Oliver Farm Equipment in Mower County Minnesota (Part V):
The Introduction of the Fleetline Tractors
Brian Wayne Wells
The 1947 growing season had been a curious year for the farmers of Mower County, including one particular farmer from Nevada Township in Mower County. The season had started very badly. The constant rains in the spring and early summer had drowned the crops during the crucial early part of their growth. However, the rains had ceased abruptly in mid July and the remainder of the growing season had experienced near perfect weather for the maturing and ripening of the crops. The result had been that both the soybeans and corn had both suffered losses in yield per acre. (See the previous article in this series called “Oliver Farm Equipment [Part IV]: The Wet Year” contained in the blog at this website.) However, while there had been a 13.3% decline in the yield of soybeans in Mower County, Minnesota in 1947, the loss in yield in corn was less. There had been only a 9.7% decline in corn yield in Mower County because of the drowning wet weather in the spring and early summer of 1947. Clearly, corn could handle an excess of moisture in the early part of its development better than soybeans could. To our Nevada Township farmer the harvest of 1947 seemed to prove again the value of crop diversification on the small farm.
Because the reduction of yields in both corn and soybeans were shared by farmers all across the Midwest, the price of both crops rose. Last fall, our Nevada Township farmer and his second son had been able to get all his soybeans harvested and safely sold to the Hunting elevator in nearby Lyle, Minnesota (1940 pop. 513) for the near record price of $3.44 per bushel. This was best price our Nevada Township farmer had ever received for his soybeans. Thus, the soybeans had helped him keep the family income at the same level as the previous year despite the losses in yield of his two cash crops. Additionally, he had been able to get all his corn in the shed last fall (1947) was still drying in corn crib. Over the winter of 1947-1948 corn prices had risen and in January of 1948, corn had established a new all-time record high price of $2.60 per bushel. However, as the corn on farm all across the Midwest began to be shelled out and make its way to the market in February of 1948 the price had fallen to $1.90 per bushel. Our Nevada Township farmer was unable to make arrangements with any neighborhood custom corn shellers to shell his corn while his corn was at its peak.
Not until March of 1948 was he able to make arrangements with Ray Jacobson of Lodi Township to shell his ear corn. This delay turned out to be fortunate, however, as corn prices started to climb again in March. By the time that Ray Jacobson showed up in his yard on the scheduled shelling day, the price of corn had risen back up to $2.11 per bushel.
Ray Jacobson drove into the yard of our Nevada township farmer with his Minneapolis-Moline Model E corn sheller mounted on the back of his 1941 Ford C.O.E. (cab over engine) style 1-½ truck. He turned the truck around and backed up to the corn crib. He and the crew of neighbors that had volunteered to help out on this shelling day started to unlimber the sheller so that the long dragline extended down the alleyway of the corncrib. The cob elevator of the sheller was extended out in one direction and a farm wagon was placed under the end of the elevator to catch all the cobs that would be emitted by the sheller. The large blower tube was swung around in another direction and aimed at the manure spreader which had been stationed in the location to catch as much as possible of the husks that were going to blown out of the tube during the shelling operation. The shelled corn elevator was swung out in another direction and positioned over the Oliver/Birdsill wagon. Morning milking time, throughout the neighborhood was over and the last of the neighbors forming the shelling crew showed up
Once set up, the big Minneapolis-Moline Model E sheller did its work in an efficient manner. It took only one day to shell out both sides of the large double corn crib. Although the amount of 1947 crop was smaller than in a normal year, the overall farm income did not suffer too much from a regular year because that smaller crop sold at a much higher price than normal. Thus, our Nevada Township farmer was able to make some improvements in his farming operation.
Winter was the time that our Nevada Township farmer usually planned for the year ahead and developed plans for improving his farming operation. This year he had been thinking about trading in his old 1939 Chevrolet Model JD ¾-ton truck on the purchase of a newer and heavier truck. A new truck would allow him to haul larger loads shelled corn to the elevator and haul more cattle, pigs and sheep when necessary. However, the prices of all new cars and trucks had escalated a great deal since the end of the war.
When he and his wife had purchased their new 1946 Chevrolet Stylemaster Town Sedan at the end of the model year in the fall of 1946. Usually, the end of the model year was a good time to buy cars. The dealerships wanted rid of the cars from the old year to make room for the cars from the new model year that were starting to arrive. However, our Nevada Township farmer was still shocked by suggested retail price of the car–$1,072.00.
Naturally, he negotiated a price for the four-door car with the sales staff at Usem Chevrolet in Austin, so the price was lower than the suggested retail price, and then, of course, he traded in his old family car, the 1941 Chevrolet in on the new car. Still the “boot money” the money that he had put up after figuring in the allowance Usem would deduct for his trade in, still seemed like a great deal of money. However, in the year since he had purchased the car, the price of the same Chevrolet 4-door Sedan had risen sharply—13% in just one year. Furthermore, in the fall of 1947 the new 1948 Chevrolets were out and the suggested retail price of the same model of car had risen another 9.2%. Over the same period of time, the prices of trucks had also increased in price sharply. A new Chevrolet 1/2-ton pickup now cost $1,100.00, up 9% from the previous year and the suggested retail price of a new Chevrolet 1 ½ ton truck with dual wheels in rear, like the one he and his second son were looking at, was now $1,500.00. Clearly, his income had not increased by 13% over the last year or 22% over the last two years.
Even though there had been no recession since 1945, he feared that the anticipated recession had merely been delayed and not avoided altogether. Consequently, he tended to think the family should save as much money as possible in anticipation that the post-war recession had merely been delayed rather than avoided altogether. Accordingly, he told his he told his second son that they may have to get by for another year with the old ¾ ton Chevy truck.
Our Nevada Township farmer was not alone in thinking this way. Across the nation, many consumers were delaying their purchases of “big ticket” items like cars and trucks. The largest single cause of inflation was the huge rise in consumer spending in 1946 and 1947. Consumer spending is most powerful force in the economy. Consumers have bills that they must pay and necessities like food and clothing they must purchase. However, over and above those bills and necessities, there is a portion of their income that is called “discretionary income.” Discretionary income powers the economy. Nearly all advertising in newspapers, magazines and over the radio is aimed at this discretionary income. Discretionary income is either saved or spent, depending on the “mood” of the consumer. If the consumer is fearful of the future, the consumer will tend to save their discretionary income. If confident about the future, te consumer will tend to spend more of their discretionary income. Under relatively normal circumstances, during the years prior to United States involvement in the Second World War, consumers spent upwards of 90% of their discretionary income. For example, in 1938, consumers spent 96% of their discretionary income in 1939 that figure fell to 94% and in 1940 the figure fell to 93%. This was, however the normal range in which consumer spending acted.
