Oliver Farm Equipment in Mower County, Minnesota (Part III):
After the War
Brian Wayne Wells
The end of the Second World War in September of 1945 brought about sudden changes in the farm equipment market. During the war, farm equipment companies all across the United States had been severely restricted in the amount of farm tractors and equipment they had been allowed to make. With the end of the war, these companies were scrambling to re-tool for civilian production.
Through out the rural areas of the United States, farmers, who had been unable to obtain any new farm machinery during now flooded their local farm equipment dealers to buy new farm equipment as it became available. One of the farmers seeking to modernize his farming operation with new farm equipment was a particular farmer in Nevada Township, in southern Mower County, Minnesota. As noted earlier (see the previous article in this series of articles “Oliver Farm Equipment in Mower County, Minnesota [Part II]: Soybeans” contained at the blog on this website), out Nevada Township farmer had in the spring of 1945, joined the growing number of farmers across the United States who were planting soybeans. Experiments in raising soybeans had been going on for many years prior to the war. However, only with the massive new demand for plastic for the production of cowlings, turrets and windscreens for modern aircraft for the war effort, did the simple little soybean become a large nationwide farm product. Accordingly, the price of soybeans rose from its pre-war level of around 90¢ per bushel to a high of $2.10 per bushel in November of 1945.
Our Nevada Township farmer realized the value of diversifying his farming operation into the production of soybeans almost immediately in the fall of 1945. The growing season of 1945 had proved to be a dry season with insufficient rain for the crops. Our Nevada Township farmer corn crop had suffered. He harvested about 1/3 corn less in 1945 than in a normal year because of the dry conditions. Because the drought seemed to be localized to southern Minnesota, there was no large drop off in production of corn nationwide which might have resulted in higher prices for corn harvested in 1945. Therefore, our Nevada Township farmer and his neighbors in the drought area of southern Minnesota suffered a double blow. They did not have much crop to bring to market and the smaller crop they had did not bring a price high enough to offset the reduced volume of crop. This situation might have put a real strain on his farm income and budget for the coming year, 1946, had it not been for the soybean crop. The 1945 soybean crop had weathered the dry growing season in better shape than the corn. As a result, there was only a 9.4% decline in the soybean harvest on his farm. Furthermore, the price of soybeans actually rose to a new record high level in the fall of 1946. This higher price was sufficient to offset the loss felt by our Nevada Township farmer to his farm income caused by the drought of 1945. So the diversification into soybeans had saved the farm income from a loss in 1945.
As he looked to the future, however, our Nevada Township farmer was worried. Like everyone else, he had come to think of plastics as only a wartime product. He did not see any peacetime use for plastics. Thus, he expected soybean prices to fall with the end of the war. There were, however, reports that the industry was finding new peacetime uses for plastics. Our Nevada Township farmer was skeptical of these forecasts—thinking them just so much wishful thinking. However, he could not argue with the fact that the price of soybeans remained high throughout the winter of 1945-1946 and into the early spring of 1946. Based on this continued high price of soybeans, our Nevada Township farmer determined to plant soybeans again on his farm in the spring of 1946. However, he remained uneasy about the future of soybeans and as a result he planted only the same amount of acres to soybeans as he had planted the previous spring—in 1945.
In the coming growing season, 1946, our Nevada Township farmer could look forward to having more help on his farm. His two grown sons had been away at war in the Pacific Theater. He and his wife were extremely thankful when the war in the Pacific had ended and the news arrived that both sons would be home in time for Thanksgiving. Accordingly, Thanksgiving of 1945 was glorious. Our Nevada Township farmer and his wife could not help noticing how the boys had changed. They were much more mature. They were no longer boys. They each had their own ideas about things. Our Nevada Township farmer now faced some discontent from his sons regarding the farming operation. His sons wanted to upgrade the farming operation by getting some new tractors and new farm equipment. His sons encouraged him to trade in both old tractors on a new post-war tractor with electric starting, electric lights, hydraulics, rubber tires and faster speeds. Our Nevada Township farmer resisted making any new purchases of arm equipment this year. Despite the continuing high soybean prices, he was still unsure how crop prices would be maintained now that the war was over. At the end of the First world war in 1918, there had been a severe economic downturn in the economy that had lasted through 1921. He thoroughly expected another such economic recession following this most recent world war. Still, he did, however, have one improvement in mind.
The end of the war now meant that rubber was now available for civilian manufacture. During the winter of 1945-46, after rubber tires became available, again. Our Nevada Township farmer sought to convert his 1937 Oliver/Hart-Parr Model 28-44 tractor over to rubber tires. This tractor was old now and, as a standard tractor, was outdated, but it had been his first tractor and he was somewhat partial to it. He didn’t really want to part with it. The Oliver Farm Equipment Company had been offering a conversion to rubber tires as a package deal for the Model 28-44 since 1935. The cost of this package had been $353.00 plus the cost of labor in 1935. Now in 1946, the price was higher due to inflation. This was more than our Nevada Township farmer wished to spend, but he did have another idea. While he did go to Thill Implement to purchase new rims for rubber tires for the front end of the tractor, he jacked up the rear end of his Model 28-44 tractor and removed the steel wheels from the rear of the tractor and loaded them into the back of his 1939 Chevrolet Model JD ¾-ton truck. He drove the truck with the wheels to the Attlesey Blacksmith Shop in Lyle, Minnesota. As noted earlier, Harry Attlesey owned this blacksmith shop on the north end of town. (See the second article in this series of articles “Oliver Farm Equipment in Mower County, Minnesota [Part II]: Soybeans” contained at the blog on this website.)
