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.

Massey-Harris Farming (Part I): The Oltrogge Family of Waverly, Iowa

                   Massey-Harris Farming (Part I):

The Oltrogge Family of Waverly, Iowa

by

Brian Wayne Wells

 As published in the May/June 2004 issue of

Belt Pulley Magazine

German immigration to the United States began as a trickle in the 1830s, but by the period of time from 1846 to 1855, German immigration had reached a peak when more than a million Germans emigrated into the United States.  (Maldwyn Allen Jones, American Immigration [University of Chicago Press: Chicago, 1960] p. 110.)  More than half of the German immigrants coming to the United States at this time moved to the Upper Mississippi and Ohio River valleys.  (Id., p. 118)

Arriving at the end of this wave of German immigration in 1856 was a 36-year old young man, William Frederich Oltrogge (known as Frederick or Fred), and his 34-year old wife, Sophia.  Together with their two daughters, Sophia ages 6 years and Caroline age 2, they had boarded a ship for the United States.  The Oltrogge family had been originally from Hessen, or the State of Hess, in the west central part of Germany near the large city of Frankfort.  The Rhine River formed the western boundary between Hess and the Prussian Province of Rhineland.  The Kingdom of Bavaria which lay to the south of the State of Hess.

The reasons that Frederick and Sophia brought their family to this country are not known.  However, some clues might be found in the facts surrounding the immigration of the Oltrogge family.  The fact that the Oltrogge family came to the United States with a group of people they had known in the State of Hess and the fact that immediately upon their arrival, in 1856, they establishing a Lutheran congregation and then a year later in 1857, they erected the St. John’s Maxfield Lutheran Church, suggests that there may have been a religious motive in their immigration to Iowa.

During this period of time Germany was not yet a unified nation.  Instead the German speaking lands were divided into a patchwork of small kingdoms and princely states.  These small states were constantly warring against each other for one reason or another.  However, Martin Luther and the Reformation of 1520 and the Thirty Years War (1618-1648) had the effect of further splitting the German states along religious lines.  The states of the northern part of Germany became predominately Protestant (Lutheran), while the southern states remained Roman Catholic in religious persuasion.

The State of Hess was one of the middle states of Germany—not part of the predominately Lutheran north, nor part of the mainly Catholic southern part of Germany.  As a consequence, the people of Hess were, themselves divided in religious affiliation—65 to 68% Protestant and 26 to 32% Roman Catholic.  (James K Pollack and Homer Thomas, Germany in Power and Eclipse [MacMillan & Co. Pub.: London, 1952] p. 442.)  Ever since the Reformation, there had been religious unrest between the Catholics and the Protestants in Germany.  This unrest was especially prevalent in the middle states of Germany where the population was fairly evenly split between the Catholic and Protestant religions.  The State of Hess was no exception.  However, not only were the protestant families leaving Hess, but so too were the Roman Catholic families.  One notable Catholic example was Adolphus Busch, who left the State of Hess and immigrated to St. Louis, Missouri in 1857.  Adolphus Busch later became one of the founders of the Anheiser-Busch Brewery Company of St. Louis, Missouri.  (Peter Hernon and Terry Ganey, Under the Influence: The Unathorized Story of the Anheuser-Busch Dynasty [Avon Books: New York, 1991] p. 22.)

However, besides religious reasons, there may have been political reasons, which may have caused the Oltrogge and Busch families to leave the State of Hess.  There had long been unrest in the Germany over the very fact that the various German speaking states were divided into so many small political units.  There had been much agitation in favor of a unified German State.  However, there was much disagreement of dispute arose over the form the new unified Germany would take.  In 1848, all across the German speaking lands, uprisings in favor of more democratic freedoms and constitutions had arisen.  These revolts had been bloodily suppressed by the conservative rulers of the various German states.  One such crisis broke out in the State of Hess and threatened in 1850 to become a war involving some of the states neighboring Hessen.  (Marshal Dill Jr., Germany: A Modern History [University of Michigan Press: Ann Arbor, 1970] p. 120.)  Historians used to believe that the suppression of the uprisings of 1848 was a major cause of the German emigration to the United States in the early 1850’s.  They believed that tide of emigration consisted of disappointed liberals and democratic reformists.  Recently, however, theory has been challenged.  Modern historians now hold that the emigrating Germans were “little concerned with politics and with revolution not at all.”  (Marcus Hansen quoted in American Immigration by Maldwyn Allen Jones, cited above, p. 110.)

In actual fact, despite all the trappings, it may well have been plain economic motives that brought the Oltrogge family to Iowa.  For there were economic motives aplenty.  There had been poor harvests in the lands along the Rhine River for a number of years.  (Maldyn Allen Jones at p. 110 and Hernon and Ganey, Under the Influence:The Unauthorized Story of the Anheuser-Busch, p. 22.)  The vast open spaces of land and the virtually unlimited opportunity for land ownership in the upper Midwest of the United States compared quite favorably to the dismal future prospects that appeared to be waiting them in Germany.    (Robert P. Howard, Illinois: A History of the Prairie State [Eerdmans Pub. Co.: Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1972] p. 222.)

Whatever the reason, Frederick and Sophia Oltrogge moved with their family onto a 240-acre piece of land in Section 1 of Jefferson Township in Bremer County Iowa.  The early years of settlement were mostly taken up with building the house and barn and, as noted above, the neighborhood church in adjacent Maxfield Township.  It was hard work, settling in the new land.  However, they were not alone.  The whole neighborhood was involved in the same struggle to tame the land and carve out a niche for themselves on the prairie.

In 1856, Iowa was still a frontier state having entered the union only 1846.  (Leland L. Sage, A History of Iowa [Iowa State University Press: Ames, 1974] p. 91.)  Large portions of the state were still inhabited by bands of Dakota (Sioux) people.  Indeed, one year after the arrival of the Oltrogge family, 1857, saw the uprising of the Wahpeton Sioux against the increasing flood of white settlers that were coming into Iowa.  This uprising has become known as the Massacre of Spirit Lake.  (Ibid., p, 107-108.)  However, the settlers kept coming even after the uprising.  The town of Jefferson City (now called Denver, Iowa) sprang up three miles to the south of Oltrogge farm.  By 1875, the Jefferson township schoolhouse had been built in the center of Section 2 just one mile west of the Oltrogge farm.  Slowly, the community was growing.  The size of the Oltrogge family also grew with the addition of a third daughter Anna Justine Wilhelmine born on April 4, 1858, another daughter Anna born on April 12, 1861 and a son William Frederick born on October 2, 1863.  Named for his father, the younger William Frederick was called William to distinguish him from his father who was called Fred or Frederick.  Like his older sisters, Sofia, Caroline and Anna just two years before, William, too, was confirmed in the St. Johns Maxfield Church in 1877.

The community continued to make progress.  A public road was eventually built directly though the center of Section 1 and 2 of Jefferson County which passed just south of the Oltrogge farmstead.  The 240-acre Oltrogge farm consisted of 160 acres located north of this road and 80 acres located south of the road.  Some time prior to 1875 another house was built on the 80 acres located south of the road.

As William grew up, he developed a real interest in the family farming operation.  The farm contained a dairy operation, with about 30 head of Holstein cattle being milked at any one time.  The family also raised about 200 to 300 pigs and 500 chickens.  Approximately half of their arable land was planted in corn.  Since they did not have a silo on their farm, they built a bunker for storing corn silage.  A portion of their corn was harvested as green corn silage; the remainder of the corn was harvested when ripe.  Much of the ripe corn was stored on the farm and fed to the pigs, chickens and dairy cattle.

On October 12, 1887, just ten (10) days after his 24th birthday, William married Anna Steege, an 18-year old girl from a neighboring farm.  Eventually they had a family that included Louis Wilhelm Johann Heinrich born on June 1, 1890, Amanda born in 1891, John born in 1892, Herman Heinrich Friedrich William born on May 23, 1893 and Hilda born on April 8, 1895.  Gradually, William took over the operations of the family farm from his father.

Under William Oltrogge’s management several improvements were made to the farming operation.  In the summer of 1897, he negotiated with the Borden & Selleck Co. of Chicago, Illinois for the purchase of a Howe Scale Company weighing scale for installation in the granary on the farm.  A letter dated July 30, 1897 from the company headquarters located at 48 and 50 Lake Street in Chicago and signed by H. Borden, president of the company informed William that although building plans for the scale could be forwarded immediately, actual construction of the scales would be delayed until October.  When installed in the covered alleyway of the granary, the 8ft. by 14 ft. platform of the scale had the ability to weigh an entire wagon load of grain or ear corn.