Watching this figure closely for any sign of either slowing in the economy or “overheating” in the economy is the Federal Reserve Board. The Federal Reserve Board had been created in 1913 to protect the economy from excessive swings in the economy that could lead to a major economic dislocation like the Great Depression of the early 1930s. Under ordinary circumstances, if the economy was deflating and the money supply in circulation was contracting, the Federal Reserve would purchase government securities to lower interest rates and to stimulate the economy. By purchasing government securities, the Federal Reserve would place more money in circulation and serve to spur the economy into growing again. However, on the other hand if the economy were becoming “over heated” with too much money in circulation, inflation became the major problem and the Federal Reserve was expected to act by selling some of the government securities they held. This would take money out of the economy and raise interest rates and, hopefully, slow down an over heating economy.
Whereas, lowering interest rates was always popular with investors, the public, and with politicians of the political party in power at the time, the raising of interest rates was always unpopular with investors, the consuming public, and politicians in the government. Consequently, actions taken by the Federal Reserve in slowing down an overheating economy has sometimes been compared to “taking away the punch bowl just when the party is getting rolling.” Nonetheless, this is just the type of action that was called for in 1946 to prevent the economy from entering into an inflation spiral. However, the Federal Reserve did not act in 1946 to slow the economy. Indeed, the Federal Reserve was hamstrung from acting because of political concerns.
Originally, the Federal Reserve had been envisioned as an agency which, although part of the government, was expected to function independently from the government and independently of political pressure from the government—especially political pressure from the President and the Treasury Department. In 1946, Marriner Eccles was serving as the Chairman of the Federal Reserve Board. Marriner Eccles had been serving as Chairman since President Franklin Roosevelt had appointed him as Chairman in 1934. Prior to the Second World War, the Federal Reserve functioned largely in an independent manner—ever so much the way it was supposed to function. However, during the years prior to the Second World War the economy was working hard to shake off the effects of the worst economic calamity in United States history—the Great Depression of the early 1930s. Therefore, the actions of the Federal Reserve were limited to providing stimulus to the economy. All these actions were popular with the President and with the public.
Then the United States was forced into the Second World War by the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Government spending, and government debt, rose to new unprecedented levels, as the nation fought the war in two theaters—Europe and the Pacific. The interest on this debt was expensive enough for the government. However, if the Federal Reserve were allowed to raise interest rates generally, the yearly budgets of the United States government would be even more burdened with deficits, requiring the government to borrow even more money just to pay for the yearly interest on the ever rising debt. Accordingly, in 1942, the Federal Reserve bowed to public pressure and made an agreement with the Roosevelt Administration to keep interest rates low for the duration of the war. The government instituted price and wage controls and other economic restrictions which were intended to “keep the lid on” the expected inflation.
Marriner Eccles agreed with this policy for the duration of the war. As he did so, he knew that the Federal Reserve was surrendering its independence, but he felt this was the only course that the Federal Reserve could take. This agreement was regarded as the “patriotic thing to do” in order to help the war effort. Indeed, to do otherwise, might be regarded as unpatriotic in the extreme.
Every effort in the United States was bent toward the war effort. Raw materials ordinarily used for production of consumer goods were now channeled into military production for the war effort. In 1941, consumers spent only 86% of their discretionary income. During the years of 1942. 1943 and 1944, consumer spending of their discretionary income fell to only 75%. 74% and 73% respectively. This reduced discretionary spending was not voluntary on the part of the consumers. The reduced consumer spending reflected the absolute lack of consumer goods available during the war. A tremendous pent up demand for consumer goods was building up over the course of the war. Electricity had been present in the cities and small towns of the United States for some time, and since its creation in 1935, the Rural Electrification Administration (R.E.A.) had rapidly been stringing wires across rural America to bring the convenience of electricity to the farms of the United States. Farm families were anxious to purchase modern clothes washers with electric motors, electric milking machines, modern electric and gas cooking stoves and other modern conveniences that the new electric service to the farm promised. However, purchases of these goods had to be put off. Consumers in rural America had no choice but to make due with their wood stoves, wringer-type clothes washers because modern electric stoves and washers were still not available. Industry in the United States was producing everything for the war effort, there was nothing left for the production of consumer goods.
However, once the war ended and the wartime restrictions on the economy were lifted, the pent up consumer demand was suddenly released. In 1945, spending of discretionary income rose to 79% and in 1946 that spending shot up to 89% and the average for 1947 was just short of 95%. Consumers were saving only 5% of their discretionary income in 1947. Industrial manufacturers of consumer goods desperately tried to re-tool from wartime production back to civilian consumer production. Still they were not able to keep up with the huge increase in demand that had been released. Accordingly, prices began to rise due to pure inflation. During the first six months of 1946, the annualized rate of inflation had averaged 2.80%. However, in July of 1946, prices of consumer goods exploded. The rate of inflation nearly tripled in just one month—from an annualized rate of 3.31% in June of 1946 up to an annualized rate of 9.39% in July of 1946 and the inflation rate kept on climbing. During the last six months of 1946, inflation averaged 14.07% on an annualized basis. The annualized rate of inflation for first six months of 1947 was 18.61%. Clearly, the economy was headed for a collision unless something was done.
The Federal Reserve Board had seen the trouble coming. Once the war was over in September of 1945 and the price and wage controls had been removed and well before the inflationary spiral had actually begun, the Federal Reserve recognized that they must raise interest rates in order to ward off an inflationary spiral. Any action taken by the Federal Reserve might take weeks or months before the effect of the action would be felt in the economy. Minutes of the October 17, 1945 meeting of the Federal Reserve’s Open Market Committee meeting reflect that even this early, the Federal Reserve had expressed concern that interest rates should be raised immediately. However, the Secretary of the Treasury, Fred Vinson, had asked the Federal Reserve to hold off on raising interest rates until the government had paid off much of the war debt at the lower interest rates now in effect. Once more, the Federal Reserve was being asked to do the patriotic thing and once more the Federal Reserve agreed. The Federal Reserve kept on buying government bonds in order to keep the interest rates low. Even as the inflation spiral had begun in full force in mid-1946, the Federal Reserve, pursuant directives passed at its June 10, 1946 meeting, was still buying government securities as if further stimulus to the economy was needed. From January 1946 until November of 1947, purchasing by the Federal Reserve kept the bank prime interest rate was kept at the low level of 1.5%.