Over the winter of 1945-1946, however, Harry had been making a good income from cutting the outer steel bands (or “tires”) off of steel wheels of various tractors and welding new open rims for rubber tires onto the centers of those same wheels. In this way, rubber tires could then be mounted onto the rear tractor wheels. Harry now did this for the wheels brought to him by our Nevada Township farmer. He cut the flat-spoke centers out of the steel wheels and welded the centers to the inside of a 28 inch rim which was 12 inches wide. Each rim was now ready for the mounting of a 12.75 x 28” rubber tire and the corresponding tube. These are the same size of tires that were part of Oliver’s rubber tire upgrade package. However, the price of cutting down the rear wheels and welding the rims on the centers of those wheels was much less than the Oliver package deal, because he did not have to purchase the new hubs and centers for the rear wheels. Once the rear wheels with rubber tires were mounted again back on the tractor, the old Model 28-44 tractor surely did ride smooth. However, the smooth ride seemed to accentuate the extremely slow speeds of the Model 28-44. Top speed was still only 4.33 miles per hour.
Our Nevada Township farmer had also had the steel rear wheels on his 1935 Hart-Parr/Oliver Model 18-27 (dual wheel) tricycle style tractor cut down and had 38” rims welded on these cut-down centers. He then mounted 10.00 by 38” rubber tires mounted on the rear of this tractor. Once again, the ride on the new rubber tires was smooth, but extremely slow. The top speed of the 18-27 was 4.15 mph.
While the purchase of the “standard” or “four-wheel” style Model 28-44 had allowed our Nevada Township farmer to reduce the number of horses on his farm, the Model 28-44 could not be used for the cultivation of the row crops—corn and soybeans. Only the purchase of the tricycle-style Model 18-27 in 1943, finally allowed him to totally mechanize his farming operation. The tricycle style Model 18-27 had been specifically designed for the cultivation of row crops.
However, both of these tractors were “pre-war” tractors and were not fitted with adequate speeds, electric start or hydraulics like the modern post-war tractors that were now being produced by various farm equipment companies. As his sons continued to agitate about getting a more modern tractor, our Nevada Township farmer began to feel that perhaps he should get another tractor. He might purchase a new tractor at Thill Implement in Rose Creek, Minnesota (1940 pop. 261). To hold the price down on a new or used tractor, he might trade the old Model 18-27 (dual wheel) tractor in on the purchase of another tractor. However, with both sons and himself able to start the field work this coming spring, he knew that he would need a third tractor.
As the winter wore on he began to ponder his need for a third tractor. As a result, he began to attend the winter auctions again. Sure enough he found an auction bill that offered a 1941 Oliver Model 70 for sale. When it was introduced in 1935, the Model 70 had been a very modern looking and streamlined tractor, complete with sheet metal side-curtains covering the engine. However, in 1937, the Model 70 was re-styled to become even more streamlined looking. The Model 70 at the auction was one of these new “late-styled” Model 70s with a rounded yellow grill with a red nose strip down the center of the grill.
At the auction, our Nevada Township farmer observed that the Model 70 was fitted with factory-installed rubber tires front and rear, had the optional electrical lights and an electrical starter. The tractor also had a six-speed transmission with a road gear of 13.44 miles per hour. He felt that his sons would really enjoy this tractor. This tractor was as just as good as a new tractor. It contained many of the same features his sons had been wanting in a new tractor. However, many other people at the auction also saw the tractor as the equivalent of a new tractor, the price of the tractor was bid up and up. It was unbelievable. Considering the high prices that these “used” tractors were now demanding at auction, a person might as well purchase a new tractor. Nonetheless, compelled by his desire to keep his sons happy so that they might stay on the farm, our Nevada Township farmer stayed in the bidding. In the end, despite the high price, he became the owner of the tractor. Now it was time to settle up with the bank clerking the auction.
The Farmers State Bank of Lyle was clerking the auction. Indeed 29 year-old Gwenith Gislason, clerk at the Farmers State Bank; and, incidentally, daughter of Alfred Perl Garantz owner of the bank, was present at the auction representing the bank. Although Gwenith lived in Austin with her husband, C.J. Gislason, she continued to work at her father’s bank in Lyle. (In a few years, following her parent’s retirement and their move to Pinellas, Florida, Gwenith would take over the reins of ownership of the bank in place of her father.) The Farmers State Bank in Lyle was the bank at which our Nevada Township farmer did his banking. He knew Gwenith and her father. Our Nevada Township farmer was learning that Gwenith was starting to speak with the authority of her father on the bank’s behalf. Still he preferred dealing with her father, a male who was more closely his own age and, indeed, was older than himself.
In situations like this, Gwenith recognized the problem and graciously deferred to her father and told our Nevada Township farmer that she would okay the financial arrangements concluded at the sale and let our Nevada Township farmer talk with her father at the bank the next time he was in Lyle. She knew as much about our Nevada Township farmer’s financial situation as did her father—probably more. She knew her father would no doubt agree with her decision to okay the sale on the spot and would no doubt approve of her charade of deferring to him in this instance.
Accordingly, on these casual arrangements, our Nevada Township farmer settled up with the bank at the auction and went home to his farm. His sons were excited about the prospect of working with a “new” modern tractor. The next day, he took his two sons and drove back to the site of the auction. One of the sons was assigned the task of driving the Oliver 70 back home. February of 1946 had been colder than usual and this day was no exception. Although the roads had been cleared of snow there were still large snow drifts in the ditch and on the fields of the farms along the way back to their home farm. Thus, it promised to be a cold 12-mile ride along back roads to bring the tractor back home. Even at the top speed of almost 13½ mph the trip would still take almost an hour. Still his sons argued over who would have the privilege of driving the tractor back to the farm. This argument was resolved by a flip of a coin. The eldest son won the toss of the coin and drove the tractor home.
After the cold month of February, March of 1946 was incredibly warm with temperatures up into the 60’s for a good deal of the month and even up into the 70’s during the last full week of the month. “April showers” are proverbially expected to about “bring May flowers.” However,owH in April of 1946 showers were a precious commodity. Indeed the showers were almost non-existent throughout the month of April. Due to the warm weather and the lack of rain, field work began early that year. Now with three tractors engaging in the field work that spring, our Nevada Township farmer was able to get all the crops in the ground early that year. However, his dreams of continuing to work with both of his sons on the farm, was becoming endangered.