In 1916, a new barn was built specifically to house the teams of horses that the large farming operation required.  This horse barn was built as a separate building rather than being attached to the main cow barn.  Some time during the First World War, William mechanized the milking of the dairy herd.  He built an engine house which was attached to the granary located about fifty (50) feet away from the barn.  In the engine house was a 2 ½ horsepower Fairbanks-Morris stationary engine.  This kerosene-powered “hit and miss” engine was belted to a vacuum pump which, in turn, was connected to an underground pipe that ran to the barn.  The Fairbanks engine was started at the beginning of morning and evening milking and supplied the vacuum necessary to power the Universal-Coop milkers which William now used to milk his herd of cows.

Changes were also happening in the family.  The year 1913 saw the passing of William’s father, Frederick Oltrogge at the age of 83 years.  On March 18, 1914, Louis Oltrogge, William’s oldest son, married Hilda Kohagen from the local community.  Following their marriage they struck out on their own and purchased a 240 acre farm which was adjacent to the original Oltrogge farm on the northwest corner of the home farm.  In the summer of 1915, the Oltrogge family purchased their first automobile—a 1911 Model Kissel.  Besides being a convenience for the family members the car greatly shortened the amount of time that it took to deliver the separated cream to the Co-operative Creamery in Artesian, the little unincorporated settlement located ½ a mile to the east of the home farm.

Additionally, young Herman began to take up the decision-making authority with regard to the farming operation as William now in his 50’s began to think about retiring.  On May 3, 1917 Herman married Millie Kohagen, a sister of Hilda.  To make room for the new family on the main farm, William tore down the old house located south of the road and built a new house on that site.  William, then, moved into this new house and left the main house on the north side of the road for Herman and Millie.

Like his father, Herman was always seeking ways in which to improve the farming operation.  Indeed, Herman was even more inclined toward this idea of modernizing the farm.  In 1920, Herman, remodeled the house on the main farm.  In the early 1920s, the Interstate Power Company stretched an electric power line along the road between Olewyn, Iowa and Waverly, Iowa.  The power line followed the path of the road that would become State Route #3 along the edge of Readlyn, Iowa, and passing the Oltrogge farm.  Interstate offered farm owners along the path of the power line the right to hook up to the power line at an affordable price.  The Oltrogges accepted the offer from Interstate and electrified their farm.  Now with electricity in the barn, the family hooked the vacuum lines which extended to all the stanchions in the barn to an electrically powered vacuum pump located in the barn itself.  No longer was there a need for the vacuum lines extending underground to the barn all the way from the engine house.

However, Herman Oltrogge was aware that the most significant improvement in farming was the farm tractor which could fully mechanize the power on the farm.  Indeed, in the winter of 1917-1918, Herman’s brother, Louis, had purchased a new Model 15-25 Lauson tractor.  Herman had seen, first-hand how the steady power of the Lauson tractor compared favorably to the use of animal power for performing heavy farm work.  Consequently, by the Spring of 1920, Herman had purchased a 1919 Model International Harvester Titan 10-20 Model tractor.  This tractor was one of the post-1919 Titans which had the full length fenders which covered both rear wheels down to the drawbar.  Herman used the Titan and a three-bottom John Deere Model No. 5 plow, to do his spring plowing in 1920.

The Titan was not only intended for all the heavy work around the farm, but was also intended to supply power to the belt.  In 1920, the, Oltrogge’s also purchased a Sprout-Waldron feed grinder/burr mill.  (Keith Oltrogge, William’s great –grandson, is a Certified Public Accountant, practicing in nearby, Denver, Iowa, still owns and lives on the family farm and still has this 1920 Sprout-Waldron burr mill on the farm.)  Herman thought that the burr mill and the belt power provided by the Titan would speed up the processing of the animal feed on the farm.

Although the Titan was Herman’s first tractor, he never talked about it much.  It may well have been that he was dissatisfied with the Titan tractor.  It is not hard to find reasons for dissatisfaction with the Titan.  Regular readers of the Belt Pulley will remember a 1920 Model Titan tractor was purchased in 1927 by Clarence Rodning of St. Peter, Minnesota to mechanize his farming operation.  (See the article “Farming with an International 10-20 Titan” in the May/June 1996 issue of Belt Pulley magazine, p. 16.)  Among the other problems, the Titan was hard to start.  Indeed, Lee Klancher in his short book on International Harvester Farmall devotes five pictures to the Titan and the process involved in starting the Titan.  (Lee Klancher, Farmall Tractors [Motorbooks, Intl. Pub.: Osceola, Wisc., 1995] pp. 17 through 24.)  Additionally, due to the fact that the Titan was a two-cylinder tractor with both cylinders connected in parallel to the crankshaft, the pistons moved forward and back in the sleeves together rather than in an alternating two-cylinder pattern like John Deere tractors.  Thus, even though the pistons were counter-weighted to reduce vibration in the tractor, the Titan had a tendency to “lope” or rock back and forth when powering a belt driven machine.  This loping on the part of the tractor sent waves down through the belt and causing the burr mill to shake in time to the waves on the belt.  Herman discovered this shortcoming of the Titan when he used the tractor on the belt to power the new Sprout-Waldron burr mill he had purchased.  Herman was dissatisfied with the Titan and in 1923, he traded the Titan in to the dealership of Coddington and Laird in Waverly, Iowa, (pop. 600) toward the purchase of new four-cylinder Wallis Model OK tractor.

The Model OK had only been introduced in 1922 by the J.I. Case PlowCompany.  (C.H. Wendel, 150 Years of Case [Crestline Pub.: Osceola, Wisc., 1991] p. 18.)  The J.I. Case Plow Company of Racine Wisconsin should not be confused with the J.I. Case Threshing Machine Company which was also located in Racine, Wisconsin.  The Case Threshing Machine Company was maker of the Case tractor.  Although founded by the same people as the Threshing Company, the J.I. Case Plow Company had always been a separate corporate entity.  In 1919, J.I. Case Plow Company was merged with the Wallis Tractor Company of Cleveland, Ohio and, thus, Henry M. Wallis became the new president of the company which bore the name J.I. Case Plow Company.  Inevitably, once the J.I. Case Plow Company was controlled by persons no longer associated with the Threshing Company, disputes arose over the use of the name “Case” by the Plow Company.  A decision by the Wisconsin Supreme Court allowed both companies to use the name “Case” under limited conditions.  (Ibid., p. 17.)  By the time the that the decision of the Wisconsin Supreme Court was handed down, the Case Plow Company had already been purchased by the Massey-Harris Company of Ontario, Canada.  Immediately, after the Court decision, Case Threshing Company began pursuing a course of negotiations with Massey Harris to purchase the Case Plow Company for itself.

However, Massey Harris had been trying to enter the tractor market without real success, since 1912.  The purchase of the Case Plow Company represented the company’s third attempt to add a tractor to the line of Massey-Harris farm equipment.  (Michael Williams, Massey-Ferguson Tractors [Farming Press: Ipswich, U.K., 1987] pp. 15 through 44.)  Once having obtained ownership rights to the manufacture of the popular Wallis tractor and the large Racine, Wisconsin tractor factory, Massey-Harris was not inclined to sell this valuable property.  What they were willing to sell, and what the Case Threshing Company really wanted, was the limited right to the use of the name “Case” currently held by Massey Harris as the owner of the Case Plow Company.  Thus, shortly after spending $1.3 million in cash and guaranteeing another $1.1 million in bonds in order to purchase the Case Plow Company, Massey Harris was able to recoup a great deal of the purchase price by selling their rights to the limited use of the name “Case” for $700.000.00.

At 4,020 pounds, Herman’s new 1923 Wallis Model OK tractor was much lighter than the 5,708 pound Titan.  (C. H. Wendel, Nebraska Farm Tractor Tests [Crestline Pub.: Osceola, Wisc., 1993] pp. 19 and 42.)  Furthermore, the Wallis Model OK tractor was a four-cylinder tractor delivering smooth power to the belt and to the rear wheels.  Testing of the tractor at the University of Nebraska had shown that the tractor delivered 18.15 hp. to the drawbar and 27.13 hp. to the belt pulley.  (Ibid., p. 42.)  The Wallis tractor introduced many innovations to the tractor industry.