Prior to December of 1947, this bank prime lending rate, the rate at which the Federal Reserve loaned money to banks, was not an officially published figure. Still it was a figure that the Federal Reserve used to control the money in circulation in the economy at any one time. However, in December of 1947, the Federal Reserve officially established this rate as the “Prime Lending Rate” and began publishing the figure. From this point on the Prime Lending Rate became an official index on which banks could base loans and mortgages they made to the public. Furthermore, citizens began to watch the rise and fall in the Prime Lending Rate to get an idea about how cheap or expensive loans were going to be in the future.
During that same month of December, 1947, the Federal Reserve, finally, began to sell government bonds on the market sufficient to raise the Prime Lending Rate to 1.75%. The effect of this selling by the Federal Reserve was felt almost immediately. The economy slowed as loans became slightly more expensive and slightly harder to obtain. As a result inflation was slowed. The inflation rate for December of 1947 was 8.84% on an annualized basis—down from the 18.61% annualized inflation rate of the first six months of the year. Nonetheless, even this 8.84% inflation rate continued to scare consumers out of the market place.
Our Nevada Township farmer’s second son was disappointed to hear that they would not be getting a new truck in 1948. Nonetheless, following his experiences with the family’s old steel-wheeled wagon during the soybean harvest in the fall of 1947 (See the previous article in this series called “Oliver Farm Equipment [Part IV]: The Wet Year” contained in the blog at this website.) the second son, was determined to make one small but important improvement to the old farm wagon they used around the farm. As noted earlier, this wagon was an old wooden straight sided Birdsell Company wagon box. (See the previous article in this series called “Oliver Farm Equipment [Part IV]: The Wet Year” contained in the blog at this website.) Together with the old 1939 Chevrolet Model JD ¾-ton truck, this wagon, usually hitched to the family car was the main method by which our Nevada Township farmer and his second son got their cash crops (shelled corn and soybeans) to market at the Hunting elevator up town in Lyle, Minnesota. Also as noted earlier, this wagon had been upgraded by replacing the old horse-drawn wagon gear with a fifth-wheel style of steering with a new Oliver-Electric wagon gear with automotive style steering. Despite this upgrade, the wagon remained a steel-wheeled wagon which was intended to be driven at slower horse-drawn speeds. Accordingly, trips to town with the wagon took quite a long time, as the second son knew first hand. After his experiences pulling the wagon loaded with soybeans to town with his own 1941 Buick Super Sedan, the second son was anxious to make an improvement in this old wagon.
At the time the new Oliver-Electric wagon gear had been purchased from Thill Implement in Rose Creek, Minnesota (1940 pop. 261), the second son remembered that an option of hubs and modern disc type wheels had been available for the new wagon gear. Rubber tires could be mounted on these disc type rims and, thus, the wagon could become a smoother running wagon without the expense of buying another entirely new wagon gear. Rubber tires on the wagon would allow the wagon to be towed down the roads to town at a faster speed than on steel wheels.
Thus, over the winter of 1947-1948, the second son had taken it upon himself to find out that new wheel hubs and modern disc-type wheel rims were available at Thill Implement for this same Oliver-Electric wagon gear. He purchased these hubs and the matching 16 inch rims at Thill Implement in Rose Creek, Minnesota. Now all he needed to do was to find some 16 inch rubber tires which could be mounted on the new disc rims. The second son found out that his older brother, the eldest son of our Nevada Township farmer, was in the process of buying a couple of new tires for his 1939 Model 80 Oldsmobile Business Coupe. Additionally, ever since returning from his honeymoon during the summer of 1947 he wanted to replace the worse two tires on his wife’s 1940 Ford Tudor Sedan. Both of these cars had 16 inch tires. Accordingly, the second son requested that his older brother save the old tires from both cars so that the old tires could be used on the wagon and other equipment around the farm. When the second son got the old tires, he found that although they were “bald” (with very little tread showing on the surface of the tire), there were no cords showing on the tires. He felt these tires would work well on the farm wagon. The tires from the 1939 Oldsmobile were 6.50 x 16 inch tires and were slightly wider than the 6.00 x 16 inch tires from the 1940 Ford. Accordingly, the second son mounted the slightly wider 6.50 x 16 inch tires in the rear of the wagon and mounted the narrower tires in the front of the wagon. Getting one of the wagons on the farm up and running on rubber tires, was one of those small improvements that in made a big difference in making harvest easier on the farm.
Now with the approach of the spring of 1948, our Nevada Township farmer looked forward to the new growing season. The winter of 1947-1948 had been a “closed” winter—with a great deal of snow on the ground all winter. Four inches of snow had fallen on the eve of Thanksgiving in 1947 and the snows had continued all winter long. Rarely was there less than 4 inches of snow on the ground all winter long. However, in the very warm summer-like weather of March of 1948, the snows had melted. To our Nevada Township farmer it seemed that there might be an early start to spring in 1948. It seemed like a bright new beginning to the new growing season. Twelve (12) miles north of his farm in Nevada Township, in the small town of Rose Creek, Minnesota (1940 pop. 261) it also seemed like a new beginning at the Thill Implement dealership.
In April of 1948, the long-awaited new line of Oliver Row Crop tractors were delivered to the Thill Implement dealership. The Oliver Company had previously announced to the public of the introduction of Oliver Row Crop tractors. This new line of Oliver farm tractors was called was called the “Fleetline.” In the spring of 1948, there were, still, only two models of the new Fleetline which were currently available for the public to see in person. These two models were the new Model 88–which was the new 6-cylinder powered improved replacement for the old Oliver Model 80 tractor–and the new improved Model 77–which was to replace the venerable old Model 70.
