The Horn Manufacturing Company of Fort Dodge Iowa
Brian Wayne Wells
as published in an issue of
Hart-Parr/Oliver Collectors Magazine
The winter of 1994 issue of the Hart-Parr/Oliver Collectors Magazine carried an excellent article by Bob Tallman on the various “short line” distributors or manufacturers of farm equipment which the Oliver Corporation used to fill out their line of equipment available at local Oliver dealerships. (Bob Tallman, “Allied Equipment,” Hart-Parr/Oliver Collectors Magazine, Volume 5, No. 3, [Winter 1994] p. 9.) One of the short line companies mentioned in that article was the Horn Manufacturing Company, manufacturers of the famous Horn-draulic loader. The Horn Company story is one that needs elaboration.
Paul Horn had immigrated from Germany in 1902 and worked at the Fort Dodge Planing Mill until 1904 when he married. After living in Minneapolis, Minnesota for three years, the couple returned to Fort Dodge in 1908 and built the house that later became known as the “Horn Home”–a local landmark located at Sixth Avenue South and Twelfth Street. The couple had six children. In 1909, Paul Horn founded the Paul Horn Cabinet Works. The Paul Horn Cabinet Works flourished and later became incorporated as the Horn Manufacturing Company. In 1922, Paul Horn invented the “Horn Folding Partitions” for use in schools and other public buildings. These partitions were a handy way of temporarily dividing large gymnasiums for practice sessions and physical education courses in schools across the nation. In 1938, Horn also invented “Horn Folding Bleachers” for use in school gymnasiums.
The Horn Company manufactured their products in two Quonset buildings that they built on a 23-acre site west of Fort Dodge, Iowa. This triangular-shaped piece of property had originally been owned by Martin Fireworks Company. Safe storage of fireworks required dispersion of the fireworks into several small storage facilities. Consequently, when the Horn Company bought the property they found many small buildings scattered around the site.
During the Second World War, the Horn Company was commissioned to make large airplane hanger doors for military installations around the United States. Indeed, for the duration of the war, these doors were the only product that the Horn Company could make. Use of steel was regulated by the United States Government and could only be purchased for use in products directly related to the war effort.
Although the 23-acre Horn Company site was served by a spur from the Great Western Railroad line which ran along the east side of property, during this time the Company found that it was much more efficient to have their own trucks deliver the doors to their locations rather than rely on the railroads. Therefore, twenty IHC K-8 trucks were purchased along with thirty Freuhauf flatbed trailers for transporting the big hanger doors to military airfields as far away as Alaska. At the peak of production, the Company was making a set of doors each day. The trucks would return from a trip, be unhooked from the empty flatbed, attached to a loaded flatbed and ready to go again within hours.
In 1943, Paul Horn retired and left management of the Company to his four sons–Herbert (born in 1906), Frederic (born in 1909), Walter (born in 1912) and Robert (born in 1914). Herbert became president of the Company.
Amid the celebration of the end of the war in 1945, there was the harsh realization for the Horn Company that soon there would be no more contracts for hanger doors from the government. Indeed, one Friday in late 1945, after V-J Day on September 2, a telephone call from Washington, D.C. informed them that no more purchases of hanger doors would be forthcoming. It was a pretty gloomy day for the management and employees of the Horn Company. Production of the only product for which the Company had been tooled for the last three-and-a-half years was to end as soon as all current contracts were filled. Furthermore, the return to production of gymnasium partitions and bleacher seats was not a promising prospect given the fact that the economy immediately following the war showed little hope that a great number of new schools were going to be built in the near future. Many companies were unable to re-tool and find a niche in the peacetime market and went out of business. This same prospect was a very real possibility for the Horn Company in the late fall of 1945. Frederic Horn, who now lives in San Marcos, California, remembers that following this gloomy Friday he had a chance to be uptown in Fort Dodge. He stopped in at a familiar meeting place for the citizens of Fort Dodge at that time–the local Sears and Roebuck Company outlet store. Reflecting on the problems facing the Horn Company, he asked the manager of the Sears store, in an off-handed way, whether there were any products which the Horn Company could make for Sears. The manager replied that there was a terrific demand for wagon boxes. This started the Horn brothers thinking about a new product for their company.
During the pre-war period, grain boxes for wagons had changed from the very narrow straight-sided “triple box” design to the “flare box” in which the top part of the wagon box flared outward at an angle over the wheels of the running gear. The flare box offered greatly increased volume inside the box while retaining a low center of gravity. However, the boxes continued to be made exclusively of wood and continued to be painted green no matter who the manufacturer happened to be.
