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Oliver Farming in Mower County, Minnesota (Part II): Soybeans

Oliver Farm Equipment in Mower County Minnesota (Part II): Soybeans

by

Brian Wayne Wells

As noted previously, Mower County in Minnesota is located on the border of Minnesota and Iowa.  (See the previous article in this series called “Oliver Farm Equipment [Part I]: Suffolk Sheep Raising.”)  One of the middle townships in western Mower County is Nevada Township.  (Ibid.)  Also as previously noted, in 1941 Nevada Township was the home of a particular farmer, who worked a 160-acre diversified a farm with his wife and their two sons.  The typical diversified farm was a farming operation that developed income from a number of different sources, crops, (like corn), along with animals (perhaps raising and selling hogs, raising a flock of laying hens for eggs and/or milking cows to sell the milk).  The idea of diversification was that if one of the products raised on the farm was in a price slump the other products raised on the farm might rescue the owner of the farm by providing some income to allow the family to survive the price slump.

Additionally, as previously noted, in 1942, our Nevada Township farmer added a new product to his diversified farming operation.  In 1942, the United States of America was in its first year of involvement in the world war.  Both of his sons were now away from the farm serving in the Pacific theater in the war.  He was back to handling the farm alone just as he had done when his boys were children.  Farm prices had risen across the board, but the war also created some new opportunities for the American farmer.  Raising sheep for meat had been one of those opportunities.  The price of mutton and lamb had risen in 1941 as the Britain began to buy United States lamb and mutton to replace the product they could no longer get from Australia.  This sudden rise in sheep prices encouraged our Nevada Township farmer to obtain a small flock of Suffolk sheep for his own farming operation.  As sheep prices continued to rise because of the the war and United States government buying of lamb to support its armed forces which were stationed around the world, other farmers sought to obtain or expand their own flocks of sheep.  Our Nevada Township farmer found that he could make more money by registering some of his best ewe lambs and best young rams with the National Suffolk Sheep Association and selling them to other farmers for breeding stock, rather than taking them to directly to market.  Whereas, in 1943, our Nevada Township farmer could make $6.80 per hundred weight (about $9.00 lamb on a 130 pound (lbs.) lamb going to Hormel’s meat market in Austin) he could make three times that amount by holding back the ewe lambs which had the best breed characteristics and selling them as breeding stock to other farmers.

Breeders were always trying to improve the breed characteristics of their flocks.  Toward this end breeders might purchase good quality purebred ewes to improve the breed characteristics of their flock.  However, by purchasing a single purebred ram, sheep farmers knew that they could influence half the genes of their flock, because a single ram would be the sire (father) of all the lambs born to the flock.  Accordingly, breeders would pay even more for a young ram than they would for individual ewes.  Thus, organized ram sales became popular as an annual event.  Usually these rams sales were held in early June each year.  One of the nation’s foremost ram sales was the Midwest Stud Ram Sale held in Omaha, Nebraska.  Our Nevada Township farmer drove his 1939 Chevrolet Model JD ¾-ton truck to Omaha with a few sheep to sell.

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The 1939 3/4 ton Chevrolet truck of the JD Master series

He had purchased the Chevy truck from Usem Chevrolet in nearby Austin, Minnesota (1940 pop. 18,306).  Usem’s was a full-line dealership offering cars from all five divisions of the General Motors Company and both Chevrolet and GMC trucks.  The dealership had been founded by Edward G. and Edith Usem.  Born in Ukraine in Russia in 1907, Edward had immigrated to the United States with his parents and settled in Austin, Minnesota in the early 20th Century.  Edward had grown up in Austin and been involved in the car business since the 1920s.

Originally, the truck was fitted with a light stake bed for hauling cargo.  Almost immediately, our Nevada Township farmer took the truck to the Harry Attlesey blacksmith shop in Lyle, Minnesota (1940 pop. 513), for a new heavier bed to be installed on the truck.  Harry D. and Isabel (Webber) Attlesey owned this blacksmith shop on the north end of Lyle on U.S. #218.  Harry Attlesey had operated this blacksmith shop since moving to town in 1932.  Harry Attlesey designed and built a tight grain box bed for the new ¾ ton Chevy truck that replaced the loose-fitting stake-bed that on the Model JD ¾ truck.  Indeed the new bed on the back of the truck was not just a grain box.  It also had a series of heavy racks that mounted on top of the sides of the grain box.  These racks were tall enough to allow our Nevada Township farmer to safely haul livestock, even cattle and horses, in the bed of the truck.