The return of unexpectedly cold weather during the first days of April delayed our Nevada Township farmer and his second son from any thoughts of getting an early start on field work. So they decided to go to Thill Implement to get a look at the new tractors. Our Nevada Township farmer had heard all about the Model 88 from his first son, who had been involved in the field testing of the various prototypes of the Model 88 ever since he had started working for the Oliver Company. During the field testing of the Fleetline prototypes, the first son did not know what the model designations of the new Fleetline tractors would be. He knew only that the prototypes were to replace the current Model 80 and the Model 70 tractors. His first son had told our Nevada Township farmer that the prototype that had become the Model 88 was, actually, an entirely new tractor that the Oliver had been working on since before the recent war. The new Row Crop 88 had actually been placed into production in 1947, but only 351 tractors had been produced in 1947. In 1948, the Oliver Company would produce 2,947 Model 88 tractors.
Despite the fact that his first son had worked on the field testing the prototype of what would become the Row Crop Model 88 on the Thill farm in Windom Township in the same neighborhood as his home farm, our Nevada Township farmer and his second son had never before seen the Model 88. This visit to Thill Implement in Rose Creek was the first time that our Nevada Township farmer and his second son had ever seen the Oliver Row Crop 88 up close and in person. The rear wheels were fitted with the largest and widest rubber tires that our Nevada Township farmer had ever seen—38 inch tires like the rear tires on his Model 70 at home, but these tires were 13 inches wide! The Oliver 70 at home had taller 40 inch tires but they were only 11 inches wide! The suggested retail price of the Model 88 was $2,810.00. The high price made our Nevada Township farmer cringe—almost $3,000 for a farm tractor. He felt that this large expensive tractor would not pay for itself efficiently on his farm. It was a tractor made for work on a larger farm than his.
Many farmers at visiting Thill Implement in those cold days of early April 1948 felt the same way. Thus, the new lower-priced Oliver Model 77 tractor might have appealed more to the farmers present at Thill Implement. However, nobody could purchase a Model 77 on that day. While Thill Implement did have a Model 77 Row Crop on display, it was for display purposes only. Our Nevada Township farmer was informed by the sales staff at Thill Implement that the extensive retooling of the Oliver Tractor Works in Charles City, Iowa for the full production of the Model 77 was not yet complete.
Across the nation, the Row Crop 88 tractor created a good deal of excitement among farmers, but those same farmers tended to look more favorably on the Oliver Row Crop 77 than to the larger Row Crop 88. In the production years to come, the Row Crop 77 would to outsell the Row Crop 88 until 1952, when the larger-sized Oliver 88 would finally pass up the Row Crop 77 in sales.
The new Model 77 was intended to replace the popular 6-cylinder Model 70 tractor. The Model 70 had been in production since 1935 as Oliver’s first 6-cylinder tractor and their first “streamlined” tractor. When the Oliver 70 first appeared in public in 1935 the tractor had a “complete suit” of sheet metal—hood, grille and even side curtains to completely cover the engine. The Model 70 was far and away the Oliver Company’s most popular selling tractor, but, whereas the Oliver Row Crop 70 delivered 22.72 hp. to the drawbar and 28.46 hp. to the belt pulley, with the new 6-cylinder Waukesha/Oliver 193.3 cubic inch that powered the new Model 77, the Model 77 was now a full three (3) plow tractor delivering 32.89 hp to the drawbar and 37.17 hp. to the belt pulley. Over the years, sales of the Model 70 tractor proved that tractor to be the most popular all tractors in the Oliver full line of tractors.
However, the problem was that the new Oliver Row Crop 77 was not yet in full production–only 240 Row Crop 77 tractors were manufactured at Charles City, Iowa in 1948. Not until 1949 would production of the Row Crop 77 hit full stride when 7,659 would roll off the assembly line at the Charles City Oliver plant. One of these new 1949 Oliver 77 Row Crop tractors was purchased by Earl Jacobson of rural LeRoy, Minnesota (1940 pop. 752). Earl Jacobson worked a farm located 1 ½ miles northeast of LeRoy which had originally been owned and operated by his parents—John G. and Edna (Johnson) Jacobson . Earl had been negotiating with Cease and Oksanen, the International Harvester dealership in LeRoy over a new Farmall M in 1949. However, he had become frustrated with the unwillingness of the sales staff at Cease and Oksansen to negotiate a price for the Farmall M that he could afford. He began to feel that the Cease and Oksanen dealership was a little too confident that the sale could be made on the dealership’s terms if the dealership just dug in its heels. Finally, Earl got up and walked out of the dealership and drove the 25 miles up the paved highway–Minnesota Route 56–to Thill Implement in Rose Creek. There he quickly made a deal on a new for a new Oliver 77 Row Crop. This particular Row Crop 77 was fitted with the optional Hydra-Lectric hydraulic system which was a new feature on Oliver tractors in 1949. Earl traded in the old pre-war John Deere A that had originally been purchased by his father, in to Thill Implement on the new Oliver 77 Row Crop.
In the years since the war, Earl Jacobson had purchased a John Deere PTO-driven field forage harvester or corn chopper. He had built up quite a custom silo filling business around the neighborhood using the old John Deere A and the John Deere field harvester. He intended on continuing this business with his new tractor. With a top speed of 11 ½ mph., the Oliver 77 Row Crop could certainly tow the field chopper and his forage wagons from farm to farm around the neighborhood faster than his old pre-war John Deere A tractor with its top speed of 5 ¼ mph.
Higher road speeds was one of the main reasons that Earl was seeking a modern, faster post-war tractor. Accordingly, when Thill Implement was finished with their dealer prep on the tractor, Earl insisted on driving the tractor to back to his farm, himself, rather than have Thill Implement deliver the tractor. Passing through LeRoy on his way home, Earl made sure to drive out of his way to go down Main Street and straight past the Cease and Oksanen dealership, so that the sales staff at the dealership could see that some farmers would go elsewhere to purchase tractors if the dealership would not negotiate on a realistic price.
To fill in the gap in tractor production caused by the delayed production of the 77 Row Crop, the Oliver Company kept the Row Crop 70 tractor in production, turning out 5,026 Row Crop 70 tractors in 1948. The new Fleetline series of Oliver Row Crop tractors would be completed only in the fall of 1948 with the introduction of the third Row Crop tractor—the Model 66. The Model 66 was intended as a replacement for the old Model 60 which was currently in production. Powered by a four-cylinder engine, the new Model 66 tractor was a full 2-plow tractor which delivered 21 hp. to the drawbar and 25 hp. to the belt pulley.
