closing off some of the holes in the bottom of the grain box of the drill, John could also use the Ontario grain drill to plant his navy beans in 30-inch rows.

Just like their father, both John Prich and his brother, George Jr., employed the Kuhl family for threshing their crops. Bill Kuhl Sr. lived on a farm north of Bath, Michigan in Huron County. Along with his sons, Bill Jr., Floyd, Don and Robert, Bill Kuhl owned a 36” x 62” Keck and Gonnerman thresher which they used to do custom threshing in the neighborhood. To power the large Kay-Gee thresher, the Kuhls owned a 30-60 Model S two-cylinder Oil Pull tractor manufactured by the Advance-Rumley Thresher Company of La Porte, Indiana. (The Kuhl family has continued to maintain an interest in Oil Pull tractors to this day. Carol Kuhl, daughter of Floyd Kuhl, later married Duane J. Deering, now of Unionville, Michigan in Huron County. Duane purchased, restored and currently owns a 1929 Model X 25-40 Oil Pull tractor.)

However, in the late fall of 1947, John Prich was able to withdraw from the hand labor and responsibilities involved in stationary threshing when he contracted with Heene Implement in Bay Port, Michigan, for the purchase of an Allis Chalmers All-Crop Harvester. Thus, John Prich became one of the 20,825 purchasers of an Allis Chalmers Model 60 All Crop Harvester combine in 1947. The combine purchased by John Prich was not fitted with any windrow pickup at all. It was too late in the season to use the All-Crop Harvester for the harvest of 1947. Consequently, John returned to Heene Implement in the summer of 1948 to purchase a windrow pickup for the new combine. From their experience the Heene Implement dealership knew that the Innes pickup made by the Innes Company of Bettendorf, Iowa , was superios to any of the Allis Chalmers windrow pickups. Therefore, John purchased a new Innes stiff finger windrow pickup from Heene Impliment in the summer of 1948 for the price of $95.00. (John Prich still has the receipt from this purchase made more than 55 years ago.

By 1947, the Innes name was becoming quite well known in the navy bean farming areas of Michigan. The Innes Company of Bettendorf, Iowa, actually began in 1914 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania as the brainchild of George Innes. George and his wife, Edith, were happily living in Philadelphia which at that time was a bustling city of 1,549,008 (1910 census). Thus, Philadelphia was, at the time, the third largest city in the United States. George Innes was of Scottish ancestry and had an inquisitive mind. He could not stop thinking about how to improve things. Toward this end he used his ability to think in mechanical terms to try many new inventions. On December 12, 1914 a son, Donald, was born to George and Edith. The Innes family would eventually have three boys with the addition of Robert and Brainard Innes to the family.

Perhaps it was the restlessness of George’s inventive mind or the social changes that were being wrought on the United States economy in the post-World War I era, but in 1923, George and Edith moved out of Philadelphia to settle in the town of Bettendorf, Iowa (1920 pop. 2,178). Bettendorf is the smallest of four cities which all border each other at the confluence of the Rock River and the Mississippi River. These four cities, Rock Island and Moline, Illinois, and Davenport and Bettendorf, Iowa are commonly referred to as the “Quad Cities” because of their close proximity to each other. Adapting himself rather quickly to the rural Midwestern community to which he had decided to settle, George was soon at work on a new invention.

As noted earlier, combines, especially small combines, were just making there appearance in the Midwestern part of the United States. (See the article called “Navy Bean Farming (Part II) in the March/April 2005 issue of Belt Pulley magazine.) The “combine” had originally developed in California. A big bulky apparatus, the combine was profitable for use only in the “horizon to horizon” farming of the western states. Use of combines in the diversified farming areas of the Midwest, had to await development of the small combine, starting with the Allis-Chalmers All-Crop Harvester. (Ibid.)

Unlike the western states, combining of oats and other small grains in the Midwest could not easily be accomplished by harvesting the grain as it stood in the field. Generally the grain needed to be cut and laid into windrows to allow the grain to “sweat” as it would in the shock and to allow any extraneous “green” material to wither and dry up and pass through the small combine in an easier manner. (Jeff Creighton, Combines and Harvesters [Motorbooks International: Osceola, Wisc, 1996] pp. 69 and 113.)

To allow the grain to sweat and dry properly, it was generally suggested that grains be cut into wind rows, leaving stubble 6” to 8” tall. (From the “Operating Manual for the John Deere 12A Combine,” p. 80.) “A stubble of this height will allow free circulation of air under the windrow.” (Id.) With stubble of this height and with the windrow resting on top of the stubble, the feeder unit of the combine containing the cutter bar, could easily be slid under the windrow and the harvesting of the grain could be accomplished without the need of any special pickup attachment. However, in reality the stubble would not always be of this height and, in reality, the windrow might well be resting on or near the ground and on top of the stubble. Thus, need required the invention of a windrow pickup attachment. (J.R. Hobbs, writer for the Green Magazine has written a nice history of the development of windrow type of grain harvesting and the development and patenting of the “traveling combine” and the pickup by the Hovland brothers of Ortley, South Dakota in 1907, and the in the article called “Amber Waves of Grain Laid Down by John Deere Windrowers.” J.R. Hobbs also reflects on the improvements that were made to the technology of the windrow style of combining in 1926 and 1927 by Helmer Hanson and his brother. This article is contained in the July, 2003 issue of Green Magazine.)

Typically, before mounting the windrow pickup to the feeder unit of the combine, both the reel used in standing crops and the sickle in the cutter bar were removed. The most common pickup attachment that evolved and became universalized throughout the industry generally consisted of rows of wire teeth set on an axle. The teeth protruded through slots in a stationary piece of sheet metal. The teeth would pick up the windrow and raise it up into the feeder unit. The stationary piece of metal would “comb” the windrow off the pickup attachment and allow the windrow to proceed into the feeding unit of the combine. The combing action of the stationary portion of the pickup was intended to prevent the teeth from hanging on to the straw in the windrow and causing the windrow to wrap around the axle of the pickup attachment. Despite the partial success of the combing action of the typical windrow pickup, “wrapping” of the windrow around the pickup attachment remained a problem. This is problem that caught George Innes’ attention.

Sometime after moving to Bettendorf, Iowa, George began working on a new type of pickup attachment. The Innes designed pickup consisted of a metal cylinder which contained a number of holes. Inside the cylinder was a shaft to which stiff metal teeth were attached. Because the shaft was not located in the very center of the cylinder, but rather was located “off-center” to the front inside the cylinder, the stiff teeth attached to the off-center shaft emerged and withdrew from the slots in the cylinder as the cylinder turned. Both the axle to which the teeth were attached and the metal cylinder in the Innes designed windrow pickup would revolve at the same speed. With each revolution of the cylinder the teeth would protrude out of holes of the cylinder to full extension to pickup the windrow and then withdraw back into the cylinder as the cylinder continued to revolve bringing the windrow up to the feeding unit. Combing action in the Innes designed windrow pickup was eliminated by this extension and withdrawal of the teeth into the cylinder as the cylinder revolved. Thus, the Innes design greatly reduced “wrapping” of the grain around the pickup. The design of this cylinder style of windrow pickup was and would remain George Innes’ greatest invention.

George Innes, determined to mass produce and market his new pickup for the farming public. In this endeavor, George received some help from his son, Donald. Donald Innes graduated from Augustana College located in neighboring Rock Island, Illinois and in 1937 joined with his father in an attempt to manufacture and market the new pickup in mass numbers. Toward this end George and Donald Innes, incorporated the Innes Company in 1938 to manufacture his new pickup attachment. Although located in the state of Iowa, the Innes Company was incorporated as a Delaware Corporation to take advantage of the tax benefits and other benefits traditionally accorded Delaware corporations. (Harry G. Henn and John R., Alexander, Laws of Corporations (West Pub.: St. Paul, Minn., 1983) pp. 187-189.) Incorporation under the laws of Delaware was a common practice for many corporations. However, since the corporation’s manufacturing facilities were to be located in Bettendorf, George filed Articles of Business Activity with the Iowa Secretary of State’s Office on February 7. 1938. On this original document the Company reported $10,000 as initial “startup” capital. About a year and a half later, on September 7, 1940 the company was reporting capital of $84,000. The Company obtained a manufacturing site located in rural Bettendorf. The new company was thus able to take advantage of the excellent railroad connections that the Quad Cities enjoyed—especially the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railway which served the Quads to the east and to the west. The new Innes factory site came alive with activity. The Company chose dark blue as their trademark color. Soon the dark blue Innes pickups were pouring out of the factory. Each pickup was carefully packaged up and loaded onto waiting boxcars for shipment to all parts of the nation. Continue reading

Navy Bean Farming in Michigan (Part II): The All-Crop Harvester

                    Navy Bean Farming in Huron County, Michigan (Part II)

by

Brian Wayne Wells

As published in the March/April issue of

Belt Pulley Magazine

            As noted earlier, the lower peninsula of Michigan is shaped in the form of a winter mitton.  Huron County, Michigan lies at the tip of what is called “the Thumb” of the State of Michigan.  (See the article on called “Navy Bean Harvesting in Huron County Michigan [Part I]” in the January/February 2005 issue of Belt Pulley.)  Although navy beans had been raised in in Huron County and the Thumb since 1900, the production of navy beans in really became a major crop in Michigan only in 1915.  Spurring that growth in production was the high prices that all edible beans were fetching in the market starting in 1914 due to the war in Europe.  Additionally, in 1915 the Michigan State University released its newly researched and developed “Robust” variety of navy bean.  The Robust variety had been bred to have genetic features which made this variety of navy bean adapted for commercial growing in Michigan.  By the 1920s, production of navy beans on the Thumb and in the neighboring Saginaw River Valley, located at the base of the Thumb, was sufficient to push Michigan into first place among all states in the United States in the production of field beans.  (Willis F. Dunbar, Michigan:A History of the Wolverine State [Eerdmans Pub. Co.: Grand Rapids, Mich., 1980] p. 578.).  Within the State of Michigan, Huron County became the leading county in the state for the production of field beans.  Indeed Bad Axe, Michigan, the county seat of Huron County, began to identify itself as the “Navy Bean Capital of the World.”

Following the First World War, the map of Europe changed following the disintegration of four empires—the Ottoman Empire, the Russian Empire, the German Empire and the Austro-Hungarian Empire.  A series of newly independent nations sprang up Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, Romania, Hungary, Czechslovakia and Poland.  The economic dislocations caused by this new order set off another wave immigration to the United States.  In 1920, George Prich immigrated from the newly formed nation of Czechslovkia to Detroit.  His parents, George and Marie (Sliacky) Prich remained in Czechslovakia.  However, the family did have relatives living in Detroit.  However, George did not remain long in Detroit.  He moved out of the city and up to the Thumb.  Settling in the western part of Huron County on the Thumb, he rented a farm and commenced farming winter wheat, corn, hay, sugar beets and navy beans and raising some hogs and beef cows.  In August of 1924, he married a local German girl by the name of Martha Haag.  They began were blessed by the birth of a son—George Jr. (really the third George) born in June of 1925.  On March 1, 1926, they purchased an 80-acre farm in a low-lying area of Brookfield Township in western Huron County.  However, the farm was on the county line road between Huron County and Tuscola County.  Consequently, the Prich family still had strong contacts with western Huron County.  The Prich family farm was located in a low liying area called the “Columbia swamp.”  On their new farm they had three more children—John born in 1926, Florence born in 1929 and Albert born in 1933.  The main crops raised on the farm were hay, oats and corn.  However, each year about 10 acres were planted to sugar beets and about 10 to 15 acres were planted to navy beans.

During the same time another family was living on a farm in southwestern Seigel Township located east of Bad Axe and north west of the settlement of Parisville.  Even before the sun rose, one morning in October of 1935, activity was brewing on this 160 acre farm.  Our Siegel Township farmer was taking a team of horses to the field towing a one-row “Albion Bean Harvester.”  The bean harvester or “puller” that he was towing behind the team of Percheron horses—Pete and Moll—was really a horse-drawn a cultivator with the shovels removed and horizontal long knives bolted onto the cultivator frame.  The Albion line of bean harvesters were made by the Gale Manufacturing Company of Albion, Michigan.

Our Siegel Township farmer arrived in the field were the navy beans were stood.  Although planted in rows, the 18” yellow/brown vines had grown out along the ground and blurred the 30” pathways between the rows.  Our Siegel Township farmer “drew up” the horses to a halt with the reins at the start of the first row in the field of navy beans that he and his father had grown during the summer.

He and his father raised navy beans as part of a diversified farming operation that included oats and wheat on their farm.  However, the summer of 1935 had been a difficult growing season.  Indeed the past couple of years had seen drought conditions all across the United States.  Nationwide the dry condition, which was coming to called the “dust bowl” on radio, had begun in 1932.  (William E. Leuchtenburg, Franklin Roosevelt and the New Deal [Harper and Rowe Pub.: New York, 1963] p. 172.)  In Huron County the dry conditions had started in June 1933, when only 1.91 inches of rain fell during the whole month.  (From the monthly average historic rainfall for Saginaw Michigan on the web page for Saginaw, at the NOAA weather web site on the Internet.)  A normal June would have seen 2.9 inches of rainfall. (From the Bad Axe average rainfall page of the Worldclimate.com web site.)  July and August of 1933 had followed with only 1.13 inches of rain in each month.  2.9 and 3.3 inches of rain was normal for those months.

Last year’s growing season had continued to be extremely dry.  May of 1934 had yielded only 0.76 inches of rain for the whole month, whereas 3.3 inches would have been normal.  June, July and August of 1934 all continued to be dry with rainfall amounts of 1.7 inches, 1.29 inches and 1.43 inches of rain falling in those months, respectively.  Although normal rains had returned in September of 1934, this was too late to help the crops and the rains only succeeded in making harvesting of the crops difficult.  As a result of the drought conditions in 1934, only 1,461,000 acres or only 75% of all the acreage planted to edible beans nationally were actually harvested.  Generally, 90% of all acres planted were harvested in a normal year.

The drought conditions returned last April with only 0.86 inches of rainfall for the entire month of April 1935.  However, suddenly in May, the weather reversed itself.  Last May (1935) had been the coolest month of May on record since 1925.  This was largely due to the 4.5 inches of snow had fallen in May.  (Ibid. on the historic monthly snowfall page.)  Snow in May!  It was not a good beginning to the growing season.  Spring planting had been delayed because of the cold spring in 1935.  Once June did arrive, the rains would not abate.  The radio reported that the Thumb had had 5.09 inches of rain in month of June whereas only 2.9 was average for June.  (From the Bad Axe average rainfall page of the Worldclimate.com web site.)

As a result, spring planting development of all the crops were delayed.  Only the winter wheat which had been planted in September of the prior year (1934) was growing according to schedule.  Following the heavy rains of June, the drought conditions returned throughout July and August with only half the usual amount of rainfall for those months.  (Ibid.)  Usually, our Siegel Township farmer began pulling the navy beans in mid-September.  However, the beans were still growing and maturing in September.  Now here he was in October just getting started with the task of pulling the beans.

Across Huron County to the west and indeed, just across the county line in Elmwood Township of Tuscola County township the George Prich family was also struggling to get the navy bean crop harvested.  George had planted the navy beans in rows with his 7½ foot Van Brunt grain drill.  This grain drill had 13 planting units.  However, by closing off the proper amount of holes in the bottom of the seeder box of his Van Brunt grain drill he could use the old grain drill to plant navy beans on his farm also in 30 inch rows.

The 30-inch rows meant that there was room for a horse to walk down the pathway between the rows without stepping on the rows of growing beans.  This would allow the navy beans to be cultivated.  However as the navy bean plants grew, they began to “vine” along the ground and to tended to cover over pathway between the rows.  Thus, the navy beans could only be cultivated a couple of times before the bean plants became too viney and covered too much of the 30 inch pathway.  By harvest time in the fall, the beans had become a tangled mass of plants in the field.

Now in October of 1935, our Siegel Township farmer lowered the cultivator on the first row of navy beans the newly sharpened knives lay horizontally on top of the ground over the hilled up row of beans.  As he urged the Pete and Moll forward with a shake on the reins and uttering a “giddap” the knives slid under the ground and moved along through the hill of beans, cutting off the beans from their roots just below the surface of the hilled up row of beans.

Our young Siegel Township farmer regreted loss of navy beans that he knew was occurring during this harvesting process.  All he needed to do is to look down on the ground and see the naked white beans laying on the ground to know that some loss was occurring because of the cracking of bean pods under Pete and Moll’s feet.  Although Pete and Moll walked down pathways between the rows, they could not help treading on the vines.which tended to cover over the 30 inch pathways.  This caused a loss of some of the navy beans on the ground as the horses’ feet cracked open the pods of the beans.  Indeed the mere manipulation of the bean plants by the cultivator tended to crack open the dry pods on the vines spilling the pearly white navy beans onto the ground.  To avoid this type of cracking of dry pods, our young Siegel Township farmer had begun pulling beans with the team early in the morning while the dew was still heavy on the plants.  In this way it was hoped that they would complete a great deal of the bean pulling while the dew lasted.  The dew tended to moisten the dry pods and to prevent cracking.  Once the dew had lifted under the sun of the mid-morning, our young Siegel Township farmer would cease his work in the navy bean field.  This meant that work in the navy bean field was limited to early morning work.

Looking down at the little white beans that lay on the ground, our young Siegel Township farmer was struck by a feeling of digust.  He had always felt that way.  Ever since he was a child he had felt a repugnance against waste that had caused him remorse over the loss of even a single good bean.  As a child, his father had attempted to assure him that the losses were usually of “cull beans” which were too discolored or too immature to pass inspection at the grain elevator anyway.  However, out in the field he could see that these beans, lying on the ground, were pearly white and were certainly good beans.  While reading some articles in the Michigan Farmer, he was gratified to find that his feelings about waste were reflective of the modern trend in scientific farming.

In addition to noting the waste on the ground, our Siegel Township farmer was beginning to doubt the value of having navy beans in the crop rotation on his farm.  Despite the passing of the worst part of the depression, prices of all edible beans last year (1934) had averaged only $3.52 per 100 pounds.  (From the National Agricultural Statistics Service page of the United Sates Department of Agriculture website.)  This was only 52% of the average price of 1929, the year before the depression.  (Ibid.)  Continue reading

Navy Bean Farming in Michigan (Part I)

                     Navy Bean Farming in Huron County, Michigan (Part I)

by

Brian Wayne Wells

    As published in the January/February 2005 issue of

Belt Pulley Magazine

            As mentioned in past articles, agriculture in the United States has long served as a beacon of hope for many immigrant groups which came to the United States in search of a new future.  This was especially true for the earlier waves of immigration from North Europe and Scandinavia.  It is generally assumed that for the later waves of immigration from eastern and southern Europe were limited in their opportunities to only industrial and mining occupations.  However, even for these later waves of immigration, agriculture in the United States still offered some opportunities.  One such immigrant group who recognized these opportunities in agriculture were the Poles.

The struggles of the Polish population for a nation of their own had long been an important feature of European history.  From 1773 until 1795 the Polish nation underwent three different land grabs (politely called “partitions”) by its more powerful neighbors—Prussia, Russia and Austria.  (Norman Davies, God’s Playground: A History of Poland [Columbia University Press: New York, 1982) p. 512.)  By the time of the third partition in the 1795 there was no independent Polish nation left, all the territory had been swallowed up.  However, the spirit of Polish nationalism never ceased to exert itself.  The Poles of Cracow in the Austrian controlled portion of the former state of Poland revolted against the Austrian government in early 1846.  Two years later, in 1848, there was a rash of revolts which broke out all across German speaking lands.  (This period of time saw the emigration of William Frederich Oltrogge from Germany to the United States.  See the article called “Massey-Harris Farming: The Oltrogge Family of Waverly, Iowa” in the March/April 2004 issue of Belt Pulley.)  This series of revolts spilled over into the parts of Poland controlled by the German speaking kingdom of Prussia, as the Poles in the city of Posnan rose in revolt.  (H.W. Koch, A History of Prussia [Dorset Press: New York, 1978] p. 236.)  In both 1830 and in 1863, the Polish population of the part of Poland controlled by Russia revolted against the Russian Government.  (Edward Crankshaw,The Shadow of the Winter Palace [Viking Press: New York, 1976] pp. 105-109 and 203-206.)  All of these revolts were unsuccessful and were put down by the authorities.  The suppression of each of these each of these revolts had the effect of spurring emigration from the various parts of occupied Poland.  These Poles sought to build a new future for themselves in the United States.  One of the major destinations for the immigrating Poles was the State of Michigan.  Michigan had entered the union of the United States only in 1837.  In 1848, the first Poles settled in Michigan.  Throughout the 1850s and 1860s, Poles were arriving in large numbers in Detroit, Michigan, which was rapidly becoming Michigan’s premier town.

Then in 1881, Czar Alexander II was assassinated.  Despite the fact that Czar Alexander II had been assassinated by Russian radicals and not-Poles, the Russian Government began another round of persecutions of the Poles in retaliation for the assassination  As a consequence of this Russian repression of the Poles, a second and much greater wave of Polish emigration to the United States was begun in the 1880s.  (Maldwyn Allen Jones, American Immigration [University of Chicago Press: Chicago, 1960] p. 198.)  Russian immigration (of which Polish immigration was considered a part) grew from only 5,000 in 1880, to 81,000 in 1892 and rose to a peak of 258,000 by 1907.  (Ibid., p. 202.)  Of this total “Russian” immigration approximately 25% was actually Polish immigration.  (Ibid.)