This truck was just the thing for making the trip to Omaha.  Sales of the best young purebred rams and ewes was, he felt, maximized and fully diversified the profit that he received from his flock of sheep.  As noted previously, the profits that he had received from his flock of sheep had allowed him to purchase a used 1935 tricycle-style Hart-Parr/Oliver Model 18-27 tractor at an auction in February of 1943.

The 1935 Oliver/Hart-Parr (dual wheel) Row Crop tractor, like the model that our Nevada Township farmer purchased at an auction in his neighborhood in February of 1943.

 

Only in 1944 did the price of lamb decline.  This decline in the sheep market was the result of the army’s decision in mid-1944 to drop the unpopular “Mutton Stew and Vegetables” unit from the C-ration menu and replace it with the “Beef Stew and Vegetables” unit.  (See the C-ration entry under Wikipedia on the Internet.)  The effect of this decline in the price of sheep was felt immediately as farmers, reduced the number of sheep on their farm or sold off their flocks entirely.

In 1945, the number of sheep across the whole state of Minnesota stood at 995,000 head.  In Mower County the sheep population was 17,500 head in 1945.  The number of sheep in neighboring Fillmore County, to the east of Mower County, stood at 30,500 head.  In 1946, the number of sheep in the whole state of Minnesota the number of sheep fell to 846,000 head as the total number of sheep in Mower County fell to 15,000 head and fell to 26,000 head in Fillmore County.  In the post-war years the population of sheep in Minnesota continued to decline and hit a bottom in 1950 with only 571,000 sheep in the entire state of Minnesota, 10,300 head in Mower County and 18,400 head in Fillmore County.

Young soybean plans planted in a row in the field

 

However, as the war progressed, another farm product was continuing to increase in importance—the soybean.  Our Nevada Township farmer started to hear about soybeans as a profitable farm product over WCCO radio out if Minneapolis.  Research into the soybean had been going on since the early 1900s.  This research discovered a great uses for the simple soybean.  (See the unpublished article, called “Soybean Farming with a Farmall H in Butternut Valley Township”  written by Brian Wayne Wells regarding soybean processing in Mankato, Minnesota.  This article can be seen on this website.)  However, a real economic market for soybeans had never been found until the recent World War.  Now soybeans were used to make plastics which were used in the cowlings and wind screens of the thousands of aircraft that were being turned out by American industry for the war effort.

Soybean prices in World War II rose because of the plastics used in combat airplane windscreens. Although a direct shot would pierce the safety glass of these safety glass windscreens the safety glass would not shatter and cause injury to the air crew just as a result of flying glass.

 

In 1940, nation-wide production of the soybeans was limited to just 78,045,000 bushels.  However, by 1943, that production figure had grown to 190,133,000 bushels.  Right here in Mower County, Minnesota, our Nevada, Township farmer had seen his neighbors increase their soybean acreage from 17,800 acres in 1941 to 38,000 acres in 1944.

As the acreage in Mower county increased, our Nevada Township farmer found that large fields of growing soybeans were becoming a more common sight as he drove around the neighborhood.

 

Farmers were not reducing the number of acres they devoted to corn.  Indeed, the number of acres of corn planted in Mower County rose from 88,100 in 1941 to 121,000 acres in 1944.  Where were all these extra arable acres coming from?  To be sure, farmers were now placing in production land they had previously considered unprofitable land.  It was part of the national patriotic drive to plant crops from “fence-row to fence-row” to help the war effort.  However, it was also true that farmers were raising less hay and oats than they used to raise.  In Mower County, farmers devoted 100,300 acres to oats, in 1942 oat acreage in the county fell to 89,000 acres in 1942 and fell still further to 61,800 acres in 1944.  Similarly, the acreage devoted to hay fell from 87,100 acres in 1940 to 54,900 acres in 1943.  Both hay and oats are raised as animal food on the average Midwestern farm—a primary food for horses.  Consequently, the reduction of acreage allotted to hay was the result of farmers mechanizing the power source in their farming operations and reducing the number of horses on their farms.  Of course, farmers still needed some hay and oats for the other livestock they raised on their farms, but clearly, Mower County farmers were growing less hay and oats and turning to soybeans as a replacement crop on their farms.