In 1913, the Wallis Tractor Company introduced the revolutionary Wallis Model “Cub” tractor.  Two years later in 1915, the Model J, “Cub Jr.” was designed with a complete enclosure of the entire power drive train including the final drives at the rear wheels.  (C.H. Wendel, Encyclopedia of Farm Tractors [Crestline Pub.: Sarasota, Fla., 1979] pp. 57 and 58.)  Despite claims by Henry Ford that his Fordson tractor, which went into production 1918, was the first unit frame designed tractor, the Wallis tractor was, actually, the first tractor designed with a totally enclosed power train running in oil.  (Ibid.)  Every succeeding model of Wallis tractor was patterned after this design.  Thus, by merely obtaining the production rights to the Wallis tractor in 1928, Massey-Harris was instantly set on a course to become one of the world’s five largest tractor manufacting companies within ten years.  (Michael Williams, Massey-Ferguson Tractors [Farming Press: Ipswich, U.K., 1987] pp. 39 through 41.)

Furthermore, by its acquisition of the J.I. Case Plow Company, the Canada-based Massey-Harris Company instantly obtained a retail tractor sales network throughout the United States.  In northeastern Iowa, this meant that Massey-Harris obtained the excellent services of the Coddington and Laird dealership of Waverly, Iowa, with branch dealerships in Plainfield, Readlyn, Tripoli and Janesville, Iowa.

Founded in Waverly, the Coddington and Laird dealership was the brainchild of Alva Bush Coddington.  Alva (nicknamed Al) Coddington had been born in 1870 in Janesville, Iowa, located in southern Bremer County (pop. 445).  After having attended business school in Burlington, Iowa, Al was employed for a while as a bookkeeper at the firm of J.C. Garner in Waverly, Iowa.  Garner’s was a local business which owned a meat marketing business and farm equipment dealership holding retail sales franchises from many different farm equipment manufacturing companies, including Emerson Manufacturing Co., John Deere and Oliver plows, Ohio Cultivator Company discs and cultivators, Hayes Pump and Planter Company planters, Dain Manufacturing Company hay rakes and hay loaders, Sandwich Manufacturing Company “Clean Sweep” hay loaders, DeLaval cream separatorsand Great Western Company manure spreaders.  Garner’s also had franchises to sell horse-drawn buggies made by the Staver Carriage Company of Chicago, Illinois; the Northwestern Furniture Company of Milwaukee, Wisconsin and the Velie Carriage Company of Moline, Illinois.

Al Coddington was a recognized success at bookkeeping during his employment at Garner’s.  In 1891, he married Olive Wetherell, a girl from his own hometown of Janesville, Iowa.  Their first child, Harry Coddington, was born in 1895, but tragically died in infancy that same year.  However, they eventually had a family that was to include three additional children—Herbert Wetherell Coddington born in 1896, Olive Harriet Coddington born in 1902 and Margaret A. Coddington born in 1908.  After some years at Garner’s Al sought to advance his career by accepting a position in Des Moines, Iowa.  However, when he heard in 1902, that his old employer—the Garner dealership firm—was up for sale, it did not take him long to makeup his mind to move back to Bremer County and to purchase the Garner dealership.  However, Al felt himself unable to make the purchase of all the stock in Garner’s by himself.  So he formed a partnership with Ralph Eldon Laird to make the purchase.  Thus, the October 30, 1902 issue of the Bremer County Independent was able to report to its readers the first news of the consummated sale of Garner’s to the partnership of Al Coddington and Eldon Laird, which would take effect on January 1, 1903.  For a place of business, the new partnership of Coddington and Laird, purchased a local icehouse and the five (5) acre lot on which it sat, located at 20 and 22 West Bremer Street in Waverly from the s of land from the firm of Miller and Babcock.

A combination of good business sense on the part of Al Coddington and his partner and the beginnings of the mass demand for automobiles on the part of the public, made the new partnership a success from the very start.  In 1902, the Northwestern Furniture Company, one of the companies that supplied horse-drawn buggies to Coddington and Laird, began offering a motorized “high wheeler” horseless carriage to the public.  In 1907, the Staver Carriage Company did the same and in 1909, the Velie Company followed suit.  Holding franchises to all three of these companies, Coddington and Laird, was perfectly placed to take full advantage of the coming boom in demand for automobiles.

In the meantime, Coddington and Laird sought to broaden their line of products they could offer to the public.  The partnership purchased a windmill retailer, the John Voorman retail business on February 18, 1904.  At the same time, Coddington and Laird leased the old skating rink from O. Wheeler, that had been used as a place of business by John Voorman.  In this building the partnership established a buggy and farm machinery warehouse.

By March of 1904, Coddington and Laird was doing so well that they established a branch dealership in the small village of Readlyn, Iowa (pop. 468) located 15 miles to the east of Waverly and about six miles east of the Oltrogge farm.  Al Coddington also had the privilege of opening a branch of his expanding business in his own hometown of Janesville, Iowa.  By 1913, he would have additional branches in the Bremer County towns of Plainfield and Tripoli.  In this way, the partnership covered every major sales market in Bremer County.

The partnership attempted to find the enterprises that would best position the partnership for the future.  Accordingly, Coddington and Laird sold off the meat market part of their business on May 14, 1904 to O.O. McCaffree.  In November of 1904, the dealership leased the Smalley Grain Elevator located on the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railroad (“the Rock Island Line”) tracks which led out of Waverly in a southwesterly direction.

By 1905, Coddington and Laird was already being referred to as Waverly’s “leading farm implement house” (the October 5, 1905 issue of the Waverly Democrat).  Furthermore, the October 5, 1905 issue of the Waverly Democrat, reported that in addition to managing both the implement dealership and the grain elevator, the Coddington and Laird partnership occupied four warehouses with a wide range of goods for sale including lime, coal, ice and farm implements.  In March of 1910, Coddington and Laird took over the building next door to them at 16 and 18 West Bremer Street.  This building was remodeled to function as a garage where the dealership would begin to offer mechanical servicing to the owners of the new automobiles, motorized trucks and farm tractors that were beginning to make there appearance in Bremer County.  Two years later, Coddington and Laird was already looking for new and larger premises for their business.  The May 30 and June 27, 1912 issues of the Bremer County Independent the description of the new building at the corner of West Bremer and 2nd Street North West that the J.M. Miller Construction Company had been contracted to build for the Coddington and Laird dealership.  By October, the building structure was complete up to the second story.  By January of 1913, Coddington and Laird was moving into their new building located two blocks down West Bremer Street from their former location.

The dealership recognized that the trend of the future lie with modern farm equipment.  Accordingly, Coddington and Laird sold off the ice business part of their combined enterprise to C. R. Farnham in November of 1914.  Next spring, in May of 1915, they sold off the grain elevator and the coal business to the Colburn Bros.  Concentrating on their core business as a farm equipment, tractor and automobile dealership, Coddington and Laird had found their niche.

However, within the emerging automobile industry vast changes were afoot.  In 1904, the Northwestern Furniture Company had ceased making automobiles.  (Beverly Rae Kimes, Standard Catalogue of American Cars 1805-1942 [Krause Pub.: Iola, Wisc., 1996] pp. 666 and 1047.)  To replace this franchise, Coddington and Laird signed a contract with the Clark Motor Company of Shelbyville, Indiana, to sell Clark automobiles.  However, the Clark Co. had only a short life-span from 1910 until 1912.  (Ibid. p. 337.)  In 1914, the Staver Motor Company found itself unable to keep up with the competition and went out of business.  (Ibid. p. 1386.)  Even the Velie Company began a decline that would eventually end in the total demise of the company in 1928.  (Ibid. p. 1495.)  Luckily, the dealership signed a franchise contract with a the REO Motor Car Company of Lansing, Michigan, the nation’s twenty-second largest automobile maker.  (James H. Moloney, Encyclopedia of American Cars1930-1942 [Crestline Pub.: Sarasota, Fla., 1977] p. 319.)  REO had the large scale capacity necessary to produce their cars in sufficient numbers to meet the increasing demands of the public.  Furthermore, in 1909, the REO Company began the line trucks for which they would become renowned.  (Albert Mroz, Illustrated Encyclopedia of American Trucks and Commercial Vehicles [Krause Pub.: Iola, Wisc., 1996] p 327.)