Over the winter months, of 1945-1946, the older of his two sons had been leaving the farm on many Friday and Saturday evenings and returning home late at night. When he did so, our Nevada Township farmer would comment to his wife that their son was “on the prowl” for a woman. His wife would disagree and contend that their son was only out with his high school friends. She had a soft spot in her heart for the eldest son and she was in denial about anything that would mean changes in the family.
In actual fact, the eldest son had been trying to get back together with his buddies that he had known before the war. He wanted to recapture some of what he had missed during the time he was in the armed forces. Accordingly, he dressed up in a white shirt and slacks, slipped on his penny-loafer shoes and put on a winter coat and hat and borrowed the family’s new 1946 Chevrolet Sedan to head out to Cresco, Iowa. Our Nevada Township farmer and his wife had traded in their old 1941 Chevrolet Sedan in to Usem Chevrolet in Austin, Minnesota (1940 pop. 18,307) on this new car. This new Chevrolet was so new that it still had that “new car smell.” New as it was, however, the car had been fitted with most one important option for a farm car. A trailer hitch protruded from the rear bumper and contained a simple hole, through which a drawbar pin could be inserted while hauling a farm wagon to town.
Currently, the eldest son was pursuing one of his fondest memories from before the war. He was going roller skating in the large roller skating rink in Osage, Iowa. This was one of the entertainments he had missed the most while he was in the armed forces.
With the large roller rink and the movie theater, Osage had long been an entertainment hub for the area. On any Friday or Saturday night, the downtown area of Osage would fill up with cars as young people from all across northern Iowa and southern Minnesota would gather in Osage to go to the roller rink or to see the latest movie that was playing in the Osage movie theater. Since his return to the community, he had also engaged in his old hobby of looking at the license plates of Iowa cars and note which county, the car was from. Every Iowa license plate began with one or two digits on the left side of the plate. These digits identified the county in which the car had been registered. There were 99 counties in Iowa and the digits on the license plates identified the counties in alphabetical order. Lyle, Minnesota was located right on the state line and so there had always been plenty of Iowa cars around to “identify” as he grew up. Most commonly there were cars with “66” on the left side of their license plates. This was Mitchell County located directly across the Iowa border from the town of Lyle and Mower County in Minnesota. Mitchell County was referred to as “66 County Iowa.” Neighboring Howard County to the east was “45 County Iowa.” Cerro Gordo County to the southwest was 17 County and Worth County to the west was 98 County. Minnesota also had a designation on their license plates. However, the first digit on the Minnesota license plates referred to the one of the nine U.S. Congressional Districts the car hailed from in Minnesota. Therefore, identifying Minnesota license plates was just not as much fun as identifying Iowa license plates. The congressional districts were so large that the eldest son had rarely seen cars from other areas of Minnesota other than 1st Congressional District (where Nevada Township and Mower County were located) with just a sprinkling of cars from the neighboring 2nd Congressional District. These were the districts that lay along the Iowa border in Minnesota. Iowa provided a much more varied selection of cars. Both Minnesota and Iowa required cars to have license plates on both the front and rear bumpers. Consequently, the eldest son found himself “identifying” Iowa cars among the oncoming traffic in the twilight as he drove down the paved U.S. 218 highway on his way toward Osage.
Once in Osage, the eldest son tried to find parking on State Street in Osage, which was the main street running east and west through town. When he could not find parking on State Street, due to the glut of cars in Osage on this particular night, he tried 7th Street both north and south of State Street. The roller rink was located just west of the intersection of State and 7th Street. He found parking on south 7th Street. South 7th Street led off into the residential area of Osage and was not as well lit as the commercial area of State Street and north 7th Street. Nonetheless, he parked the car and walked to the roller rink and paid his 50¢ admission at the door. Then he went over to the skate rental desk and told them his shoe size and rented skates of that size for another 25¢. He sat down and took off his favorite “penny loafers” and slipped into the black high top roller skates and pulled on the laces to tighten the skates around his ankles. He skated over to the skate rental desk and turned in his penny loafers and received a claim check for the shoes.
Then, he started to skate out onto the rink. Old memories flowed back as he made his way around the floor. It did not take long to get back into the swing of skating. He soon found that he could move easily with the music. The music was played by an electric organ and amplified by speakers around the rink. Currently, everyone was skating in a counter-clockwise pattern around the skating rink. He knew that sometime during the night, about half way until closing time the pattern would be reversed and everyone would be required to skate in a clockwise direction for the balance of the evening.
On his first few visits to the roller rink, he had been attempting to re-capture old times with his male buddies from before the war. However from the first, he realized that things were not the same as they had been before the war. Many of his old friends from high school were now married and had their own lives. So he had begun just going to Osage alone and had been asking girls to skate with around the floor. At the roller skating rink, over the winter, he met a particular girl from Charles City, Iowa. He had asked her for a skate around the rink to one song. That song ended too soon. So he asked if she wanted another turn around the large rink. She agreed. At the conclusion of a couple of more songs, they went to the refreshment stand and he ordered two hot dogs and two Cokes for them to eat. She asked him if he would prefer a Cherry-Coke with the hot dogs. He didn’t know what that drink was, but based on her suggestion he was willing to try something new. So they sat for a while and conversed while they drank their Cherry Cokes and ate their hot dogs. It seemed so easy to converse with her. He enjoyed her company. After eating, they skated some more. Soon the announcement was made for all skaters to reverse direction. The eldest son could not believe that half the night had passed already. Without really knowing it, they had spent most of the night together.
After the last song had been played and the music ceased, he walked her to her car parked on State Street a couple of blocks from the skating rink. It was her father’s 1940 Ford Tudor Sedan with a license plate indicating that the car was from “34 County Iowa”—Floyd County. His only prior experience around girls had been in high school at Lyle High School. Since the war, this part of his life seemed to be part of the distant past. This girl seemed to be more serious about life than the girls he had known in high school. Indeed, she was a woman not a “girl.” She liked to talk about serious things not just conversational chit-chat. She even seemed serious about roller skating. Rather than renting skates at the skating rink, she carried her own pair of roller skates to the rink in a little suit case which was specially made for them. She liked roller skating enough and went to the rink at Osage often enough that she had concluded that she would save money by having her own pair of roller skates rather than renting skates every time—especially now. Since the end of the war prices were getting ridiculously high. Renting skates used to be cheaper during the war—now it was a whole 25¢.