Our Nevada Township farmer had watched soybean production in Mower County set new historical records of production each year from 1941 until 1943 without diversifying into the production of soybeans.  His mind had been already occupied with his current diversification—into sheep raising.  Sheep raising was the bird in the hand.  The promise behind the raising of soybeans was the two birds in the bush.  Our Nevada Township farmer felt in the spring of 1944 that he should clasp closely onto the bird in the hand and neglect the two in the bush.  However, throughout 1944, the price of soybeans continued its slow steady to climb upwards, reaching $2.05 per bushel as a monthly average for each of the months of October, November and December 1944.  So large was the demand for soybeans that, no glut on the market was created when another nationwide record—192,121,000 bushels of soybeans came onto the market in late 1944.  Indeed, this large supply of soybeans did not even dent the high prices that soybeans were bringing.

The high price of soybeans in 1944, finally, caused our Nevada Township farmer to change his mind.  He decided to plant soybeans on his farm in the spring of 1945.  Many of his neighbors reached the same decision.  Accordingly, in the spring of 1945 Mower County farmers planted a record 51,500 acres in soybeans—up from 38,000 acres in 1944.  This was an increase of 35.5% in soybean acreage in just one year.

Like corn, soybeans was a “row crop.”  Soybeans would be planted in rows 40 inches apart, just like corn.  Back in the winter of 1940-1941, our Nevada Township farmer had purchased a new Oliver-Superior No. 9B tractor-drawn corn planter to replace his old Oliver Superior Model No. 5 horse-drawn corn planter which was getting completely worn out.  He had purchased the new No. 9B corn planter from Thill Implement, the local Oliver Farm Eauipment dealership located in Rose Creek, Minnesota, (1940 pop. 261.)  This turned out to be a fortunate turn of events for two reasons.  First, since the United States’ entry into the World War as a result of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, any new farm machinery had been impossible to get due to the wartime manufacturing restrictions.  Secondly, although our Nevada Township farmer had purchased the Model 9B corn planter to plant corn, this planter could with very little adjustment be converted over to the planting of soybeans.  Should he now decide to go into raising soybeans, he could use this new planter to continue planting his corn in the same wire check 40 inch row format as he had been doing with his old No. 5 and he could also use the same planter to drill his soybeans in 40 inch rows.

Oliver corn planter
The Model 9 Oliver-Superior corn planter could be easily be converted from “check planting” of corn to “sowing” soybeans in rows.

Ever since he had obtained his first tractor in February of 1940—a used 1937 Hart-Parr/Oliver Model 28-44 tractor “3-5 plow tractor”—our Nevada Township farmer had been busy shortening the tongues on a lot of his horse-drawn farm equipment so that he could use the tractor doing as much of the field work on his farm as possible.  (See the first article in this series called “Oliver Farm Equipment in Mower County Part I: Purebred Suffolk Sheep Raising” published on this website.)  Accordingly, he had purchased the new Model 9-B planter with the shortened tractor hitch rather than the longer horse-drawn hitch.  Now with minimal adjustments he could convert his No. 9B corn planter from a corn planter which would wire check corn in a 40 inch by 40 inch grid across the field to a “drill” which could plant (or drill) soybeans in 40 inch rows.

In preparation to plant soybeans our Nevada Township farmer opened the seed containers on his Model 9B corn planter and removed these corn plates from each container and replaced then with soybean planting plates. bottom

 

One of these minimal adjustments was to swap the corn planter plates for the bottom of the seed containers to soybean plates.  These soybean plates would allow the planting of soybeans in a continuous stream in the rows rather than “check” planting in hills within the rows, like corn.  The soybean plants did not have to be spread 40 inches apart in “hills” within the rows like corn.