However, the most important franchise that Coddington and Laird obtained was the franchise to sell Chevrolet cars.  In the period just after the First World War, Chevrolet was on its way toward overtaking Ford Motor Company in production and sale of automobiles—an event which would occur in 1927.  (Robert Lacy, Ford: The Men and the Machine [Little Brown &Co. Pub.: Boston, 1986] p. 298.)  Coddington and Laird were doing their part to help Chevrolet in this endeavor.  Sales of Chevrolet cars in the twelve-month fiscal year from 1923-1924 resulted in Coddington and Laird becoming a member of the Chevrolet Division’s “Winners Class” of dealers for the year 1924.

            Coddington and Laird served as the local retail sales agent for many different farm equipment manufacturers.  Generally, these manufacturers did not have tractors in the line of farm equipment and they often specialized in the farm machinery they did manufacture rather than offering an entire line of farm implements.  Thus, these manufacturers were called “short line” companies.  Only by obtaining multiple franchises from many specialized short line manufactures, could Coddington and Laird offer to the public a “complete” line of farm equipment.  The Wallis tractor formed the capstone of that complete line of farm equipment offered by Coddington and Laird.  In June of 1926, the dealership partitioned off the front part of their new building to form a showroom which allowed the Coddington and Laird dealership to exhibit the Wallis tractor and other farm implements, inside, out of the weather and elements, even during the coldest of Iowa winters.  Although somewhat more expensive than other tractors which were on the market in the post World War I period, the Wallis tractor nonetheless, proved to be a popular sales item in Bremer County.  Thus, when Massey-Harris purchased the exclusive rights to build Wallis tractors, it only made common business sense for Coddington and Laird to become a Massey-Harris franchisee, which they did in 1928.

Herman Oltrogge was well satisfied with the Wallis tractor.  Not only did he use the Wallis Model OK on all the heavy duty field work, but he also immediately started using the tractor on all sorts of lighter duty work around the farm.  For example, he shortened the hitch on his John Deere grain binder and fixed the tractor with a long steering wheel extension that allowed him to steer the Wallis from the seat of the binder.  This allowed the grain binding operations on the farm to remain a “one-man” operation just as it had been with the horses.

The Wallis four-cylinder valve-in-head engine provided smooth power to the belt when Herman belted the Wallis to the Sprout Waldron burr mill.  Only one problem arose on the farm because of the new tractor.  The new Wallis Model OK tractor had a rated engine speed of 1000 rpm.  (C.H. Wendel, Nebraska Tractor Tests [Motorbooks Intl. Pub., 1993] p. 42.)  This speed compared with an engine speed of 575 rpm. for the Titan.  (Ibid. p. 19.)  As noted above, when he purchased the burr mill, Herman had, of course, intended to use the Titan tractor to power the burr mill.  Thus, the burr mill was fitted with a 6” belt pulley with a 6” face.  This small pulley had the effect of speeding up the implement.  Thus, the burr mill had been customized to the slower belt speed of the Titan tractor.  Herman found that the Wallis tractor powered the burr mill at too fast a rate for efficient operation.  Thus, it is not surprising that on February 5, 1923, Herman wrote to the Sprout Waldron Company in Muncy, Pennsylvania to determine how to adjust his burr mill to fit the new higher speed Wallis tractor.  Charles Waldron, Vice president of the company responded three days later with a suggestion that the burr mill should be fitted with a larger 8” pulley.  Sprout and Waldron had an 8” pulley with a 6” leather face available for sale at a price of $5.25.  Acquisition of this new pulley allowed the Wallis Model OK tractor to efficiently power the burr mill and the smooth four cylinder engine did not cause the tractor to lope and send waves down the belt.

Massey-Harris continued manufacturing the Wallis Model OK tractor for about three years following the purchase of the J .I. Case Plow Company.  Indeed in 1929, Massey-Harris introduced a newer smaller version of the Model OK.  This was the Wallis Model 12-20.  (C. H. Wendel, Encyclopedia of American Farm Tractors, p. 185.)  In 1931, the Massey Harris Model 25 was introduced as a replacement for the Wallis Model OK tractor.  (Michael Williams, Massey-Ferguson Tractors [Blandford Press: London, 1987] p. 32.)  Still, the Massey Harris 25 tractor bore many of the identical design features of the Wallis tractor.  The Massey-Harris Model 25 was offered to the public for the retail price of $1,275.00.  (C.H. Wendel, Massey Tractors [Motorbooks Intl. Pub.: Osceola, Wisc., 1992] p. 39.)

As was noted in an earlier article, during the years 1931 through 1933, the Oltrogge farm served as the test ground for the prototype of the Rosenthal corn picker.  (See the article “The Rosenthal Corn Husker Company of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Part V” contained in January/February 2002 issue of Belt Pulley magazine p. 12.)  Also as related in that article, Herman traded the Wallis Model OK tractor to the Coddington and Laird dealership in 1932 on the purchase of a new Massey-Harris Model 25.  Herman Oltrogge surely did not realize that his purchase of this tractor was to start a connection between the Oltrogge family and Massey-Harris tractors which extends down to the present day.  The Massey Harris 25 continued to serve on the Oltrogge farm until after the Second World War.

The purchase of the Massey Harris Model 25 tractor did not, however, provide the family with a tractor that would perform all farm operations.  The Massey-Harris was not a “row crop” tractor that would allow for the mechanical cultivation of corn and other row crops.  The Oltrogge family raised a lot of corn but even after the purchase of the Massey-Harris Model 25, they still used horses for the cultivation of row crops—one row at a time.  Not until early 1942, when they purchased one of the first Case Model VAC that came out in production, did they have a row-crop tractor which would allow for the mechanical cultivation of corn and other rows crops—two rows at a time.  However, after only one year with the VAC, the Oltrogges traded the little Case in on the purchase of another row crop tractor.  Once again they chose a Massey-Harris tractor.  They purchased a Model 101 Super from their local dealership—Coddington and Laird.  The 101 Super was an important part of the Massey-Harris Company’s attempt to develop a row crop tractor.  However, development of Massey-Harris row-crop tractors would come to full fruition only in the post-World War II sales boom.  This story remains as a subject for the next installment on Massey-Harris farming.

The connection between the Oltrogge family and Massey-Harris tractors continued.  Herman’s son, Orville Oltrogge took over the farming operations from his father in the late 1940’s.  The family farmed with a Model 44, a Model    and a Model Massey-Harris tractors.  Currently, Orville’s son, Keith Oltrogge, lives in the same house and on the same farm that was occupied by four prior generations of Oltrogges.  Although, Keith works in nearby Denver, Iowa, as a Tax consultant and accountant, Keith is known to Massey-Harris collectors and restorers, nationwide, as the editor of Wild Harvest, the official newsletter for Massey-Harris collectors.  In this way, Keith continues his family’s connection with Massey-Harris and actually makes the Oltrogge name as household term among Massey-Harris collectors.  Massey-Harris farming will be celebrated at the 2004 LeSueur Pioneer Power Show held on August 27, 28 and 29, 2004 as the national Massey Harris collectors “Wild Harvest” summer convention will be hosted at the Show.  Show attendees can be certain that Keith Oltrogge will be there to maintain his family’s continuing connection with the Massey-Harris name.

Dairy Farming in Eastern Massachusetts (Part II)

                      Dairying in Eastern Massachusetts (Part II) 

by

Brian Wayne Wells

 As published in the January/February 2004 issue of

Belt Pulley Magazine

 

Dairy farming in Massachusetts and indeed dairying in much of New England involved not only the milking of the cows, but the pasteurization, bottling and the delivery of the milk to the customers by the dairy farmer himself (see the previous article in this series which was published in the November/December 2003 issue of Belt Pulley).  One particular dairy farm located in Concord Town, Massachusetts, (1930 pop. 7,477), was being operated by our Concord Town farmer (as noted in the earlier article,in Massachusetts, the designation “Town” has the same connotation as “Township” in other states.  Our Concord Town farmer lived on this farm with his wife and four children.  By the summer of 1938 his eldest son, who had taken a strong interest in the 80-acre operation, was becoming a real partner in the farming operation.