He had a good time, but he did not think that the relationship would grow more serious. He just felt that it was a good friendship. Nonetheless, when they did on reach her car on that first night of skating, he did inquire whether she would be back at the Osage skating rink next Saturday night and she assured him that she would.
Thus, their friendship went on like this from week to week throughout the winter of 1945-1946. Early on, the eldest son knew that he could not continue to dominate the family’s new 1946 Chevrolet on the weekends. Consequently, he made a deal with the Usem Chevrolet dealership in Austin, Minnesota for a used 1939 “pre-war” Oldsmobile Model 80 2-door Business Coupe, which had been sitting on the dealership’s used car lot. Our Nevada Township farmer had always purchased his cars from the Usem dealership—so it was natural that this was the first place that his eldest son would turn when seeking an automobile. Our Nevada Township farmer’s eldest son liked the looks of this Model 80 Business Coupe—especially the long narrow hood covering the engine. The hood was long for a reason. Underneath the hood was an “in-line” eight cylinder engine. The “straight eight” engine was standard equipment in all Model 80 Oldsmobile, also standard equipment for the Model 80 was the semi-automatic “Safety” transmission. Oldsmobile had introduced the “Safety” semi-automatic transmission in 1937. The salesman at Usem told him that only few of these Model 80 Coupes had been made in 1939. Indeed, although Oldsmobile had made 158,560 cars in the 1939 calendar year—enough to put the company in seventh among all automobile manufacturers for that year—the company had made only 738 Model 80 Business Coupes in 1939.
The salesman at the Usem dealership noted that the “safety transmission” had been improved and made a fully automatic transmission in 1940. This fully automatic transmission was called the “HydraMatic” transmission and was introduced by the General Motors Company into the Oldsmobile, Buick and Cadillac cars in 1940. The salesman commented that most new General Motors (G. M.) innovations were introduced first in the Oldsmobile line of cars before they introduced in the other lines of General Motors cars. The salesman also advised that it was always wise “to avoid buying a car in the first year of a new innovation.” It was better to wait a year or two after the innovation had been introduced “to allow the ’bugs’ of the new innovation were worked out.” In this regard, he noted that by 1939, all the bugs in the Oldsmobile safety automatic transmission had been worked out. Accordingly, this particular Business Coupe was an especially good deal.
This Business Coupe was still fitted with running boards along both sides of vehicle. Running boards had ceased being standard equipment on Oldsmobiles in 1939. However running boards had continued to be optional equipment. Obviously, the first owner of this car had preferred the option of running boards.
Lacking a rear seat the Oldsmobile Business Coupe was designed for only two people. This particular Business Coup had been used by a traveling salesman. The Business Coupe was ideal for traveling salesmen. With its large straight-8 engine, its large 17 gallon gasoline tank, its automatic transmission and its “wide” 6.50 x 16 inch tires, the Oldsmobile Model 80 Business rode comfortably over long distances. Additionally, there was ample room behind the seat and in the trunk to hold a great deal of merchandise. This was the type of car that gave Oldsmobile the image of “the Old Man’s dependable work horse.” Thus, Oldsmobiles were sometimes referred to as “your father’s Oldsmobile.”
In 1939, the new the Model 80 Business Coupe had sold for $920.00. Now, the seven year-old car was being offered for a price of $300.00. The car had a lot of miles on it, which accounted for the relatively cheap price. To buy the car, our Nevada Township farmer’s eldest son used some of the money he had received in his last paycheck from the Navy to make a down payment on the car. Then he obtained a loan for the balance from “Mrs. Gisleson” at the Farmers State Bank in Lyle. In making these arrangements, the eldest son found that everybody was so anxious to help him out, because he was a returning veteran.
The eldest son had never owned a car before the war. So this was his first car. When he arrived at home, he carefully washed all the dust of the dirt roads off the car. It was the beginning of a life-long love of Oldsmobiles. Consequently, on his first trip to Osage with the Oldsmobile, he was anxious to show his new girl friend the car and take her for a ride. She obliged and drove around a little in the Oldsmobile before they went to the movie theater. Movies played at Osage’s theater usually six months or more after they were initially released. Accordingly, many of the movies they were seeing in late 1945 were movies that had been released during the war. On this night they saw Spencer Tracy in Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo, which had first been released on November 15, 1944. She liked it and thought the movie informative about the war. He did not much like it. Probably, because he had been too close to the war to appreciate a war movie. On another weekend they saw Pan Americana (1945) which had been released on March 22, 1945. They both liked this movie. They also saw Gene Kelly in Anchors Aweigh (1945) released July 14, 1945. They both also liked this comedy movie. They also saw State Fair (1945) released on August 30. 1945. They both liked this Rodgers and Hammerstein musical about the Iowa State Fair.
Back on the farm in Nevada Township in the spring of 1946, field work began earlier than usual due to favorable weather conditions. The entire month of March was much warmer than normal with temperatures, almost reaching 80ºF in the last week of the month. Oats were sown into the ground in April and the seedbed was prepared for the corn. It looked like the corn and soybeans might be planted in May. However a late season snow storm on the second weekend in May dropped 3 inches of heavy wet snow on the ground, but the temperatures barely got below 30ºF and in the days that followed temperatures reached up to 70ºF. Thus, the snow lasted for no more than a day before it was all melted. By the end of May the temperatures were unseasonably warm–85ºF. Consequently, the temperatures of the soil kept on warming almost in spite of the late season snow. Accordingly, both the corn and the soybeans were planted before the end of May.
As he had planned in the early spring, our Nevada Township farmer planted the same amount of acreage to soybeans in 1946 as he had in 1945. Many of his neighbors did the same. As a result, the total number of acres planted to soybeans in Mower County in 1946 remained the same as it had been the year before. Although soybean prices had continued at high levels since the end of the war, he was still unsure about the future of this new crop during the post-war era. His eldest son kept going to Osage nearly every weekend. The eldest son worked hard during the week to leave time on the weekends for socializing with his new female friend. He worked in the field during the week and on Saturday but still took his 1939 Oldsmobile south to Osage on Friday or Saturday night every weekend. Our Nevada Township farmer commented on his energy.