These at the soybean plates that our Nevada Township farmer installed in his Model 9B planter in order to sow his first crop of soybeans in 1944.

 

Thus, he would not have to stretch the check wire across the length of the field when drilling soybeans as he did when he “wire-check” planted his corn.  Instead, soybeans were “drilled” into the rows.  Rather than releasing seeds into the open trench only when the planting units were “tripped,” he could simply adjust the No. 9 planter so that reach planting unit on the No. 9 planter would “sow” a continuous stream soybeans into the small trenches that were opened by the two furrow openers on the planter.  In this way the seeds and later the soybean plants might be only four inches apart within the row.

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The Oliver-Superior Model 9D planter. With the proper planting plates at the bottom of each cylindrical seed box the Model 9D could be made to sow two rows of soybeans each time across the field.

Our Nevada Township farmer needed to purchase a new pair of planter plates for the No. 9B planter.  He did not, currently, have the planter plates that would allow the No. 9 planter to drill soybeans.  Back in 1941, he did not have any idea that he would be using the Model 9B planter for anything other than planting corn, so he had obtained only corn plates when he had purchased the new planter.  The planter plates were circular cast-iron plates that were placed at the bottom of the two cylindrical seed “boxes” or seed containers on the No. 9 planter.  On planting day, the seed boxes were filled with seed.  As the planter moved across the field the furrow openers at the front of each planting unit on the No. 9 planter would open a trench in the ground about 2 inches deep.  The wheels on the planter would power a shaft connecting both planting units on the No. 9 planter.  This shaft would turn the planter plate at the bottom of each seed box.  As they revolved, the slots on the edge of the planter plate would select individual seeds from the seed box and drop them in a tube which led to the lower part of each planting unit.  There the seeds would be released into the small trench that had been opened by the furrow openers.  Corn plates selected individual seeds at a rate that would allow only three seeds to be selected for every 40 inches of progress the No. 9 made as it moved across the field.  Because soybeans were planted only 4 inches apart, soybean plates would need to supply 10 soybean seeds for the same 40 inches of progress that the planter moved across the field.  The plates needed to turn faster and gather more seed.  Thus, a different style of planter plate was needed for the No. 9 planter for use in soybeans.

The building in Rose Creek, Minnesota that housed the "Thill Implement Dealership."
The building in Rose Creek, Minnesota that housed the “Thill Implement Dealership.”

Accordingly, our Nevada Township farmer made a trip to the Thill Implement dealership in Rose Creek, Minnesota to purchase these new plates.  He made this trip early in the year.  Ever since United States’ involvement in the war, he had learned that nothing should be taken for granted.  Nothing was predictable.  Simple parts like new plates for a planter may have to be ordered.  This would take time.  He wanted all his equipment ready when the field work started.  He could not afford delays while he waited on parts.  Besides in March of 1945, he and his wife were anxious to find a reason (any reason) to get off the farm for a little while.

The winter of 1944-1945 had been basically snowless until a series of snow storms in mid-January, 1945 combined to deposit about 4-to-8 inches of snow on the ground.  Cold temperatures which persisted mid-until March of 1945 would not allow the snow to melt.  Thus, chores like the daily hauling the manure to the field had become cold, laborious jobs even using one of the tractors.  (In addition to the 1937 Model 28-44 standard tractor, our Nevada Township farmer had obtained a 1935 tricycle-style Hart-Parr/Oliver Model 18-28 tricycle-style tractor in late February of 1943.  [See the prior article in this series called “Oliver Farm Equipment in Mower County Part I: Purebred Suffolk Sheep Raising” published on this website.]  It was the Model 18-28 tricycle-style “row crop” tractor that allowed our Nevada Township farmer to mechanize every field task on his farm and eliminate the need for horses on his farm.)

Fighting the snow and trying to keep up with the chores on his farm all winter had given our Nevada Township farmer and his wife a bad case of “cabin fever.”  Accordingly, when the weather became unseasonably warm in late March, 1945, and the snow had melted, our Nevada Township farmer and his wife were more than willing to leave the farm for a short while.  They got into their old 1941 Chevrolet sedan and drove the 12 miles north to visit his local Oliver Farm Equipment dealership—Thill Implement  of Rose Creek, Minnesota.  Rose Creek (1940, pop. 261) was located in center of Windom Township.  Windom Township was the township located immediately adjacent to Nevada Township’s northern border.