Since the early l930s, our Concord Town farmer had been delivering milk to his customers along his route, which extended over the line from Concord Town into the suburban town of Lexington, Massachusetts (1930 pop. 9,467), just west of Boston.  Like all farmers our concord Town farmer was interested in anything that would save him time in his farming operation.  He had been pleasantly surprised at how his purchase of a new Divco Model S delivery truck in 1936 had saved him time and money on the delivery route in the morning as opposed to delivering the milk with horses.  Now he turned his attention to the small period of time each day between noon-time dinner and the late afternoon when he began the evening milking chores.  It was during this short period of time each day that he was requirede to complete all his field work.  If some economical way could could be found to mechanize this portion of his work then he rally felt that he would be able to put his farming operation on a better financial basis.  He had been considering the purchase of a farm tractor for some time.  Over the last year he had been leaning toward the purchase of a Farmall F-12 tractor, from the Frank Goddard hardware store in Lowell, Massachusetts.  The Frank Goddard Hardware was the local International Harvester Company franchise holder for this area of Massachusetts.

With the growing season already well on the way in the summer of 1938, our concord Town farmer finally found a little time to drive over to Lowell to talk with Frank.  In order for the tractor to pay for itself, our Concord town farmer intended to use the tractor for nearly all his fieldwork.  Thus the tractor wpould require easy access to all areas of the farm.  This would include the field across the road from the homestead and other parcesl of land that were accessed by driving down the roads of his neighborhood.

The steady progress of paving the roads in the communities west of Boston would eventually result in the road past his farm being paved.  As convenient as a paved road would be, it would also mean that the road would be closed to tractors with steel lugs on the rear.  Local government were passing laws and ordinances to protect the the surface of asphault or cement highwaysfrom being torn up and ruined by tractors with steel wheels.  Thus the fields across the road or down the road from our Concord Town farmer’s house could become inaccessible with a steel wheeled tractor.  Accordingly, he concluded that any tractor that he purchased would have to have rubber tire on the front and rear from the start.  Rubber tires would increase the initial cost of any new farm tractor.  Our Concord Town farmer knew that the base price of a new Farmall  F-12 tractor would increase from $655 to $800 merely because of the addition of rubber tires to the front and rear of the tractor.  Nonetheless, he felt that the ability to easily access the fields down the road without trouble would pay off.

After talking with our Concord Town farmer for a short while, Frank Goddard called the International Harverster branch house, located at 61 North Beacon Street in the Alston area of Boston.  Because of its location in Boston, the transport hub for much of New England, the branch house at No. Beacon Street dealt predominately with International trucks.  Only secondarily did the branch house deal with farm equipment and tractors.  Luke E. W. Johnson served as the general manager of both trucks and machines at the branch house.  Johnson informed Frank Goddard that the branch house did indeed have a limited number of F-12 tractors.  However, none of them were fitted with a full set of rubber tires—front and rear.  Additionally, the branch house did not have extra tire rims for the rear of the F-12 tractor to swap out some rubber tires on the rea of one of the F-12s that they had in their inventory.  However, Luke Johnson did note that he had a new F-14 in his inventory which was already fitted with rubber tires in the front as well as the rear.  The rear tires on this tractor were mounted on International Harvester’s own 40-inch demountable rims.  This was an F-14 bearing the serial No. 132603.

Dairy Farming in Massachusetts (Part I)

                               Dairying in Eastern Massachusetts (Part 1)

by

Brian Wayne Wells

As published in the November/December 2003 issue of

Belt Pulley Magazine

The small hamlet of Concord, Massachusetts is famous in American history.  In 1775, a British arsenal was located there.  On April 19 of that year, British troops seeking to secure the arsenal from the increasingly rebellious Massachusetts colony, were marching from Boston harbor toward Concord, when they were met in Lexington, Massachusetts by a collection of militia, called Minutemen.  The Minutemen had been roused from their beds early in the morning of April 19 by Paul Revere.  At Lexington, on the road to Concord, a shot rang out which became known as the “shot heard around the world.”  The battle that ensued at Lexington was the start of the American Revolutionary War.

In 1775, Concord was one of many small communities that dotted the Massachusetts colony.  Farm families, living in or around the settlement of Concord and the other small villages of this part of Massachusetts raised food and products largely for their own use only—subsistence farming.  Boston had little economic connection with Concord or any of the other villages of the area except in its role as a sea port.  However, as time passed, Boston became more urban and was unable to produce the food required for its citizens.  Thus, the farms of the Concord moved into the “market economy” and began producing goods for sale in Boston.

In its role as one of the major international ports of the United States, Boston grew rapidly into a major metropolitan area.  One of the major food stuffs required by Boston was fresh milk—a great deal of fresh milk.  Because of this demand for milk and because of the rocky and hilly, timbered lands of eastern Massachusetts, it was natural that farmers there specialized in dairying.

Although there was a settlement which was referred to as the village of Concord, the term “Concord Town” referred to the geographical unit, which included the rural area around the village of Concord.  By 1938, Concord (1930 pop. 7,477) was beginning to lose its rural feel and was becoming a suburb of Boston.

One of the dairy farms that still operated in Concord Town in 1938 was operated by a particular farmer.  He lived on the 80-acre farm that had been in his father’s family dating back to the early 1800s.  He was married with four children.  Dairying had been a major part of his family farming operation since the beginning.  This job meant not only milking his herd of Guernsey cattle twice a day, but it also meant pasteurizing the milk in a large vat and then bottling the milk and delivering to the door of their customers along the milk route which was largely contained in the village of Lexington.

Chores began at 5 a.m. when our Concord Town farmer would leave the house to check on the fire in the boiler in the milk house prior to heading for the barn.  As he walked to the milk house one January morning in 1938, he noted that this January was having its share of unusually cold mornings.  Arriving at the milk house, he could hardly wait to get inside and close the door behind him.  Once inside, he found that there continued to be some warmth still emanating from the firebox of the boiler.  Good!  The fire wasn’t entirely out.  He carefully removed the ash from the stove, revealing the red embers from yesterday’s fire.  After adding a handful of cedar single kindling and loading up the firebox with an arm load of wood, our Concord Town farmer, adjusted the air vents on the door of the ash compartment.  Both vents controlled the size of the fire in the firebox and, thus, controlled the heat in the boiler.  Early in the morning on a cold winter’s day like this our Concord Town Farmer would open the air vents slightly more than usual to bring the fire quickly up to normal heat.

The firebox heated the boiler reservoir water tank located directly above the firebox.  Pipes leading from the reservoir water tank, wrapped themselves around a stainless steel tank in the milk house.  This tank contained the fresh milk from the previous evening’s milking.  Our Concord Town farmer now opened the valve on the water pipe to allow the water to start flowing through the pipes again.  The water from the boiler would flow through the pipes wrapped around the stainless steel tank would slowly begin to raise the temperature of the milk.  Raising the temperature of the milk to 72ºF would “pasteurize” the milk.  Pasteurizing the milk greatly reduces the microbial growth within the milk and prevents diseases that might be caused by drinking “raw” (unpasteurized) milk.  The temperature of the milk must be maintained at 72ºF for 12-15 seconds to be effective.   However, the temperature must not get above 72ºF, or the milk would “cook.”  Ever mindful that he did not want the temperature of the milk in the stainless steel tank to rise above 72º F, our Concord Town farmer positioned the air vents on the boiler to allow for a carefully controlled fire.  Checking the temperature of the milk in the stainless steel tank, he found that it was below 40º F.  On a morning like this there was no trouble keeping the milk cold enough.

