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John Deere Dealer in Jordan, Minnesota
Brian Wayne Wells
As published in the July/August 2000 issue of
Belt Pulley Magazine
General stores have a unique place in the history of small town Americana, where people would gather to hear the news of the community and beyond. A visit to a general store would not only supply people with their material needs, but would also nourish their spirits with good neighborly discourse and interaction while they were there. This was so, because outside of the livery stable, train depot, and church on Sunday, there were precious other locations for people to gather. What’s more, anything a person could possibly need could be obtained from the general store. If the exact product were not available, the storekeeper would simply try his best to order whatever the customer wanted. Hopefully, the product would arrive in some future delivery, aboard a train or on a Wells Fargo wagon or an Overland stage. Chances are the slogan that hung in many a small town general store was more than apt: “If we don’t have it, you don’t need it.”
As small towns grew, however, grocery stores sprang up to specialize in food products, dry goods stores specialized in clothing, and lumberyards were started as independent businesses. All of these businesses offered the public a much larger selection and variety within their particular economic market than did the old general store. Usually, in the course of this small town diversification, the general store, stripped of all other products, was left with the hardware business, e.g., nails, bolts, pipes, plumbing supplies and hand tools. Needless to say, customers of the hardware store still found the old fashioned comradeship and neighborly atmosphere in most small town hardware stores. For travelling salesmen, this atmosphere was a welcome environment, with a potbellied stove pouring out heat in the wintertime and an overhead Casablanca fan offering cool refreshing breezes in the summer.
At first, in most communities, farm machinery companies sold their grain binders, plows and cultivators through the general store. Later, specialized hardware stores became the natural outlet for farm machinery. In the beginning, all farm equipment companies, as well as automobile manufacturers, would share the same hardware store in the small town, where Overland-Willys’, Studebakers, and Chevrolet and Ford cars and trucks might all be sold together with Case steam engines, Buffalo-Pitts threshers, and horse-drawn farm wagons from the Bain Wagon Company of Kenosha, Wisconsin, or from the Brown Manufacturing Company of Zanesville, Ohio. Later, as the farm equipment business became more competitive, companies like International Harvester and Allis-Chalmers began to offer only exclusive franchises to retail outlet stores. Pursuant to these exclusive franchise contracts, the “franchisee” would agree to sell only the farm equipment products of the franchisor company. In exchange, the company agreed not to establish any other franchise dealer in that town or in the surrounding community.
In many a rural community, a chance to get into the farm equipment business offered a real opportunity to many hardware (general) stores that were looking for ways to avoid the decline they were headed into as they lost their exclusive market to food products, dry goods, lumber, etc. In the mid 1920s, as farmers created more and more demand for new farm equipment, the prospects of doing well in the farm equipment business appealed to many an ambitious young man. Two such young men were Joe Grams and Herman Krautkremer from Jordan, Minnesota (1920 pop. 1,106). Jordan, a flourishing German-American village, was the economic hub for west-central Sand Hill Township and for the area immediately across the Minnesota River in southeastern Carver County. Sand Hill Township and neighboring Carver County were part of the rich black soil area of the lower Minnesota River Valley, with small, diversified farms. Year after year, the soil consistently produced good harvests. In other areas of the state, the insecurity of growing crops on poorer soil compelled farmers to expand their landholdings and forced them to take on large amounts of debt to pay for additional land and any modern farm machinery they might need to farm these larger tracts of land. Here in the lower Minnesota River Valley, however, farms could remain small and still provide a good living.
Farmers in this area were conservative in nature. Recognizing that the black soil could yield a family a good living if the farmer did not overextend himself financially, modern farm machinery was slow to be accepted by the farmers in townships like Helena Township and Sand Creek Township in Scott County. However, in the mid-1920s, it was hard to resist the temptation to borrow money so as to buy more land and grow more crops. Still, older farmers remembered that just after the Great War of 1914 to 1918, there had been a sharp depression which caused many farmers to go into bankruptcy. Nevertheless, by 1923, the worst of the post-war depression was over and the farm economy had once again started to rise. By 1928, optimism was in the air and it was infectious. Joe Grams and Herman Krautkremer were among those people who looked hopefully to the future. It was in this spirit and time of optimism that Joe Grams and Herman Krautkremer decided to go into business for themselves. Continue reading The Grams and Krautkremer Hardware: John Deere Dealer in Jordan, Minnesota