June 1946 proved to be a wet month with a large rain of 1½ to 2 inches each week for the entire month and another 1½ inch rain in the first week of July for good measure. Barely would the ground dry out and cultivation of the corn and soybeans get started again before another rain would force our Nevada Township farmer and his sons from the fields. Even with both the Oliver/Hart-Parr 18-27 (dual wheel) and the Oliver Model 70 cultivating in the fields the cultivation of the corn and soybeans occupied most of the summer up until mid-July. By that time the corn was too tall to be cultivated again and the soybeans were beginning to flower. Any additional cultivation at this point would do more harm than good for the crops.
Following the heavy rain in early-July there was no rain at all until the end of August 1946. This allowed our Nevada Township farmer and his sons to put up hay, and get the oats windrowed in anticipation of the arrival of their neighbor with his Oliver Model 10 Grainmaster combine to once again do the custom combining of their oat crop.
Also the weather remained bright and shiny for the Mower County Fair which was held from August 5 until August 11, 1946. As usual the 4-H Exhibits dominated the first two days of the fair. The Future Farmers of America or FFA Exhibits dominated the second two days of the Fair. Accordingly, our Nevada Township farmer took his prize registered purebred Suffolk sheep to the Fair in Austin on Friday afternoon for the last two days of the Fair which was devoted to the “open class” exhibits. Attendance at the Fair was down from the previous year. This was a reflection of polio scare that was gripping the public that summer. Indeed some county fairs, like the 1946 Freeborn County Fair in neighboring Albert Lea, Minnesota to the west and the 1946 Fillmore County Fair in Preston, Minnesota to the east, had been canceled altogether out of fear of the polio contagion. Indeed, our Nevada Township farmer would not have to worry about going to the Minnesota State Fair this year since he had already heard over the radio that the 1946 State Fair was being cancelled because of the polio scare. Accordingly, the Mower County Fair would be the only real opportunity he would have to sell some of his purebred ewes this year.
By the end of August, 1946, there still had been no rain. This late in the growing season, however, no rain was needed as the crops in the field were ripening anyway. Accordingly, our Nevada Township farmer was looking forward to a good harvest with dry crops and dry ground for the tractors and machinery to drive on. Anticipating a good harvest in the fall, our Nevada Township farmer was again thinking about how to modernize his farming operation. Late in August, our Nevada Township farmer noticed an auction sale bill in the Austin Daily Herald which contained a one-row corn picker. He thought he should attend this auction and see how much the corn picker would bring at auction. All during the war years, he had relied on custom corn picking to get his corn harvested. Before the war, one of his neighbors had obtained a one-row corn picker made by the Wood Brothers Company of Des Moines Iowa. This was the farmer that our Nevada Township farmer hired each year to pick his corn. However, our Nevada Township farmer wanted to be free to do his own picking of the corn on his farm without having to wait on his neighbor to get done with his other customers.
With this thought in mind, our Nevada Township farmer attended the auction. The corn picker turned out to be an Oliver No. 3 Corn Master corn picker. The picker was not that old. Consequently, the price of this corn picker soon rose to nearly the price of a new corn picker. The end of the war had not brought enough new machinery out on the market to lower the price of used machinery at auction. Nonetheless, our Nevada Township farmer stayed in the bidding on the corn picker and in the end became the new owner of the No. 3 Corn Master corn picker. The price was high, but he comforted himself that the ability to pick his own corn on his own schedule would be worth the price of the corn picker. The price of corn remained high at $1.97 as a average for the whole month of August, 1946. The weather remained dry and it looked like a good harvest season ahead.
However, during the first week of September it seemed as though the skies opened up and dumped out rain—as a 2½ inch rain fell in the first week of September, This rain was followed by a succession of heavy rains of two ¾ inch rains on consecutive nights, followed by a 1 inch rain on the third night. Rains continued steadily until Thanksgiving creating difficulty in harvesting the corn and soybeans. Paradoxically, the 1946 growing season had yielded a good crop because of the sufficient amounts of rain all summer. The first killing frosts of the season occurred in early October. Then the rain had stopped. This allowed the crops to dry down nicely for harvest. However, the rains started up again and continued periodically through most of November. At this point the crops were like money sitting in the field. It should have been an easy matter to simply collect the money—to get the crop out of the field and safely into the shed. However, these late season rains were making it difficult to get this money out of the field. Tractors were, continually, getting stuck as his neighbor with the Model 10 Grain Master combine struggled to pull the large combine through the mud of the soybean fields. Outside of a 2 inch snow which fell late in November and did not last for more than a day, there was no snow until the middle of December. As soon as the soybeans were harvested, our Nevada Township farmer and his sons struggled to get the corn in the crib. Because he now owned his own corn picker, he and his sons were able to get the corn safely harvested and in the corn crib before the snows came.
The corn crop across Mower County yielded 40 bushels, which was about 12% less yield per acre then usual. This loss was almost entirely due to the difficult harvesting conditions in the fall of 1946. However, soybeans proved to be the best surprise of the post-war era for American farmers. Demand for plastics during the war had been so strong that soybean production had established a new nationwide record every year following 1941. Surprisingly, even with the return of peace, and the loss of military contracts for plastics, the supply of soybeans still could not keep up with the growing new peacetime demand for plastics. As the soybean harvest of 1946 started to come into the market in the late fall of 1946, it looked like another bumper crop of soybeans. (Indeed nationwide soybean crop figures would reveal that the 1946 soybean crop would set another record, as 203,395,000 bushels came onto the soybean market.)