Once again Detroit, Michigan, became a destination for many Poles in this second wave of immigration.  (See the article on the Wisconsin Motor Manufacturing Company in the September/October 2004 isue of Belt Pulley magazine.)  However, not all of the Polish immigrants of the second wave chose to remain in the urban areas.  Across the nation some of the Polish immigrants migrated out of urban areas to seek their fortune in the rural areas of the nations.  “After 1900, there was a small, but significant movement of Poles from American cities, factories and steel mills to the semi-abandoned farms of the the East.  In western Massachusetts and Connecticut, Polish farmers began to cultivated onions and tobacco, crops requiring special soils, intensive hand-labor and not a little technical skill and business ability.”  (Maldwyn Allen Jones, American Immigration, p. 215.)  Thus, some of the Poles that came to Detroit, chose to pass through the town and settle in a rural area of Michigan known as “the Thumb.”

Michigan is divided into two land masses—the Upper Peninsula and the Lower Penninsula.  The geographical shape of the Lower Penninsula on a map appears to be in the shape of a hand or a winter mitten.  North of the city of Detroit lies a protrusion out into the Lake Huron which appears to be the “thumb” of the mitton-shaped  Lower Penninsula.

Located on the very tip of the Thumb is Huron County, Michigan.  The townships along the shoreline of Huron County, Siebewaing, Fairhaven, McKinley, Seville, Lake, Hume, Port Austin, Huron, Gore, Rubicon, Sand Beach and Sherman Townships were predominately involved with fishing and later became the tourist and vacation destinations for the population of the Detroit metropolitan area.  Thus, after the fading of the fishing industry, the economy of these shoreline townships came to revolve around the summertime tourist trade coming largely from Detroit.  However, in the middle of Huron County are fourteen townships, Chandler, Meade, Lincoln, Bloomfeld, Windsor, Oliver, Colfax, Verona, Siegel, Brookfield, Grant, Sheridan, Bingham and Paris, which are primarily agricultural in economy.  The level ground of these townships with their covering of the clay/loam soil is conducive to agriculture.  Furthermore, the mild summer weather moderated by the close proximity of Lake Huron adds to the natural plant growing capability of Huron County, Michigan.

Huron County was organized as a political sub-division of the State of Michigan in 1859.  However settlement of the area had begun much earlier.  Polish settlement of Huron County began in the late 1840s and early 1850s, by immigrants coming directly from Poland but arriving in the Michigan from Canada.  The early settlers gathered around the small town of Parisville., Michigan.  In 1852, the first Roman Catholic mission was opened in Parisville.  By 1858 the foundation of St. Mary’s Church in Paris Township was laid by Reverend Peter Kluck, himself an immigrant from Poland.

The town of Bad Axe was located in the middle of Huron County and became the county seat of newly organized Huron County.  Poles arriving in Huron County from Detroit as a result of the massive second wave of Polish immigration and worked on farms owned by others.  However, they soon became farm owners themselves.  Polish Settlement of the Huron County tended to be centralized in the townships east of Bad Axe.  Immigrants of German heritage tended to settle the townships west of Bad Axe.

Like most frontier areas, the early settlers on the Thumb raised a great deal of alfalfa hay and small grains—largely for their own use.  However, with the coming of the market economy and modern transportation, farmers on the Thumb began to find a specialized niche in United States agriculture.  The flat land and silt loam, clay, well drained soil of the Thumb was found to be extremely accommodating to the raising of dry edible (field) beans—specifically navy beans.

The navy bean is a very high source of protein and obtained its name because of the fact that once dried, the beans could be stored for a very long time.  Thus, the navy bean was perfectly suited for storage aboard ships.  The first navy beans were introduced to Huron County in 1892 as six (6) acres were planted to navy beans that year.  In 1895, still only eight acres of navy beans were grown in Huron County.  However, an explosion in the growth of navy bean production occurred in 1900.  By 1909, Huron County, alone, was raising 10% of all edible beans raised in the whole United States.  In 1910, 20,015 acres within Huron County were devoted to navy beans.  Following 1909, the navy bean market stablized for a number of years until 1914, when the outbreak of war in Europe created an increased demand and another spurt in production of edible beans occurred.

In 1915, one particular farmer in Bingham Township in Huron County became interested in raising navy beans on his own 160 acre farm.  Just like his neighbors our Bingham Township farmer raised oats, hay and winter wheat.  Just like his neighbors, our Bingham township farmer used nearly all of the hay and oats that he raised on his farm as animal feed.  Only winter wheat served as a “cash crop” which was sold each year.

Winter wheat was planted each year in mid September.  It grew some in the fall and then went dormant in the frozen ground under a blanket of snow during the winter.  Upon the first thaw of the ground in the spring, the winter wheat began growing again.  Having already established a root system the winter wheat always matured well ahead of other crops that had been planted in the spring.  Consequently, winter wheat usually ripened and was ready to harvest each year in July.  Each year, our Bingham Township farmer would carefully watch the price of wheat.  Sometimes he would sell his wheat immediately after threshing in July if he thought the price was right.  He did this in 1910 and in 1912 and had been able to get $1.00 per bushel and $1.01 per bushel, respectively.  (From the Macro-history Prices page of the National Bureau of Economic Research web page on the Internet.)  However, in most years the price fell in July as a result of the glut in the market, created when everybody attempted to sell wheat at the end of the harvest.  In 1911, he stored his wheat and waited until October and finally sold his wheat at 97¢ per bushel.  This was nearly 10¢ more per bushel that the price had been in July of 1911.  Last year, in 1914, the price of wheat reached $1.09 per bushel.  He really felt that this high price would not persist.  However, the war in Europe had created and was continuing to create some unusual price conditions in the market and the price of wheat had continued to rise in the winter and spring of 1915 until the price reached $1.57 per bushel in March of this year—1915.  He now wished now that he had held on to his wheat through the winter.  However, hind site is always 20/20.

Our Bingham Township farmer was a member of the grain co-operative that owned the grain elevator in Ubly.  Ubly was a small village located in the central part of Bingham Township.  Every winter the co-operative held its annual meeting to elect new members to the Board of Directors.  Speakers were invited to this meeting to talk about new trends in farming.  For some years now, speakers at this meeting had been urging farmers in the Ubly area to plant navy beans in addition to their other crops.  Pointing out the recent “volatility” of the winter wheat market, they noted that navy beans would provide Huron County farmers with some economic stability by providing at least some diversification of their cash crops.  By not having all their “eggs in one basket” Huron County farmers would have a “hedge” against any dip in the price of winter wheat.  These speakers pointed out that since 1909, the overall price of dry edible beans had increased from $3.30 per hundred weight in 1909 to $4.00 per hundred weight in 1914—a 52% increase in the price.  (A “hundred weight” referred to a 100 pound sack of beans.  One hundred pounds of beans was equivalent to roughly two (2) bushels of beans, since a bushel of beans weighed about 56 pounds.)  This 52% increase in the price of navy beans compared quite favorably with the price of wheat over the same period of time.  Forget all the monthly rises and declines, the average price for the whole year in 1909 had been 98.6 ¢ per bushel.  (From the National Agricultural Statistics Service page of the United States Department of Agriculture website.)  Last year, in 1914 the average yearly price of wheat had been 97.5¢ per bushel—an actual decease in the average yearly price over that same period of time.  (Ibid.)

Now in 1915, after hearing that the price of navy beans would likely go still higher because of the recent war in Europe, our Bingham Township farmer decided to plant a 15-acre field on his farm to navy beans.  Our Bingham Township farmer was not alone in making this decision.  A number of his immediate neighbors were also planting navy beans for the first time or were increasing the number of acres they were devoting to navy beans.  Indeed, many farmers across the nation, joined our Bingham Township farmer in this decision in 1915.  For the first time more than a million acres of farmland (1,156,000 acres) were planted to edible beans—up from 986,000 acres in 1914.  (Ibid.)  Nationwide, this represented a 17% increase in the number of acres planted to edible beans in the spring of 1915.

Planting navy beans was not a simple decision of merely adding another row crop to the farm.  Navy beans would have to be harvested, or “pulled” by obtaining a beans puller or by attaching knives to his horse drawn cultivator.  The process of pulling the beans meant cutting the bean plants off beneath the ground.  Because the navy beans were relatively short plants (only about 18’ to 24” tall), it was necessary to get all the bean pods the plants.  Beans cut off above the ground, such, as by a grain binder, would result in some loss of bean pods which are located within the first 2 to 3 inches of the plant above the ground.  In taller beans, such as soybeans, which could grow to a height of 3 feet tall or more, a loss of these bean pods might be regarded as negligible.  However, a loss of that magnitude was unacceptable when growing the shorter navy beans plants.  Thus, the navy beans had to be cut off below ground level.  This process was called “pulling” beans and specialized equipment was needed just for this task.

Additionally, the navy beans must be allowed to dry.  If allowed to grow unattended the vines would continue to sprout more bean pods until frost killed the plants in the late fall.  Meanwhile the mature beans would never dry properly.  In order to promote drying of the navy beans, the vines needed to be pulled well before the first frost.  Harvesting of the navy beans generally took place in September.  Once dry, the navy beans were then threshed.  Until 1900, most threshing of navy beans in Huron County was done by hand.  After 1900, the stationary thresher took over nearly all the threshing of navy beans.  Generally, a farmer growing navy beans served as part of the threshing crew which traveled around the neighborhood with a thresher owned by a single custom farmer or the thresher could be owned by all the farmers in the particular neighborhood “threshing ring.”

Since winter wheat was harvested in July, oats were harvested in August and navy beans were harvested in September, a farmer could expect to be gone from his own farm for a great portion of those three months.  Thus, on top of working with the harvesting crew throughout most of July and August, navy beans would add the month of September that the farmer would have to be away from his own farm.  These were unexpected costs of raising navy beans.  Nonetheless, our Bingham Township farmer decided that planting navy beans would be profitable and would diversify the sources of his farm income by adding a second “cash crop” to his farming operation.  Thus, if there was a dip in the price of winter wheat in any particular year, he could look to the navy beans to possibly offset any loss of income.

Spring arrived early in 1915.  April was very warm.  Furthermore, only about half the amount of rain fell that month as compared with a normal April.  Accordingly, there was plenty of time to complete the seed bed preparation and plant the crops.  Despite the early spring, our Bingham Township farmer knew that he should wait until June 1st to plant his navy beans.  Only by that time would the soil be sufficiently warm for the navy beans to germinate properly.  Additionally, with the 85 to 90 day growing life of navy beans, he did not want to have his navy beans ripening at the same time that his oats ripened in August.  The threshing season was crowded enough without having the navy bean harvest coincide with the oat harvest.  Accordingly following the sowing of his oats with his six-foot Hoosier Company grain drill, our Bingham Township farmer modified the grain drill to plant the new crop of navy beans.        Navy beans needed to be planted as a row crop to allow cultivation of the navy bean field for weed control.  Thus, he needed to adjust the Hoosier grain drill to plant in rows approximately 30 inches apart.  The Hoosier grain drill had 16 planting units, each with a disc-type furrow opener.  The planting units on the grain drill planted wheat and oats in rows 4½ inches apart.  Looking at the grain drill from the rear, our Bingham Township farmer numbered the planting units on the grain drill from the left to the right.  By closing all the holes in the bottom of seed box leading to the individual planter units of the grain drill, except for numbers 1, 9 and 16, the old Hoosier grain drill was converted into a three-row planter, planting beans in 31½ inch (or roughly 30 inch) rows.  When operating the modified grain drill in the field, the marker located on either side of the grain drill that would leave a mark in the fresh dirt of the seed bed each time he crossed the field with the grain drill.  This long scratch in the fresh seed bed extending the full length of the field and guided him and the horses on his return trip back across the field.  Following this mark would assure that the three new rows he was planting would remain about 30 inches from the previous rows just planted.

By planting the navy beans in 30-inch rows, our Bingham Township farmer was assured that there would be sufficient space between the rows for a horse to walk down in the pathway without stepping on the rows of growing beans.  This would allow the navy beans to be cultivated with his one-row horse-drawn cultivator.  Besides disrupting the weeds in the pathway, cultivation of the navy beans had the effect of “hilling up” dirt around the navy bean plants.  This would allow excess water to drain off into the lower pathway between the rows rather than gather around the plants and stunt the growth of the navy beans by inundating the roots of the beans with too much water.

Having made the decision to invest in navy bean production, our Bingham Township farmer started seriously thinking about a plan that had been on his mind for some years.  If he had to spend so much time away from the farm in July, August and September anyway, he felt that he should try to get paid for the time.  He reasoned that if he could get a thresher and do custom threshing in the neighborhood, he would earn extra income to supplement his farm income.  He would be making money all during the long threshing season.  Many of the threshing machines already operating in the neighborhood were old and their operators were approaching retirement age.  Thus, there was a need for someone new in the business—especially now when many more farmers in the neighborhood were starting to raise navy beans.

For a while he had toyed with the ideal of purchasing one of these old threshers from one the current operators.  However, the old threshers were becoming worn out from years of use.  Furthermore, unlike the older style threshers now operating in the neighborhood, the new threshers now on the market were fitted with modern labor saving devise like self-feeders, grain weighers and blower-style straw stackers.  These three innovations had drastically improved the performance of threshers.

The self-feeder had been invented in 1891 by Franz Wood, one of the founders of the Wood Brothers Threshing Company.  (For  history of the Wood Brothers Threshing Company, see the article called “Wood Bros. Company” [Part I] on page 16 of the January/February 2001 issue of Belt Pulley magazine.)  However, the Wood Bros. Company manufactured its self-feeder for installation, exclusively, on its own threshers.  Other companies, like Garden City Feeder Company of Pella, Iowa, soon sprang up to make similar self-feeders.  The Garden City Company did not manufacture a threshers.  They merely contracted with other thresher manufacturing companies to supply those companies with self-feeders.  The self-feeder was a major step forward in the technology of thresher production and design.

The older threshing machines already operating in Bingham Township were the older “hand-fed” style of thresher that pre-dated the self feeder.  Hand-fed threshers had a platform and a “feeding table” at the front of the thresher.  A member of the threshing crew would stand on top of the loaded bundle wagon next to the thresher with a pitch fork and toss bundles, one at a time, over onto the feeding table of the thresher.  Another member of the threshing crew would stand on the platform of the thresher and manually cut the twine on each bundle of grain and feed the bundle into the thresher by hand.  Self-feeders would automatically cut the twine on each bundle of grain entering the thresher and then “feed” the loosen bundle of grain to the cylinder of the thresher.  Our Bingham Township farmer could see that a new thresher with a self-feeder would save a great deal of threshing time by eliminating the dangerous and time consuming task of hand feeding.  All the threshing crew workers needed to do was pitch the bundles onto the self feeder and let the self feeder do the rest.  Indeed, operation was speeded up to the point where bundles could be pitched onto the self feeder from bundle wagons located on both sides of the thresher.

In addition to the self-feeder, most modern threshers were also fitted with a grain weighing bagging attachment.  Almost universally, grain weighers on all the modern threshers were manufactured by the Hart Grain Weigher Company of Peoria, Illinois.  The Hart grain weigher was a sheet metal basket device located at the top of the vertical grain elevator.  The basket of the grain weigher collected the grain pouring out of the grain elevator.  When the amount of grain in the clamshell basket reached the proper weight (approximately 26-30 lbs. for wheat depending on the moisture content of the particular crop of wheat being harvested) the bottom of the basket would quickly open and close again.  This allowed all the grain in the basket to fall into a funnel located under the basket.  The grain would then slide down the funnel and into a long sheet metal tube to the bagging attachment located near the ground.  Every time the basket of the grain weigher emptied itself, the grain weigher measured out two (2) pecks of grain.  When the basket emptied twice, four (4) pecks of grain or one whole bushel had been threshed.  A numeric counter located on the Hart grain weigher kept track of the number of bushels that were weighed out by the grain weigher.

The bagging attachment of the thresher was nothing more than a “Y” in the sheet metal tube at the bottom end of the tube.  A control valve at the crotch of the Y would allow grain to flow out one leg of the Y or the other leg.  Burlap sacks were attached to the end of each leg of the Y.  By turning the control valve one way or the other, the bagging worker of the threshing crew could fill one burlap sack, then switch the control valve to fill the other sack while he detached the filled bag, tied or sewed the filled sack closed securely and loaded the filled sack onto a nearby wagon.  None of the older threshers operating in Bingham Township neighborhood were fitted with grain weighers.  Thus, the grain was collected in large two peck containers which were then awkwardly poured into sacks.  Our Bingham Township farmer knew from experience that this method chronically resulted in spillage and waste.  Even though this type of thresher used the volume measuring method rather than the weigh measuring method used by the Hart grain weigher, our Bingham Township farmer knew that getting the two containers full without over filling or under filling was not an easy task.  Thus, in actual practice, the automated grain weighing system was a much more accurate measure of the number of bushels.

The blower-style straw stacker (called the “Farmers Friend windstacker”) had also become universal on all modern threshers.  The Farmers Friend windstacker had been marketed almost exclusively by Indiana Manufacturing Company of Indianapolis, Indiana since 1891.  The Indiana Manufacturing Company had purchased all the patents to the various blower-style straw stackers.  (C.H. Wendel, Encyclopedia of American Farm Implements [Krause Publishers: Iola, Wisc., 1997] p. 345.)  Indiana Manufacturing then sold their Farmer’s Friend windstacker to nearly all the threshing manufacturers.  Thus, the Farmer’s Friend insignia appears on a great number of threshers.

None of the threshers currently operating in Bingham Township had any of these improvements.  The hand-fed thresher with the volumetric grain measuring system and the elevator style straw stacker still predominated among the local threshers.  For these reasons, our Bingham Township farmer concluded that a niche in the local economy existed that would allow him to make money with a modern custom threshing operation.

Of course, threshing navy beans was not the same as threshing small grains.  Our Bingham Township farmer knew that in order to use the same thresher for navy beans certain modifications would have to be made to the thresher.  Whereas, the cylinder speed of a thresher working with small grains (oats and wheat) was usually set at approximately 1100-1150 r.p.m. (revolutions per minute), the cylinder speed was slowed down to around 400 r.p.m. for beans.  However, although a slower cylinder speed was needed for beans the rest of the thresher needed to operate at normal speed.  Thus, merely slowing the speed of the steam engine or merely changing the main drive pulley on the cylinder shaft of the thresher from a 9” pulley used for threshing wheat, to a 14” main drive pulley for threshing navy beans would not solve the problem.  Since all the other pulleys on the cylinder shaft were used to power the rest of the thresher.  Consequently, these other pulleys on the cylinder shaft of the thresher had to be replaced by larger pulleys to allow the rest of the thresher to operate at normal speed.

Some of these changes in pulley size were pretty significant.  Most important was the fan at the rear of the thresher, which was part of the Farmer’s Friend wind stacker.  This fan blew the straw and chaff through a large tube at the rear of the thresher and onto the straw stack behind the thresher.  This fan had to operate at full speed in order to prevent the tube from becoming clogged with straw.  Ordinarily, this fan was powered by a 9” pulley on the cylinder shaft.  For harvesting navy beans this pulley was replaced with a 24” pulley to allow the fan to operate at its optimum speed.

In all, four different pulleys and three different belts were needed to convert the thresher from small grain threshing to navy bean threshing.  Nonetheless, our Bingham township farmer knew that this additional expense plus the initial costs of obtaining a thresher and a steam engine would be returned in a relatively short amount of time in the form of additional income to his farming operation if he could use the threshing outfit for a major portion of the year, threshing navy beans as well as small grains.

Keck & Gonnerman (Kay-Gee) threshers were popular in Huron County.  Our Bingham Township farmer could see that Kay-Gee threshers were designed to be more suited to bean threshing.  For example, the largest thresher made by Keck & Gonnerman had a 36” cylinder.  However, this 36” thresher was available in two different models—one with a 54” separator and a second model with a 62” separator.  Our Bingham Township farmer knew that the second model with the wider separating tables and sieves was particularly fitted to navy beans.  There was always a great deal of straw and chaff when harvesting navy beans.  As one of the new style threshers, the Kay-Gee thresher was fitted with a Garden City self-feeder and a Hart Company grain weigher.  Naturally, the Kay-Gee thresher had a Farmer’s Friend windstacker to pile the straw in a stack behind the thresher.

Consequently, in the fall of 1914, our Bingham Township farmer took delivery on a Keck- Gonnerman 36 x 62 thresher and a 20 hp. steam engine to power the thresher.  The steam engine was the largest model made by Kay-Gee and was advertised as the perfect mate to the large Kay-Gee thresher.  Although delivering 20 hp. to the rear wheels, the thresher produced 70 hp. at the belt which was sufficient for the large thresher.  The engineer that came along with the steam engine stayed with our Bingham Township farmer and his wife for about a week and taught our Bingham Township farmer how to operate the large steam engine in a safe manner.  Our Bingham Township farmer became aware of the dangers of steam engine operation and learned that the single most important secret to safe operation of the engine was to keep a close eye on the water level.  However, there were so many other things that needed to be watched about the steam engine, that our Bingham township farmer felt that from the time that he started the fire in the boiler early in the morning until, he closed the flue to “bank” the fire (reduce the fire to coals) at sundown, he was “married” to the steam engine.  Properly banked coals in the firebox of the steam engine would produce only a small amount of heat all night.  However, come morning, when fed more wood and/or coal, the fire would come roaring back to life and the steam pressure would quickly return to operating temperature.

As he made the rounds of his neighborhood that first summer in 1915 for harvesting the winter wheat and the oats, our Bingham Township farmer preferred to get the thresher away from one completed job and onto the next farm before he banked the fire and shut down for the night.  In this way, the next morning he was able to ride Mac and Polly, his team of Percheron horses, over to the farm where the thresher was located and get an early start on threshing just as soon as the dew lifted.

Our Bingham Township farmer preferred Percheron horses to Belgian or Clydesdale draft horses.  Although Percherons were slightly smaller, standing on average only 16 “hands” tall at the shoulder as opposed to 16½ hands for the average Clydesdale and 17 hands for the average Belgian, and although the Percheron was sometimes lighter in weight than the average horse of the other two main breeds of draft horses, the Percheron had a “quicker step” than the horses of the other two breeds.  The Percheron was the least “lumbering” and slow of the three main breeds of draft horses.  That meant that on a morning like this Mac and Polly would walk down the road to the neighbors at a quicker pace than the average team of Belgian or Clydesdale horses.