The discussion undertaken by the Horn brothers about the production of wagon boxes soon centered around whether an all-steel flare-type grain box would sell in the domestic farm market which had been accustomed to only wooden boxes. Frederic and his brother Robert, who now lives in Florida, were in favor of building a prototype and testing the waters of the domestic farm market. Their brother Herbert was opposed, but soon changed his mind and prototypes of the proposed 105-bushel all-steel flare-type wagon box were built.
In anticipation of the entry of the Company into production of farm equipment, the Company was divided down the middle. The two new companies were the Horn Brothers Company, which continued with the production of gymnasium dividers, folding bleachers and hanger doors, and the Horn Manufacturing Company, which was to make the new all-steel flare-type wagon box. Additionally, the 23-acre site was also divided right down the middle. The western part, where the two Quonset buildings were located, was to belong to the Horn Brothers Company, while a new larger facility was erected on the eastern half of the property for the Horn Manufacturing Company.
Word of the new all-steel wagon boxes being made in Fort Dodge spread, and soon Sears and Roebuck Company contacted the Horn Manufacturing Company to have a look at the new prototypes. When the Sears representatives arrived in Fort Dodge in February of 1946, they asked if they could test one of the prototypes. Horn Manufacturing Company officials agreed, and the Sears team set about putting the box on a steel-wheeled running gear, loaded the box to the top with sand, and proceeded to pull the wagon over the frozen rough ground as fast as the tractor would go. The Horn Manufacturing Company management watched nervously from a car following the wagon full of sand on that cold February day. After pulling the wagon full of sand over the frozen roads around their Fort Dodge plant, the Sears team then pulled the loaded wagon into a ditch and out again! This was much more than normal abuse for a wagon box! Then the Sears team unloaded the sand and proceeded to look for cracks in the box. They did not find any cracks, and soon the Sears and Roebuck Company signed a contract to purchase a large number of the all-steel boxes to be included in their David Bradley line of farm equipment. Sears immediately discontinued the wooden barge-style box they had advertised in the Spring/Summer 1946 catalogue and introduced the all-steel flare-type 570-pound wagon box in the Fall/Winter 1946 catalogue. The price for the box was $91.90. The advertisement in the Sears catalogue stressed the ruggedness of the wagon box and showed a drawing of the wagon box being severely twisted as the wagon gear was being pulled over a rock. The Horn Company management probably thought this was considerably understating the facts, given the severity of the test they had witnessed the previous spring!
The Sears contract was the saving grace for the Horn Company in the period immediately following the war. Sears was later to renew the contract on an annual basis and would eventually buy 10,000 all-steel wagon boxes per year under the contract. In accordance with the tradition that wagon boxes were painted green, the all-steel flare-type grain boxes which were sold to Sears for the first year of the contract were painted lime-green. The particular shade of lime-green was chosen to match the David Bradley color scheme of red and green. Paint numbers to this lime-green paint exist, but cannot be easily cross-referenced to NAPA (Martin-Senour) numbers or to current DuPont numbers. W.G. Humphreys, editor of the David Bradley Newsletter, reports that best results in reproducing this lime-green paint have been obtained by mixing equal parts of the old style John Deere green (Martin-Senour 90R-3737) with John Deere yellow (Martin-Senour 90T-3739).
Sales of the wagon box by Sears was so successful that after that first year Sears felt confident enough to defy custom and they changed the color of the wagon box to David Bradley red. Consequently, all wagon boxes sold by Sears under the David Bradley name, after the first year, were painted David Bradley red. David Bradley red is correctly emulated these days by use of Massey-Ferguson tractor red (Martin-Senour 4763). Although the overwhelming number of David Bradley wagon boxes seen today are red in color, a few samples of the green David Bradley wagon boxes dating from that first year of production can still be found around the midwest.
Horn also sold the identical all-steel flare-type wagon box under their own name. This box was painted red, stenciled with the Horn Manufacturing Company name and trimmed with some pin-striping. The Horn Company used “International Red” for all products sold under the Horn name. This paint is now known as “Farmall Red” (Martin-Senour 99-4115) to distinguish the paint from the newer darker shade of red used on current IHC equipment. International Red became the company’s standard paint which was used on all the farm equipment manufactured under the Horn Company name.