Just like the previous year, our Nevada Township farmer had made arrangements to have his soybeans combined by his neighbor with the Model 10 Grainmaster combine. Just like the prior year, he had begun to worry that the soybeans would suffer losses in the field before he could get the soybeans harvested. (See the second article in this series called “Oliver Farm Equipment Part II: Soybeans” contained at this website.) Our Nevada Township farmer still felt the insecurity of having profit and loss on his crop hanging on someone else’s schedule. This year a great deal rode on getting his soybean crop out of the field and into the shed. The bumper crop of soybeans that was being harvested nationally should have depressed the price. However, despite this new record harvest, the price of soybeans still continued to rise dramatically—reaching a phenomenal $3.14 per bushel in November of 1946. So the “money” that was sitting in the soybean field, un-harvested, was substantially more than in previous years.
Luckily our Nevada Township farmer’s neighbor soon arrived on the farm with the Model 10 combine and our Nevada Township farmer was able to get his soybeans out of the field. Our Nevada Township farmer did not waste any time on hauling the soybeans from the field straight to the Hunting elevator in Lyle, Minnesota, where he sold the entire crop at the highest price he had ever seen for soybeans. Consequently, our Nevada Township farmer added a great deal to his annual income for 1946, solely because of the soybean crop. The soybeans more than made up for any losses he had suffered in the corn crop and for the losses he had suffered because of his limited chance to advertise and sell his purebred Suffolk sheep due to the cancellation of the Minnesota State Fair. Thus, diversification of his farming operation had proved itself once again in 1946.
Over the summer of 1946, our Nevada Township farmer’s eldest son had gotten to know the family of his girl friend. During the 4th of July she had invited him down to Charles City, Iowa to a family reunion at her parents house. This was his first visit to her parents. He got the distinct impression that they were looking him over as a future son-in-law. He thought this was humorous because it did not fit their relationship at all. However, he had struck up a good relationship with her father. Her father was an employee at the Oliver Company tractor factory located in right there in Charles City. It was fun to hear about the production of tractors, like the Model 70 that was being employed on the farm back in Nevada Township. Her father had a hobby of woodworking. He did this work in the basement of the house on the weekends and on holidays from work. Indeed, he had made some of the furniture and cabinetry in their family home.
In October of 1946, the eldest son reciprocated and in invited his girl friend up to Lyle for the Lyle High School homecoming game held on October 11, 1946. Lyle was playing Lime Springs for the homecoming game. The game itself was an exciting football game. The Lyle Lions eventually won the game by a score of 20 to 18. However, the eldest son was somewhat distracted from the game by the great number of his old high school classmates who were attending the game and who made a point coming over to see him. He had fun and reminisced about the good times they had in high school. He was glad to see that she got along well with everybody she met. Her outgoing personality made him feel proud to introduce her to his high school classmates. She seemed at home with any group of people. Once again, he felt a little awkward, because most people they met assumed that they were soon to be married. Their relationship was just not that type of relationship.
Now that the field work on the farm was done for the year, they began to see each other more regularly again meeting in Osage, Iowa. Sometime before Thanksgiving of 1946, she obtained a job as a bookkeeper for the Gilles Amusement Company in Osage. The Gilles Amusement Company was owned by William and Theresa (Seibert) Gilles. Their place of business was located in Osage, only about two blocks from the roller skating rink. The Gilles Company marketed Wurlitzer wall boxes. These wall boxes were usually located on the wall at tables in restaurants. These Wurlitzer wall boxes were connected with a large Wurlitzer juke box which was centrally located in the restaurant. The wall boxes contained a coin slot and lists of popular songs. Patrons in the restaurant could simply drop a nickel in the slot of the wall box at their table and press the right keys indexing their favorite song and the Wurlitzer jukebox would begin playing that song.
To facilitate her new job, the eldest son’s new girl friend had moved out her parents’ home and had obtained a room in a boarding house in Osage. She also had purchased her own car—rather she purchased the 1940 Ford Deluxe Tudor Sedan that had been her parent’s car. Her parents purchased one of the new 1947 Ford Super Deluxe Fordor Model 73B Sedans from the Charles City Motor Company the local Ford dealership. The new 1947 Fords were introduced in the fall of 1946 and this new car was one of the first that had been delivered to the dealership.
His new girl friend bubbled over with enthusiasm, when she told the eldest son about her new job. Working at the Gilles Amusement Company, she had become familiar with the Billboard magazine. This magazine tried to cover all events in the entertainment industry in the nation—including recent movies and all live shows at state and county fairs across the nation. Mr. Gilles subscribed to this magazine and, indeed, advertised his Wurlitzer wall boxes in that magazine. She found that Billboard magazine was fascinating and looked forward to each new issue which arrived in the mail at the workplace. Mr. Gilles, often, did not have time to read the latest Billboard and encouraged her to read this magazine and tell him anything new that was in the magazine.
Also during the short period of time that she had been living in Osage she had already made some new friends. One of her closest new friends was a young woman that worked as the stenographer for the Osage theater. Another of her new friends was a woman that worked as a salesperson at the local music store. Their employment in the local “entertainment industry” brought them together with a common interest.
She and the eldest son of our Nevada Township farmer continued roller skating on the weekends. They also continued to see movies at the Osage theater. In the early in 1945, back during her senior year in high school while the eldest son was away in the Pacific, she had seen the movie Janie, which had been released on September 2, 1944. This was a movie about the adventures of Janie Conway, a small town “bobbie soxer.” Joyce Reynolds starred as Janie Conway, the “bobbie soxer.” She had enjoyed the move a great deal and identified with the character of Janie Conway. Now, because of her new job, she heard that a sequel to that movie had just made. The sequel was called Janie Gets Married which had been released on June 22, 1946. She wanted very much to see the sequel. During the fall of 1946, she stayed in regular contact with her friend—the stenographer at the local theater, just to find out when the sequel would be coming to Osage.
Over Thanksgiving our Nevada Township farmer’s eldest son was able to bring his girl friend to Nevada Township to meet his parents. It was a good time. The Thanksgiving dinner was tremendous success with turkey, cranberries, home-grown Blue Hubbard squash, home-grown mashed potatoes and giblet gravy—Thanksgiving dinner with all the trimmings. Thanksgiving was an anniversary of sorts. Both sons had been home for one whole year. With the sale of the soybeans having been so successful his father split the profits with his two sons and gave them each a nice big check during Thanksgiving. He promised that more would come their way when he sold some Suffolk ewes in December and more money when they shelled the corn in February or March of 1947.