Upon arriving at the farm where his thresher sat, and even before hitching Mac and Polly to the water wagon, he opened the door of the firebox on his steam engine and peered inside.  He moved the lever connected to the rockers that formed the bottom of the firebox.  As the rockers twisted from side to side, the ashes in the firebox fell down between the rockers to the ash pan located under the firebox.  Emerging from the ashes were a few cherry-red coals.  Good!  He would not have to start a fire from scratch.  Just throw on some wood and the boiler would be up to 155 pounds of steam pressure in no time at all.

Next he filled the water reserve tank on the steam engine from the water that remained in the water wagon.  While the thresher heated up, he picked up the bucket of grease and made his way around the thresher checking all the grease cups.  He liked to screw them down until he saw a little bulge of grease emerging from the crack between the bearing housing and the particular shaft on which the bearing was located.  Then he knew the grease had thoroughly covered the bearing.  Then he would unscrew the lid to the grease cup and fill the lid entirely full of grease from the grease bucket.  He would then screw the lid to the grease cup back in place only until the first threads of the lid “caught.”  Periodically, through out the day, the crew could tighten down the lids of those grease cups one turn at a time to provide additional grease to the bearings again as was needed throughout the day.  By the time, he completed greasing the entire thresher, the steam engine had a “full head of steam.”  He put the steam engine in gear and moved the thresher to its location near the straw piles that had which had been created on this farm earlier that year during the wheat and oat harvests.  He pulled the thresher around so that the feeder of the thresher pointed west.  Nobody could ever be sure which way the breezes would blow during the day.  However, given the generally eastward direction of the weather patterns of mid-western North America and the resultant “prevailing westerly” winds, the best guess was always that the breezes during the day would be coming from the west.  By parking the thresher with the feeder facing west, most of the dust of the threshing operation would be carried away to the east toward the straw pile.

Next he took the carpenter’s level out of the tool box on the thresher.  He laid the level on a large wooden beam on the back of the thresher.  He found the right side to be a little too high.  Consequently, he got the shovel from its location on top of the thresher and dug a slight hole in the ground behind the right rear wheel and backed the thresher until the right wheel rolled into the hole.  That did it.  The thresher was level from side to side.  The thresher was also level from front to rear with just a slight raise in the front.  This slight raise in the front was beneficial as it would help the flow of straw from the cylinder at the front of the thresher to blower of the “Farmer’s Friend” straw stacker located at the rear of the thresher.

Next he crawled to the top of the thresher and reset the counter on the grain weigher to zero.  He would be paid according to the number of bushels of grain recorded on this automatic counter.  Then he belted all the pulleys on the thresher, unhooked the steam engine and turned the steam engine around to face the front of the thresher.  He then belted the steam engine to the thresher with the long drive belt.  The owner of the farm where they were this day, had gotten one wagon loaded full of bundles of wheat the previous evening.  This wagon was now pulled out of the barn where it had been stored, shielded against any potential overnight rain.  The horses pulled the wagon load of wheat up to the Garden City self-feeder of the thresher.  Meanwhile, the rest of the threshing crew made their way to the wheat field with wagons and teams to start the day’s work in the field loading bundles.

July of 1915 was only slightly drier than normal and provided good harvesting weather for the winter wheat harvest.  (A comparison of the actual monthly precipitation chart for 1915 on the Saginaw Michigan page of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (N.O.A.A.) website with the average monthly rainfall chart for Bad Axe, Michigan on the Bad Axe/Huron County page of the World Climate website.)  The dry weather helped get the wheat well under 13%-15% moisture in order for good threshing of the crop.  Our Bingham Township farmer was able to work nearly the entire month threshing winter wheat on the farms of his neighbors without interruption from the rain.

Starting September of 1914, the price of wheat had risen out of its normal range of 85¢ to 93¢ per bushel to $1.12 per bushel.  This spike in prices was in reaction to the war in Europe.  Most newspapers expected the war to be a short war which would be over by Christmas of 1914. However, the war stretched on into 1915 on and the price of wheat continued to rise to extraordinary record levels.  In February 1915, the price was an astounding $1.59 per bushel.

Prices for all farm commodities tended to rise all year until the harvest time for that particular crop.  Then the price usually dropped at harvest time due to the large volume of crop that came into the market with the harvest.  However, high prices in 1915 held as the war in Europe dragged on.  In April, 1915, the price of wheat was still at $1.57.  In July as the winter wheat was being harvested prices still averaged $1.19 per bushel for the entire month.  The customers of our Bingham Township farmer were loading the bagged wheat onto wagons and taking the crop to the elevator in Ubly or the one in Ruth, just as fast as the crop was threshed.  These customers were able to take advantage of the high prices provided they could get their grain to market in a hurry.  This desire to harvest wheat early this year made it a perfect time for a custom thresher to begin operations.  Farmers in older more established and larger “threshing rings” were induced to sign up as the first customers of his new custom threshing operation in hopes of getting their wheat threshed early before the price dropped.

However, in order to keep these customers satisfied, our Bingham Township farmer had placed his own name at the bottom of the list of customers.  His wheat would be threshed last.  He felt certain that the price would go through a dramatic correction before he could get his wheat harvested.  For a while during the winter wheat harvest, our Bingham Township farmer thought that he would have to depend on his navy bean crop to cover his farming expenses.  Because he was last on the list of farms to be threshed, he was sure that he would be unable to sell his winter wheat in time before the current high prices fell.

Meanwhile, all during mid-July, he observed the white flowers that were blossoming on the growing navy beans in the fields of the neighborhood.  This signaled the end of any further cultivation of the navy beans.  Any work in the bean field at this time threatened to knock off the delicate white flowers of the bean plants.  Every flower represented another pod of navy beans.  He feared that this second cash crop may have to save him financially, if he was unable to sell his wheat at a decent price.

Although the price of wheat did decline some, the average price for the month of August remained at the relatively high level of $1.09 per bushel.  Thus, our Bingham Township farmer was able to sell his entire 1915 winter wheat crop at a price just 3¢ less per bushel than he had sold his 1914 crop the previous September.  This price was still well above the “normal” range of wheat prices.

Almost immediately, upon the completion of the winter wheat harvest, it was time to start making the rounds again with the steam engine and thresher to thresh the oat crop.  Oats were not a cash crop.  Nearly all oats were used on the farm for feeding the horses and other livestock.  Thus, although, oats returned money to the farm only in an indirect way, they were a vital crop on farms all across North America.  Everybody had to raise and harvest oats but the market price of the oats was not followed as closely as wheat prices.  Our Bingham Township farmer was gratified to discover that most of the customers for whom he had threshed winter wheat in July returned to be customers again during the oat harvest in August.  However, the weather in August 1915 did not co-operate.  Almost twice the usual amount of rain (5.28 inches) fell during August of 1915 than was normal for August (2.90 inches).  Nearly all his customers had their oats shocked in the field.  Shocking the grain involved a great amount of hand work in the fields.  Four (4) to six (6) bundles were placed upright propped up by each other.  Then two (2) bundles were placed on top of the upright bundles.  This was the “cap” of the shock.  When properly made the shock of bundle would allow the oats to dry down to the 10% or less moisture content that would permit good threshing.  Properly shocked grain would also repel rain.  Thus, even during this wet harvest season, once the oats were shocked, the farmers of the neighborhood no longer needed to spend time in the oat field.  September remained a wet month as 4.54 inches of rain fell during September 1915.  Usual rainfall for September was only 3.30 inches for the entire month.

The delay in the oat harvest also delayed the navy bean harvest.  Farmers usually wished to start harvesting their navy beans by about September 15 each year.  However, the delays imposed by the late oat harvest and working up the ground for planting of next years winter wheat, the navy bean harvest was delayed well beyond September 15.  Many days were wasted as the thresher sat idle in some neighbor’s yard covered with canvas tarpolines while the rains drizzled down.

By the time that our Bingham Township farmer had finished the oat harvest, he hardly had time to change the pulleys on the thresher at the conclusion before it was time to start out on the road again.  He had only very limited amount of time to work up the soil on his own farm to plant next year’s winter wheat.  Our Bingham Township farmer was again gratified to find that all his customers were remaining loyal for the navy bean harvest in September (or at least those who were raising navy beans).  With all the rains of August and September, this year was certainly the year that proved the efficiency of his modern large thresher by threshing a great amount of crop in the few dry days that remained in those months.

The farmers of the neighborhood were all approaching the navy beans harvest with a great deal of concern.  At harvest, the navy beans were “pulled” (cut off at the root below the ground) and “cocked” (hand forked by the farmer into convenient piles in the field) to be allowed to dry down to 18% or less moisture content.  However, unlike shocks of wheat or oats, these piles of navy bean vines did not protect the beans from rain.  Indeed, the farmers knew that they would have to return to the bean field after each rain to turn the piles of navy beans to prevent the pearly white navy beans from mildewing and discoloring.  Any discolored beans would be regarded as “cull” beans and would reduce the yield of beans the farmer could sell.  Sometimes discolorization could reduce the crop by as much as 50%.  Furthermore, in addition to being time consuming, this additional hand work in the fields turning the bean piles was wasteful.  With each additional “handling” of the bean vines, more pods would be lost off the vine or the pods would split open and allow the beans inside to fall out onto the ground.  Consequently, the farmers foresaw a great deal of the profits from the navy beans going down the drain if these rains continued.

However, late in September the rains suddenly quit.  Just as the navy bean harvest was starting the weather turned and started cooperating for the harvest of navy beans.  Only ¾ of an inch of rain fell during the whole month of October.  As our Bingham Township farmer made his way around the neighborhood with his steam engine and thresher, he found that his customers were pleased with the yield from their bean fields.  The beans pouring out of the grain weigher each time it dumped, looked uniformly white with very little discolorization.

The price of navy beans was down from the record highs of the past year.  However, everybody believed this to be just a natural low point of the annual cycle of prices.  Nearly all of the customers on our Bingham Township farmer’s list were confident that navy beans would continue to increase in price as they had since the war in Europe had begun.  The war had dragged on for an entire year now with no end in sight.  Accordingly, nearly all of his customers intended to store their navy beans on the farm in order to take advantage of the higher price they expected in the coming winter.  Consequently, they did not feel the same need to rush to the market with their navy beans as they had done with the winter wheat.  They wished only to schedule the “pulling” and “cocking” so that the beans would spend as little time on the ground as possible to be exposed to the possibility of rain.  Still, our Bingham Township farmer placed his name at the bottom of his list of customers.  He wanted to keep his customers for the next year.  As with the wheat and oat harvests, he was collecting 5¢ on every bushel of threshed crop that poured out the big Kay-Gee thresher.  Every two times that the grain weigher dumped its contents into the bagging attachment, he earned another nickel.  He would surely need all the money that he could earn this threshing season, just to meet the coming payment he would have to make on the steam engine and thresher.  Additionally, he wished to keep his customers loyal to him for next year.

It was simply another morning in October, our Bingham Township farmer, was yearing the end of the threshing season.  Last evening, he had pulled the thresher up into yard of another neighbor.  This farm was located in the southwest corner of Siegel Township to the northeast of Bingham Township.  Other than himself, this was the last customer on his list.  Just one more day, or perhaps a little more, and the threshing crew would finally be moving back to his own farm in Bingham Township to complete the navy bean harvest.  It could not come any too soon.  There had been no rains for days.  Thus, chances were strong that a rain would soon arrive.  With his navy beans piled up, or cocked, in the field to dry, he felt as though he was tempting fate with each passing day.

Over the course of the three harvesting seasons that summer, our Bingham Township farmer had learned that the dangers inherent in the steam engine and thresher, the rig offered an attractive nuisance to the children on the farms of his neighbors.  He hated to appear gruff to the children of his neighbors, but he had a dread of what might happen not only around the steam engine itself, but also what might happen around all the moving belts and chains of the thresher.  The kids constantly wanted to climb up on the thresher and the steam engine, the way that they saw the adults do.  He and his wife had never had children.  Thus, he was unsure how to react to children in the first place, but he knew how bad he would feel if a child were injured around the equipment and always feared that if something happened it would be his fault in the eyes of his neighbors.  In most eyes, he realized, he appeared as a person that did not like children.  However, he knew that this was not true.  He merely wished that the children were not around when he was operating the thresher.  However, on this farm in Siegel Township, one boy, about eleven (11) years of age, captured his attention.  Unlike the other children, this boy appeared to be thinking about serious subjects all the time.  Rather than wanting to climb up on the thresher, he would watch the grain pouring out of the chute of the bagging attachment of the Kay-Gee thresher.  If he noticed a small spill of navy beans on the ground he would attempt scoop up the beans with a shovel, open a door at the rear of thresher and throw the beans onto the cleaning sieves.  The beans would be cleaned again and any dirt picked up with the beans would be removed.  The beans would then emerge for the thresher as clean beans ready for the sack.  Sometimes, when the other children were gone, our Bingham Township farmer would see the boy standing quietly watching the steam engine.  During times like that our Bingham Township farmer would explain to the boy what to watch on the steam engine, e.g. the steam pressure gauge and most importantly the water level indicator.  It was the seriousness of the boy that appealed to our Bingham Township farmer.  He noticed this characteristic in the boy whenever he saw the family at church.  The boy’s family attended St. Mary’s Church just north of Parisville in neighboring Paris Township, just as our Bingham Township farmer and his wife did.  Indeed, he had purchased Mac and Polly, his team of Percheron horses from the boy’s father.

Our Bingham Township farmer, standing under the canopy of his Kay-Gee steam engine, kept looking over his shoulder to the west.  He was scanning the skies for any sign of approaching rain clouds.  However, he need not have worried.  The threshing crew was allowed to finish all the navy beans on this farm in Siegel Township as well as all the beans on his own farm without any interference from the rain.  Just like his neighbors, our Bingham Township stored the navy beans in hopes of selling at a better price in the coming winter.  Nationwide, as noted above, a record 1,156,000 acres of edible beans were planted in the United States.  Now in the fall, 93.9% of that total acreage was harvested (1,085,000 acres across the nation—also a new record.)  Despite this record level of beans flowing into the market, the ongoing war in Europe kept pushing the price per hundred weight up to new record levels.  The price increased sufficiently to allow the average price for the whole year of 1915 to be $4.88 per hundred weight and the average price for the following year—1916 proved to be a phenomenal $9.31 per hundred weight.  Our Bingham Township farmer obtained a very good price for his navy bean crop—as did his neighbors.  This “other” cash crop was certainly living up to predictions.  Indeed the future looked bright to our Bingham Township farmer as he spent time that winter inspecting the inside of his steam engine.  Sitting right next to the steam engine in the shed was his new thresher.  He now looked forward to the next summers harvest with anticipation and with the satisfied feeling that he had made the proper decision to purchase this new equipment when he did.

The Keck-Gonnerman Company

                      The Keck-Gonnerman Company of Mt. Vernon, Indiana

by

Brian Wayne Wells

          As published in the November/December 2004 issue of

Belt Pulley Magazine

            In the late eighteenth century, German immigrants flooded into the United States.  However, this flood of immigration began as only a trickle in the 1830s.  Part of this trickle was Andrew (Andreas) Keck, who came to the United States from Waldernach, Germany.  Settling temporarily in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Andrew met and married Rosana Grossman.  Rosana was also a recent immigrant from Germany.  Together, Andrew and Rosana left Philadelphia and headed west.  They arrived in Posey County in the State of Indiana in 1835.  Located on the north bank of the Ohio River in the extreme southwestern corner of Indiana, Posey County was one of the initial counties organized when Indiana became a state in 1816.

Upon arriving in Posey County in 1835, Andrew and Rosana settled on a farm in Marrs Township.  Together they had twelve children including a daughter Caroline, a second daughter Anna B., another daughter Rosanna, and a fourth daughter, Christiana, before the couple had their first son, John, born on August 7, 1851.  Their family also included a second son Peter, a son Louis H. and daughters Maria and Amelia, a son Andrew, and finally two daughters Eliza and Catherine.

Andrew’s wife,  Rosana, however, died in 1861 when their son, John, was only ten (10) years of age.  Growing up on the farm, John Keck tried his best to help his father support the large family.  Rather early in his life, it became apparent that John Keck was mechanically minded.  He attended school in Marrs Township and in nearby Evansville, Indiana, the county seat of Vanderburgh County.  After completing his schooling, John learned the machinists’ trade in Evansville.

Rosanna, one of John’s older sisters married a local boy John C. Woody.  John C. Woody and his brother, Winfield Woody, established their own small foundry business in Evansville in 1873.  However, Winfield Woody, suddenly died.  Recognizing an opportunity to put his machinist trade to work, John Keck purchased the interest in the foundry that had been owned by Winfield and went into business with his brother-in-law in 1877.  The small foundry firm was renamed Woody & Keck.  With his future somewhat secure, John Keck married Addie Franck, daughter of Valentine Franck of Louisville, Kentucky, on March 20, 1877.  The couple made their home in a house on Pearl Street in Mount Vernon, Indiana.  Eventually they would have a family made up of two sons Franck L. and Grover C. Keck.

The foundry was located just sixteen (16) miles south of Evansville.  (Jack Norbeck, Encyclopedia of American Steam Traction Engines [Crestline Pub.: Sarasota, Fla., 1976] p. 154.) The business at the foundry was mainly occupied with the manufacture of hollow ware—silver ware and cooking utensils.  In 1883, John C. Woody sold his interests in the foundry to John Onk of Louisville, Kentucky.  Accordingly, the name of the firm was changed to Keck & Onk.  With the new infusion of capital, the firm purchased a new site which occupied four city blocks at Fourth and Pearl Streets in the city of Mount Vernon, Indiana.  The site also embraced the lot of the house that was the former home of John and Addie Keck.  The family now lived in a house located at Seventh Street and College Avenue in Mount Vernon.  On their new site, the company built a new factory and a warehouse.  By 1884, the factory was employing 300 people in the manufacture of steam engines, threshers-separators, mining equipment and portable saw mills.  The business made steam engines in two different sizes—a 19 horsepower [hp.] and 20 hp. model.  (Unlike other steam engine manufacturers, the business began and the future Kay-Gee Company continued to designate their steam engine models according to drawbar hp. rather than belt pulley hp.  Accordingly, the Kay-Gee 19 hp. model delivered 45 to 50 hp. to the belt pulley.  The larger 20 hp model could deliver up to 70 hp to the belt pulley.)

The company’s wooden frame threshers were known as “Indiana Special” thresher-separators and were offered to the farming public in two different sizes.  Both models had a 32-inch wide cylinder.  However, one thresher had a 48-inch separating unit.  Therefore, this model was called the 32 x 48 model.  (This model was later enlarged to become the 32 x 56 model.)  The other thresher model was the 32 x 62 model.  Both models of the Indiana Special thresher-separators were 28’ 5” in overall length.  However, whereas the 36 x 56 model weighed 9,000 pounds and could obtain a capacity of 200 bushels per hour with a 50-hp. power source, the larger 36 x 62 model thresher weighed 10,000 pound and could achieve a capacity of 250 bushels per hour capacity when operated by a 70-hp. power source.  (Robert Pripps and Andrew Moreland, Threshers: History of Separator Threshing Machine, Reaper and Harvester [Motorbooks International: Osceola, Wisc., 1992] p. 121.)

However, John Onk sold his interest in the business to William Gonnerman and Henry Kuebler in 1884 and moved back to Louisville in 1885.  At this point the firm was renamed Keck, Gonnerman and Company (or Kay-Gee for short).

The new partner, William Gonnerman, was also of German ancestry.  Born on January 5, 1856, William Gonnerman was the sixth of eleven children, born to Adam and Martha (Ripple) Gonnerman.  Adam Gonnerman was a baker in the town of Solz, in the Hesse-Nassau province of Germany.  William Gonnerman grew up and was apprenticed to the machine shop of Johann Shaefer located in Sontra Germany.  He became a journeyman machinist in 1873 at the age of seventeen years.  Johann Shaefer had married William Gonnerman’s oldest sister, Catherine.  In 1873, the same year that he became a journeyman machinist, William Gonnerman emigrated from Germany to the United States.  (C.H. Wendel, Encyclopedia of American Farm Tractors [Crestline Pub.: Sarasota, Fla.,1979] p. 167.)  All of William’s brothers and sisters remained in Germany with the exception of his older sister Christina and an older brother Conrad, both of whom also emigrated to the United States.  After settling in Indiana, Christina married William Shaus, a farmer from rural Armstrong in Vanderburgh County.  Conrad also settled in Indiana and became the foreman of the Louisville and Nashville Railroad freight depot located in Evansville, Indiana the county seat of Vanderburgh County.  Upon his arrival in the United States, William Gonnerman also settled in Evansville, Indiana and obtained a position as a machinist at Conrad Kratz machine shop in Evansville in 1875.  On September 7, 1875, William married Lena Alexander, daughter of Henry Alexander, a farmer from Rheinfaltz, Germany.  After moving to Mount Vernon in neighboring Posey County, William and Lena joined the Trinity Evangelical and Reform Church and William joined Lodge No. 277 of the Order of the Elks.  Together Lena and William Gonnerman would have a family consisting of a daughter Margaret born on November 13, 1876, a daughter Katherine born on July 30, 1878, a third daughter Caroline born on May 15, 1880, a son William H. born on July 23, 1884 and finally another daughter Lena born on December 31, 1888.  However, William’s wife, Lena, tragically died in 1891.  The three oldest daughters would grow up and marry.  Only William’s youngest daughter, Lena, would remain single throughout her life.  Two of the marriages of the Gonnerman daughters would have an impact on the Kay-Gee Company in the future.  Katherine would marry William Espenschied, a local attorney.  They would have one son, who would also become an attorney and would later serve as corporate attorney for Kay-Gee.  Margaret would marry Joseph V. Forthoffer, who served as the tool foreman for the Kay-Gee Company.