 

 

The Thill Implement dealership had been originally founded by John Peter and Marie (Lindsay) Thill in 1938.  Born in Chicago, Illinois, on August 17, 1895, John Peter, at the age of seven-years of age, had moved with his parents, Nicholas and Margaret Thill, in 1903, to a farm located in Windom Township about three (3) miles north of Rose Creek.  Growing up on this farm, John Peter had met Marie Lindsay.  In 1916, they had fallen in love and were married.  They started a family on January 1, 1918 with the birth of Robert Lindsay Thill.  In 1921, a daughter, Dorothy Thill was born to the couple and, finally, in 1925, a second son, John (Jack) Thill Jr, was born.

John Thill Jr. took over operating the Thill Implement dealership from his father–John Peter Thill.

 

John Peter and Marie established their own farming operation and operated the farm through the hardest years of the Great Depression and when the economy started to recover in 1938, John thought he saw an opportunity to gain some extra income by starting a farm tractor dealership in the town of Rose Creek.  Mechanical power on farms was in its infancy, but tractors were already replacing horses on farms at a furious rate.  It already seemed that tractor power was the wave of the future.  Perceiving a large demand for Minneapolis-Moline corn shellers, John Peter Thill obtained a franchise from the Minneapolis-Moline Company of Hopkins, Minnesota.  However, John Peter soon obtained second franchise from the Oliver Farm Equipment Company of Charles City, Iowa, because he had been very impressed by the easy draft of Oliver plows.

Thill Implement in Rose Creek obtained a franchise to sell Minneapolis-Moline corn shellers as well as the entire line of Oliver farm equipment.
Thill Implement in Rose Creek obtained a franchise to sell Minneapolis-Moline corn shellers as well as the entire line of Oliver farm equipment.

In its first year in business, Thill Implement had no building for its dealership.  Thus, Thill Implement dealership began as a few new tractors parked under a under a shade tree in Rose Creek.  Only in 1939 was John Peter able to obtain an old grocery store building in Rose Creek, and convert it to a dealership building.  At the same time as he operated the dealership, John Peter Thill also continued his farming operation.  It was this farm that caused a close relationship to arise between Thill Implement and the Oliver Farm Equipment Company.

The Oliver Farm Equipment Company had been formed in a merger of four companies in 1929–the Hart-Parr Tractor Company of Charles City, Iowa, the American Seeding Company of Richmond, Indiana, the Oliver Chilled Plow Works of South Bend, Indiana and the Nichols and Shepard Company of Battle Creek, Michigan.  Since 1929, more companies had been purchased by and merged into the new Oliver Company.  Thus, by 1939, the Oliver Company was a large sprawling corporation with factories spread all across the nation.

Among the oldest and most distinguished of these companies under the Oliver corporate umbrella was the Hart-Parr Tractor Company.  The Hart-Parr Company had been the first company to mass produce an internal combustion engine-powered farm tractors starting in 1903.  Following the merger in 1929, the new corporate headquarters for the sprawling Oliver Farm Equipment Company was established in Chicago, Illinois.  However, much of the research and management staff dealing with tractor production remained in Charles City, Iowa, the old home of the Hart-Parr Company.  Indeed much of this staff was composed of former Hart-Parr employees and, whatever isolated tractor manufacturing operations were contained in other companies involved in the merger (Nichols and Shepard for an example) were eventually consolidated in Charles City.

Oliver Tractor Works factory in Charles City in 1948
An Aerial view of the Oliver Farm Tractor Works factory in Charles City, Iowa.

The Charles City plant was located 35 miles south of Rose Creek.  Actually, the driving distance to Charles City was 43 miles because John Peter Thill could drive  6 miles west on County Road #4 to pick up U.S. Highway #218.  But the drive was pleasurable because once having reached U.S. #218 was the remaining drive to Charles City was on a smooth concrete paved road.  The new Thill Implement dealership was fortunate in this close proximity to Charles City, Iowa, because over the years, Thill Implement developed a strong relationship with the managerial staff at the Charles City plant.  The benefits of this relationship flowed both ways.  The Charles City engineering staff found that they could count on John Peter readily agreeing to offer land on his farm on which to test their new Oliver tractors.  John Peter agreed to allow these tractor tests and demonstrations to be conducted on his farm because of the public attention these tests and demonstrations attracted.  This public attention was the best possible advertisement for Thill Implement.