In 1947, the Horn Manufacturing Company expanded their line of farm equipment to include the farm tractor loader which became known as the “Horn-draulic” loader. The Horn-draulic loader had two hydraulic cylinders which were mounted vertically on either side of the tractor. These cylinders were connected to a 3/8-inch steel cable which did the lifting of the loader. The result, as Bob Tallman wrote in his article “Allied Equipment,” was “a loosely connected arrangement that was like the ears of a flopsy mopsy cottontail rabbit.” (Ibid., p. 10.) Nonetheless, in the post-war farm market there was much pent-up demand for new products to make farming easier, and the Horn-draulic loader sold so well that it soon passed up the all-steel wagon box as the Horn Company’s leading farm equipment product. This loader was also painted with the same red paint as the all-steel wagon box.
As noted in the Tallman article, the Horn Company developed a close relationship with Oliver Company for the marketing of the Horn-draulic loader. Consequently, the Horn-draulic was sold at Oliver dealerships around the nation. Because some International Harvester dealerships found that early designs of the IHC tractor loader were awkward and cumbersome, these dealerships marketed the Horn-draulic loader in their dealerships as a substitute for the unwieldy early IHC loader. (Examples of the awkward IHC loaders can be seen in the 1944 IHC promotional movie “One-Man Harvesting.”)
Modifications were made to the Horn-draulic loader and separate models of the Horn-draulic were introduced for different styles of tractors available during the post-war period. The advertisement contained in the Bob Tallman article at page 11 of the Winter issue of the Hart-Parr/Oliver Collector magazine, which probably dates from 1949, shows that five different models of Horn-draulic loader were available at that time: the original cable-type loader, made for row-crop style tractors; the Conversion Loader, for wide front-end row-crop tractors; the standard-type loader for large standard style tractors (i.e., the Case D, LA and S; International W-6 and W-9; John Deere AO, AR, BR and D; Massey-Harris 30, 44 and 55; Minneapolis-Moline UTS; and, of course, Oliver 70, 77, 88, 90 and 99 Standard tractors); the “Ford-type” loader for smaller utility style tractors (i.e., the Ford 8N and Ford/Ferguson 9N and the Oliver 60 and 66 Standards); and another style of loader was designed for the emerging crawler market (i.e., John Deere MC and Oliver/Cletrac HG42 and HG68). The advertisement boasts that various models of the Horn-draulic loader were designed to fit over 52 different tractors. For the tractors without hydraulics the Horn Company sold Char-Lynn pumps under the name “Horn-draulic Power Units.”
Due to the tremendous sales of the loader and the wagon box, the Horn Company opened an Export Office in Chicago and eventually had a plant in Cardiff, England to capitalize on the farm market in Europe. Domestically, along with the close relationship with Oliver and Sears, the Horn Company also marketed their farm equipment in the United States through the plethora of independent farm equipment dealerships which sprang up after the Second World War. One such independent dealership was Becker and Preuhs. This business was started by George Becker, Wilfred Preuhs and Alvin Preuhs in 1947, and was located behind the Wilke Hotel at about 107 North Main Street in LeSueur, Minnesota (1940 pop. 2,302). The business was chiefly an auto and tractor repair business; however, they also sold some short line farm equipment. Among the products sold by Becker and Preuhs were Ferguson plows and the Horn-draulic loader.
Near the end of 1947, one particular cable-type Horn-draulic loader, adorned with its coat of red paint and its “Horn-draulic” decals on the upper end of the boom arms on both sides of the loader, came out of the Horn plant at Fort Dodge, Iowa. The loader was part of an order of farm equipment destined for the Becker-Preuhs dealership. Although the Horn Company preferred to use their trucks for delivery of their products whenever possible, Becker and Preuhs had specified delivery by railroad because the Chicago Northwestern train depot in LeSueur was only about two blocks from their dealership.
Therefore, the loader and other equipment was loaded into a boxcar which was to become part of a train moving north out of Fort Dodge on the Minneapolis-St. Louis Railway.