It was while working at the Kratz machine shop that William Gonnerman heard about the opportunity to purchase an interest in the Keck and Onk business.  As noted above, William Gonnerman bought the Onk interest in the business together with Henry Kuebler in 1884.  However, the next year, in 1885, Henry Kuebler sold his interest in the firm to Louis H. Keck, John Keck’s younger brother.

Having secured his financial position by joining his brother and William Gonnerman in the business, Louis H. Keck married Minnie Foshee a local Posey County girl.  Together they would have two sons, Louis D. Keck born on June 24, 1893, and Robert A. Keck born in 1898, and two daughters.

In 1901, the business was incorporated under the laws of Indiana as the Keck-Gonnerman Company, nicknamed “Kay-Gee” for short, with an authorized capital of $201,000.00.  John Keck was the president of the new corporation and generally in charge of purchases and sales.  William Gonnerman served as vice-president and was put in charge of the manufacturing operations at the factory.  Louis H. Keck was the secretary/treasurer of the corporation and handled the finances and office operations of the company.  The financial relationship between John Keck and William Gonnerman did not end at the gates of the Kay-Gee Company.  Together they organized the Industrial Brick Company of Mount Vernon.  In 1908, together with Charles A. Greathouse, William Gonnerman organized the Peoples Bank & Trust Company of Mount Vernon.  William Gonnerman served as a director and an officer of this bank for many years.  William also served as president of another company called William Gonnerman & Company, which served electric power to the citizens of Mount Vernon for many years.  Unlike his partners, John and Louis H. Keck and unlike a majority of the community around Mount Vernon, Indiana, William Gonnerman was a Republican.  Nonetheless, William Gonnerman was elected to the Indiana State Senate as a Republican serving this largely Democratic community.  In addition to his business affairs, William Gonnerman served in the Indiana State Senate throughout the 1907 and 1909 regular sessions of the legislature as well as serving in the 1908 special session.

John Keck’s business ventures flourished enough that he was able to purchase one of the new fangled contraptions that were becoming a popular item among persons with sufficient means—a horseless carriage.  The new “automobile” purchased by John Keck was a “General” automobile from the General Automotive and Manufacturing Company (formerly the Hansen Automotive Company) of Cleveland, Ohio.        John Keck’s new car received much notice in the “tri-state area” around Mount Vernon, Indiana.  On October 14, 1903, John and Addie Keck, their oldest son Franck Keck and Addie’s brother John Franck left on a trip in the new General automobile, traveling to Louisville, Kentucky to visit Addie’s parents.  (An account of this five-day trip to Louisville in John Keck’s own words, is contained at the Keck and Gonnerman Motor Sports website on the Internet.)

In 1909, Franck Keck, John and Addie’s eldest son, was married to Louise Klee of Henderson, Kentucky.  The happy couple settled in a house at 613 College Ave, which the groom had built for them prior to their marriage.  Together they would raise one daughter.  In addition, Franck L. Keck served on the board of directors of the Peoples Bank and Trust Company.  He also used his engineering skills to design the facilities of the Mount Vernon Milling Company and he served on the board of directors of that company as well as serving on the board of the Home Mill and Grain Company.

John and Addie’s second son, Grover C. Keck, grew up and attended Purdue, University in West LaFayette, Indiana.  Following his graduation from Purdue in 1907, Grover Keck returned to Mount Vernon and founded, together with his father John Keck, the automobile division of the Keck-Gonnerman Company.  The automobile division served as a sales dealership for the Cadillac Automotive Company of Detroit, the Maxwell-Briscoe Motor Company of Tarrytown, New York, the Stanley Motor Carriage Company of Watertown, Massachusetts, the Nash Motors Company of Kenosha, Wisconsin and the Oakland Motor Car Company of Pontiac. Michigan.  In 1912, the automobile division also became the local dealer for the Ford Motor Company of Dearborn, Michigan.  However, sometime during the First World War, Ford began requiring all of their local dealerships to sell exclusively Ford-made cars.  Thus, the automobile division of Kay-Gee dropped all other franchises except Ford.  As a result, John Keck obtained a 1917 Ford Model T “Coupelet” for use as a demonstrator vehicle.  Actually, 1917 was the last year that Ford produced the Coupelet, which was a two passenger automobile with an enclosed body like a coup with full glass windows on the sides of the vehicle which could be adjusted up and down by straps.  (George H. Dammann, Ninety Years of Ford [Motor Books Intl. Pub.: Osceola, Wisc., 1993] pp. 65, 71 and 74.)  However, unlike a coup, the roof of the Coupelet would fold down and the car would become a completely open car.  This was the first real convertible car which was not to be confused with the various models of roadsters, runabouts and touring cars which had no glass windows on the sides.  (Ibid.)  After settling in to his new position as head of the automotive division, Grover married Lena Highman.  Together they would have two sons, John Robert born in 1917 and William born in 1919.

Recognizing the trend toward internal combustion engines not only for automobiles, but also for farm power uses, the Keck and Gonnerman Company introduced the Model 12-24 kerosene powered tractor in 1917.  (C.H. Wendel, The Encyclopedia of American Farm Tractors [Crestline Pub.: Sarasota, Fla., 1979] p. 167.)  As the model number of the tractor would suggest, with a twin-cylinder 6-1/2 inch bore and 8 inch stroke engine, the Model 12-24 tractor developed twelve (12) hp. at the drawbar and 24 hp. at the belt pulley.  (Ibid.)  In 1918 the Model 12-24 sold for $1,250.00.  (Ibid.)  In 1920, Kay-Gee modified the tractor by increasing the bore to 7-1/4 inches with the same 8 inch stroke.  This modification increased the horsepower of the tractor to 15 hp. at the drawbar and 30 hp. at the belt pulley.  (Ibid.)  Thus, the newly modified tractor was designated the Model 15-30.  (Ibid.)  The Model 15-30 was priced $1, 650.00 in 1920, but in the price wars of the early 1920’s which were inspired by Henry Ford and his Fordson tractor, the price of the Kay-Gee Model 15-30 tractor fell to $1,075.00 in 1923.  (Ibid.)  Options for the tractor included a cab for the additional price of $25.00 and 6 inch extension rims for the rear drive wheels for $60.00 a pair.  (Ibid.)

The Kay-Gee tractors were still not powerful enough to operate the large Kay-Gee threshers.  Still the trend following the First World War was tending toward smaller threshers which could be powered by internal combustion engine tractors.  Answering this trend, Kay-Gee introduced their line of “Junior” threshers.  The Junior threshers were offered in two sizes.  The 5,400-pound 21 x 38 model Junior was 24’ 9” in overall length and had a 21-inch twelve-bar cylinder and a separating unit that was 38” wide.  Requiring a 20 hp. power source for optimum operation this thresher had a capacity of 90 bushels per hour.  (Robert Pripps and Andrew Moreland, Threshers: History of Separator Threshing Machine, Reaper and Harvester p. 121.)  The larger model 28 x 40 model Junior thresher was also 24’ 9”in overall length.  However, this, this thresher weighed 6,000 pounds and had a 28 inch cylinder with twelve bars, and a 48 inch wide separator unit.  This thresher was had a capacity to handle 165 bushels per hour when properly powered with a 30 hp power source.  (Ibid.)

Although Kay-Gee began the manufacture of their internal combustion tractors, they also continued production of their steam engines.  Indeed, they expanded their line of steam engines by adding a 13 hp., a 15 hp., a 16 hp., and an 18-hp. model to the line of steam engines.  Still the larger 19-hp. and 20-hp. models remained the most popular steam engines in terms of sales.  (Jack Norbeck, Encyclopedia of American Steam Traction Engines, p. 155.)  At first the steam engines were fitted with side-mounted single steam cylinders.  (Ibid., p. 154.)  Later double cylinder units were used for more efficient power.  The Kay-Gee steam engines featured rocker grates in the firebox for easy removal of the ashes from the live coals in the firebox.  (Ibid.)  Cross head pumps and injectors were used on the steam engines.  Traveling at only 2¼ miles per hour the 20,000-pound steam engines were not even as fast as a walking team of horses.  (Ibid., p. 155.)  However, arriving at the work site, the Kay Gee steam engine was fitted with an Arnold reverse gear which allowed the steam engine to “lean back” into a drive belt and perform the work for which it was really made.

In 1921, Kay-Gee fitted their steam engines with new and improved boilers, which met the new A.S.M.E. (American Society of Mechanical Engineers) standards.  These new waist double butt strap riveted boilers were made of 3/8” metal in order to stand a working steam pressure of up to 175 pounds.  (Ibid., p. 156.)

In 1923, a particular 19 hp. Kay-Gee steam engine bearing the serial number 1728, rolled out of the Kay-Gee factory in Mount Vernon, Indiana.  The steam engine had already been sold to Grover Myers from Versailles, Indiana.  Accordingly, No. 1728 was loaded onto a railroad flatcar for the journey east across Indiana to the town of Versailles.  Upon arrival in Versailles the steam engine was used in threshing.  Some time in its early life, No. 1728 was damaged in what may have been a rollover accident.  This may have occurred as early as the unloading of the steam engine from the flat bed railroad car in 1923.  In addition to threshing No. 1728 was used in road construction.  No doubt the work that No. 1728 performed on road construction was in response to the various local Good Roads Associations that sprang up all across the nation in the early 1920s to promote road construction by state and county governments.  As has been shown in a previous article, at least some of the work on the roads under construction was performed by the farmers that lived on or near those roads.  (See the article called “Farming with a Titan 10-20” contained in the May/June 1996 issue of Belt Pulley magazine at page 16.)  Thus although Grover Myers was probably a farmer and probably a custom thresher in his neighborhood, No. 1728 was probably marshaled into service when local roads in his neighborhood were being built.

However, in the mid-1950’s, No. 1728 was sold to Justin Hitgen of LaMotte, Iowa.  Located in Jackson County LaMotte is located only about eleven (11) miles south of Dubuque, Iowa.  Justin Hitgen used No. 1728 in threshing shows that were put on for the public in the LaMotte area.  In about 1968, No. 1728 was sold to Joe Edel of Montgomery Minnesota.  Later in 1997, Gary Jones of Owatonna Minnesota purchased the Kay-Gee 19hp. steam engine from the .Edel family.  Gary Jones remains the current owner of No.1728 and operates the steam engine each year at the annual LeSueur County Pioneer Power Association Show held in rural LeSueur, Minnesota during the last weekend in August.  The steam engine will once again be seen by attendees at the 2004 Pioneer Power show held on August 27-29, 2004.

Following No. 1728 out of the Kay-Gee factory, was another 19hp. steam engine bearing the serial number 1787 which was purchased new in 1924 by Arnold Knopp of Campbell Hill, Illinois.  No. 1787 is, currently, pictured on the Keck-Gonnerman web page of the Keck Motor Sports Company website.  As noted at that particular page, Arnold Knopp owned No. 1787 until his death in 1969.  No. 1787 was later owned by Tim Mathis of Pinkneyville, Illinois and was restored to its current condition, as shown in the color picture on the web page, by Gerald Fink of Murphysville, Illinois.

Kay-Gee continued to make steam engines until 1930 when the last of the Kay-Gee steam engines rolled out of the company shops in Mount Vernon.  Kay-Gee steam engines were employed in some unusual ways even after their production was ceased.  In 1937, Kay-Gee Company steam engines would achieve local renown for the roll they played in the Great Flood of 1937.  The Ohio River began rising on January 5, 1937 and did not recede to its normal banks until February 9.  During this time the waterworks of Mount Vernon was inundated by the flood.  Three Kay-Gee steam engines were employed on a full time basis to keep the citizens of Mount Vernon supplied with fresh water.  Additionally, Kay-Gee steam engines were used in Kentucky to sterilize the soil of seed beds for tobacco seedlings.  Tobacco is grown from seed in seed beds the size of the area of the floor space of the average house.  In this particular application in Kentucky, plastic was placed over the entire seedbed and live steam from the Kay-Gee steam engine was blown under the plastic and held by the plastic against the soil of the seedbed.  In this way, all the weed seeds in the seed bed were killed and the ground was “sterilized” for the tobacco seed to sprout and grow unhindered into seedlings, at which time, they would be transplanted to rows in the fields.

In 1924, Kay-Gee underwent another corporate reorganization as the retail automotive division of the Company was spun off to form an independent business called the Keck Motor Company.  Grover Keck and his father, John Keck, became the sole owners of the Keck Motor Company with Grover conducting the day-to-day affairs of the company.  Although originally the retail business of the Keck Motor Company was conducted from the grounds of the Kay-Gee factory works in Mount Vernon, the Keck Motor Company eventually purchased a building located on Main Street in Mount Vernon from which the retail operations were conducted.  The Keck Company continued to sell Ford cars from this building until a fire destroyed the building in 1982.

The Kay-Gee Company continued to be involved in the retail business, serving as local franchisee for the Allis-Chalmers Manufacturing Company of Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  In addition to selling Allis Chalmers farm equipment, Kay-Gee sold balers manufactured by the Ann Arbor Agricultural Company of Ann Arbor, Michigan.  The Keck Motor Company was able to benefit from the fact that the Ann Arbor Company had developed the first pickup device for balers (portable hay presses) such that the baler could be brought to the hay rather than the hay being brought to the stationary hay press.  In 1941, its first successful automated self-tying hay baler was introduced by the Ann Arbor Company.  However, in 1943, Ann Arbor leased its factory and business operations to the Oliver Farm Equipment Company of Charles City, Iowa and later the Ann Arbor Company was officially merged with Oliver.  With Ann Arbor balers no longer available the Kay-Gee retail division became the local franchise holder for the New Holland Machine Company of Lancaster, Pennsylvania.  This franchise enabled Kay-Gee to market the famous New Holland “Automaton” self-tying twine baler.

In 1924, William Gonnerman, together with Louis D. Keck and Robert A. Keck, both sons of Louis H. Keck, formed the Gonnerman Motor Company, which became the local distributor for Chevrolet cars in the Mount Vernon area.  Louis D. Keck, son of Louis H. Keck, graduated from Mount Vernon High School in 1911 and entered a course of studies at the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois.  However, because of the illness and subsequent death of his father, Louis D. Keck returned home to assume the corporate responsibilities left by the death of his father.  On October 2, 1918, Louis D. Keck married Roblye Powell of Carmi, Illinois.  They would have one son, Louis D. Keck Jr., who would tragically be killed in an automobile accident in 1949.  In addition to his involvement in the family business, Louis D. Keck Sr. became a member of the board of directors of the First National Bank in Mount Vernon.

Robert A. Keck, Louis H. Keck’s younger son had returned to Mount Vernon, following his service in the United States Naval Reserve during World War I and after his graduation from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor Michigan.  He married Louise Hopkins.  Together they would have three children, Robert A. Jr. (known as Andy), James H. and David M. Keck.  (Andy Keck currently lives in retirement in Mount Vernon and supplied background information for this article.)  Along with serving as the assistant secretary/treasurer of the Kay-Gee Company and in addition to his responsibilities as a founder of the Gonnerman Motor Company, Robert A. Keck Sr. was a member of the board of directors of the Peoples Bank and Trust Company of Mount Vernon.  Like most of the Keck family, Louis D. Keck was a Democrat.  During the 1920s and 1930s he served as Treasurer of the Posey County Democratic Party.  With a wide range of acquaintances, he became a power, in and of himself within the Democratic Party of Southern Indiana, and he identified with the “Old Guard” wing of that party.  From 1948 until 1952 he would also serve on the Board of Education of the Mount Vernon City School system.

Within the Kay-Gee Company changes were afoot.  By 1926, Kay-Gee was still manufacturing only one size of farm tractor.  A piece of literature dating from 1926, reflects that the Kay-Gee Company still offered only its original two-cylinder kerosene cross-motor tractor.  However, in the interim, the tractor had been improved and was now rated as delivering 18 hp. to drawbar and 35 hp. to the belt pulley.  By 1926, Kay-Gee was offering steam engines in only two sizes—the popular 19-hp. model and the new 22-hp. steam engine, which replaced the 20 hp model steam engine.  Also in 1926, Kay-Gee introduced its line of steel frame threshers.  Both the large threshers (now called the “Senior” line of threshers) and all models of the Junior line were offered to the public in either wood frame or steel frame configurations.

The 1926 piece of advertising literature also reflects Kay-Gee’s growing connection with the edible bean industry of the United States.  Three different sizes of pea and bean threshers (or “hullers”) were offered to edible bean producers—a 24 x 36 model, a 32 x 40 model and a 36 x 48 model.  Small grain threshers could be modified to act as bean hullers by merely replacing the pulleys on the cylinder shaft with larger pulleys.  These larger pulleys would allow the speed of the cylinder to be slowed to 400 revolutions per minute (rpm) without slowing the operation of the rest of the thresher.  As opposed to the cylinder speed of 400 rpm. recommended for optimum threshing of beans, wheat and other small grains required a cylinder speed of 1100-1150 rpm.  Although, the conversion of an ordinary thresher to a bean huller could be made with relative ease, Kay-Gee felt that a market existed for threshers or hullers that were specifically made at the factory for use in threshing (or hulling) beans.

Since 1900, most of the nation’s edible beans (especially navy beans) were raised in Michigan.  (Navy bean farming in the State of Michigan will be the subject of a two-part series of articles in the November/December 2004 and the January/February 2005 issues of Belt Pulley magazine.)  Thus Kay-Gee’s connection with the edible bean industry was in reality a connection with the State of Michigan.  Besides Michigan, the Kay-Gee sales network extended into Indiana, Illinois, Missouri and Kentucky.  Later, distribution of Kay-Gee machines was extended to Canada and to California.  Eventually, Kay-Gee had “factory direct” branch houses in St. Louis, Missouri, Peoria, Illinois and Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.  These branch houses served local dealerships and retail outlets in their respective areas.  Kay-Gee threshers were also exported to Cuba for threshing rice that was being raised in that country.  These rice threshers were modified with pulleys on the cylinder shaft which were larger than those required for wheat and yet smaller than those required for edible beans.  Thus the cylinder was allowed to turn at an optimal 800 to 850 rpm., which is recommended for the threshing of rice while allowing the rest of the thresher to operate at normal speed.

In 1928, Kay-Gee introduced a new line of four-cylinder tractors.  (C.H. Wendel, The Encyclopedia of American Farm Tractors p. 167.)  Smallest in the line was the Model 18-35.  (Ibid.)  Not to be confused with the two-cylinder kerosene cross-motor 18-35 model tractor noted above, this new Model 18-35 tractor was not of a cross-motor design.  Its four-cylinder engine was lined up perpendicular to the rear axle in what would become a conventional and universal design for tractors, trucks and automobiles.  As a power source for this new tractor, Kay-Gee turned to the Buda Company of Harvey, Illinois and contracted for Buda’s 4-1/2 by 6 inch (bore and stroke) four-cylinder engine for installation in the Model 18-35.  (C.H. Wendel, Gas Engine Trademarks, [Stemgas Pub.: Lancaster, Penn., 1995] p. 14.)  The 5,200 pound Model 18-35 sold for $1,600.  (C.H. Wendel, Encyclopedia of American Farm Tractors, p. 167.)  In 1935, the Model 18-35 was fitted with a 5-1/8 by 7 inch engine from the Waukesha Motor Company of Waukesha, Wisconsin and was designated the Model ZW.  The second Model ZW ever made bearing the Serial No. 3502, has been restored by Paul Mauer of Mount Vernon and is currently displayed each year at the annual show of the Keck-Gonnerman Antique Machinery Association held on the first full weekend in August each year at the Posey County Fairgrounds.  The first two digits of the serial number of all Model ZW tractors reflect the year that the particular tractor was made.  Thus number 3502 was built in 1935.  Only 83 Model ZW tractors were ever built by Kay-Gee.  Surprisingly, 48 of these Model ZW tractors are still in existence and their present locations are known.  This is quite a record for tractors of this age.

Also introduced in 1928, was the Kay-Gee Model 25-50.  (Ibid.)  Originally rated at 22 hp at the drawbar and 45 hp. at the belt pulley, the Model 25-50 was later upgraded to 25 hp. at the drawbar and 50hp. at the belt pulley.  The Model 25-50 was made from a number of outsourced products.  As a power source for this engine, Kay-Gee contracted for the 5-1/4 by 7 inch motor manufactured by the Le Roi Company of West Allis Wisconsin.  (C.H. Wendel, Gas Engine Trademarks, p. 62,)  Weighing 9,800 pounds the Model 25-50 was fitted with a carburetor from the Ensign Carburetor Company of Los Angeles, California.  (C.H. Wendel, Encyclopedia of American Farm Tractors, p. 167.)  For a magneto for the Model 25-50, Kay-Gee contracted with the German firm of Ernst Eismann & Company of Stuttgart, Germany.  (Ibid.)  The radiator for the Model 25-50 came from the Modine Manufacturing Company of Racine, Wisconsin, the clutch came from the Twin Disc Clutch Company of Racine, Wisconsin and the air cleaner came from the Pomona Company.  Pictures of the Kay-Gee tractors reveal that probably after 1935, the tractors were fitted with “paper” belt pulleys from the Rockwood Manufacturing Company.  (For a history of the Rockwood Company, see the article on page 14 of the March/April 1997 issue of Belt Pulley.)

The largest tractor the Kay-Gee line introduced in 1928 was the Model 27-55.  (Ibid.)  Designated the Model N, this tractor was eventually upgraded to delivering 30 hp. at the drawbar and 60 hp. at the belt pulley.  (Ibid.)  The Model 30-60 (or Model N) had a Le Roi Company engine with a 5-1/2 inch bore and a 7-inch stroke.  Weighing more than 10,000 pounds the Model N sold for $3,000.00.  Kay-Gee tractors were available with electric lighting and electric starting systems from Leece-Neville Company of Arcade, New York.  Production of the Model 30-60 was ended in 1937.  (Ibid.)  Paul Mauer, who is noted above, also has restored one of these Model N tractors.  This particular Model N bears the serial number 469.  Unlike the Model ZW, it is not known how many Model N tractors were actually made.  Furthermore, unlike the Model ZW, the serial numbers of the Model N do not provide a clue as to the year the tractor was made.  Still No. 469 is thought to be a 1929 tractor.