Recent public attention by area farmers was directed toward the demonstrations of “row crop tractors.”  These row crop or tricycle style tractors were specifically designed for cult**ivation  of corn and other row crops.  This was the last remaining field task on the average Midwestern farm that was still done by horses.  The entire line of tractors offered to the farming public by the Hart-Parr Tractor Company had been “standard” or “four-wheel” style tractors.  These standard tractors had wheels set at fixed tread widths.  Thus, the tractors were suited for every farm field job except cultivation of row crops.  However, Hart-Parr had been researching and developing a tricycle-style “row crop” tractor at the time of the merger in 1929.  In 1930, Hart-Parr (now the Oliver Company) introduced their new Oliver /Hart-Parr Row Crop Model 18-28 tractor.  This was the Oliver Farm Equipment Company’s first row crop tractor.  This tractor had adjustable tread width for the rear wheels and a single front wheel.  The front wheel attached to a single bolster, like a child’s tricycle.  This “fifth-wheel” type of steering by means of a single bolster allowed the tricycle–style tractor to turn very sharply in the field while cultivating corn and/or other row crops.

The Oliver/Hart-Parr Model 18-28 Row Crop tractor emerged from the energy developed from the 1929 corporate merger that formed the Oliver Farm Equipment Company.  The Model 18-28 was the first Oliver tricycle style tractor.

 

Substantial changes were made to the Model 18-28 tractor and the following year, in 1931, a new improved Oliver Model 18-27 tricycle style tractor replaced the 18-28 Hart-Parr Row Crop tractor.  This new Model 18-27 was designated “dual wheel” to emphasize its most obvious difference from its single-front wheeled predecessor.

The Oliver/Hart-Parr Model 18-27 (dual wheel) Row Crop tractor as a much improved replacement of the first Oliver/Hart-Parr row crop tractor–the Model 18-28 Row Crop tractor.

 

The 18-27 (dual wheel) tractor featured differential foot brakes for each rear wheel.  These differential brakes allowed the tractor operator to apply the brake to the appropriate wheel to assist in turning the 180° turns at the end of the rows while cultivating corn and other row crops.  The 18-27 (dual wheel) also featured a full pressure oiling system and a oil filter.  This helped prolong the life of the four-cylinder engine.  The 18-27 (dual wheel) remained in production from 1931 until 1936.  The peak of annual production of the tractor was reached in 1935, when 748 individual Model 18-27 (dual wheel) tractors were turned out at the Charles City plant.  It was one of these 748 tractors that our Nevada Township farmer had purchased as a used tractor in late-February of 1943.

An advertisement of the newly improved Oliver Row Crop tractor which was designated as the Model 80 Row Crop.

 

In 1936, the Model 18-27 (dual wheel) row crop tractor was replaced with the Oliver Model 80 row crop tractor.  (When the new four cylinder Model 80 tractor was tested at the University of Nebraska from May 16 through May 26, 1938, using low-octane distillate fuel, the results showed that the Model 80 delivered 23.32 horsepower [hp.] to the drawbar and 35.24 hp. to the belt pulley.  [See C.H. Wendel, Nebraska Tractor Tests: Since 1920 (Motorbooks International Pub.: Oseloa, Wisc., 1985) p. 95.])

In 1936, the Oliver Farm Equipment Company again upgraded their Row Crop tractor. This tractor was designated as the Oliver Model 80 Row Crop tractor.  This particular Model 80 was made in 1939. 