Then he was off to the barn where his son had already begun feeding the cows silage and their ration of feed grain in the bunks in front of their stanchions.  Our Concord Town farmer took the mechanical milkers from their drying racks, where they had been placed after dismantling and washing following the previous evening’s milking chores.  The mechanical milkers were now re-assembled by placing the rubber inserts into each of the teat cups on the mechanical milker.  Then he started the little “hit and miss” engine that ran the vacuum pump.  The vacuum pump was connected to a pipeline that ran down each row of stanchions on either side of the alleyway in the barn.  These pipelines contained valves and nozzles located at each stanchion.  With a hose connected to the nozzle, the mechanical milker was placed on the first cow to be milked.  Vacuum held the mechanical milker on the teats of the cow being milked.  A “pulsator” converted the vacuum into an action of vacuum and release.  This pulsator action when applied to the rubber inserts inside the four teat holders, milked the cow better than if the cow had been milked by hand.  It took only a couple of minutes for the mechanical milker to empty all four “quarters” of the udder on the first cow.  Our Concord Town farmer then turned off the vacuum valve near the nozzle of the vacuum line and then removed the milker from the cow.  He then opened the lid of the milker and dumped the milk into a pail setting in the center of the alleyway of the barn.  Then, he attached the milker to the next cow to be milked.  While the milker was milking the next cow, our Concord Town Farmer took the pail out to the milk room in the barn and dumped the contents of the pail into the milk strainer which sat on top of a 10-gallon milk can.  The strainer would remove any large impurities, like a stems of straw, that may have made its way into the milk during the milking process.

Following the milking of the entire Guernsey herd, our Concord Town farmer would take the mechanical milkers up to the milk house.  There he would bleed off some of the hot water in the boiler reservoir tank and begin the process of disassembling, washing and disinfecting the various parts of the milkers.  The milking machines would then be hung up on the racks to allow the water to drain off and completely dry all parts of the mechanical milkers.

Meanwhile, his son harnessed up the horses and brought them around to the front of the barn and hitched them to the sled that contained all the milk cans that had been filled during the morning milking.  The sled would then be driven up to the milk house where the contents of each milk can would be dumped into the stainless steel tank with the milk from the previous evenings milking.

Our Concord Town farmer’s son would open the vents on the firebox of the boiler a little more to increase the heat of the fire.  He then added some more wood to the fire and then checked the thermometer in the stainless steel tank.  The temperature of the milk in the stainless steel tank must reach 72º F, but must not rise any higher.  The hot water circulating in the pipes leading from the boiler to the stainless steel tank and returning to the boiler, would gradually raise the temperature of the milk to 72º F.  It would take about three hours.  Time enough for the empty milk cans to be thoroughly, washed, disinfected and placed in a rack upside down to completely dry.

While he washed the milk cans, his son unhitched the sled and took the horses down to the barn, hitch up the Case No. 3 manure spreader, he then let all the cows out of their stanchions and allowed them to walk out of the barn to stretch the legs and to get a drink of water at the stock tank outside the barn.  Then he pulled the manure spreader into alley way of the barn.

On such a cold morning, his first task after crawling down from the manure spreader was to immediately close the barn doors behind the manure spreader in order to keep the warmth of the barn inside.  While the horses waited patiently harnessed to the front end of the manure spreader, he would clean out the gutters on either side of the alleyway.  Before loading the manure from the gutters into the manure spreader, our Concord Town farmer’s son slid his fork under each of the steel slats of the apron on the floor of the manure spreader.  He needed to make sure that none of the steel slats was still frozen to the wooden floor of the manure spreader.  He knew from experience that a broken apron chain would mean that the manure would have to be unloaded by hand, and that was something that he did not want to experience again.

After the gutters had been cleaned, he untied the reins of the harness from the left side of the manure spreader and drove the horses and the manure spreader out the doors at the opposite end of the barn into the cow yard.  Then, he returned to barn and put out fresh hay for the cows.  Meanwhile the lactating cows were starting to make their way back into the barn.  They moved by habit to their appropriate stanchion in the barn and began to eat the fresh hay that was being laid out for them.  On a usual morning, the lactating cows would have been in no hurry to get back into the barn.  And he might have to allow them to be outside for a while longer.  However, on this cold morning, the cows were gathered around the barn yard door, anxious to return to the warmth inside the barn.  Their coat of hair was rather thin and compared with the non-lactating cows and the yearlings who were used to the weather outside the barn.   After all the cows were back inside and fastened in their stanchions again, he would head to the fields with the load of manure.

He remembered to swing by the milk house on his way to the fields, just to pick up the pan of wood ashes from the boiler, which his father had places outside the milk house earlier in the morning.  The breath of the horses created visible steam as the horses walked out to the fields.  It was a cold morning, however, the sun was finally beginning to rise in the east.  He looked at the neighbors house on the next farm and saw that the smoke from the chimney was rising up into the clear sky in a tall straight ribbon.

While, our Concord Town farmer’s son was taking the manure to the field, his father was cleaning up around the milk house and kept watching the temperature of the milk in the stainless steel tank.  After about three hours, with the temperature at 72º F, the heating of the milk was stopped and then he began the bottling process.  Now, the newly pasteurized milk was bottled in one-quart bottles.  Our Concord Town farmer had ordered his bottles from the Warren Glasswork Company in New York City.  These glass bottles had been made with our Concord Township farmer’s name embossed on the side of the bottle.

As the individual bottles were filled with milk and capped, they were each placed in a bottle crate.  In summer these crates full of warm milk would have been moved immediately to the ice house on the farm to cool.  The “ice house” on the farm of our Concord Town farmer’s farm was really a cavern excavated out of a nearby hill.  On a winter’s day like this one, however, the bottled milk could merely be placed outside the milk house to be chilled.  On cold mornings like this one, the problem was to avoid having the bottled milk get too cold and to freeze inside the bottle.  Following the bottling process our Concord Town farmer went into the family’s house to get cleaned up and to change clothes.

After changing clothes, he went out to the shed and slid into the seat of his Divco Model S3 delivery truck.  The cream colored truck had his name emblazoned on both sides in bright red letters.

Divco had been designing motorized delivery vehicles since 1926.  The company had improved its basic truck model on many occasions in the intervening years.  In early 1931, the company ceased production of its Model G delivery truck and had introduced the Model H truck.  The Model H was a revolutionary new delivery truck.  It was the first truck with Divco’s patented “drop frame” design that allowed the operator to drive the little delivery truck from either a standing or seated position.  The dropped frame design allowed for the door of the delivery truck to be low to the ground that the floor of the cab was almost level to the average street curb.  This made for easy entry and exiting from the truck.  The Divco Model H was an ideal delivery vehicle.

However, only 702 Model H trucks had been manufactured by Divco.  Milk dealers still preferred the traditional horse and milk wagon to deliver their bottled milk.  It was the initial price of a truck that deterred our Concord Town farmer from mechanizing the delivery of milk by the purchase of a delivery truck.  The recent economic depression had made the purchase of a new truck even more unsupportable.  A Divco Model H truck cost $1,525.  As the economic depression stretched on over the following months, Divco reduced the price of its Model H truck to $1,295 in an attempt to become more competitive.  However, our Concord Town farmer continued to defer decision on buying a delivery truck.  He continued to use Mable, his old brown mare, to pull his DeKalb Company milk delivery wagon.

However, in 1935, the new Divco Model S truck was introduced.  The Model S was manufactured in two versions.  The larger heavier Model S4 truck was made to haul 47 cases of milk bottles.  The smaller Model S3 delivery truck could haul 39 cases of milk bottles.  The Model S3 Divco delivery truck weighed 500 pounds less than any previous delivery truck made by Divco.  The suggested retail price of the Model S3 truck was $1,140.

Considering the recovering economy and this new low price, our Concord Town farmer began to seriously consider how the purchase of a delivery truck, might greatly reduce the amount of time spent on the delivery route every morning and make his farming operation more profitable. So, just a few weeks ago, he purchased a 1936 Model S3 Divco delivery truck.  The old horse-drawn milk wagon was retired to the grove of trees on the farm.

The little Divco certainly paid for itself on cold mornings like this.  From the operator’s seat of the little delivery truck, our Concord Town farmer reached down with his left hand, through the spokes of the steering wheel and pulled the choke.  With his right hand, he pulled the starter switch to the “on” position.  A further pull on the ignition switch engaged the electric starter motor.  On this cold morning, the four cylinder 143 c. i. (cubic inch) engine turned over rather slowly.  He held the choke in the full choke position until the engine fired.  As soon as the 18 hp. (horsepower) engine sputtered and started to come to life, he adjusted the choke control to the “halfway” position.  He left his hand on the choke control and listened carefully to the engine for any sign that it may cease running.  He made sure that the transmission was in neutral and then slowly released the clutch/brake pedal.  There was a slight decrease in the speed of the engine as the main shaft of the transmission began to turn in the cold thick oil of the transmission.  On such a cold morning even the oil in the four speed transmission needed to be warmed up.  After a bit, he drove the truck out of the shed and down to the milk house.  There he loaded all the crates containing the bottled milk into the racks in the little Divco truck and secured them in place.  Then he drove the little delivery truck out of the yard and down the road in the direction of Lexington to start his delivery route.