Although farm machinery, particularly threshers, steam engines and tractors remained the core business for Kay-Gee the Company also began manufacture of repair parts for the boats that were operating on the nearby Ohio River.  Kay-Gee also pioneered in the development of a tungnut picker or gatherer for use in the southern United States.  Tungnuts are used in the making of tung oil which is commonly used as an element in quick-drying paints and lacquers, as a waterproofing agent and as a component in linoleum.

The advent of the 1930s brought the more of the younger generation of Kecks and Gonnermans to the forefront in positions of responsibility within the Kay-Gee Company and the related businesses.  William H. Gonnerman, son of William Gonnerman, the founder of the company, attended Purdue University in West LaFayette, Indiana.  He majored in mechanical engineering, and after graduation in 1906, William H. Gonnerman returned to Mount Vernon to become a mechanical engineer for the Kay-Gee Company.  He married Fannie Highman, the daughter of Edward E. Highman, another prominent family in Posey County.  The young couple settled into a house on Walnut Street in Mount Vernon and started a family which consisted of a single daughter.  Upon the death of Louis H. Keck, William H. Gonnerman succeeded to the office of secretary/treasurer of the company.  As noted above, both of the sons of the late Louis H. Keck became corporate officers in the Kay-Gee Company.  Louis D. Keck, the eldest son of Louis H. Keck, became the assistant secretary/treasurer.  Robert A. Keck, the younger son of Louis H. Keck, became the sales manager of the Kay-Gee Company.

Financing of the purchases of Kay-Gee threshers, tractors and other Kay-Gee equipment was conducted in a number of different ways.  Sometimes Kay-Gee itself would “carry the note” and the farmer purchasing the equipment would make regular payments directly to the Kay Gee Company.  Sometimes the purchaser of the farm equipment would fall in arrears of his payments.  The Company would then have to turn the account over to a law firm for collection of the balance of the bill.  Among the law firms employed by the Company for bill collection was the Emison law firm of Vincennes, Indiana.  This law firm is one of the oldest continuing law firms in the State of Indiana and is a premier law firms in southwestern Indiana.  Indeed a letter still exists in the possession of Richard Keck, great-grandson of John Keck and current owner and operator of Keck Motor Sports of Evansville, Indiana, which was written by John Keck to John Wade Emison, senior partner of the Emison law firm, requesting legal action be pursued in the collection of a particular debt owed to the Kay-Gee Company.  Years later in 1947, Ellen Emison, a grand-daughter of John Wade Emison, would marry William Keck, a grandson of John Keck.  Their son would be Richard Keck.  Thus, the letter that Richard Keck currently possesses was written by his paternal great-grandfather to his maternal great-grandfather long before any family connection exited between the Keck and Emison families.

On December 2, 1938, John Keck died at the age of 87 years due to a gall bladder ailment.  He had served as president of the Kay-Gee Company until his death.  He was succeeded in the office of president by the vice president of the company, William Gonnerman.  After a short term as president, William Gonnerman stepped aside in favor of the elder of the late John Keck’s two sons, Franck Keck, who was then elected as president of the Keck-Gonnerman Company.  Lloyd Quinn moved from his own business as the head of the Quinn Paint and Glass Company in Mount Vernon to begin his long association with the Kay-Gee Company as bookkeeper for the Company in 1937.  Following the Second World War, Lloyd would become the sales manager of the Company.

Tragedy struck the Gonnerman and Keck families more than once in this period of time.  Fannie (Highman) Keck, the wife of William H. Gonnerman died suddenly in 1939.  William H. Gonnerman never quite recovered from this loss.  In 1943, William H Gonnerman sold his house on Walnut Street and moved in to the house at 521 Mill Street with his 87 year old father and his 43 year old sister, Lena.  However, he committed suicide on March 13, 1945 at the age of 60.  Louis D. Keck, succeeded William H. Gonnerman as secretary/treasurer of the Kay-Gee Company.  In the fall of 1948, William Gonnerman, himself died at the age of 92.  As noted above, Louis D. Keck’s own son, Louis D. Keck Jr., died suddenly and tragically in an automobile accident in 1949.  Then in 1951, Louis D. Keck Sr., himself died of a heart attack at the young age of 58.

Production of threshers and tractors was greatly curtailed by the wartime economic restrictions imposed on United States industry by the government.  Indeed, tractor production was suspended altogether for the duration of the war.  Furthermore, although Keck & Gonnermann was still listed in tractor directories as late as 1946, tractor production was not resumed by the Kay-Gee Company even when the wartime economic restrictions were lifted at the close of the war in 1945.  Kay-Gee never really actively advertised tractors after 1937.  (Ibid.)

In the post-war era the retail sales division of the Kay-Gee Company added a local Massey-Harris franchise to the line of farm machinery that retail sales division offered to the public.  However, stationary threshers remained the main focus of Kay-Gee.  The Company resumed making stationary threshers after V-J day in September 1945.  Indeed, the company continued making stationary threshers long after many other companies had ceased production of threshers in favor of combines.  The combine was revolutionizing the harvesting of small grains and was taking over the market from the stationary threshers.

Kay-Gee attempted to adapt to these new conditions by obtaining the outsourcing contracts to make the straw walkers for several different combine manufacturers.  However, the writing was on the wall for Kay-Gee.  In `1952, Kay-Gee had sold 2,210 stationary threshers in the Canadian wheat belt.  The next year in 1953 the company sold only 701 threshers.  Consequently, that same year, 1953 the Keck and Gonnerman families began negotiations with a Stockton, California engineering firm.  Robert R. Harrison, a mechanical engineer; Durward A. Spencer, a sales engineer with manufacturing experience with his own company in California and Donald C. Rowe, all members of that California engineering firm felt that they could change the Kay-Gee Company from a producer of threshers to a manufacturer of combines by simply redesigning the Kay-Gee threshers, adding a cutter bar and/or grain windrow pickup and adding a method of locomotion to the current Kay-Gee stationary threshers.  Initially, Harrison, Spencer and Rowe wanted only to contract with the Kay-Gee Company to produce a new hydraulic self-propelled rice combine, a pull type edible bean harvester and a large self-propelled small grain combine.  However, negotiations took a different path and after six months of negotiations, the Kay-Gee Company agreed to allow Harrison, Spencer and Rowe to take over the management of the Kay-Gee Company and develop these three new machines themselves.  Under the new management, the Kay-Gee Company spent approximately $400,000.00 on the redesign of their threshers to convert them into combines.  As part of this new agreement the company was reorganized.  Franck L. Keck retired from the presidency of the company and was replaced by Robert Harrison.  Robert A. Keck resigned his position as secretary/treasurer and was replaced by John R. Keck, treasurer and N.N. Williams, assistant treasurer.  Robert A. Keck became a vice president of the newly reorganized company.  His son, Robert A. (Andy) Keck Jr. was placed in charge of production control of the new company.  Lloyd Quinn, who had been serving as sales manager also became a vice-president of the new company.  Durward A. Spencer and Donald C. Rowe also became vice presidents.  Rodney J. Brunton, an Evansville accountant, joined the company as vice president in charge of accounting and William Espenschied, whose mother, as was noted above, was Katherine (Gonnerman) Espenshied, joined the new company as corporate attorney.

Production of rice combines was begun by the new company.  A supply contract with the Chrysler Corporation of Detroit Michigan was signed for the 180 h.p. Chrysler V-8 engine that would be used to power the self-propelled rice combine and for the 60 h.p. Chrysler industrial engine that was intended for the pull-type bean combine.  The self-propelled rice harvesters were at heart nothing more than a Keck and Gonnerman thresher with a 36” cylinder and a 62” separating unit, to which a 16-foot header and an engine were added and to which wheels—or rather tracks—were mounted.  As opposed to wheels for locomotion, the new Kay-Gee rice combine rode on a track system manufactured by the C.P. Galanot Company of Alliance, Ohio.  Weighing 37,000 pounds, the new Kay-Gee rice combine was 14½ feet tall and 26 feet long and had a suggested retail price of $35,000.00.  While the self-propelled small grain combine, which Kay-Gee was endeavoring to produce, was fitted with straw walkers, the rice combine was fitted with eight two-wing beaters for better separation of the rice.  The Kay-Gee rice combine had a capacity to harvest 500 to 600 one hundred pound sacks of rice every hour.  A sales contract was concluded with rice farmers in Cuba in 1955 and those combines participated in the Cuban rice harvest that year.

Production of the new Kay-Gee pull-type bean combine began with a contract signed in February of 1955 by A. J. Martin of Bad Axe, Michigan.  A.J. (Red) Martin was the owner of the Thumb Farm Machinery Company dealership located in Huron County in the heart of the premier edible bean producing area of the United States.  Delivery of the first 20 pull-type bean harvesters to the Thumb Farm Machinery Company dealership was scheduled for June or July of 1955.  This pull-type bean combine featured a six-foot pickup table with a new pickup unit that would gently lift the bean vines up off the ground and deliver then to the cylinder without cracking open the pods before theu reached the cylinder.

However, it is unknown whether delivery of these 20 pull-type bean combines was ever made to the Thumb Farm Machinery Company dealership.  On November 15, 1955, the Mount Vernon Democrat carried the story that Edmond M. Richards of New Harmony, Indiana was appointed receiver in bankruptcy of the Keck-Gonnerman Company.  Edmond Richards was the former traffic manager of Mount Vernon Milling Company.  The newspaper article went on to note that the liquidation of the company had already been in process for several weeks prior to the appointment of a receiver by Judge Francis E. Knowles of the Posey County Circuit Court.  Despite the best efforts of the new company to adapt to the new economy of combine sales, the tide had been too much against Kay-Gee.  The great employer of Mount Vernon, Indiana was gone.

All that remained of Kay-Gee were the businesses that had been spun off from the original company—chiefly the Keck Motor Company.  However, the post war period brought changes to the Keck Motor Company also.  On December 26, 1947 Grover Keck, owner of the Keck Motor Company dealership, suddenly and unexpectedly died.  Although neither of his sons, John Robert Keck or William (Bill) Keck had been involved in the Ford car dealership, both sons now entered the business doing their best to fill the shoes of their deceased father.  As noted above Bill Keck married Ellen Emison of Vincennes, Indiana in 1947.  Together they would have a family that included three children—a daughter, Katie, a son Richard and another daughter Sally.  In 1980, following his graduation from Indiana University, Richard joined the management team of Keck Motor Company.  Richard replaced his uncle John Robert who retired from the business.  As noted above, in 1982 a fire destroyed the 1917 building which housed the Keck Motor Company dealership.  The fire badly damaged the 1917 Ford Model T Coupelet which as noted above John Keck had used as a demonstrator vehicle when the business first opened.  Fortunately, the Coupelet was able to be rebuilt in the late 1980s.

Over the 80 plus years that the Keck Motor Company had served as the franchised Ford dealer for the Mount Vernon area, the dealership had won many awards for sales.  The dealership ranked in the top twenty dealerships in the nation in continuous length of operation.  In 1994, Bill and Richard expanded their business concerns by purchasing the local Chevrolet dealership in Mount Vernon.  In 1995, the Chevrolet dealership was moved to a new location on 4th Street in Mount Vernon.  Together Bill and his son, Richard, operated the business until February 9, 2000 when Bill Keck died at 81 years of age after a long battle with cancer.

Following the death of his father, Richard made some changes in order to fit the new economic circumstances.  He added an Indian motorcycle franchise to the Chevrolet dealership location in July of 2000.  In November of 2000, he closed the Ford dealership.  Finally in January of 2002, he sold the Chevrolet dealership to concentrate on the ever growing Indian motorcycle business.  Additionally he moved the motorcycle dealership, now known as Keck Motor Sports, to its current location at 217 North Stockwell Road in  Evansville, Indiana.

With the closure of the offices at the Kay-Gee facilities in Mount Vernon, Indiana in 1955, one might have suspected that a great deal of information would have been lost.  However, historians and restorers of Kay-Gee equipment are extremely fortunate in that all the production records, sales records and other company papers of the Keck and Gonnerman Company were turned over to the library and museum at the Working Men’s Institute at 107 West Tavern Street in New Harmony, Indiana  17631  (Telephone No. [812] 682-1806).  This pool of information contained at the Working Men’s Institute is a great resource of information on individual threshers, steam engines and/or tractors which were made by Kay-Gee, as well as being a great source of information on the company itself.

Additionally, some local citizens in Mount Vernon formed the Keck-Gonnerman Antique Machinery Association to keep memories of the company alive.  In about 1986, this association began an annual celebration of remembrance called the Keck and Gonnerman Reunion.  This reunion is held on the first full weekend in August each year.  It has grown every year to the present.  At the 2004 Reunion held on August 6 through 8, there were 206 tractors exhibited.  It is certain that this Reunion together with the historical records kept at the Working Men’s Institute will keep memories of Kay-Gee alive—memories of a company that played a great role in the history of United States agriculture.

The Wisconsin Motor Manufacturing Company of Milwaukee, Wisconsin

The Wisconsin Motor Manufacturing Company

by

Brian Wayne Wells

As published in the September/October 2004 issue of

Belt Pulley Magazine

            As the 1890’s drew to a close and the new twentieth century began, there was a feeling in the air that everything was “new.”  (George E. Mowry, The Era of Theodore Roosevelt [Harper and Brothers Pub.: New York, 1958] p. 2.)  Technology had invented a new, efficient source of power—the internal combustion engine.  This new source of power was to revolutionize industry and agriculture.  The public was demanding ever-newer more efficient power sources.  In answer to this growing demand, development of the internal combustion engine evolved from the large bulky engines to engines that were small, efficient and simple to use.  In first years of the new century, a young man from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, by the name of Charles H. John, was intrigued with the idea of designing an engine that would meet the power needs of a broad masses of the public.  As opposed to the single-cylinder “hit and miss” engine which were then being popular, Charles favored the multiple cylinder style of engine.  Thus, he set out designing this own version of this type of engine.

Charles H. John was aided in the development of this engine by A. F. Milbrath.  Following the development of a prototype of their engine the two partners sought to incorporate and on March 12, 1909 they received a corporate charter from the State of Wisconsin which legally incorporated the Wisconsin Motor Manufacturing Company.  (C.H. Wendel, American Gosoline Engines Since 1872 [MBI Pub. Co.: Osceola, Wisc., 1999] p. 557.)  A.F. Milbrath became the Secretary of the new company.  However; because, like Charles John, A.F. Milbrath preferred to work with his hands he also occupied the position of Mechanical Engineer for the Wisconsin Motor Manufacturing Company.  In this position, A.J. Milbrath would continue his inventive ways.  In 1916 he would be granted a patent from the United States Patent Office for a magneto coupling that he designed and built.

The Wisconsin Motor Manufacturing  Company operated out of a shop in North Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  However the Company would soon outgrow this facility.  By 1911, the Company was required to purchase a 6-1/2 acre site at 53rd and Burnham Street in West Allis, Wisconsin.  On this new site the company built one of the most modern engine manufacturing plants in the world at the time.  By 1912, the Wisconsin Motor Company was employing about 300 people in this new facility on both day and night shifts making engine to fill purchase orders that were flowing in to the Company.

At first the Wisconsin Motor Manufacturing Company found that the largest market for their four (4) and six (6) cylinder engines was for installation in heavy construction equipment.  The Bucyrus-Erie Company of Milwaukee, Wisconsin (formerly [prior to 1893] of Bucyrus Ohio) installed Wisconsin engines in the large cranes and power shovels which they manufactured.  Indeed, seventy-seven (77) of these Wisconsin-powered Bucyrus shovels were used on the largest and most famous construction project of the time i.e. the Panama Canal which was completed on August 15, 1914.  (David McCullough, Path Between the Seas: Creation of the Panama Canal 1870-1914 [Simon & Schuster: New York, 1977] p. 609.)  Wisconsin Motor also supplied engine to the Marion Steam Shovel Company of Marion, Ohio.  Marion was the manufacturer o large power excavators, draglines and shovels.  As their name suggests the company relied primarily on steam as a power source for their construction equipment.  (From the web page on Marion, Ohio, located on the Roadtrip America website on the Internet.)  However, the efficiency of internal combustion engines, supplied by Wisconsin Motor eventually won out over steam power.  By the late 1920’s, the Marion Steam Shovel Company had changed its named to the Marion Power Shovel Company to reflect modern realities.  (Ibid.)  The Marion Company also supplied heavy Wisconsin powered shovels and excavators to the United States Corps of Army Engineers for the mamouth Panama Canal project.  Thus, Wisconsin engines were seen every where on the Canal project under at least two different company names—Marion and Bucyrus-Erie.

The role played by Wisconsin engines in the construction of the Panama Canal, was glamorous and the connection with this huge construction project was used by the Wisconsin Motor Manufacturing Company for advertising purposes.  Nonetheless, the contracts with construction equipment manufacturing companies were small in comparison to the mushrooming market that was soon to occupy nearly all of the production capacity of the Wisconsin Motor Manufacturing Company.  This was the automobile market.

The vast number of automobile companies that sprang up in the early 1900s had no time to develop their own engines.  They appreciated the smooth running engines that Wisconsin Motor had available.  Thus, many small, but up and coming, automobile manufacturers looked to Wisconsin as an outsource supplier of engines for their automobiles.  Supplying this new burgeoning market, propelled the Wisconsin Motor Company into period of rapid expansion.  Automobile engines proved to be the most popular market for the Wisconsin Motor Company.

One of the new auto companies contracting Wisconsin Motor, was the Ideal Motor Car Company, (later in May of 1913 this company became the Stutz Motor Car Company).  (Beverly Rae Kimes and Henry Austin Clark Jr., Standard Catelogue of American Cars, 1805-1942 [Krause Pub.: Iola, Wisc., 1996] p. 1442.)  In 1911, Harry C. Stutz, founder of the Ideal Company, built the first prototype of a car in just five weeks. Almost immediately this car was entered in the very first Indianapolis 500 mile race, where the car averaged 68.25 mph. and made history as “the car that made good in a day.  A few weeks later when the Ideal Company put the car into production, they were fitted with the Wisconsin Type A,engine.  The Type A was a “T-head” 60 hp. four-cylinder engine with a 4-3/4”bore and a 5-1/2” stroke.  (Ibid.)  When in 1912, the famous “Bearcat” model car was introduced it was made available with either the four cylinder Type A engine or an alternative six-cylinder Wisconsin 60-hp. engine.

Besides supplying the engine for the mass-produced Stutz cars, the Wisconsin Motor Company also built the overhead 16 valve engine that was used in 1915 by the “White Squadron” (the Stutz Company racing team).  At the 1915 automobile race held at the Long Island Raceway in Sheepshead By, New York, Bearcats of the White Squadron finished first and second among the field of race cars crossing the finish line.  However, starting in 1917 Stutz Motor Car Company started building their own engines for their cars and ceased purchasing engines from the Wisconsin Motor Company.  (Ibid.)  The Stutz Company continued building their own engines until they went broke in 1939.

The success of the White Squadron racing team created a demand by other race car drivers and builders to have Wisconsin engines installed in their racing cars.  Among these famous racing car drivers were Ralph de Palma, Bill Endicott and Sig Haugdaul, all of whom insisted on Wisconsin engines in all the race cars that they drove.  Sig Haugdaul drove a car called the “Wisconsin Special”  In 1921, Sig Haugdaul and the Wisconsin Special established a new world speed record of 180 mph.  Thus, he and the Wisconsin Special, became the first man and car to travel at a speed of three (3) miles a minute.  During this time, Art Brown, who figures prominently later in this story, also drove race cars which were fitted with Wisconsin engines.

Wisconsin also signed another contract to supply the Kissel Motor Car Company of Hartford, Wisconsin, with engines for all the cars they produced.  (As noted in a previous article, in July of 1915 the Oltrogge family of Waverly, Iowa, purchased a 1911 Kissel Model D-11 Touring Car with a water-cooled 50 hp. four cylinder Wisconsin engines as their first automobile.  [See the article “Massey-Harris Farming: The Oltrogge Family” contained in the March/April 2004 issue of Belt Pulley magazine.])  The Kissel Company continued to use Wisconsin engines in all their cars until 1915 when they began to make their own engines.  (Beverly Rae Kimes and Henry Austin Clark Jr., Standard Catelogue of American Cars, 1805-1942 p. 811.)

Ever since 1871 the J.I. Case Threshing Machine Company had been dabbling with the idea of building a “horseless carriage.”  (Ibid., p. 261.)  That year, Dr. J.M. Carhart built a steam powered buggy.  (Ibid.)  Most of the actual work on the steam buggy was completd at the Case Company facilities in Racine, Wisconsin.  (Ibid.)  The steam powered buggy did not work out and the Case Company became one of the early pioneers in the development of the internal combustion engine.  (C.H. Wendel, 150 Years of J.I. Case [Crestline Pub.: Sarasota, Fla., 1991] p. 103.)  In 1895, the Horseless Age Magazine announced what was the first automobile race in the United States.  (Ibid., p. 58.)  The race was sponsored by the Chicago Times-Herald newspaper.  (Beverly Rae Kimes and Henry Austin Clark Jr., Standard Catelogue of American Cars, 1805-1942 p. 261.)  However, the Case Company was unable to complete development of their automobile in time to participate in this race.  (Ibid.)  The Case Company was preoccupied by planning other uses for the internal combustion engine.  The Company was attempting to produce its “Patterson tractor.”  Accordingly, Case’s first attempt at production of automobile had to be abandoned.