 

The unstyled Model 80 was a new tractor, but it was Oliver’s other new (and smaller) row crop tractor that was to become especially important to Thill Implement and other Oliver dealerships across the Midwestern section of the United States.  In 1935, the Oliver Company, introduced their new, revolutionary and very popular smaller tractor—the Model 70.  The Model 70 was offered in a variety of formats—the “standard” style, the “industrial” style and row crop style.  However, the most common format of Model 70 was the row crop version.  Externally, the Oliver Model 70 was unique among tractors on the market.  The tractor was painted dark green with orange accents and red wheels.  When introduced in 1935, the Model 70 had been “styled” with a sheet metal hood, grill and side curtains covering the engine entirely.  During the initial period of production, the Model 70 was offered to the public equipped with a Waukesha four-cylinder engine.

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The “early styled” Model 70 was the first tractor in the Oliver Company line of farm tractors to by “streamlined” with sheet metal. The early styled Model 70 was produced from 1935 until 1937 and was fitted with a four-cylinder engine manufactured by the Waukesha Motor Company of Waukesha, Wisconsin.

However, in 1937, the Model 70 was further improved and “streamlined.  The streamlining gave the Model 70 an even more sleek appearance.  The new improved Model 70 was offered to the public with optional rubber tires, electric start and electric lights.  However, the must unique feature of the new 1937 Oliver Model 70 was the tractor’s new 6-cylinder engine.  The new 6-cylinder engine featured in the new Oliver Model 70 had been researched and developed by the Oliver Company, itself.  The engine was now in full production at Oliver’s South Bend No. 2 Works in South Bend, Indiana.  When this new six-cylinder Model 70 was tested at the University of Nebraska from August 23 until August 29, 1940, the new 6-cylinder engine in the Model 70 delivered 22.72 horsepower (hp.) to the drawbar and 30.37 hp. to the belt pulley.  (See C.H. Wendel, Nebraska Tractor Tests: Since 1920 [Motorbooks International: Oseola, Wisc., 1985] p. 128.)

From the very first, the row-crop style Model 70 tractor led all other models of Oliver tractors in sales.  The tricycle style row crop version of the Model 70 itself, actually, outsold all the other styles and models of Oliver tractors.  During the first two years of production the 4-cylinder Model 70, Oliver made and sold 684 row crop versions of the Model 70 in 1935 and 8,042 row crop versions in 1936.  When the new 6-cylinder Oliver Model 70 was introduced in 1937, sales of the row crop Model 70 rose to 10,915 Model 70 row crop tractors.  By contrast, only 14 Model 80 tractors were built and sold in 1937.

When the Thill Implement opened in 1938, the national economy was just recovering from the recession of 1937-1938.  This recession had caused a downturn in business nationwide.  This business slowdown also affected the Oliver Farm Equipment Company as the company produced only 780 Model 70 row crop tractors in 1938.  However, Thill Implement was able to sell enough of these popular tractors to weather the recession.  In 1939, with the recession over, the Oliver Company produced 7,860 Model 70 row crop tractors.  Thill Implement supported itself on the back of strong sales of the Model 70 until the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor involved the United States in the Second World War.  From that point on production of the Oliver Model 70 dwindled to only 1,070 row crop tractors in 1943.  Not because of any lack of demand for the Model 70, rather the decline in production was caused by the scarcity of raw materials for making the tractor.  All raw products for civilian production were now being severely restricted by the United States government and directed to production for the war effort. Thus, production of tractors and large farm implements by all farm manufacturers was severely curtailed by the war effort.  During the middle of the war, even the manufacture of repair parts were restricted by the war effort and it was hard for farmers to obtain any repair parts from their local dealerships.  Farmers found that even parts for the tractors and farm machinery they already owned were in short supply.

Accordingly, our Nevada Township farmer did not know what to expect when he visited Thill Implement in February of 1945.  He did not know whether the corn planter plates he wanted would be in stock or whether he would have to order the parts and then wait on the delivery of the parts some weeks in the future.  However, our Nevada Township farmer was pleasantly surprised to learn that now in the spring of 1945 with the end of the war was in sight, the United States economy had grown to the level that it was able to meet the vast demands of the war and simultaneously meet some of the demands of civilian economy.  Thus, while in the spring of 1945, new Model 70 tractors remained in very short supply, our Nevada Township farmer was assured that Thill Implement had the planter plates in stock.  The salesman behind the repair parts counter at Thill Implement  took no more than a couple of minutes to walk back into the parts bins behind the counter and emerge with two of the particular planter plates for the Oliver-Superior Model 9 planter which he had requested.  The salesman reminded our Nevada Township farmer of another part he would need to convert his corn planter into a soybean drill.  This was a small link that connected between the frame of the planter and the tripping mechanism on the planter.  This link would disable the tripping mechanism so that the shaft turning the soybean plates would operate continuously.  This would allow the soybeans to be drilled in a steady stream along the row rather than being planted in hills planted in the row.