Once again to fill in the gap created by the delay in production of the new Model 66, 4,874 Model 60 tractors would be produced in 1948.
There was another Oliver tractor in production in 1948. This was the “standard” or “four wheel” Model 90 tractor. As a standard tractor with a non-adjustable wide front end, the Model 90 was not part of the “Fleetline” series of Row Crop tractors. It was a large standard tractor intended for work on the Great Plains of the western United States. Indeed the Model 90 was not even made at the Tractor Works in Charles City, Iowa where all other Oliver tractors were made. The Model 90 was actually being made in Oliver’s South Bend #2 plant located on Walnut Street in South Bend, Indiana. Nonetheless, the Model 90 was scheduled to receive the same styling treatment that the Fleetline Row Crop tractors were undergoing. However this change had also been postponed.
Pre-production testing of all the tractors, especially the ones made in Charles City, Iowa, (1940 pop. 8,681) was conducted by a field research team of experts employed by the Oliver Company and based in Charles City. Now in April of 1948, as he thought back, it was hard for our Nevada Township farmer’s eldest son to believe that he had been working at Oliver for an entire year, already. Much had happened since he had returned home to the United States from his service in Pacific during the late world war. Last June, 1947, he had been married to a girl he had been dating since late 1945. Following their honeymoon to the Lake Okiboji region of northwest Iowa, he and his wife settled down in their apartment in Charles City.
Over the last few months, however, both he and his wife had begun to appreciate how small and cramped for space the apartment actually was. Accordingly, they had begun looking for a house to purchase. With her job in Osage and his job at the Tractor Works, they felt they could afford a house, especially in light of the fact that the eldest son was eligible for a low interest and zero down payment loan through the G.I. Bill of Rights. The G.I. Bill was open to all returning veterans of the world war and offered a real solution to the problems of education and housing that faced the returning veterans. The only problem facing the eldest son was finding a house in Charles City to purchase. With all the retuning veterans and with all the new hiring that was taking place at the Oliver Company Tractor Works, the population in Charles City was growing by leaps and bounds. Census figures would reflect that between 1940 and 1950 the population of Charles City would grow by a staggering 18.8%. This rapid growth created a considerable shortage of housing in Charles City as it was in other towns across the nation. The construction industry could not keep pace with the need for new housing. As a result, the eldest son and his wife were finding that the prices of new houses were climbing to extraordinary levels.
Rising housing prices was one of the causes of a slight rise in the inflation rate again in July of 1948. Inflation reached 10% in July of 1948. Accordingly, at their August 1, 1948 meeting the Federal Reserve Board directed their staff to start selling enough government bonds to raise the prime lending rate to 2.00%. This decision may have been a mistake, because by November of 1948 the economy had slid into a recession. Consumers were already leaving the market and their spending fell to 92% of their discretionary income. This meant that consumers were reducing their spending and were actually saving more of their discretionary income. This should have indicated to the Federal Reserve Board that inflation (or overspending by consumers) was not the main problem. Rather, the reduction of consumer spending, meant that a business slow down was already occurring. Based on the reduced consumer purchasing, corporations across the United States began cut back or delay production. One example close at hand was the decision made at the Oliver Farm Equipment Company to delay the introduction and production of some their new Fleetline tractors.
Meanwhile, our Nevada Township farmer and his neighbors had experienced a nearly perfect growing season in 1948. The warm weather of May 1948, with only 2.23 inches of rain for the whole month, had allowed the crops to be planted and spout in good order. Once the seeds were in the ground, the abundant rains (5.51 inches) returned in June of 1948 and allowed the crops to flourish. The oats in the field of our Nevada Township Farmer exhibited rank growth and were almost four feet tall. Without the heavy rains in July (.87 inches for the whole month of July), the oat crop as it began to ripen and surely looked to our Nevada Township Farmer like a record bumper crop of oats, even as the crop stood in the field.
Unfortunately, it looked as though the oats would ripen and need to be combined right during the Mower County Fair was to be held during the first week of August ( August 2-8, 1947). The Mower County Fair and the Minnesota State Fair held on the ten days prior to Labor Day (August 28-September 6, 1948) were two of the few opportunities that our Nevada Township farmer had to show his Purebred Suffolk sheep, build his “brand” among sheep farmers. Building his brand would mean income all year long as sheep farmers preferred to come to his farm to purchase Purebred Suffolk sheep rather than go to any other sheep seller. He might even sell a few ewes at the Fair itself. Of course, he needed only the last two or three days of the Fair. “Open Class” judging of sheep was scheduled only for 7th and 8th of August, but our Nevada Township farmer and his second son and his wife would need a third day–the 6th of August as a day of preparation for the Fair. Luckily, a rain front moved in and it looked like rain which would keep our Nevada Township farmer from being able to combine his oats. Thus, the family decided to risk going to the Fair. However, although there was a small rain on the 7th of August the rest of the time during the open class judging at the Fair were clear. As the family was coming home from the Fair on Monday the 9th of August, the rains started and continued through Tuesday the 10th of August. This rain deposited between an 1½ and 2 inches of rain on his oats which were still standing in the field.
The oat crop was almost over ripe, when our Nevada Township farmer hitched the Model 70 tractor to the old grain binder which had been converted into a windrower. He maneuvered the tractor and windrower into the oat field so that he could pull the windrower around the field in a counter-clockwise fashion. On the first round he was driving the Oliver 70 tractor and the combine over the oats nearest fence all the way around the field. On this first round, the windrow was deposited into the standing oats in the area nearest the fence in the oat field. On the second counter-clockwise round of the oat field with the windrower, the windrower deposited the windrow on the stubble of the first round. Here, propped up off the ground on the stubble, the dry summer air would surround the windrowed oats, even getting underneath the windrow. Thus, the windowed oats would dry and further ripen, just as bundled oats used to dry and ripen in a shock, when our Nevada Township Farmer used to thresh his oats with a stationary thresher. Our Nevada Township Farmer continued windrowing the oats in concentric rounds in the counter-clockwise direction, until the entire field was windrowed. Then he turned his attention to the standing oats nearest the fence around the field. He raised the cutter bar of the old binder enough to avoid the windrow that had been deposited in this patch of standing oats in his first round of the field. He proceeded to drive the tractor and windrower/binder over to that remaining band of standing oats which was against fence. To windrow this last band of standing oats near the fence our Nevada Township farmer turned the tractor around to proceed in clockwise direction around the field. Thus, the cutter bar on the windrower/binder would be on the correct side of the tractor to cut the band of oats right up to the fence all the way around the field. The old converted binder would then spill the new windrow on the stubble next to the windrow created on his second round of the field earlier in the morning.