The second attempt of the Case Company to enter the automobile market came in 1911 when the company purchased the small Pierce Motor Company of Racine, Wisconsin.  The Pierce Company had been producing a small number of automobiles since 1904.  (Ibid., p. 1189.)  In 1911, Pierce was producing their Model 30 automobile.  This car was powered by Pierce’s own 30 hp. engine.  Following the corporate buyout, the Case Company continued production of the Model 30 and introduced a larger Model 40 to the new line of automobiles.  Although the newly acquired Pierce Company had in the past produced their own 40 hp. Engine, their capacity to produce the engine in the numbers needed was extremely limited.  Thus, the Case Company turned to the Wisconsin Motor Company to make up the deficiency in their capacity to produce a 40 hp. engine for the Model 40 car.

Eventually, the Wisconsin Motor Manufacturing Company offered complete line of line of engines ranging from the 20 hp. models up to the 200 hp. models.  Wisconsin engines were advertised as “Consistent” engines.  Three of the most popular Wisconsin engines intended for use in passenger cars were the four-cylinder 25.6 hp. Type TAU engine, the four-cylinder 28.9 hp. Type UAU engine and the four cylinder 32.4 hp Type VAU engine.  Ranging from 650 to 680 pounds and containing four main bearings on the crankshaft, these engines were intended for heavy duty use despite advertisements stating their intended use as passenger car engines.

However, as the various automobile companies became more secure in their positions, they began to design and manufacture their own engines.  Thus, Wisconsin Motor’s role as an outsource supplier of  automobile engines declined.  Thus the Company was forced to seek other markets for their engines.  Sometime prior to the First World War, the Wisconsin Motor Manufacturing Company introduced a line of marine engines called the “Wisconsin Whitecaps.”  During the Prohibition Era of the 1920’s, the United States Coast Guard contracted with the Wisconsin Motor Company for a large number of these “Whitecap” marine engines for installation into patrol boats that the Coast Guard used to patrol the coastlines of the United States looking for “rumrunners” attempting to import illegal liquor into the nation.  Soon an international market developed for these marine engines, as is shown by a 1925 piece of Spanish-language advertising literature entitled “El Motor Consistente: Wisconsin.”

One contract the Wisconsin Motor Company signed with a vehicle manufacturer would survive throughout the 1920s.  This was the long-term contract with the innovative Four Wheel Drive Company of Clintonville, Wisconsin (known as the FWD Company).  The FWD Company began its corporate existence in 1909 as the Badger Four Wheel Automobile Company and only later shorted its name to FWD.  (Albert Mroz, The Illustrated Encyclopedia of American Trucks and Commercial Vehicles [Krause Pub.: Iola, Wisc., 1996] p. 156.)   The company was the brain-child of Ottow Zachow and his brother-in-law William Besserdich.  (Ibid.)  Both men were machinists working in Clintonville, Wisconsin.  (Ibid.)  Ottow was the original developer and owner of the patent for the first “double Y” ball and socket universal joint.  (Ibid.)  This ingenious invention would eventually become very common in machinery through out the world.  However, for Otto it solved an immediate problem of allowing the front wheels of his automobile become “drive wheels” as well as steering wheels.  At this time their prototype was a “steam powered” truck/automobile.  With the backing of Dr. W.H. Finney and a group of other investors, Ottow and William incorporated their company, the Badger Four Wheel Automobile Company in 1909.  (Ibid.)  However, the steam powered design was not a success and by 1911, Dr. Finney had backed out of the enterprise.  After returning Dr. Finney’s original $1,800 investment to him, William and Ottow reincorporated their company as the Four Wheel Drive Automobile Company.  By signing a contract with the Wisconsin Motor Company for a 45 hp. version of the Type A engine, the two men set about bringing their new four-wheel drive vehicle into production as a gasoline powered vehicle.  This vehicle became the famous FWD Model B truck.  The United States Army was immediately interested in the new Model B four wheel drive truck and signed a contract for a large number of Model Bs to be made for the Army.  However, the Zachow and Besserdich machine shop in Clintonville, Wisconsin, was woefully small for production of the FWD truck in the numbers needed by the United States Army.  Accordingly, Ottow and William purchased a large tract of land nearby the machine shop and in 1913 they built a large new factory at the site.  Nonetheless, with the United States’ entry into the First World War, the increased orders from the U.S. Army for Model B trucks soon outstripped the capacity of even this new factory.  Consequently, FWD was forced to sub-contract production of their Model B truck.  Thus, they licensed the Kissel Motor Car Company, noted above, the Mitchell Motor Car Company of Racine, Wisconsin and the Premier Motor Car Company of Indianapolis, Indiana to make the Model B to help fill the large U.S. Government contract.  Every Model B was fitted with a Wisconsin engine.  Thus, Wisconsin Motor Company grew in direct proportion to growing popularity of the FWD Model B truck.

The FWD contract was a very important contract for the Wisconsin Motor Company.  However, even before entering into this lucrative relationship with FWD, the Wisconsin Motor Company had been experiencing growing pains.  Growth of the company exceeded the expectations of the two founding officers and eventually the Wisconsin Motor Manufacturing Company “went public.”  Stock in the company was offered to the investing public.

The popularity of the Wisconsin-powered FWD “Clintonville” four-wheel truck did not stop with the end of the First World War in November 1918.  The rising popularity of automobiles had by the 1920s created a huge demand for “good roads.”  Good Road Associations sprang up in local communities all across the nation.  The Good Road Associations spurred state, county and local governments into increasing public expenditures on creation and better maintenance of roads.  The making and the maintenance of these new and improved roads created a new peacetime market for four-wheel drive trucks.  Indeed many of the 15,000 old FWD Model B trucks, made during the war, which were deemed “Army surplus” at the end of the war, were allocated to the various state highway departments around the United States for use in improving roads.  However, there continued to be a strong market for new Model B trucks made into various configurations, e.g. snow plow trucks, or dump trucks.  When the new three (3) ton Model B was introduced in 1924, it was powered by the Wisconsin Type A engine.  Thus, growth of the Wisconsin Motor Company continued throughout the 1920s based in large part on its continuing contractual relationship with FWD.  Additionally, during the 1920s, Wisconsin Motor introduced a line of marine engines called the “Wisconsin Whitecaps” line of engines.  The United States Coast Guard purchased a number of boats, they wished to use for patrolling up and down the coastlines of the United States, looking for “rumrunners” ships trying to enter the United States with illegal “boot legged” alcoholic.  A great number of these patrol boats purchased by the Coast Guard were powered by Wisconsin engines.  Other nations, including the nations of South America soon were ordering patrol boats to watch their own coasts.  Thus, advertisement of the “Whitecaps” line was conducted in Spanish as well as in English.  The Consistent Motor was also known as “El Motor Consistente.  However, with the ending of prohibition in 1933, the Whitecaps line of engines was phased out.

However, the end of the 1920s brought a real challenge to all business enterprises in the United States .  The stock market crash in October of 1929 and the resulting Great Depression that followed had a devastating effect on the economy of the United States.  As state and local governments started to cut back their budgets, purchases of new road maintenance equipment vanished.  The FWD Company was placed in an extremely difficult financial position.  In 1932, FWD had terminated it contract with the Wisconsin Motor Company.  The end of this very important contract set the Wisconsin Motor Manufacturing Company reeling financially.  By 1934, the Wisconsin Motor Manufacturing Company fell into receivership.  The company’s main creditor, the First Wisconsin Bank, appointed Harold Todd, one of its own employees, as president of the Wisconsin Motor Company.  However, once secondary creditor’s petitioned the United States District Court to have their rights protected, another neutral person was selected by the Court to be the President of the Company while ion receivership.

Early in the course of the depression, the Wisconsin Motor Company had been forced into reducing its workforce.  However, even as employees were being laid off, some limited hiring occurred.  One person hired in 1929 was nineteen year-old Russell Young.  Russell Young lived with his family at 18th Street and McKinley Avenue (1807 McKinley) in Milwaukee’s Third Ward.  Russell used to say that he “walked into the company just as so many employees were walking out of the company.”  Russell was originally hired to sweep the snow off the assembly line.  Eventually, he obtained work as an assembly line worker and then became an assembly line supervisor.  Later Russell Young was transferred to the research department within the company.  Exciting new things were happening in the research department.

In 1929 the Wisconsin Motor Company embarked the path of on designing and building an air-cooled engine.  In 1930, the Company went into production with its first entire line of air-cooled engines (the Model A 1½ engine [2.4 hp.], the Model A 2 engine [3.0 hp.], the Model A 3 engine [5.0 hp.], the Model A 4 engine [5.7 hp.], and the Model A 5 engine [6.0 hp.]).  (Information from the website of the Antique Small Engine Collectores Club.)  All of these air-cooled engines designed by Wisconsin were single cylinder “L head” type engines with a flywheel magneto and an air vane governor.  (Ibid.)  In 1932, Russell Young assisted in the building of the second prototype of a new and improved series of air-cooled engines in the research department.  Progress on the air-cooled engines was hampered by the financial difficulties of the company.  Nonetheless, in 1933, the Wisconsin Motor Company introduced its second, but shortened, line of air-cooled engines including the Model AD engine (3.7 hp.), the Model AE engine (4.2 hp.) and the Model AES engine (6.5 hp.).  (Ibid.)  All of these single cylinder engines featured the “outboard magnetos” rather than the flywheel magnetos featured on the previous 1930 line of  Wisconsin engines.  The next year in 1934, the line of Wisconsin air-cooled engines was supplemented with the first four-cylinder air-cooled engine made by Wisconsin—the Model AC4 engine (16 hp.).  (Ibid.)  The Model AC4 was an “in-line” four cylinder engine.  (The cylinders were lined up in the engine block, one behind the other.

By the autumn of 1933, the very bottom of the depression had been reached and thanks to the New Deal the economy was slowly making its way back from the pit of the economic depression.  Russell Young was still employed at the Wisconsin Motor Company and that fall started a family when he married Mildred Schmacher.  Russell and Mildred would eventually have a family which would consist of three children: a son Ray born in 1934, a daughter, Kathleen, born in 1939 and a son, Michael born in 1951.  Russell and Mildred continued to live at the house at 1807 McKinley with his parents until after the birth of Kathleen.  In 1940 Russell and Mildred and their family moved around the corner into their own house at 1243 18th Street.

The Wisconsin Motor Manufacturing Company was a secondary beneficiary to the construction projects of the Work Projects Administration (WPA), the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and the other New Deal programs.  These government-financed construction projects required all types of farm, industrial and construction equipment.  The manufacturers of this farm, industrial and construction equipment turned to Wisconsin Motor to supply the engines for large quantity of equipment needed.  This secondary benefit received from the government financed programs helped Wisconsin Motor get through the worst part of the Depression.  Thus, a ripple effect was established whereby the government contracts with a few companies caused ordering by those few companies from their suppliers.  These business to business (B. to B.) suppliers would, in turn, order more raw materials and parts from their suppliers.  Slowly, the United States economy began to recover.

As the United States economy continued its recovery, the Wisconsin Motor Company emerged from receivership in 1935.  Soon the consuming public entered The Company realized that there was a growing demand among average North American families for internal combustion engines suited to a variety of everyday tasks.  Accordingly in 1935, the Company introduced three more new air-cooled models to their line of engines—the Model AF engine (5.4 hp.), the Model AG engine (6.1 hp.) and the Model AH engine (8 hp.).  (Ibid.)  These are the size of engines that might have been used for powering small feed grinders and/or burr mills, powering vacuuming systems for automated milking systems and or powering home electric generating systems on average farms across the continent.  In 1936, two more small air-cooled engines were added to the Wisconsin line—the Model AA engine (1.8 hp.) and the Model AB engine (3.0 hp.).  These smaller engines were obviously intended for smaller household duties like operating water well pumps in the absence of windmills and operating automatic wringer-type clothes washers in houses located in small towns as well as in rural America.

So successful and popular were these air-cooled engines, that in 1937 the Wisconsin Motor Company ceased production of all water-cooled engines to concentrate exclusively on the production of its air-cooled engines.  In 1938 two more large air-cooled engines were added to the line of engines the Wisconsin Motor Company offered to the public—the Model AM4 engine (28.0 hp.) and the Model AP4 engine (31.0 hp.).  Both of these engines were “in-line” four-cylinder engines belonging to the same family as the AC4 only delivering more horsepower than the earlier engine.

Despite the fact that the Wisconsin Motor Company had emerged from receivership, times were still hard for the company.  In the late 1930s, the State of Wisconsin passed legislation which prohibited banks from owning other corporations.  Pursuant to this new law, First Wisconsin Bank was now required to sell its interest in the Wisconsin Motor Company.  Many people were speculating as to what would happen to the Company.  One such person was Art Brown.  As noted above, Art Brown’s involvement with Wisconsin Motor dated from the time that he was racing cars powered by Wisconsin engines.  Art Brown had later accepted a position with the Company as a supervisor where he had become acquainted with Russell Young.  They had become friends.  Now in 1937, Art Brown made a comment to his friend and fellow employee, Russell Young, that the entire Company could be purchased for $500.000.00.  While Art Brown did not have access to this much money, he did invest heavily in the Company.  In the end, controlling interest in the Wisconsin Motor Manufacturing Company was purchased by the Continental Engine Company of Muskegan, Michigan.  Following the merger with Continental, Wisconsin Motor continued to produce engines under its own name as a division of the Continental Company.  Harold A. Todd became president of Wisconsin Motor in1937 and would remain president until 1967.  Art Brown became one of the vice-presidents of the new division.

In 1940, Wisconsinintroduced, what was to prove to be the company’s most popular series of air-cooled engines, the Model V-series engines.  The V-series engine was a four-cylinder engine.  However, the cylinders in the Model V-series engines were arranged in the engine block in a configuration of two “banks” with two cylinders in each bank.  These two banks were located either side of the “V” shaped engine block.  This configuration of engine block allowed for a more compactly designed engine, than was possible with the “in-line” style of engine design.  Originally, there were three models in the V-series—the Model VD4 engine (16.0 hp.), the Model VE4D engine (21.5 hp.) and the Model VF4D engine (25.0 hp.).  However, production of the Model VD4 engine was ceased soon after the engine was introduced, leaving only two models in the V-series of engines.  From the beginning, the new four cylinder air-cooled engine proved to be a sales success.  Production of the Model VE4D and the Model VF4D, would continue without any real changes in design for next three decades.  Demand for the V-series engines, especially the Model VE4D. seemed to be boundless.

The Wisconsin Motor Company would sign sales contracts with numerous farm equipment companies to supply Model VE4D engines to power all sorts of farm machinery.  The Model VE4D engine seemed to spring up everywhere in the 1940s.  A mere sampling of the companies that contracted with the Wisconsin Motor Company include: J.I. Case Company, which used the Model VE4D on their Model A-6 combine and their Model NCM balers (see the article called “The Case NCM baler and a Family’s Crucial Year” in the January/February 1995 issue of Belt Pulley magazine) the Massey-Harris Company used the Model VE4D on their forage equipment and the Clipper combine.  (See the article called “Massey-Harris Farming: The Clipper Combine” in the July/August 2004 issues of Belt Pulley magazine.) The Gehl Bros. Manufacturing Company installed the Model VE4D on its forage choppers and other power forage equipment.  Even the Rosenthal Corn Husker Company turned to the Model VE4D engine to power their pull-type “Cornbine” during the very limited production run of that attempt to modernize the corn husking method of ripe corn harvesting.  (See the article called “The Rosenthal Corn Husking Company [Part IV]: the Cornbine” in the November/December 2001 issue of Belt Pulley magazine, p.12.)

The Wisconsin Motor Company out-sourced their demand for carburetors and magnetos for this new V-4 series engines.  Not wanting to be caught in short supply for carburetors for their engines, the Company turned to both Bendix-Stromberg Company of South Bend, Indiana (maker of the famous Stromberg carburetor) and to the Zenith Motor Company of San Francisco, California for carburetors.  Likewise the Wisconsin Motor Company signed outsourcing contracts with Fairbanks, Morris & Company of Beloit, Wisconsin and the WICO Company of Springfield, Massachusetts to supply magnetos for the new VE-4 engines.  Thus throughout the entire production run of the V-4 series engines Zenith or Stromberg carburetors would appear on the V-series engines together with WICO and/or Fairbanks- Morse magnetos indiscriminatately without any pattern—depending only on which suppliers order had been received at Wisconsin Milwaukee plant when the particular engine was made.  By contracting with two suppliers of carburetors and magnetos at the same time, the Wisconsin Company was assured of a constant supply of both carburetors and magnetos.

When the United States entered the Second World War, Wisconsin Motor signed contracts to supply many air-cooled engines to the military for a variety of different applications. During the war, the V-Series air-cooled engines proved themselves under a variety of difficult conditions.  In addition to the V-4 Series of engines, Wisconsin Motor developed the new Citation Model TFT engine.  During the war the citation engine was produced for a number of military applications including powering military electrical generators around the world.

Manufacturers of construction equipment found that the Wisconsin V-Series fit a number of their small cement mixers, pumps and other construction equipment.  Thus, it was entirely natural that following the war, when these companies went back to peacetime manufacture of this equipment, they sought Wisconsinengines to power this equipment.

Following World War II, Wisconsin Motor signed a number of contracts with a variety of farm equipment companies to supply the Model VE4D engine to power all sorts of farm equipment.  Overnight the Model VE4D engine seemed to spring up everywhere in the olate 1940s.  A mere sampling of the companies that contracted with Wisconsin Motor for the Model VE$D engine includes: the J. I. Case Company which used the Model VE4D engine on their Model a-6 combine and on their Model NCM baler (see the article on the Case NCM baler in the January/February 1995 issue of Belt Pulley and also at this website); and the Massey-Harris Farm Equipment Company which used the Model VE4D engine on their Clipper Combine (see the article on the Clipper combine contained in the July/August 2004 issue of Belt Pulley Magazine and also see the immediately preceding article at this website.  Gehl Bros. Company also installed the Model VE4D engine on its forage choppers and other power forage equipment.  Even the Rosenthal Cornhusker Company turned to the Model VE4D engine to power its pull-type “Cornbine” during the very limited production run of that attempt to modernize corn husking by making it a field operation.  (See the article on Rosenthal’s Cornbine in the November/December 2001 issue of Belt Pulley Magazine and also on this website.)

In the postwar era, the fortunes of both Wisconsin Motor and the Young family continued to be intricately woven together.  In March of 1955, Russell’s son Ray entered employment with Wisconsin Motor.  He worked in the research and development ares of the company together with his father.

In 1966, Ryan Aeronautics purchased the Continental Engine Company of Muskegon, Michigan, including the Wisconsin Motor Division.  Harold A. Todd retired from the presidency of the Wisconsin division of Continental Engine in 1967.  He was succeeded by Phil A. Norton, who served as president of the division until 1969.  Ray Young continued to be employed at Wisconsin Motor until 1968 when he was laid off amid cut backs in employment that followed the buyout by Ryan.  Ray then went to work for Engines Service of Milwaukee.  Engines Service is a distributor of engine parts and today is an authorized dealer for Wisconsinengines and engine parts.  In 1969, the Memphis-headquartered Teledyne Corpoartion purchased Ryan Aeronautics.  Teledyne appointed A.A. Erlinger to head the Continental/Wisconin engine division of the corporation.  That same year, production of the famous Model VE4D air-cooled engine was terminated.  The larger Model VF4D engine remained in production as a part of the Wisconsin line of gasoline and diesel engines which ranged from 3 horsepower (hp.) engines up to 65 hp. Engines.  However, in 1976, even production of the Model VF4D was terminated.

While Ray Young was working at Engines Service, his father, Russell Young continued to be employed at Wisconsin motor until his retirement in 1975.  Two yeqr later in 1977. Russell passed away.

In the early 1990s, a strike occurred at the Continental/Wisconsin manufacturing facility on Burnham Street in Milwaukee.  In response to this strike, Teledyne Corporation closewd the factory and moved all engine manufacturing operations to Dyer, Tennessee.  Shortlythereafter, Teledyne sold its Continental/Wisconsin division to Nosco Company of Cleveland, Ohio.  In December of 1999, Wisconsin Motor Was sold by Nosco to Jack Shafer, who reorganized the entity into the Company L.L.C. Currently Robert Riley serves as the manager of Wisconsin Motor.  Today the company makes about 6,000 engines per month at its Dyer facility.  Although this is a substantial reduction from the peak, when the company was producing 100,000 engines per month, the famous “Wisconsin” name still appears on engines which continue to be employed in a number of application around the world.

Wisconsinengines continue to be sold through a network of dealerships.  In the past, this network included a number of company-owned stores.  One of these stores was called Total Power and was located in the city of Waukesha, Wisconsin.  Manager of this particular store, for about 10 years, was Dan Martin, who currently works for Walter Power Systems and who supplied much information for this article.  Ray Young continues to work for Engines Service.  Engine Service continues to sell remanufactured parts for Wisconsin engines.  Thus the Young family continues a connection which began in 1929 with the famous Wisconsin name.

Restoration of Wisconsinengines, even the relatively modern Model V-4 series of air-cooled engines, is becoming a worthwhile project for many collectors.  Indeed, the website of the Antique Small Engine Collectors Club has a separte page just for Wisconsinengines.  The activities of this club and restoration projects of its members and many other hobbyists will, no doubt, keep the heritage of the Wisconsin Motor Companyalive for generations to come.