With the crops all harvested, our Nevada Township farmer considered his position. He was starting to feel secure that soybeans could be a major cash crop that could be relied on even in peacetime. However, he still felt that he needed to control the harvest. Accordingly, in the winter of 1946-1947, our Nevada Township farmer began to think about using some of the money he had made from the 1946 soybean crop to modernizing his farming operation, once again. If he could obtain his own combine, he would no longer have to depend on the schedule of hired combines to get his soybean crop harvested.
He was aware that, following the introduction of the small Allis-Chalmers Model 60 All Crop Harvester in 1929 (See the article on this blog entitled “Navy bean farming in Michigan Part III,” contained at this website.), a number of other farm equipment companies, e.g. John Deere, Massey Harris, and Case had introduced their own small combines. Of course all of these combines had been unavailable during the war. Now, however, these small combine were all becoming available again. Furthermore he had, recently, heard that the Oliver Farm Equipment Company was introducing its own small combine—the Model 15 Grainmaster combine.
During a visit to Thill Implement in Rose Creek in February of 1947, he had seen one of these had one of the new Oliver Model 15 Grainmaster combines in the inventory of the dealership. Like the previous Grainmaster combines, this new Model 15 was being produced at the old Nichols and Shepherd Company Thresher Works in South Bend, Indiana. (This Thresher Works was now designated as South Bend No. 1, to differentiate it from South Bend No. 2, the new Oliver Company engine plant. This new engine plant was built complete with a new foundry and molding works for making the cast-iron blocks of the new Oliver engines.)
The Model 15 Grainmaster was one of the new small “straight through” style of combines that were becoming popular in the post-war era. The Grainmaster Model 15 had a six-foot cutterbar/feeder and a full-width cylinder positioned directly behind the feeder. The grain crop was harvested and taken directly into the combine, where it was threshed. The grain did not have to travel through any 90º turns on its convoluted way through the combining process, as it did with the older style combines like his neighbor’s Model 10 Grainmaster. Because of this straight thru design, the forward motion of the combine would dump the straw back onto the ground in almost exactly the same location where it had been before the whole process had begun. Because of this simplicity, the straight-through style combines were more efficient and saved more grain than older style combines.
The salesman at Thill Implement noted that this particular Model 15 combine was one of the new power take-off versions of the Model 15 Grainmaster. The salesman informed our Nevada Township farmer that, initially, the Model 15 combine had been offered only with its own four cylinder—an engine supplied to Oliver by the Continental Motors Company of Muskegon Michigan. Fitted with a four-cylinder Continental engine, the Model 15 Grainmaster had a suggested retail price of $1,800. However, the new power take-off version of the Model 15 carried a suggested retail price of only $1,360. The particular Model 15 combine that our Nevada Township farmer saw at Thill Implement was also mounted on rubber tires. These rubber tires added to the modern appearance of the Model 15 Grainmaster.
Our Nevada Township farmer thought of how having a combine of his own would free him from the dependence on all custom combining operations. He would be able to harvest the soybeans (and his oats) when the crop was at the proper degree of dryness rather than have to wait for his name to work its way to the top of the list of customers for his neighbor’s custom combining operation. Our Nevada Township farmer had other reasons for liking the Model 15 combine. One of these reasons was the fact that the Model 15 was a combine with a “low profile.” Unlike his neighbor’s Model 10 Grainmaster combine, the grain tank on the Model 15 did not depend on gravity to empty its contents into a wagon or grain truck. Rather the Model 15 was fitted with a special “auger style” tank unloading elevator. This power unloading elevator, allowed the designers of the Model 15 combine to position the 20-bushel grain tank much lower to the ground. Consequently, the overall height of the Model 15 combine was greatly reduced from the earlier Model 10 Grainmaster combine. Because of its low profile, our Nevada Township farmer would not have to build a special shed on his farm simply to store the Model 15. It would be easy to store this new small combine on his farm. Accordingly, he signed a sales agreement to purchase an Oliver Model 15 Grainmaster combine. The sales agreement with Thill Impliment also included the purchase of a new Innes Company windrow pickup attachment.
The new Model 15 combine would not only be used for the soybean crop in the late autumn, but would also be used to harvest his oat crop in mid-summer. Accordingly, there was a need for a windrow pickup attachment for the combine. Unlike the oats and wheat “out west” on the Great Plains, oats in the Midwest could not be harvested as a “standing crop.” Midwestern states received far more rain, on average, than the western states of the Great Plains. Accordingly, under normal conditions more grasses and weeds (green material) tended to grow up in the oat fields of the Midwest. Combining the oats or wheat while standing would allow the “green material” to pass into the combine where the green material would tend wrap around the threshing cylinder of combine, thus, preventing efficient threshing. The solution to this problem was to cut he grain and all the green material a day or so before combining. This would allow the green material to dry up completely under the hot summer sun. Once completely dry and “brown” the formerly “green” weeds and grass would no longer tend to wrap around the cylinder, but rather it would be crushed by the cylinder and then, pass harmlessly through the combine and exit the rear of the combine with the straw.
Therefore, in the Midwest, farmers cut their oats and folded the oats into a narrow “windrow.” Windrowing of the oat would begin before the oat crop was entirely ripened. The oats would lie in narrow windrow on top of the stubble of the oat field and finish drying. This last stage of drying in the windrow under the hot summer sum was called “sweating.” Lying on top of the stubble allowed air to get under the windrow for a thorough and quick drying process. Windrowing the oats would actually speed up the process of sweating.