He then pulled the windrower back up to the homestead and backed it into the shed. He, then, hitched the Model 70 tractor to the Oliver Model 15 Grainmaster combine. He was in a hurry to get the combine into the field and harvest the oats before any more rains came. This combine was being used for only the second season of its life. However, the combine still had the reel mounted on the feeder of the combine above the empty sickle bar. The sickle, itself had been removed from the sickle bar following the soybean harvest last fall. The sickle was then painted with some old waste crankcase oil left over from an oil change of one of the tractors and the sickle was hung on the wall in the lean-to where the combine was stored. If he had time, he would do the same for the sickle in the cutter bar of the old binder/windrower that he had just put away for the year. However, was quite busy now and would remove the sickle from the old binder/windrower later on. He promised, himself, that he would do so in a day or two when he found the necessary time. He did not want rust to start forming on the sharp edges of the sickle, before he could cover the sickle with oil.
The reel and the sickle bar on the combine were used only for standing crops like soybeans. Now, however, a combine windrow pickup was needed to harvest the oat crop which was had already cut and laid in windrows. Accordingly, after removing the reel our Nevda Township farmer positioned the Innes Company pickup over the sickle bar empty sickle bar and bolted the flanges on the Innes windrower onto the sickle bar on the combine feeder. Next he attached the drive belt for the Innes pickup to the appropriate pulley on the combine and he was ready to go.
Then, he connected the power take off (PTO) coupler of the combine to the PTO shaft on the rear of the Oliver Model 70 tractor and drove the tractor pulling the Model 15 Grainmaster combine out to the newly windrowed field of oats. His son followed driving the old 1937 Oliver 28-44 towing the Birdsill wagon box mounted on the Oliver-Electric wagon gear which now sported the rubber tires mounted on the new disc-style wheels that the second son had, himself, purchased and mounted the on the Oliver-Electric wagon gear. Our Nevada Township farmer maneuvered the Oliver 70 tractor and Grainmaster around to line the feeder of the tractor up with the third windrow from the fence. He pushed in the foot clutch with his left foot and reached ahead under the steering wheel with his right hand for the belt pulley and PTO shaft control lever. This lever engaged the PTO shaft and when our Nevada Township farmer slowly lifted his left foot off of the foot clutch, the Grainmaster combine slowly started to come alive.
Slowly running at first the cylinder started to gather speed, our Nevada Township farmer opened the throttle of the Oliver 70 tractor the recommended cylinder speed of between 1000 and 1400 RPM. was obtained. Once he was sure that everything was operating correctly on the combine and the Innes pickup was running at the proper speed, our Nevada Township farmer depressed the foot clutch again and shifted into first gear and slowly released the foot clutch. Then pulled the throttle on the Model 70 to full open again to assure that the cylinder speed stayed at it recommended speed for combining oats. The tractor moved slowly forward and the Innes pickup began gobbling up the windrow ahead of the feeder.
As the combine picked up the third windrow and threshed the oats in the third windrow from the edge of the field, our Nevada Township farmer tried to steer the front wheels of the Model 70 as close to the right side of the windrow so that the windrow would pass harmlessly under the left rear axle housing of the Model 70 without being run over or even touched by the front wheels or the left rear wheel of the tractor or the left wheel of the combine. The oats were threshed so fast in the Model 15 Grainmaster combine that the threshed oat straw was deposited directly on the ground in the same location that the straw had occupied prior to being picked up by the combine.
Our Nevada Township farmer did notice that their was rather thick flow of grain flowing into the grain tank, but he was quite surprised when, about half way around the field, he, by chance, happened to turn around and saw that the pile of grain in the 20 bushel grain tank was visible from the tractor operator’s seat. He had to stop and signal his second son to drive the wagon down to where he was located with the combine so that they could unload the 20 bushel grain tank into the wagon and allow the combine to continue around the field. When, the second son arrived with the wagon, he pulled up alongside the grain tank on the combine. Our Nevada Township farmer pulled the grain unloading elevator out from its stored position to allow the spout to hang over the wagon. Then, he went back up to the levers on the hitch of the combine and disengaged the gear case throw-out control lever located on the combine hitch behind the tractor operator seat. This effectively turned off all power to the combine and at the same time engaged the power only grain unloading elevator. Then, when the PTO of the Oliver 70 was engaged the oats of the combine grain tank began flowing out of the spout of the grain unloading elevator and flowed into the Birdsill wagon box. In a short time the grain tank was emptied.
Our Nevada Township farmer engaged the throw-out clutch and transferred the power from the grain unloading elevator back to the combine as a whole. Our Nevada Township farmer was able to resume combining, but not for long. He saw a large clump of grain in the windrow and pushed in the foot clutch of the tractor. This should have stopped all forward motion of the tractor and combine. However the backlash from the large cylinder on the No. 15 Grainmaster, spinning at 1000 to 1400 RPM came back up through the PTO shaft of the combine to the transmission of the tractor pushed the tractor and combine forward right into the clump. Our Nevada Township farmer watched helplessly as the clump went over the Innes windrow pickup and rode the canvas belt up the feeder and right into the cylinder where it clogged the cylinder and stopped all operation of the combine. Now our Nevada Township farmer had no choice. He disengaged the PTO shaft of the combine and took the tractor out of gear and idled down the throttle of the tractor.