Across the very flat plains of northern Iowa rode the loader in the late fall of 1947. The cornstalks revealed that the corn had been picked, and many fields had already been plowed to bury the corn stalks in an attempt to defeat the corn borer which had caused $50 million dollars worth of damage to the nation’s corn crop in 1947. The train passed through the Iowa towns of Humboldt (pop. 4,794) and Livermore (pop. 490) before connecting with the Chicago-Northwestern Railroad at LuVerne (pop. 418) and moving across North Central Iowa, through Algona (pop. 6,289), before crossing the Minnesota border at Elmore, Minnesota (1940 pop. 935). The boxcar with the Horn-draulic loader then passed by the Stokley-Van Camp cannery in Winnebago, Minnesota (1940 pop. 1,992) and proceeded on north past the sweet corn fields which served the cannery and the seed corn fields of Northrup-King in southwestern Blue Earth County. On the train went, until it arrived at the Chicago & Northwestern junction in Lake Crystal, Minnesota (1940 pop. 1,319). Here the boxcar containing the Horn-draulic loader was switched to a train headed east to Mankato and then north up the lovely Minnesota River valley. (Commercial advertising by the Green Giant Company, located in LeSueur, Minnesota, at that time, had dubbed the Minnesota River Valley as the “Valley of the Jolly Green Giant.”) Although the tree foliage was now beyond its peak, the valley remained beautiful, even this late in the season. Arriving in LeSueur, the Horn-draulic loader, along with the rest of the other Horn equipment, was off-loaded at the LeSueur depot where the order was picked up by employees of Becker and Preuhs and taken to the dealership.
By and large, the farms around the LeSueur area were diversified, each with their own dairy herd. Dairy farming was hard work, but provided a regular income. However, one of the problems faced by dairy farmers each year was the big pile of manure that built up outside their barns. A track supporting a dump bucket was loaded with manure from the gutters of the barn each morning after milking. The bucket was then wheeled along the track, down the alleyway of the barn, and out the door into the cow yard where the manure was dumped into a pile. There is an old saying, mentioned in the IHC promotional movie Keep It Moving, that a country banker, when driving down the road, could make a pretty fair estimate of the worth of a farming operation by looking at the size of the manure pile outside the barn. The bigger the pile, the more cows, indicating a strong base of regular income for the farm and therefore a good credit risk.
That big manure pile created a major problem, though, in the summer when it had to be moved to the field. Farmers in the LeSueur area had for years been tackling this problem by hand, one “forkful” at a time, loading the spreader full from the pile and trying to get a load to the field during brief lulls in their field work. It was a summer-long effort to reduce a manure pile! No wonder, then, the hydraulic farm tractor loader was such an attraction to farmers. It promised a much quicker and easier method of disposing large piles of manure.
One LeSueur area farmer who was curious about hydraulic loaders was Edwin Reddemann. In 1948, Edwin and Mary (Krentz) Reddemann and their sons Eugene and Ivan operated the 80 acres that they owned and another 80 acres that they rented. Although the Reddemann farm was to become a predominately Oliver equipment farm, the tractor purchased by Edwin Reddemann in 1948 was a new Farmall H. One of the most attractive features of the Farmall H which Edwin Reddemann noticed was the built-in Touch-O-Matic hydraulic system. He could see the possibilities of mounting a loader on the H without the need of a Char-Lynn auxiliary unit. This would leave the power take-off shaft on the Farmall H free for other farm operations even while the loader remained on the tractor. The Reddemanns had converted their four-wheel horse-drawn New Idea manure spreader so that it could be towed by a tractor.
In early 1948, Edwin Reddemann conceived of a plan to tackle the manure pile on the east side of his barn. He reasoned that if the farmers of his neighborhood worked cooperatively each year for threshing and silo filling, why couldn’t they do the same to spread the manure from the piles on their respective farms. He proposed to his neighbors Clarence Preuhs (brother of Wilfred Preuhs) and Adolph Preuhs that they all combine their finances to purchase a loader. The idea was approved and soon the three families purchased a Horn-draulic loader from the Becker and Preuhs dealership.
That summer during the short lull in the harvest season, just after harvesting the wheat and oats and before silo filling, when field space became available in the wheat and oat fields to spread the manure, the neighbors gathered at the Reddemann farm with their tractors and manure spreaders. Clarence Preuhs arrived on the Reddemann farm driving his John Deere M and tractor-drawn two-wheeled manure spreader across the field path that connected the Reddemann farm with the driveway to the Clarence Preuhs farm (this path was jokingly referred to as Interstate #169 South!). Adolph Preuhs appeared with his four-wheeled New Idea manure spreader pulled by his John Deere H. The east end of the Reddemann barn overlooked a hill, requiring the tractor and loader to work on the pile going up hill. Nonetheless, the loader kept three manure spreaders busy going to and from the fields. Quickly, the Reddemann manure pile was reduced to nothing and with much less effort than in previous years. Once the job was completed at the Reddemann farm, the loader was removed from the Reddemann Farmall H and mounted on Clarence Preuhs’ 1945 John Deere A. Then the next day they gathered on the 140-acre Clarence Preuhs farm. On the south side of the barn was a year’s worth of manure from the dairy herd. Working all that day, the pile was rapidly hauled to the field. Next the Horn-draulic loader was switched to the Adoph Preuhs’ 1941 John Deere A for work on their manure pile.