Once he was headed down the road, he reached down and pushed the choke all the way in to the “off.” Position.  The truck was running fine now.  With its little engine humming along, the truck was reaching 25mph. (miles per hour).  Riding inside the Divco with the doors closed, the air inside the truck become warmer from the running engine, our Concord Town farmer reflected about how much faster and more convenient  the truck was for making deliveries than was his old horse-drawn milk wagon.

He could now cover the distance to Lexington in a fraction of the time that it would have taken with a horse and wagon.  The motor truck gave our farmer the edge over some other dairy farms in the competition for milk customers.  Most other dairy farms were still using horses for the delivery of milk.  Indeed, across the nation, the horse was still dominant in the door-to-door delivery business.  Use of a truck for deliveries gave our Concord Town farmer an important edge over even those dairy operations that may be located closer in proximity to the customers in Lexington.  The truck allowed him to come from a further distance and still have the milk on the door step of his customers in time for a late breakfast.  Yes, the Divco had made his dairy operation much more efficient.

He had inherited the milk route from his father, who had operated the dairy farm before him.  Over the years, his father and he had learned that the most successful advertising method was “word of mouth” between his customers and their neighbors.  In the winter of 1937-1938, a good four years after the worst portion of the Depression, he saw that his customer base starting to increase.  Indeed, in the nearly two years of his use of the Divco delivery truck on the milk route, our Concord Township farmer had been required to hold back some yearling heifers rather than sell them.  These heifers were needed to expand his milking herd to accommodate the new customers.

Turning down the street into one Lexington neighborhood, he depressed the single pedal on the floor of the truck.  Pushing the pedal part way down disengaged the clutch.  Pushing it down more applied the brakes of the vehicle.  He really couldn’t stand the idea of wasting gasoline, by leaving the truck running as he left the truck during the frequent stops along the route.  Accordingly, he turned the engine off while making each delivery.  Now that the engine was thoroughly warm he need not worry about re-starting the engine after the short stop.

With the pedal depressed in as far as possible, he slid the gear shift lever into the neutral position.  This procedure locked the brake petal in position to hold the brakes on while he left the truck to make the delivery.  In this way the emergency hand parking brake did not need to be applied during the frequent stops along his milk route.  This procedure speeded up the delivery process along the route.  He, then, picked up a wire basket and loaded it with three full bottles of milk and departed the truck.  He walked up the sidewalk leading to the front door of the house, but then detoured off onto the sidewalk, which lead around the large two story house to the back door, near the kitchen.  On the step of the back door, our Concord Town farmer found two of his empty bottles, which he picked up and placed in the wire basket he was carrying.  In their place he left two full bottles of milk.  Then he returned to the truck.

Once in the truck, he quickly closed the folding door and placed the empty bottles in the crate for empties and then put some more full bottles in the wire basket and then placed the wire basket back in its frame mounted on the floor of the truck.  Thus, the wire basket was held secure while he drove the truck to the next stop on his route.

Warm from the drive to Lexington, from the farm, the Continental engine in the little truck started almost immediately.  On the route, our Concord Town farmer preferred to drive the truck from the standing position as he drove from house to house.  Thus, he folded the collapsible driver’s seat up out of the way.  Divco trucks were famous for two sets of controls which allowed the driver to operate the vehicle from either the standing or seated position.  Thus, he slid the gear shift lever into first gear and touched the clutch/brake pedal with his foot.  This released the brake and gradually engaged the clutch all in one motion and the truck started moving off to the next stop on the route.  This next stop was his favorite stop on the route.  The woman that lived at this house had done a good job of advertising among her neighbors.  Accordingly, there were a number of customers’ houses at this single stop and he could make a number of deliveries without moving his truck.

He knew, by heart, how many bottles of milk to leave at every stop.  This usually resulted in leaving exactly the same number of full bottles for the number of empties that he found on the door step of each house.

However, if there were any special requests for more or less bottles of milk from any of his customers, there would usually be a note stuck into the opening of one of the empty bottles, advising him of such requests.  After about two hours of making deliveries he would reach the end of his route.  He then unfolded the operator’s seat and locked it into position.

He would sit down as he drove the little truck back to the farm.  He hunched forward, grabbed the top of the steering wheel with his hands, with his arms crossed at the wrists.  He leaned thoughtfully forward resting his forearms on the steering wheel as he drove back to the farm.

As he drove along his thoughts turned to the tasks that lay ahead on this day.  Following the morning chores and the delivery of the bottled milk to the customers, there was left only the early afternoon to complete any work on the farm.  In the early evening he would have to start the evening milking chores again.  This early afternoon period of time was the only time he had to accomplish anything not directly related to milking.  During the summer, all field work, all putting up hay in the barn and silo filling would have to be done only during the small amount of time available to him in the early afternoon.  He knew that he needed to make this short period of time in the afternoon as productive as possible.  He was aware, from the experience of some of his neighbors, that owning a farm tractor was one way in which his time in the field could be used more productively.  He speculated that the purchase of a farm tractor might prove to as productive as had the purchase of the Divco truck had already proved.  Arriving on his farm and after removing the crates of empty bottles into the milk house, he put the truck back in its own garage and went into the house for dinner.

In the same year, 1937, on a farm further west in Massachusetts, near the village of Winchendon. The Earl and Clara (Wright) Whitaker family were sharing most of the same experiences as our Concord Town farmer.  Prior to 1937, they had lived on a farm near Prescott, Massachusetts, where Earl served as the local postmaster while dairy farming on the side.  He used a horse and buggy to deliver his milk around the community of Prescott.

Later Earl and Clara would have a family that would consist of two sons, Raymond and Newell Vaughn Whitaker.  Raymond, the oldest son, would follow in his father’s footsteps.  As he grew up Raymond became more and more involved in the farming operation.  Eventually, he would take over the farming operation from his parents.  First, however, there would be many changes.

The whole community of Prescott had to face a challenge not familiar to farmers in most other parts of the nation.  In 1926, for the fourth time in its recent history, the metropolis of Boston was extending westward in Massachusetts to seek a source of fresh water.  Planning for a massive dam and a 412 billion gallon reservoir called the Quabbin Reservoir began in 1926.  Ten years later, in 1936, the Massachusetts legislature voted to start construction of the dam which would flood the entire Swift River Valley and obliterate the four towns of Dana, Enfield, Greenwich and Prescott.

Earl and Clara and their family were forced to move from their farm in 1937.  They moved north to the town of Winchendon, near the border with New Hampshire.  On a 300-acre farm they established their farming operation called the “Winchendon Dairy.”  Although the farm comprised of a total of 300 acres, only about 80 acres were arable.  The rest of the land was hilly and became permanent pasture and about 50 to 60 acres of the farm was a permanent wood lot.  The only alternative available to the Whitakers, other than retailing milk to local customers in nearby towns, was to sell the milk to large wholesalers who would pick up the milk in cans and ship the milk to Boston.

If sold to wholesalers, the milk would ride to Boston aboard “milk trains” that passed through mid-Massachusetts on railroad lines that connected Vermont with Boston.  Under the management of Earl, and later, Raymond, the Winchendon Dairy grew.  Their Holstein dairy herd grew to about 65 head of cattle.  Indeed, the dairy herd outgrew the ability of the farm to produce all the feed needed for the dairy cattle.  Thus, supplemental feed was purchased, from the citrus-growing area of Florida.  The feed was largely composed of orange peels and other citrus “waste” or by-product of the citrus production process.  However, the feed was proved to be quite palatable to the cows and actually smelled like raisins.  The feed arrived in bulk on board a train from Florida.

During each milking session—morning or evening—the Whitaker farm employed four of five milking machines to milk the entire herd of lactating cows.  Approximately 50 to 55 gallons were gathered from the Holstein herd at each milking session.  Even though all members of the family were involved in helping out with the farming operation on the Whitaker farm, it was still necessary to employ a hired hand to get all the work done.  In the post-World War II period, the Whitaker farm was sending two dark green International Model K-1 panel trucks out on local routes to deliver milk to customers.  The Winchendon Dairy slogan, “From Moo to You in an Hour or Two” was emblazoned on the sides of both panel trucks.  Later these trucks would be replaced with newer International Model R-1 panel trucks.