He then dismounted the tractor picked up a pipe wrench out of the tool box of the Oliver Model 70 tractor and walked around to the right side of the combine. Here he clamped the pipe wrench to the axle of the cylinder and turned the cylinder backwards to free the large clump of un-threshed grain and straw caught between the cylinder and the concave of the combine. Now he could reach into the feeder and pull the mass of straw and un-threshed oats out of the cylinder and spread it out on the canvas belt in a thin layer which would allow the grain to go back into the combine to be threshed when he restarted the combine. He had to spread the un-threshed straw and grain out very thin. The combine would not immediate return to the operating speed of 100-1400 RPM. It would take time for the combine to reach it operating speed. Then, he returned to the tractor seat and opened up the throttle and engaged the PTO shaft control lever and let out the foot clutch. All the grain went into the cylinder in a normal way and was threshed.
Our Nevada Township farmer resumed combining down the windrow. However as he approached the corn of the field he saw another large clump in the windrow right at the corner. This clump had been formed when the windrower has turned the corner while making the windrows. This time our Nevada Township farmer stopped the tractor and combine well ahead of the clump and dismounted the tractor and walked ahead to the clump at the corner and spread the clump out along the windrow to smooth out the clump. He felt that he was constantly wasting his time in the field either by spreading out large clumps in the windrow or by un-plugging the combine cylinder of large clumps in the cylinder when he failed to stop soon enough and the clump made its way up into the combine. It certainly slowed down the harvest in 1948, but the trouble he was having was another indication that the oat crop was going to be a bumper crop.
Our Nevada Township farmer eventually did finish combining his oats. He recognized that this oat crop was a good big crop but the crop turned out to be much bigger than any year since he could remember. The average yield of oats in Mower County in 1948 proved to be 49 bushels per acre. This was a new record for Mower County, breaking the old record of 46 bushels per acre set in 1940. According to the radio, the bumper crop was also being enjoyed by the whole nation. Last June (1947) the introduction of the Marshall Plan had raised the price of oats from its average post-war price range of between 70 and 80 cents per bushel to $1.18 per bushel in December of 1947 and to $1.27 in January of the present year (1948). However, even the Marshall Plan could not keep the price of oats from sliding to 86 cents a bushel in July and dropping even further to 68 cents a bushel in August–when the market was deluged by the glut of oats from the harvest.
He heard these prices from the Chicago Board of Trade as reported over WCCO out of Minneapolis over the radio in the barn during the morning milking chores. More importantly he heard the most up-to-date prices after a morning of trading over the local KAUS radio station out of Austin, Minnesota. He heard these important noon-time prices on the radio over dinner in the house every day. He had always thought that hearing some good prices on the radio at noon might allow him or his son time enough to load up the wagon or the truck with shelled corn or soybeans and take it to town and catch the high price at the Hunting elevator before the end of the trading day. However, reality was more mundane–just like last year (1947)–the soybeans were sold right out of the field because the price was unusually high right during the fall harvest. Corn was sold only when arrangements could be made for the sheller to show up on his farm. Luckily, last February (1948), a small seasonal rise in the price of con had occurred just as the corn was being shelled. So that shelled corn went directly to the Hunting elevator, saving back only that portion of the shelled corn that our Nevada Township farmer would need to use as feed for the animals on the farm in the year ahead. Still his wife appreciated the fact that he could always be counted on to arrive at the house directly at noon everyday in time to wash up and sit down to hear the beginning of the market report beginning just after noon on KAUS. She used to joke, that if it were not for the market report at noon, she would not know where he was at during the noon hour.
Our Nevada Township farmer knew that oat prices did not really affect his income because he did not sell oats. He used all of his oats as feed for the animals on the farm. However, he was afraid of what a bumper crop of oats might foretell about corn and soybeans—his two cash crops. A nationwide bumper crop in those two commodities would also have the same disastrous effect on the market price of both of those commodities. Unlike the oats, he depended on these two crops for a major portion of his farm income. He knew that a similar glut of those crops coming to market in the coming fall and winter might put a real dent in his income. He was extremely apprehensive about the future of his income for the next year. Nor was he alone in worrying about his financial future. By the fall of 1948, the slow down in consumer spending and business activity, was starting to have a major effect on be felt on the economy. With fewer buyers in the consumer market, the gross domestic product of the United States fell off by 1.7% and unemployment rose. Talk of the recession had the effect convincing even more consumers to delay spending.
The troublesome year of 1948 was also presidential election year. History had shown that fear and apprehension about the economy usually led voters to turn against the political party in control of the White House. Upon the death of Franklin Roosevelt, the Vice President–Harry Truman Democrat of Missouri—had become President of the United States. Everybody expected that this would be only a short term arrangement. With the public so worryied about the future of the economy, it was expected by all that the Republican candidate, Governor Thomas E. Dewey of New York would surely be elected on November 2, 1948. Not only was the economic mood of the country working against Truman, but the Democratic Party was split—not once but twice. The southern segreationist Democrats had split off from the Democratic Party and the Truman candidacy over the Truman’s support of the Fair Employment Practices Act. The southern segregationists rallied to their own candidate–South Carolina Democratic Senator Strom Thurmond.
Other Democrats left the party and rallied round Henry Wallace who had been Secretary of Agriculture in the Franklin Roosevelt Administration. Wallace was running as the Progressive candidate for the newly re-vitalized Progressive (Bull Moose) Party of President Theodore Roosevelt. The Progressives were upset with Truman his foreign policy which they saw as aggressively leading to a “cold war” with the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union had been an ally of the United States, Britain, and France in the recent world war. During the war the Soviet Union purchased a great deal of manufactured goods and agricultural crops from the United States. Progressives< and many farmers, did not want to see this advantageous trading relationship end. Thus they could not understand why the Truman administration seemed intent on starting a “cold war” with the Soviet Union.
Given the impossibility of President Truman’s chances of re-election, nobody could understand why he so-feverously crisscrossed the nation aboard a train giving speeches at every little whistle stop along the way. The Republicans had taken over control of the Senate and House of Representatives in the 1946 Congressional elections. Still President Truman continued to speak from the rear platform of the small passenger train at every small stop on his whistle stop tour of the United States. He blamed the Republicans for the inflation in the economy and for not doing anything aid the ordinary farmers and the middle class. Truman’s whistle stop campaign brought him through Minnesota in October—stopping at St. Paul and Duluth on October 13th and Mankato, Waseca Rochester and Winona on October 14th.
The big news of the fall of 1948 was taken up with the political campaign for president.
By November of 1948, economists were already declaring that the United States economy was officially in a recession and the recession was causing real pain for ordinary Americans. This was a recession that was caused in part and made worse in part by the widespread belief of the ordinary people and some government officials that a recession simply had to follow the Second World War.