Fascinated with this process on each farm was the next generation; Ivan Reddemann, Richard and Dave Preuhs, and Adolph’s grand-nephew Orval Loewe. For them it was a great adventure, just like threshing season and silo filling season. Soon these boys became the drivers of the tractors pulling the loaded manure spreaders to the fields. As boys do, they became involved in hijinks on many occasions. One time as Ivan and Richard were spreading in tandem across the field, Ivan’s spreader pulled slightly ahead in their “race” to the other end of the field. A rock in the manure flew out of Ivan’s spreader and hit Richard in the mouth. Luckily, no permanent damage was done, but the boys learned that farm work was not a game. Before heading out “I-169” on the way to the fields on the Reddemann farm, the boys would stop at an apple tree at the edge of the yard to get some apples which were just starting to ripen. It was a great time. The memories of that time linger to this day in the minds of these boys, Ivan Reddemann, Oral Loewe and Dave Preuhs, who are now operating the same farms.
These days, Ivan Reddemann (long-time member of the Hart-Parr/Oliver Collectors Association and most eligible bachelor in Tyrone Township) lives alone on the Reddemann farm with his dog Barney. (Barney is a wanderlust dog: when things get a little slow around the Reddemann farm, Barney looks for the nearest school bus and follows it the seven or eight miles to town. He has learned that school buses mean kids who love to play with dogs. Generally, however, playtime is rather short at school before the first bell sounds and Barney is usually “arrested” by the LeSueur City police who know him by name. Ivan is then called to bring Barney home.) Ivan no longer milks cows, but raises beef calves and still uses the Horn-draulic loader to clean out the inside of his barn. The loader is now permanently mounted on the 1948 Farmall H. Rather than the tine bucket which came with the loader, Ivan uses a homemade snow bucket. Despite the heavier load, the Horn-draulic loader continues to function well. Once while the loader was being used to fill tiling ditches, the tractor and loader tuned over on its side, breaking a side arm on the loader. This damage was repaired by Glendon Braun, a local farmer and master welder. Despite the additional supporting braces that were welded onto the loader at that time, the loader remains in the same general appearance as when it was purchased in 1948.
The Horn family sold their interests in the Horn Manufacturing Company to AVCO Manufacturing Company in April of 1951. AVCO assigned the operations of the Horn Company to its New Idea Farm Equipment Division. Horn loaders under the New Idea name continued to be manufactured in the Fort Dodge facility along with stalk choppers and fertilizer spreaders. In 1953, AVCO/New Idea expanded the Fort Dodge facility by adding 33,400 square feet of floor space to the existing plant. By 1954, the plant employed 115 workers and had the capability to produce 1,500 loaders, 300 fertilizer spreaders and 1000 stalk shredders per month when working at full capacity. In 1955, the manufacture of fertilizer spreaders was moved to the AVCO/New Idea facility in Collegeville, Pennsylvania. Nonetheless, the Fort Dodge plant continued to produce loaders and by 1960 was employing 300 workers and manufacturing the New Idea hay conditioner. Although AVCO\New Idea has since been sold to other concerns, the manufacture of farm equipment continues to this day at the Fort Dodge factory that originally produced the Horn-draulic loader on the 23-acre Horn Company site.
The Horn Brothers Company, which made the gymnasium partitions and bleacher seats, was sold to the Brunswick-Balke-Collender Company of Chicago, Illinois in 1952. Immediately after the sale, all operations for the manufacture of bleachers and gymnasium partitions located on the western side of the original 23-acre Horn Company site were removed from Fort Dodge to other Brunswick facilities around the nation.
The Horn-draulic loader continues to be a useful tool on some modern-day farms even to the present day. Whether it survives as a useful working tool or as a restoration project, the Horn-draulic loader will continue to serve as a salute to the people involved in the design, manufacture and use of this pioneering farm loader and as a salute to American agriculture.