Massey-Harris Farming (Part III): The Clipper Combine

      Massey-Harris Farming (Part III): The Clipper Combine

by

Brian Wayne Wells

As published in the July/August 2004 issue of

Belt Pulley Magazine

Civilized man has grown plants for consumption since 8000 B.C.E. (Before the Common Era).  This change from the hunting and gathering stage of human development to the growing of food products is referred to as the agricultural revolution.  One of the first crops planted by civilized man was a form of wheat grain.  Processing of wheat into flour was so common among civilizations around the world that bread became known as the “staple of life” and wheat became known as the “shaft of life.”  The processing of wheat involved a lot of manual labor.  Since the earliest of times, the grain was harvested after it had turned golden amber color under the hot summer sun.  However, even at this stage the grain contained moisture.  Harvesting or reaping would sever the plant from its roots and allow the grain to “sweat” and dry completely.  This sweating generally occurred after the grain had been gathered together in bundles and placed in “shocks” in the field.  Once the grain had thoroughly dried out, the bundles would be gathered up and threshed by hand.  Then the grain had to be winnowed or separated from all the chaff that may be left in the grain following threshing.  Thus, harvesting and threshing and winnowing of the grain remained three separate time-consuming hand operations for the processing grain.  This method of processing grain remained unchanged for centuries. In 1831, on his family farm in Virginia, Cyrus McCormick took his first big step toward mechanical grain harvesting with his reaper.  Improvements to the reaper, eventually, allowed the machine to automatically bind the grain into bundles.  Mechanization of the threshing process was also accomplished by the development of a threshing machine in the 1860s.  However, this threshing machine was a stationary unit and the bundled grain had to be brought from the field to the thresher for threshing and winnowing of the grain.  Originally steam engines were used as power sources for these stationary threshers.  By 1877, the Buffalo-Pitts Company was able to advertise a thresher/separator, that would not only thresh, but would also winnow the grain. Development of a small portable thresher-separator that would combine the operations of harvesting, threshing and winnowing in one single operation was carried on in the Central Valley of California by three different corporate concerns—the Stockton Combine Harvester and Agricultural Works; the Daniel Best Agricultural Works and the Stockton Wheel Company.  (After 1892, Stockton Wheel became the Holt Manufacturing Company.)  In 1925, these three companies would merge to form the Caterpillar Tractor Company.  The early combines produced by each of these three companies were of mammoth proportions and required 24 to 40 horses to pull the machine across the field.  A separate auxiliary power source was need to power the machine itself. California’s steady weather allowed the grain to be harvested while it was still standing in the field rather than being cut and dried out in a windrow.  Likewise, all across the western United States and the western provinces of Canada, grain was harvested while standing.  In these western states grain was raised in fields stretching from horizon to horizon.  Thus, the Great Plains became known as the bread basket of North America.  Only in large-scale grain farming areas like the Great Plains were the huge combines profitable. In the Midwest, farms were much smaller—generally only about 160 acres.  Furthermore, the arable land of the average farm was often shared with other crops and with pasture for animals.  Usually only about 30 to 35 acres of grain would be raised on a typical 160-acre farm in any given year.  A big combine was not profitable in this type of farming operation.  Farms in the Midwest had to await development of a small combine. Development of the small combine for use on the small farms of the Midwest took a circuitous route and some early attempts were not entirely successful.  One early attempt to develop a small combine began with Curtis Baldwin and his brothers, Earnest and George, who formed the Baldwin Manufacturing Company (later to become the Gleaner Manufacturing Company) of Nickerson Kansas in 1915.  The efforts of the Baldwin brothers resulted in a Fordson-mounted combine in 1923.  This combine was named the “Gleaner” combine.  The popularity of the Gleaner combine was tied directly to the popularity of the Fordson tractor.  In the early 1920s, the popularity of the Fordson made the Gleaner mounted combine a popular sales item, but later in the late 1920s,  when the Fordson declined in popularity, so too did the popularity of the Gleaner.  The Gleaner mounted combine ceased production altogether in 1927. In the 1930s, the Baldwin Company went into bankruptcy.  New owners bought the company from the Baldwin brothers and changed the name of the company to the Gleaner Manufacturing Company of Independence, Missouri. The new Gleaner Company began designing and producing a series of pull-type combines.  Revealing the company’s long-time ties to the Ford Motor Company, early versions of these pull-type combines were powered by Ford Model A industrial engines.  However, these attempts at producing a pull-type combine were not successful over the long run.  Gleaner pull-type combines proved to have design flaws and never became popular with the buying public. Only after 1951, the Gleaner Company became successful for the combines they produced.  However, this success was not based on development of a pull-type combine.  Rather Gleaner became famous for the development and production of its line of self-propelled combines. The most successful small pull-type combine was the 3,000 pound All-Crop- Harvester developed and manufactured by the Allis-Chalmers Manufacturing Company of West Allis, Wisconsin (a more complete story of the All-Crop Harvester was published in the March/April 2005 issue of Belt Pulley magazine and is also exhibited here on this website).  The All-Crop Harvester was first introduced to the public in 1929.  Following in the train of the success of the All-Crop Harvester, other farm equipment companies began producing their own version of a small pull-type combine.  Most of these other companies adopted a “straight through” design for their small combines.  The straight-through designed cut the grain (or picked up the grain from a windrow) threshed and separated the grain from the straw and then deposited the straw on top of the same stubble at the rear of the combine in roughly the same location where grain had been cut or picked up.  In this way, the straight-through combines avoided the sharp left turn the chaff and straw would take as it progressed through the All-Crop Harvester. One of the farm equipment companies to develop a straight through combine was the Massey-Harris Company of  Toronto, Ontario, Canada.  Starting with a design by E. C. Everett, Massey-Harris introduced their small straight-through combine in 1938.  his combine was called the “Clipper” combine.  Although the Massey-Harris Company was a Canadian company and maintained most of its manufacturing facilities in Canada, virtually all Clipper combines were made in the United States at the company’s Batavia, New York facility.  The 3,000 pound Clipper pull-type combine was marketed with either a 6-foot or a 7-foot cutter bar model.  Both models featured a 5-foot cylinder and a 5 foot wide separating table.  In its first two years of production (1938-1939), the simplicity, small size and low price of the Clipper made the combine a sales success.  In those first two years the Clipper cut well into the market share dominated by the Allis-Chalmers All-Crop Harvester. Right from the start of production, the Clipper combine was available only on rubber tires.  Like many farm equipment companies before World War II, Massey-Harris contracted with the French & Hecht Company of Bettendorf, Iowa, to supply round-spoked wheel rims for these rubber tires on the Clipper.  After the war, Massey-Harris switched to disc-type wheel rims for their rubber tired wheels for the Clipper combine.  Like most companies in the post-war era, Massey Harris obtained these disc-type wheels from the Electric Wheel Company of  Quincy, Illinois.  Because of this abrupt change of contract, “pre-war” Clipper combines are distinguishable from the Clipper combines manufactured in the post-war era. Concurrent with the start of Clipper combine production, Tom Carroll, an engineer for Massey-Harris began to work on a self-propelled combine.  By 1942, Carroll had completed a design for a self-propelled combine that would become the Massey-Harris Model 21 combine.  This was the world’s first truly self-propelled combine.  The Model 21 combine was ready for production, but wartime restrictions prevented its manufacture.  Massey-Harris set about convincing the United States War Production Board that the Batavia, New York factory should be allotted sufficient steel and other raw materials to produce a limited number of Model 21 combines.  Massey-Harris sought to build sufficient Model 21 combines to conduct extensive field tests on the combine.  These field tests would, the Company felt, convince one and all that one-man-operated self-propelled combine could harvest much more grain with less investment and in money and manpower “than any other machine or combination of machines in existence.” The War Production Board was persuaded and Massey-Harris was allotted enough materials to produce 500 Model 21 combines.  These combines were sold to custom harvesters in March of 1944.  The new combines would begin harvesting in Texas and move north across the Great Plains to the Canadian border, combining nearly 1 million acres and threshing 15 million bushels of grain in the 1944 harvest season.  This became known as the Massey-Harris Harvest Brigade and served as an excellent advertising promotion for the company.  The Harvest Brigade was so successful that it was expanded for the 1945 harvest season. The Harvest Brigade attracted public attention at the time and has attracted the fancy of fans and restorers of Massey-Harris equipment ever since.  Thus, as the 60th anniversary of the Brigade approached more and more restorers expressed interest in participating in a reenactment of the original Harvest Brigade.  Thus, on September 22, 2001, a large number of Massey-Harris tractors and equipment were brought to a 130-acre plot of land in rural Chillicothe, Illinois, to plow, prepare the seed bed, and plant winter wheat on the plot of land.  This event, organized by Dale Lawrence, was dubbed the “Great Planting.”  The wheat formed a good root system over the fall of 2001 and then went into a dormant stage over the winter.  With the arrival of spring, the wheat started growing again and by early summer in 2002, the wheat was ready to harvest.  Harvest Day was planned and was called the “Great Harvest.”  A collection of Massey-Harris combines owned by Wes Armstrong, Gary Emsweller, Vernon Winterroth and Ray Swanson gathered together to harvest the wheat at the Great Harvest Day.  (See “A Massey Connection” by Cindy Ladage in the July/August 2003 issue of Belt Pulley magazine.) At the annual show held on the grounds of the LeSueur County Pioneer Power Association in rural LeCenter, Minnesota on August 26 through 29, 2003.  This annual show was to feature the same Harvest Brigade combines as had participated in the Great Harvest Day the year before in Illinois.  In anticipation of this field demonstration, some of the grain that is usually planted on the grounds and which is usually cut and bundled for threshing during the annual show, was left standing uncut.  This grain was left standing in order to be harvested by the Massey-Harris combines at the show in another re-enactment of the Harvest Brigade. Throughout the summer of 2004 a continuation of the celebration of the Harvest Brigade took place in many locations across the Great Plains.  One particular celebration began in March of 2004 when Lenwood Holo of Omaha, Nebraska and Eau Claire, Wisconsin loaded up his newly restored Model 21 self-propelled Massey-Harris combine on his 1949 Dodge 2-ton truck truck and set out for Texas to retrace the route of the Harvest Brigade—following the harvest north from Texas to Langdon, North Dakota. While the self-propelled Massey-Harris combine and the Harvest Brigade captured all the attention during the war.  After the war, when the wartime economic restrictions on civilian industrial production were lifted, Massey-Harris’ pull-type Clipper combine came back into prominence.  Indeed the Clipper combine became a very big seller for the Massey-Harris Company.  Clipper combine production resumed after the war.  The post-war Clipper combine was offered to the farming public in a power take-off version as well as an engine-powered version.  The engine used for the auxiliary-powered version, was the Wisconsin Model VE-4 air-cooled engine.  (An article on the history of the Wisconsin Motor Company was published in the September/October 2004 issue of Belt Pulley magazine and is reproduced at this website.)  Despite the fact that power take-off was a common feature of post-war tractors and despite the fact that the 1-3/8th inch containing six (6) splines had become universally accepted as the standard power take-off, there still, nonetheless, seemed to be more auxiliary engine-powered versions of the Clipper combine manufactured than power take-off versions. Of particular interest for this particular article are two post-war Clipper combines, both equipped with the Wisconsin VE-4 air-cooled engine, which were delivered to two separate Massey Harris dealerships in southern Minnesota.  The first of these two Clipper combines arrived in Amboy, Minnesota (1940 pop. 576) some time in the early summer of 1948.  The combine arrived on board a flat-bed car attached to a Chicago and Northwestern train.  The flat-bed railroad car carrying the Clipper combine and some other Massey-Harris equipment originated from the Massey-Harris Company branch house located in Minneapolis, Minnesota.  In Amboy, the Clipper combine was unloaded from the railroad car and was taken to the W. J. Nelson Dealership in Amboy.  (A history of the W. J. Nelson dealership was carried in the second article of this three part series of articles on “Massey-Harris Farming” published in the May/June 2004 issue of Belt Pulley magazine.  The article is also reproduced on this website under the name “Massey-Harris Farming: The Arno Schull Model 30 Tractor.”) Continue reading

Massey-Harris Farming (Part II): Arno Schull of Mapleton Minnesota

Massey-Harris Farming (Part II):

Arno Shull of Mapleton, Minnesota

 by

Brian Wayne Wells

As published in the May/June 2004 issue of

Belt Pulley Magazine

            Regular readers of the Belt Pulley magazine will remember that Mankato, Minnesota lies at the bend in the Minnesota River Valley where the river makes an abrupt turn from flowing to the southeast and heads north to the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul.  (See the article “The Wilmar Thrun 1937 John Deere Model B (Short Frame) Tractor [Part 1: The Mankato Implement Company”] at page 16 in the March/April 2002 issue of Belt Pulley magazine.)  U.S. Highway No. 22 makes its way southward out of Mankato, Minnesota up out of the Minnesota River Valley.  Also as previously noted following Highway 22 south reveals a sudden topographical change in scenery.  (See the article called “The Wilmar Thrun 1937 John Deere Model B (Short Frame) Tractor [Part 2]” contained in the May/June 2002 issue of Belt Pulley magazine.)  Almost as though passing through a doorway, one emerges from the hilly tree-covered land of the valley and comes out onto the open prairie.  The prairie is flat as a tabletop and basically treeless except for the clumps of trees that surround the building sites of the farms that dot the scenery.  Out on the prairie, one can see a building site of farms in every direction, even those that are some distance away.  Nine (9) miles south of Mankato, U.S. Highway 22 passes through the small-unincorporated hamlet of Beauford, Minnesota.  Five (5) miles further south, the highway arches eastward around the village of Mapleton, Minnesota (1940 pop. 1070) located in southern Blue Earth County.

            Running directly eastward out of the center of Mapleton is Blue Earth County Road No. 21.  One mile east on County Road No. 21 brought a person to the intersection with County Road 159.  In 1944, one mile south on County Road No. 159 and on the right side of the road, was the farm of Carl F. and Emma (Truebenbach) Schull located on the west side of the road.  Carl Fredrich Wilhem Schull, Jr. had been born in Pommern, Germany to Carl Sr., and Caroline (Papke) Schull on July 31, 1869.  In 1881, when young Carl Fredrich was aged eleven years, the family which consisted of Albert, Henry, Gustav and Caroline in addition to Carl Frederich, immigrated to the United States.  The family first settled in Lime Township of Blue Earth County, just west of Mankato.  Carl Frederich grew up in Lime Township.  As an adult, Carl struck out on his own and moved to his own farm east of Mapleton in 1899.

On October 25, 1899, he married Emma Truebenbach.  They began a family which would eventually consist of six children, George, Fred, Earnest, Rosine, Walter and Arno.  Arno Schull, the youngest child, was born on February 26, 1917.  Most of the corn, oats and hay, they raised in the fields on their 120 acre farm was fed to the herd of Holstein dairy cattle they milked, the pigs that they raised and, of course, the horses that they used in their farming operations.  The older sons grew up, got married started farming operations and families of their own.  Rosine, the family’s only daughter, also married and left the farm.  By 1944, only 27 year old Arno was left on the farm to help his father.  However, in that year life suddenly took a sharp turn for the family when Carl Frederich was struck down by a heart attack while working in the family garden on the morning of Wednesday October 11, 1944.  He died almost immediately.  All responsibility for running the family farming operation, then fell mainly on Arno’s shoulders.  Like most sons on many family farms across the nation at this time, Arno had new ideas on how the farming operation could be improved.  One of his main new ideas was the acquisition of a modern farm tractor.  He knew that by mechanizing farm power rather than relying on the horses, he could save much time and effort in the farming operation.  However, he was unable to purchase a tractor immediately.  Under the economic restrictions in place during World War II, purchase of new farm tractors was drastically curtailed and even the used machinery market was greatly restricted.  Immediately, upon V-J Day on September 1, 1945, signaling the end of the World War, economic restrictions were lifted.  However, the abrupt ending of the government restrictions triggered a period of spiraling inflation through out 1946.  Consequently, government price controls were re-imposed.  Arno had to postpone his dream of having mechanical power on his farm.

However, during this period of time, changes were occurring in Arno’s personal life.  He attended a dance for young people held in the nearby town of Butterfield, Minnesota, (1940 pop. 511.)  At this dance, he met Lois Dreeszen, who was a local grade school teacher in the Butterfield Public School.  Lois Dreeszen had been born to the family of Roy and Florence (Groschens) Dreeszen of Aitken, Minnesota (1940 pop. 2062.) on June 16, 1925.  Following graduation from high school, Lois entered Mankato State Teachers College in the summer of 1944.  Ordinarily, the State of Minnesota required two years of college training to qualify for a teacher’s certificate in order to become a grade school teacher.  Because of the high demand for school teachers at the time, Mankato State Teachers College had a course of instruction by which a person could obtain a two-year teacher’s certificate by attending college for one summer, an entire school year and the next summer.  This was the program in which Lois Dreeszen enrolled in June of 1944.  Following this course of study, Lois accepted a teaching position in Butterfield, Minnesota in the fall of 1945.  However, after meeting Arno Shull at the dance they fell in love and were married on June 6, 1946.  Accordingly, Lois ceased her teaching career after the single school year and she moved to the Shull farm with Arno and became a homemaker.  Arno and Lois also started a family which eventually included three sons, James born on October 24, 1947, Glenn born on October 5, 1948 and Curtis born on November 12, 1950, and a daughter Lynette born on November 14, 1953.  (As noted elsewhere, the current author’s mother, Marilyn [Hanks] Wells, graduated from Mapleton High School in Mapleton, Minnesota, in June of 1944.  [See the article called “The Papec Company of Shortsville, New York: Part II” on page 17 of the January/February 1996 issue of Belt Pulley magazine.]  Marilyn, too, enrolled at Mankato State Teachers College in June of 1946.  There she met and became close friends with Lois Dreeszen.  Over the years, Marilyn and Lois remained in close contact and, consequently, the children of the Schull family and the present author, and his siblings became and remain close friends.)

Young farmers like Arno Schull of Mapleton, Minnesota were part of the same exact demographic group that was being studied by farm tractor manufacturers.  One of these tractor manufacturers was the Massey-Harris Company Ltd. of Racine, Wisconsin.  Massey-Harris was rather late in getting into the tractor market.  Indeed as noted in the previous article in this series, the company had tried three times to find a tractor design that would be a popular sales item with the farming community.  As noted in the previous article, only in 1928, when the Massey-Harris Company acquired the rights to manufacture and sell the Wallis tractor was the company successful in entering the tractor market in a major way.  The Wallis tractor was a very advanced design of tractor.  The Wallis tractor was the first tractor designed with an entirely enclosed power train.  This was the famous U-frame design that was first introduced on the Wallis Cub tractor in 1913.  (Michael Williams, Massey-Ferguson Tractors [Blandford Press: London, 1987] p. 29.)  The enclosed power train was so popular that soon all the other tractor manufacturers would copy this design for their own tractors.

The Massey-Harris Company continued the production of the Wallis Model OK (also known as the Model 20-30) tractor.  Indeed Massey-Harris expanded their tractor line by adding the smaller Wallis Model 12-20 to the line of tractors offered by the company.  By 1936, the company had modified the design of the Model 12-20 to make their first row-crop tractor—the Challenger tractor.  (C.H. Wendel, Massey Tractors [Motorbooks International Pub.: Osceola, Wisc., 1992] p. 50.)  Besides being a row-crop tractor, the Challenger contained several improvements over the Model 12-20.  The Challenger had a four-speed transmission as opposed to the three-speed transmission of the Model 12-20.  (Michael Williams, Massey-Ferguson Tractors, p. 35.)  The Challenger was able to deliver 26.21 horsepower to the belt.  (C.H. Wendel, Nebraska Farm Tractor Tests [Crestline Pub.: Osceola, Wisc., 1993] p. 99.)  While the Model 12-20 delivered only 20.32 horsepower to the belt.  (Ibid., p. 66.)

Nonetheless, the Massey-Harris Company realized that the design of the Challenger was really a mere modification of the same tractor design that had been developed in 1913.  Thus, the design was badly out of date in the late 1930s.  Consequently, Massey-Harris engineers set to work on a totally new design for a row-crop tractor.  In 1938, the Company went into production with this radically new design.  The tractor was called the Model 101 Junior.  The power unit for the new Model 101 Junior was outsourced by Massey-Harris.  The company signed a supply contract with the Continental Motors Company of Muskegan, Michigan, for purchase of sufficient numbers of Continental’s four-cylinder Model WFA “Red Seal” engines for installation into the new 101 Junior tractors that were being built at Massey’s Racine, Wisconsin, tractor manufacturing facility.  Testing of the Model 101 Junior at the University of Nebraska on May 22 through May 26, 1938 revealed that the Continental-powered 101 Junior delivered 19.44 horsepower to the drawbar and 27.57 horsepower to the belt.  (C.H. Wendel, Nebraska Farm Tractor Tests p. 131.)  The 101 Junior was a radical departure from all previous Wallis/Massey-Harris designs.  The tractor was fitted with a mechanical lift under the seat for raising the cultivator.  The operator need only step on a pedal on the operator’s platform to raise and/or lower the cultivator with this mechanical lift.  Battery power, a generator, electric lights, electric starter and rubber-tires were widely popular options available on the 101 Junior.  Not only was the Model 101 Junior a modern row-crop tractor, but also it was “styled” in the modern fashion with extensive sheet metal covering the radiator and power train.  In the late 1930s nearly every other tractor manufacturing company was exploring “styled” designs for their tractors.  Industry leaders, International Harvester and John Deere did not introduce their line of “styled” tractors until 1939.  Thus, the 101 Junior moved the Massey-Harris Company to the forefront of modern tractor design a year ahead of the competition.  Also in 1938, Massey-Harris introduced the larger Model 101 Senior with a six-cylinder Chrysler engine.  In 1942, the company also introduced the smaller Model 81 row-crop tractor.  These tractors were also styled tractors.  Nevertheless, the two-plow 101 Junior proved to be the most popular selling tractor in the Massey Harris line of tractors.  Even with the wartime restrictions in place, Massey-Harris sold 34,668 Model 101 Junior tractors from 1938 until the end of 1945 of this number 27,371 were the row-crop version of the tractor.  In 1940, the 124 cubic inch Continental engine in the Model 101 Junior was replaced by a 140 cubic inch Continental engine.  In 1942, this engine was replaced by the 162 cubic inch Model MFB Continental engine.