This was part of his “whistle stop” train tour of the entire United States. No one gave the incumbent president any chance against the Republican candidate—Governor Thomas Dewey of New York. th He blamed
r the eldest son of our Nevada Township farmer and his new wife this would have meant that a mortgage would have been placed out of reach because of the combination of high prices for houses they were attempting to purchased and the higher than normal interest rates on the loan they would need to purchase the house. Only the assurance of low interest rates under the G. I. Bill would allow them to purchase the house they would need in Charles City, Iowa. For his father on the farm in Nevada Township in Minnesota, this .
Soybean prices had beput a real en soaring since the end of the war and had reached a record $4.13 per bushel in January of 1948. Now, in November of 1948, soybean prices declined to $2.35 per bushel. The glut in the corn market resulted the average price of corn falling to $1.11 per bushel in March of 1949. This represented the loss of a full dollar per bushel off the price of corn just one year before in March of 1948—a 47.4% decrease in the price of corn in just on year.
Consequently, just as the high prices of the new Chevrolet trucks and the higher interest rates that the banks were now charging for loans caused our Nevada Township farmer and his second son to put off their plans for purchasing a new truck at Usem Chevrolet, consumers across the United States began to delay purchases of large consumer items like houses and cars. Indeed, our Nevada Township farmer felt that the recent downturn in the economy was the long expected waited “post-war” recession. Unknown to him was the fact that most of the public and many of the governing officials of the nation felt the same way. Indeed, once it became clear in November of 1948, that the economy was headed into a recession, it was the belief of many, even members on the Federal Reserve Board, that this recession was the long delayed “post-war” recession. Accordingly, the recession of 1948-1949 was largely caused by a psychological expectation that the Second World War would be followed by a recession just as the First World War had been followed by the severe recession of 1920-1921.
The second son felt that a small truck could be used on the farm for a variety of light-duty jobs and would use less gas than the 1-½ ton truck his father had wanted to purchase the year before. With its own rear hitch, the small truck could even be used for hauling wagons to town in place of using the cars. This new ½-ton pickup shared the same “round nose” styling as the 1948 Chevy 1-½ ton truck except the new pickup had a shiny, eye-catching chrome grille out front. The 1-½ ton truck still had the old-fashioned painted grille. This was a throwback to the war years when all chromium production had been channeled into the war effort.
The second son anticipated that the small truck could be used on the farm for a variety of light-duty jobs and would use less gas than the 1-½ ton truck his father had purchased the year before. With its own rear hitch, it could even be used for hauling the wagon to town in place of using the cars. This new ½-ton pickup shared the same “round nose” styling as the 1948 Chevy 1-½ ton truck except the new pickup had a shiny, eye-catching chrome grille out front. The 1-½ ton truck still had the old-fashioned painted grille. This was a throwback to the war years when all chromium production had been channeled into the war effort.
of creating even more withdrawal of he effects of the
The 1949 growing season proved to be another great year for crops. When combining the oats our Nevada Township farmer was again ready to fight the clumps in is windrows. However, only at the corners, did our Nevada Township farmer worry about the combine struggling with the crop in 1949. As the PTO binder was being towed around the corner, cut grain tended to pile up in one spot on the ground at the corner. Our Nevada Township farmer was still worried that the clumps of grain would clog the little combine but in 1947, our Nevada Township farmer was pleasantly surprised to find that none of these clumps of grain at the corners of the field did anything more than to make the six cylinder engine of the Model 70 to “muscle down” and work to power the clump through the combine.
Soybean yields in Mower County established another new record—a phenomenal 18 bushels per acre. Corn yields in the county were averaging 48 bushels per acre.
Economists finally assured the pubic that the recession officially ended as of September or October of 1949. Yet the ill effects of the recession continued after the “official” end of the recession. In October of 1949 unemployment across the nation stood at 7.9%. Clearly this recession had cause harm to the economy and hurt to wide portions of the public. The causes of the recession included the failure of the Federal Reserve to raise interest rates to slow the economy from over heating in the post-war period. Later the Fed failed to recognize that after the initial inflationary cycle had passed that the stfrom 1948 on the the economy However, it remains that the res
As a result of continuing recession and the bumper crops, soybean prices slid to $2.04 per bushel in November of 1949. When the 1949 corn crop was shelled out and came on to the market in February of 1950, the price still lagged at $1.13 per bushel as an average for the month as a whole.
The winter of 1949-1950 had seen a great accumulation of snow (sometimes as much as 14 inches) on the ground for most of the winter. The unseasonably warm temperatures of early had finally melted all the snow. However, rains picked up where the snow had left off. Rains continued through most of April and May of 1950—with only a week’s respite in late April that allowed our Nevada Township farmer to get his ground worked up and his oats sown. The dry weather in early May of 1950 allowed him to plant his corn and his soybeans.
Apparently, the markets were anticipating that the 1950 crop might be somewhat troublesome, WCCO radio at 830 kilocycles (kc) on the radio dial broadcasting out of Minneapolis, Minnesota (1950 pop. 521,718) was reporting that even this early in the season, the price of soybeans had risen to $2.70 per bushel as an average for the month of May, 1950 and the price of corn had adjusted upwards to the average price of $1.28 per bushel for the month May. It seemed as thought the markets were anticipating shortages in the fall due to below average harvest yields. Still these prices remained well under the 1947 prices. That year, there had been a real problem of wet weather in the spring and early summer which had caused a loss in crop yield in the autumn. (See the fourth article in this series of articles called “Oliver Farm Equipment [Part IV]: The Wet Year” contained in the blog at this website.) As the weather warmed again in early 1950, our Nevada Township farmer, looked forward again to field work and spring planting with the same positive expectations that he did. Springtime was the natural time to look forward to the new growing season. However, just when it looked like 1950 might be another wet year like 1947, the rains stopped. Unseasonably hot weather, with temperatures as high as 90ºF or higher, occurred in late May and early June, caused the crops to spring up out of the ground and flourish. Prices on the markets stabilized. Our Nevada Township farmer began to change his mind. Perhaps this would be another bumper year in crops like 1948 and 1949. Because of this he expected to see a decline in farm commodity prices over the summer.