To combine the windrowed oat crop, farmers in the Midwest needed to fit their combines with “windrow pickups.” Accordingly, our Nevada Township farmer needed a windrow pickup for his new Model 15 combine. Oliver made their own standard equipment Oliver-built windrow pickup attachment for the Model 15 combine. However, the Thill Implement salesman related that instead of fitting the Model 15 combine with the standard equipment pickup attachment made for the Oliver Model 15 combine, the dealership now advised farmers to fit their new combines with a pickup attachment made by the Innes Company of Bettendorf, Iowa. (An article on the Innes Company of Bettendorf, Iowa was published in the May/June 2005 issue of Belt Pulley magazine and is now posted on the blog section of this website.) The salesman at Thill Implement related that the Innes Company was a company devoted entirely to the production of their own patented pickup attachment which could be mounted on many modern combines. The Innes pickup attachment was preferred by the Thill dealership rather than the standard equipment Oliver windrow pickup, because the Innes pickup was not as susceptible to the problem of “wrapping.”
The standard equipment windrow pickup made by the Oliver Farm Equipment Company had a series of revolving teeth which poked through a “stationary comb.” As the combine moved ahead along the windrow, the rotating teeth would actually lift the windrow up and over the pickup and into the feeder of the combine. Sometimes the teeth would pull some of the crop under the stationary comb where the crop would become wrapped around the axle of the pickup to which the teeth were attached. As the combine worked through out the day, more crop might be pulled under the stationary comb until the pickup became jammed and would not work properly. The farmer would then have to stop the combine and get down off the tractor and clean the wrapped crop out of the pickup.
The teeth on the Innes pickup protruded from a cylinder. In operation, the whole cylinder of the Innes pickup revolved—not just the teeth. Accordingly, there was no stationary “comb” which could catch the crop and start a wrapping problem. Our Nevada Township farmer was familiar with the wrapping problem of windrowed grain crops from watching his neighbor stopping, in the field, to un-plug the pickup of his Model 10 Grainmaster combine. Accordingly, our Nevada Township farmer consented to inclusion of the Innes pickup attachment as a substitute for the Oliver pickup attachment. He felt that he was now set to take full advantage of oat harvest and soybean harvest in 1947.
Over the winter of 1946-1947, our Nevada Township farmer had been disappointed in the sale of his registered purebred Suffolk ewes. Ever since, 1943, sheep prices at the Hormel meat packing plant, in Austin, Minnesota, had been declining. Accordingly, farmers had been reducing the size of their flocks of sheep on their farms. The number of sheep in Mower County had fallen steadily since 1944. Whereas, in 1945, there had been 17,200 head of sheep in Mower County, one year later in 1946 there were now only 15,000. (Figures for 1947 would reflect that in the coming year sheep numbers in Mower County would decline still further to 13,600 head.) No wonder he could not sell any of his prize ewes. Everywhere, farmers were cutting back on the size of their flocks of sheep. The reduction in sales of ewes meant that our Nevada Township farmer did have much money to share with his sons.
Additionally, the sale of the 1946 corn crop also proved to be a disappointment. As always, our Nevada Township farmer allowed the ear corn to dry in the corn crib on his farm all winter long. Now in late-February of 1947, our Nevada Township farmer made arrangements with Ray Jacobson to shell his corn. The winter of 1946-1947 had been a mild winter with snow accumulating to about 6 inches which lasted until mid-February, 1947. The unseasonably warm temperatures of mid-February melted the remaining snow. Accordingly, Ray Jacobson arrived on the farm one day in late February with his Minneapolis-Moline “Shellmaster” corn sheller mounted on the back of a 1941 Ford “Cab Over Engine” (C.O.E.) Model 1 ½-ton truck with a 134 inch wheelbase. This corn sheller had also been bought through the Thill Implement dealership of Rose Creek and had been mounted on this Ford truck. As noted in an earlier article in this series, Thill Implement not only owned an Oliver franchise, but also owned a franchise from the Minneapolis-Moline Company to sell Minneapolis-Moline farm equipment. Indeed the major reason that John Peter Thill had obtained a Minneapolis-Moline franchise was because he wanted to sell the corn shellers that Minneapolis-Moline made.
Once the truck and sheller were positioned outside the alleyway of the double corn crib, the various sections of the “drag” line were connected to each other and extended the full length of the alleyway of the corn crib. When the bottom of the cribs were opened, dried ear corn would begin to flow out into the drag which would transport the corn to the sheller. The sheller itself was powered by the 239 c.i. flat-head V-8 engine in the truck. Developing 95 hp. this engine was sufficient to power the sheller. Ray make sure the transmission lever in the truck was in neutral. Then he would depress the foot clutch and engage the lever directing the power of the truck engine to the sheller. Then he would slowly release the foot clutch and the sheller came to life. Then Ray depressed the foot throttle until the cylinder on the sheller was turning at the correct operating speed of 800 rpm. to 815 rpm. Once he reached this speed he reach over on the dash board of the truck to lock throttle at that speed.
To shell out the entire double corn crib took all day with a break at noon time for dinner when they all went to the house to eat the large meal . As the ear corn in both sides was shelled out, our Nevada Township farmer stored away enough shelled corn in the granary on the farm to feed the chickens and pigs for an entire year. Depending on the current price and what he expected the future price to be, our Nevada Township farmer would either sell the rest to the Hunting elevator uptown in Lyle or he might save back more shelled corn to store in the grain bins over the alleyway of his corn crib. This shelled might be sold at a later date when the price of corn might be higher. This year he was carefully watching the price of corn.
Last July (of 1946) corn prices had reached a phenomenal $2.17 per bushel. However, since that time the price had fallen to $1.35 per bushel as an average for the month of January, 1947. Our Nevada Township farmer thought this decline in the price of corn was part of the long expected decline in all farm prices caused by the end of the war. He expected that the price of corn would continue to decline in the long-run. However, February of 1947 revealed a slight rise in prices to $1.49 per bushel. Thus, our Nevada Township farmer made up his mind to take advantage of this momentary upswing in the price of corn to sell all the corn he could spare just as soon as it was shelled. Expecting that prices would fall even more over the long term, our Nevada Township farmer felt lucky to catch this temporary increase in price. However, the price was still not as good as he might have expected and, once again, our Nevada Township farmer did not have as much money to share with his sons as he had expected. However, he felt sure his sons would recognize that the soybean harvest money had covered for the corn and the sheep. However, big changes were happening in the mind of his eldest son which would affect his plans.