With the end of the Second World War, the huge pent-up demand for new farm tractors and farm machinery was unleashed.  However, the farming public was demanding larger tractors with conveniences like hydraulic power and a wider range of speeds.  In answer to this demand, the Massey-Harris Company updated the Model 101 by adding a 5th gear to the transmission of the Model 101 Junior.  In 1948, the mechanical lift of the 101 Junior gave way to the new hydraulic system for lifting the cultivator.  This hydraulic system consisted of a hydraulic cylinder located under the operator’s seat which would raise or lower the rockshaft to which the cultivator was attached.  This hydraulic system was such a popular option with Massey-Harris farmers that Massey-Harris offered the hydraulic cylinder and appropriate linkages as a kit that could be purchased for retrofitting onto Massey-Harris tractors originally fitted only with the mechanical lift.

The changes made to the 101 Junior were significant enough to require a change in the model number of the new tractor.  Accordingly, the Massey-Harris Model 30 tractor was born in 1946.  However, production of the Model 30 in any sort of large numbers began only in 1947.  (From the Belt Pulley Serial Number Index, p. 24.)  The Model 30 tractor was manufactured in either a kerosene or a gasoline version and in either a standard or a row crop style.  (From the Production Records located on the “Unofficial Massey-Harris Home Page on the Internet.)  The Model 30 continued in the role of best selling tractor in the Massey-Harris line until 1949.  A role previously occupied by the Model 30’s most immediate and direct ancestor, the Model 101 Junior.  From 1946 until 1951, over 29,000 Model 30 tractors were built and sold.  (Ibid.)

Just like the late-model 101 Junior, the new Model 30 was fitted with a Continental “Red Seal” Model MFB 162 cubic inch engine.  When tested at the University of Nebraska, the Model 30 developed 20.64 horsepower at the drawbar and 30.09 at the belt pulley.  (C.H. Wendel, Nebraska Farm Tractor Tests, p. 147.)  Design of the Model 30 provided for a fifth gear in the transmission.  As noted above, from 1948 onwards, a new hydraulic system was integrated into the design of Model 30 tractor.  Thus, the Model 30 was well adapted to the farming needs of the post-World War II economy and sales of the Model 30 reflected this fact.  Another change that was made to the 1948 Model 30, was somewhat cosmetic in nature.  The throttle control lever was moved from its former position on the right side of the steering column behind the steering wheel to a new position between the legs of the operator.

As noted above, Massey-Harris manufactured 3,438 gasoline-fueled row-crop Model 30 tractors in 1948.  These tractors were shipped from the Racine, Wisconsin factory to the network of Massey-Harris dealerships spread throughout North America.  Some of these gasoline-fueled row-crop Model 30 tractors made in 1948 were shipped to the W.J. Nelson Implement dealership in Amboy Minnesota, (1940 pop. 576).

Amboy was located on Minnesota Route 30 which passed east and west through town.  Just outside of town to the west, lie the intersection of Route 30 and U.S. Route 169.  Small as Amboy was, it is quite surprising to note that in 1948, the town contained farm machinery dealerships offering nearly every brand name of tractor and/or every brand name farm equipment across the whole United States.  Because of the heavy preponderance of farm equipment retailers, the small town of Amboy became known as the “Farm Machinery Capitol of Southern Minnesota.”

The W.J. Nelson Dealership was founded in Amboy in 1919 by William J. (Bill) Nelson. Bill Nelson had been born in Vernon Center, Minnesota in 1892.  Vernon Center (1940 pop. 355) is another Blue Earth County town, was located just five miles north of Amboy on U.S. Route #169.  In June of 1918, a year before founding his dealership, Bill had married Frieda Deljen.  Frieda was the daughter of John and Ernestine (Benzel) Deljen of rural Mapleton Township.  Together they would eventually have a family of two sons, Roger and Willard Nelson, and a daughter, Glee Helen.

The Nelson Dealership obtained the franchise to sell Allis-Chalmers, farm equipment and tractors, and the franchises to sell Packard cars and Dodge trucks and cars.  The dealership did well and later, sometime after 1929, Bill Nelson obtained a franchise to sell the tractors and implements manufactured by the Oliver Farm Equipment Corporation of Charles City, Iowa.  It is not known, precisely, when Bill Nelson obtained a franchise to sell Massey-Harris farm equipment, but it could well have been immediately after the Massey-Harris Company purchased the rights to produce the Wallis tractor in 1928.  (See the previous article in this series in the March/April 2004 issue of Belt Pulley magazine for the story of this purchase.)

The wartime economic restrictions placed on the nation’s manufacturing companies during the Second World War severely restricted the amount of farm machinery that the W. J. Nelson Dealership could obtain and sell to the farming public.  However, once the war was over the wartime restrictions were lifted.  The demand for farm machinery, which had been pent up for the nearly four years, during the United States’ involvement in the Second World War, came bursting into the market place.  Anticipating the flood of new business, the W.J. Nelson Dealership moved, in 1946, from their location in the center of the business district in Amboy to the intersection of Minnesota State Route 30 and United States Route 169 on the west edge of town.  In their new location, the dealership began another period of tremendous growth based on the new post-war tractors and farm machinery available from the Massey-Harris Company—particularly the new two-plow Model 30 Massey-Harris tractor.

Under normal free market conditions individual farmers are faced with a two-edged sword.  On the one hand they hope for a bumper crop to bring to market.  On the other hand bumper crops usually result in surplus products in the market and result in low prices.  Thus, a large bumper crop can be as bad as a small crop for the farmer’s economic survival.  Since 1941, farmers had been encouraged to raise as much crop as they could to support the war effort.  The federal government had provided a financial incentive for farmers to raise a great deal of farm commodities.  (From a Columbia Encyclopedia article called “Agricultural Subsidies” (2001) found on the Internet.)  By setting very high government subsidized price supports for various farm commodities, the government removed one of these problems facing individual farmers.  Thus, during the war Arno Schull and his neighbors worried less about the threat of a bumper crop resulting in low prices.  Instead they concentrated only on raising as much crop as they possible could and getting as much of that crop to the market as possible.

When the war ended, the high price supports were left in place as the United States attempted to feed war-torn Europe, through the Marshall Plan.  Thus, thanks to government price supports, farm commodity prices remained relatively high throughout 1947 and 1948.  Arno Schull knew that he would be assured a relatively high price for his crops, especially corn, at harvest time if only he could get enough of the crop to market.  Now if only weather would cooperate.

However, in southern Blue Earth County, Minnesota, the outlook for the weather in the fall of 1946 did not look good.  The rains began in the fall of 1946 and did not stop.  (Regular readers of the Belt Pulley magazine will remember the effect of the rain in 1946-1947 on another family in the article called “The Case NCM Baler and a Family’s Crucial Year” in the January/February 1995 issue of Belt Pulley p. 31.)  The constant rains continued into the spring and early summer of 1947.  Because of the extremely wet spring and summer of 1947, spring planting that year was badly delayed.  Hopes for a decent crop were rapidly fading.  With the late planting, it was feared, the growing season would just not be long enough to allow the crops to mature.

Fortunately, the rains eased somewhat in July of 1947, but still, there did not seem to be enough time to allow the corn to mature.  As the fall progressed, Arno was pleasantly surprised to see that the harvest season remained unseasonably warm and dry.  Furthermore, the drying weather continued well into the winter months.  This happy circumstance allowed Arno’s corn to fully mature and allowed him to get all the corn picked and safely stored away in the corncrib.  The corn not used on the farm was shelled and sold in the spring.  With the income from the corn and milk from his farm, Arno made a decision to mechanize his farm.

As noted above, the lifting of the wartime economic restrictions at the end of the war set off a period of intense inflation.  (Harry S. Truman, Year of Decisions [Doubleday & Co.: Garden City, New York, 1955] p. 488.)  By December of 1945, the wartime restrictions and price controls were re-instituted in an attempt to control inflation.  Only in July of 1947 were the wartime economic restrictions finally lifted.  (Ibid.)

Now in the spring of 1948, Arno Schull finally felt the time was right to obtain a tractor.  He visited his local his local Massey-Harris dealership—the W.J. Nelson Dealership in Amboy, Minnesota—and signed a purchase agreement for a new Massey-Harris Model 30 tractor.  The purchase agreement also included a Model 34 Massey-Harris mounted cultivator with spring trip teeth.

Because of the delay in the harvesting of the crops in the fall of 1948, Arno had not completed all of the fall plowing on his farm.  Now in the spring of 1948 warm weather arrived sooner than usual.  Even in early April, the temperatures during the day were in the high 70s.  For plowing with the new tractor, Arno had purchased a McCormick-Deering Little Genius two-bottom tractor plow with 16” bottoms.  The Model 30 tractor handled this plow well even in the hard black gumbo soil of Mapleton Township.  Arno was pleased to note that plowing in the spring of 1948 proceeded at a much quicker pace than would have occurred had he been forced to continue farming with the horses that year.  No longer did he have to stop at the end of the field each time across the filed to rest the horses.

The warmer temperatures in 1948 continued throughout the spring.  May 1948 was unseasonably warm as temperatures reached 90 degrees.  (Minneapolis/St. Paul International Airport Daily Maximum/Minimum Temperatures for 1948 located on the Internet.)  Thus, spring planting was completed early, unimpeded by the weather.  The corn sprang up out of the ground in the warm weather and, soon, Arno was back in the cornfield with the Model 30 and the mounted Model 34 cultivator.  For this first cultivation of the corn, Arno attached the shields to the cultivator.  The shields protected tender shoots of corn from being covered up and crushed by the large clods of gumbo soil that were rolled up by the cultivator shovels.

The temperatures during the month of June in 1948 were actually cooler than the temperatures had been in May with temperatures reaching no higher than the low 80s for most of the month.  (Minneapolis/St. Paul International Airport Daily Maximum/Minimum Temperatures for 1948 located on the Internet.)  Thus, the initial cultivating of the young corn was almost a pleasure.  Nearly every day during the month of June of 1948 a short rain occurred.  (Minneapolis/St. Paul International Airport Daily Rainfall Amounts for 1948 located on the Internet.)  However, the rains were usually less than 2 to 3 tenths of an inch.  This was just enough to keep the corn growing properly, but not enough to prevent him from doing his fieldwork.

As the Model 30 and the cultivator approached the end of the field, Arno slowed the Model 30 tractor a little more with the throttle located between his legs on the operator’s platform.  Then he pulled on the hydraulic control lever also located between his legs just behind the throttle.  The pipes linking the front cultivator units with the rear cultivator unit which passed between the fenders of the operator’s platform on either side of the operator’s seat of the Model 30 tractor, moved forward and the shovels of the Model 34 cultivator were lifted out of the ground just before the front wheels of the tractor passed over the first of the eight (8) end rows planted at each end of the field.  Arno touched the right brake to bring the front end of the tractor around to be aligned with the next two rows of uncultivated corn.  Then he pushed ahead on the hydraulic control lever and the cultivator shovels were dropped into the ground and then he readjusted the throttle to a half-way position on the quadrant and the tractor headed out across the field again.  The whole turn could be accomplished without even disengaging the clutch.  Arno was pleasantly surprised with the progress he was making on the cultivation of the corn, cultivating two rows at a time with the tractor as opposed to cultivating only one row at a time with the horses.  He appreciated the fact that he did not have to raise the cultivator by use of hand levers at the end of the rows.  The cultivator was effortlessly and quickly raised by the tractors hydraulic system.

Heading back across the field with the new tractor and cultivator, Arno could hear the excited calls of the Killdeers who were tending their nests, which were built directly on the ground in the corn field.  He could see the adult Killdeers feigning broken wings in attempt to draw attention away from their nests which were now filled with unhatched eggs.

Early July 1948 saw the return of very hot weather as the mercury climbed to temperatures in excess of 100 degrees Fahrenheit.  (Minneapolis/St. Paul International Airport Daily Temperature Amounts for 1948 located on the Internet.)  The unseasonably mild days of June were left behind.  Furthermore, the first two weeks of July saw no rain whatsoever.  (Minneapolis/St. Paul International Airport Daily Rainfall Amounts for 1948 located on the Internet.)  As he cultivated his corn for the second time in July, Arno worried that the corn would be stunted in growth by the lack of water.  However, as he cast his eyes over to the oat field, he could see that the oats were ripening nicely in the intense heat and dry weather.  With income he had received from the milk, the pigs and sale of some of the excess corn not used as feed, Arno had revisited the Nelson Dealership to purchase a Massey Harris pull-type “Clipper” combine.  (The story of this combine will be included in the next article in this series on Massey-Harris farming.)  Soon he would be returning to the fields with the new combine to harvest the oats.

The rains returned in late July and continued into August of 1948, just as he was attempting to harvest the oats.  (Minneapolis/St. Paul International Airport Daily Rainfall Amounts for 1948 located on the Internet.)  Luckily these periodic ½ inch rains did not ruin his oat crop which was lying in windrows waiting to be harvested.  The thirsty corn, however, lapped up all the moisture that the rains could supply.  The Massey Harris Model 30 tractor had speeded up the process of cultivation of the corn and also had allowed him to get the combining of the oats completed without damage from the rains.  By the time of the large 2” rain storm which struck in mid August all the grain was safely under cover.

With the oats already harvested, the corn to tall for any more cultivating and the ground too wet for any other type of field work, it was a good time for Arno to catch up on a little of his favorite hobby—fishing.  After the cows had been milked in the evenings of mid-August he was able to get away in the family car to go fishing for Blue Gills at his favorite fishing spot—Cottonwood Lake, a small fishing lake located on the Landsteiner farm not far from his own farm.

The Massey-Harris Model 30 tractor helped Arno Schull get his corn crop raised and harvested.  Thus he was able to take full advantage of the supported commodity prices of 1948.  By the year 1949, the war-torn agricultural economies of Europe and Asia had recovered.  Those countries ceased buying United States food products.  Surpluses of grain began to build up and farm prices declined.  The year 1949 was a year to merely be endured and 1950 looked much the same from the outset.  However on Sunday June 25, 1950, North Korean Troops crossed the 38th parallel on the divided Korean Peninsula and invaded South Korea.  (Joseph C. Goulden, Korea: The Untold Story of the War [Times Book Pub.: New York, 1982] p. 50.)  By Friday June 30, the United States was already mobilizing troops to defend South Korea.  (Ibid., p. 109.)  In September of 1950, the federal government re-instituted war time restriction on wages, prices and, credit and brought back wartime rationing of consumer goods and farm equipment.  (Harold Underwood Faulkner, American Economic History [Harper & Row Pub.: New York, 1960] p. 717.)

However, anticipating greater need for food around the world, United States farm commodity prices once again rose.  (See the Columbia Encyclopedia article called “Agricultural Subsidies” cited above.)  Once again farmers sought to expand and modernize their farming operations.  The effects of this new demand were felt at farm equipment dealerships around the nation.  After a short dip in sales in 1949, the Nelson Dealership, once again, noticed a strong demand for farm equipment starting in late 1950 spurred by the demands of the Korean War.  Since October of 1949, Bill Nelson had been retired from active management of the dealership.  Management of the dealership was not in the hands of Bill’s sons, Willard W. and Roger J. Nelson.  Despite the re-introduction of restrictions on the manufacture of farm equipment, Willard and Roger still had less trouble obtaining farm machinery than their father had had during the Second World War.  Other Massey Harris dealerships across the nation shared these experiences.  One dealership in particular was the Pimper Dealership of Howells, Nebraska (1950 pop. 784).

Like the W.J. Nelson Dealership, the Pimper Dealership had been established in the years immediately following the First World War—in 1919 or 1920.  Founded by Al Pimper, the dealership started as a “battery station” serving the Howells community.  The Howells battery station supplied electrical batteries for the home electric generating systems that were in use in some residences and on some farms.  (Regular readers of the Belt Pulley will remember that a home electric generating system using Excide batteries was used on the John T. Goff farm near Mapleton, Minnesota.  [See the article called “The Papec Company of Shortsville, New York: Part II” on page 16 of the January/February 1996 issue of Belt Pulley magazine.])

Al Pimper married Beatrice Chudomelka of rural Dodge, Nebraska.  She was the daughter of Don Chudomelka who presided over a variety of activities on his farm north of Dodge.  The Chudomelka farm was a busy place with a dance hall, a roller skating rink and a scale for weighing truckloads of grain.  Every building on the Chudomelka farm was covered in corrugated metal.  Thus, the farm became known as “Tin City.”  In addition to operating the dance hall, operating an ice skating rink in the winter and doing custom weighing of grain for the neighborhood, Don and his two sons operated their own farm and also found time to do custom threshing in the neighborhood with their own Case steam engine and large Case thresher.

Settling in Howells with her new husband Beatrice traded one busy situation for another as the Pimper Dealership sought to supplement the battery business and obtained the franchises to sell cars for the Ford Motor Company, the Maxwell Motor Company of Detroit Michigan and to sell the Whippet car and the Willys/Knight car for the Willys-Overland Company of Toledo, Ohio.  When the Maxwell Motor Company became the Chrysler Corporation in the middle of 1925, the Pimper Dealership became a sales outlet for Chrysler cars.  Later, in 1935, as the Ford Motor Company sought to build a sales network composed of exclusive dealerships, the Pimper Dealership lost their Ford franchise.

In the late 1920’s probably 1929, the Pimper dealership obtained a franchise to sell farm machinery for the Oliver Farm Equipment Company.  This was the Pimper Dealership’s first excursion into the farm equipment market.  However, it was not until the Pimper Dealership obtained the franchise to sell Massey-Harris farm machinery in the late 1930s that the dealership really found its notch.  Al Pimper was aided in the successful dealership by a number of different factors.  First, his son, Al Pimper Jr., who had been born in 1923 was now of high school age.  During his time out of school, Al Jr. was employed in the parts department at the dealership.  Additionally, the Pimper Dealership developed a good working relationship with the Massey-Harris Branch House in Omaha, Nebraska, and with Larry Dimig, the District Manager.  This favorable relationship assured the Pimper Dealership of sufficient amounts of tractors and machinery to keep its inventory full at all times.  At times the dealership ordered six or seven railroad carloads of machinery at one time from the Branch House.

Just like the W.J. Nelson Dealership, the Pimper Dealership experienced ups and downs in sales in the post World War II era.  In 1951, with high prices for farm commodities fueled by the Korean War, the Pimper Dealership was once again selling Massey-Harris tractors and farm equipment.  One of the 4,118 Model 30 tractors manufactured by the Massey-Harris Company in 1951 was the Model 30 bearing the Serial No. 15095.  Number 15095 was shipped from the tractor factory at Racine, Wisconsin, to the Branch House in Omaha, Nebraska.  Larry Dimig placed No. 15095 on a trainload of machinery destined for the Pimper Dealership.  Accordingly, No. 15095 arrived in Howells, Nebraska, in the early spring of 1951, on board a Chicago and Northwestern Railroad flatcar with some other Massey Harris farm equipment sent from the Branch House in Omaha.  The tractor did not spend long in the inventory of the Pimper Dealership before it was sold to Joe Vogel, a local farmer in rural Howells.  Joe and Catherine (Becker) Vogel operated a 40-acre farm near Howell’s Nebraska, the family of Joe Vogel, was raising pigs, milk cows and some chickens.  Most of the arable land of the farm was used to produce corn and alfalfa which was used to feed the animals on the farm.  By 1951 their son, Gilbert had married Marilyn Molacek and had started taking over the farming operations from his father.  The family already had a John Deere Model B with a tractor plow and a mounted two-row cultivator.  Thus, when the Massey-Harris Model 30 was purchased the purchase contract did not include a tractor plow or a cultivator as might have been expected.  Joe Vogel appreciated the fact that the tractor was fitted with hydraulics and purchased a Duncon hydraulic loader to mount on the Model 30.

The Model 30 tractor functioned well on the Schull farm in 1948 and during the following years.  It was the sole tractor on the farm until 1956 when Arno purchased a new Massey-Harris Model 333 tractor.  Although a row crop tractor, this particular Model 333 was fitted with an adjustable wide front end and had the optional three-point hitch.  These two features would keep the Model 333 a useful part of the farming operations through the 1970s.  Indeed, the present author used the Model 333 to cultivate corn with a six-row rear mounted cultivator on the Arno Schull farm the in summer of 1970.  Meanwhile, the Model 30 continued as a second tractor on the farm.  When the tractor became so worn out, in the early 1960s, that it needed major work done to it, Arno and his oldest son, James, purchased another Model 30 from a junkyard and combined the two tractors to make a single tractor.  The restored Model 30 continued on the Schull farm for many more years.

Likewise, No. 15095 continued working on the Vogel farm.  Frequent use of the Duncon loader on No. 15095 created pressure on the front wheels of the tractor and required the Vogels to replace the wheel bearings and other parts on the front end of the tractor.  However, this was the extent of the major repairs that No. 15095 required during its working life.  In 1982, No. 15095 was sold to John Mlnarik.  (John Mlnarik is the father of Glen Mlnarik who has long served as a national board director of the International Harvester Collectors Association.)  John Mlnarik had operated an International Harvester dealership in Howells, Nebraska and now lived in retirement in nearby Dodge, Nebraska.  In 1992, John Mlnarik advertised No. 15095 for sale and the tractor was purchased by Fred Hanks of LeRoy, Minnesota.  No. 15095 was fully restored and painted in the summer of 2003 in anticipation of the August 26-29, 2004 Le Sueur County Pioneer Power Show.  As previously noted the 2004 Pioneer Power Show will host the national summer convention of the Massey-Harris Collectors.  No. 15095 will be present along with many other Massey-Harris tractors and farm machinery.  Just as the restored No. 15095 stirs memories of other Model 30 tractors which have played a part in North American agriculture, so too will the other Massey-Harris farm equipment surely stir memories of the past with the many attendees at the Show.  For a trip down memory lane be sure to be there and reminisce.

Belt Pulley Magazine Articles by Brian Wayne Wells