Raymond came of age on the Winchendon farm and married Phyllis Hall.  In the following years their family grew to include eight children.  In about 1948, Raymond took over operation of the farm himself.

Besides offering milk to their customers at the doorstep, the Winchendon Dairy farm offered their customers other food products such as eggs, chickens and vegetables all raised on the farm.  Every year about three acres of the farm was devoted to raising potatoes.  The potatoes, too, would for sold to their milk customers and to the public at large.  In the early spring, when temperatures began to fluctuate between 32ºF at night and 50ºF during the day, the Whitaker family knew that the sap in the maple trees would be starting to rise.  Each spring with the snow still lingering on the ground, the whole family, including the family dog—Cindy and later Blackie—would head for the wood lot.  There they would tap all the maple trees and then return each day, after tapping, top collect the accumulated sap.  From this sap, maple syrup would be made.  The syrup would, also, be offered for sale to the public.  Furthermore, the wood lot could be used to collect wire wood.  Of course, the family used some firewood themselves, but the surplus would also be sold to the public.

Both the Whitaker and the family of our Concord Town farmer found that the milking of their lactating cows, the processing of the milk and the delivery of the milk to customers occupied most of their day.  Our Concord Town farmer had always said that dairy farming was not as much a job as it was a “marriage.”  Dairying enveloped the whole life of the farmer.

Clearly, our Concord Town farmer’s day was crowded with work.  Thus, he was forced to means by which he could accomplish his farm work more efficiently.  Use of a farm tractor, as a source of power on his farm, offered the promise of making his work on the farm much more efficient.  Consequently, our Concord Town farmer began to seriously consider the possibility of purchasing a farm tractor.

He knew that some years earlier, the International Harvester Company had begun manufacturing a new little Farmall tractor—the Model F-12.  This tractor was appealing to him because of the mounted two-row cultivator that would accompany this tractor.  Cultivation of corn occupied a great deal of his summer each year.  With horses he cultivated one-row at a time.  It was his hope to get over his corn tree times before late-July.  By mid-July the corn was too tall to cultivate.  Cultivation at that stage tended to do more harm than good to the corn.  In reality, it was unusual that he ever completed three full cultivations of his corn field.  There just was not enough time.  The promise of cultivating two-rows at a time with a tractor meant that our Concord Town farmer would be able to cut the cultivation time in half.  His plan to purchase a farm tractor was much on his mind during that January of 1938.  Over the last year or so, he had also been attracted by the cheap price of the Farmall F-12.  For a small farm like his, our Concord Town farmer knew that the Farmall F-12 was the right size.  If he were to make the investment in a farm tractor, it would appear that the tractor would have to be an F-12.

The 1938 Rasmus Thronson Farmall F-12 Tractor

The Farmall F-12 (Part III):

The 1938 Rasmus Thronson Farmall F-12 Tractor

by

Brian Wayne Wells

with the assistance of

Elvin Papenhausen of Princeton, Minnesota

 As published in the September/October 2003 issue of

Belt Pulley Magazine

 

As noted earlier the “waist” of Minnesota is the narrow part of the state, as it appears on a map.  (See the article called “The Possible Story of One”  Part I of the Loren Helmbrecht Tractor contained in the May/June 2003 issue of Belt Pulley magazine at page 28.)  The waist is located roughly half way between the northern and southern parts of the state.  Located in the waist, bordering Sherburne County on the north side is Mille Lacs County.  (See the above-cited article for a description of Sherburne County.)   This area of the State of Minnesota is where the deciduous hardwood forests of the southeastern portion of the State end and the northern coniferous forests begin.  (Theodore C. Blegen, Minnesota: A History of the State [University of Minnesota Press: Minneapolis, 1963] p. 11.)  The pine and fir trees of the northern coniferous forests spring from the same sandy soil that covers Mille Lacs County.  As described in an earlier article, the sandy soil of the area had made the area of Sherburne and Mille Lacs County a good place to raise potatoes.  Potato farming had thrived in the area of Mille Lacs and Sherburne Counties since 1890.  (See “The Possible Story of One F-12” cited above.)  In 1908, potato marketing cooperative associations began making their appearance in the State of Minnesota.  (Blegen at p. 399.)  In 1920, the Minnesota Potato Exchange was formed.

Princeton Minnesota (1920 pop. 1,685) served as a marketing outlet for the area potato crop.  Indeed, in 1901 and 1902 Princeton became the largest primary potato market in the Northwest.  One of the major potato buyers in Princeton was  O.J. Odegard Farms Inc.  Although, the Odegard family operated their own potato and onion growing operations on their own farm called “the bog,” Odegard’s served as a major buyer of potatoes for the entire Princeton area.  During the potato harvest in the fall of the year, the Odegard warehouse, located on 2nd South Street became a major employer in town.  Potatoes were received washed and packed into 100 lbs. sacks and loaded onto freight cars of the Great Northern Railroad.  The Great Northern tracks ran through town, north towards the county seat of Milaca and south to the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul.  The loading of the freight cars took place at the Great Northern Railroad Depot which is located at 10th Avenue and 1st Street in Princeton.  (This depot is now the home of the exhibits and library materials of the Mille Lacs County Historical Society.)  The potatoes were sold to wholesalers in Minneapolis.

Not only did Odegards hire on employees to work the harvest and processing of potatoes in the fall of the year, but they also hired on teenagers all summer to work on their hands and knees weeding the fields of their own farm in the bog.  This made Odegards the largest employer in the Princeton area.  (Taken from the manuscript called Memories of Princeton, Minnesota by Elvin Papenhausen.)

Princeton even developed into a market for the “culls” or unsatisfactory potatoes that potato growers could not sell on the edible potato market.  These cull potatoes were used in the manufacture of commercial starch.  On March 26, 1890 the Princeton Potato Starch Company was incorporated and a factory was built.  The factory was so busy processing cull potatoes that the factory operated both day and night.  Later a second starch factory was built in Princeton.   (From an internet document called “History of Princeton, Minnesota.”)

In 1919, following, the First World War, the International Harvester Company made their first major corporate acquisition since 1904, when they purchased the Parlin & Orendorff  (P. & O.)  Company of Canton, Illinois.  (C.H. Wendel, 150 Years of International Harvester [Crestline Pub.: Sarasota, Fla., 1981], p. 31.)  Along with their famous line of plow, the P. & O. Company also had introduced a mechanical potato digger several years prior to the merger with International Harvester.  The International Harvester Company inherited this horse-drawn mechanical potato digger.  (Ibid. p. 237.)  In 1920, International Harvester continued production of this potato digger, with some substantial improvements.  The potato digger was called the McCormick-Deering Model No. 6 potato digger.  (Ibid.)  One of the improvements of the Model No. 6 over the prior P.&O. Company potato digger was the rod-link chain apron.  The potatoes would travel over the moving apron which would shake off all the dirt.  The potatoes would then be deposited on top of the ground in plain view for the field hands to collect.  (Ibid.) 

In 1920 the local International Harvester dealership franchise in Princeton, Minnesota may have been held by the owner and operator of the local hardware store.  Starting in 1920, the International Harvester dealership in Princeton was able to compete in the potato growing market by supplying the area potato farms with mechanical potato diggers.  In 1921, International Harvester introduced the new McCormick-Deering potato planter.  Together the Model No. 6 potato digger and the new McCormick-Deering potato planter allowed the dealership in Princeton to prosper all through the early part of the 1920s.  Sales of farm equipment allowed the hardware store to advertise employment for a position of farm equipment sales person.

In answer to the newspaper advertisement of the position of sales person at the hardware store an ambitious 24-year-old man by the name of Floyd Hall arrived in Princeton. Born in Henry, South Dakota, on January 30, 1896 to W. K. and Grace (Henry) Hall, Floyd had married Eva Leathers on October 11, 1916.  Eva was also from the town of Henry.  In 1918, while still living in Henry, Eva had given birth to their son, Willard F. Hall.  Now in 1920, she was pregnant again with a daughter.  Marjorie Hall was born to the couple in December of 1920. Continue reading

Belt Pulley Magazine Articles by Brian Wayne Wells