The salesman related that there had been big demand for these soybean plates and the link over the last few weeks.  Because of this demand, Thill Implement had ordered and received a large number of the soybean planter plates and conversion parts for all of the older Oliver-Superior planters.  It seemed that everyone was planting soybeans this year.  Indeed, the salesman reported that he had heard over KATE radio from nearby Albert Lea, Minnesota, (the county seat of neighboring Freeborn County) that preliminary news reports of spring planting in Freeborn County from the Extension Service of the United States Department of Agriculture found that soybean acreage was up by 20% this spring over the year before.  (In Mower County the results would eventually reveal a more staggering figure.  The Mower County Extension Service would report that the number of acres planted in soybeans in Mower County in the spring of 1945 would be up 35.5 % over the previous year.)

Having obtained the proper planter plates for his Model 9 planter, our Nevada Township farmer was ready for the spring field work well before the winter weather warmed sufficiently for him to get into the fields.  Warmer than usual weather in late-March helped dry and warm the soil in his fields.  Thus, spring field work could begin in April, earlier than usual.  The oats were drilled first.  However, this year, our Nevada Township farmer drilled only part of the field in oats.  Since obtaining the Oliver Row Crop Model 18-28 (dual wheel) tractor, two years before, he had totally mechanized the power sources on his farm.  Although he had retained one team of horses on his farm out of a feeling of tradition, he really had no need to employ horses in any aspect of his field operations—including the cultivation of row crops.   Thus, with far fewer horses on his farm he no longer needed a large quantity of oats on the farm as he had done in the past.  Accordingly, the remainder of the oat field was worked up and left unplanted for the time being.  This was the area on the farm where he would plant the soybeans.

Before planting his new crop of soybeans, however, he needed to plant his corn.  Corn was traditionally planted prior to soybeans.  While corn can be planted in ground that is between 50º to 55ºF in temperature, soybeans required soil temperatures of 55ºF to 60ºF in order to prosper.  It turned out that there was no need to worry, this year.  The sunshine of early May, 1945 warmed the ground sufficiently, such that our Nevada Township farmer could start planting his soybeans immediately after he had finished planting his corn in mid-May.

Dramatic world news was broadcast in May of 1945, as Germany surrendered and the war in Europe came to an end.  This was good news, but our Nevada Township farmer and his wife still had their eyes on the war in the Pacific, where both of their sons were serving.  The war in the Pacific was still in progress.  For him and his wife the really big news, they wanted, was to hear that the war in the Pacific had ended.  This would mean the safe return of their two sons.  However, our Nevada Township farmer could not help being anxious over the end of the war.  What would happen to the prices of both corn and soybeans with the return to peace.  In particular, he wondered if it was the wrong time to expand into soybeans—a crop that seemed to be so closely tied to war production.  Still he had already obtained the soybean seed from the Hunting elevator in Lyle, Minnesota.  It was too late to turn back now.  He might as well proceed as planned and accept the risk.

Consequently, after wire-check planting his corn, our Nevada Township farmer unscrewed the thumb screw in the back of both planter seed boxes and tipped the boxes forward.  The cylinder-shaped seed boxes were hinged in the front, which allowed the box to be tipped forward until all the contents of each seed box could be poured out.  This way he removed the seed corn that had been left in the boxes at the conclusion of the corn planting.  Then, he removed the corn seed plate at the bottom of each seed box and replaced the corn plate with the new soybean plate that he purchased at Thill Implement.  Next, he had attached the small metal link he had purchased from Thill Implement which converted the planter into a soybean drill by disabling the tripping mechanism on the planter.

The control lever on the Oliver-Superior two-row corn planter that shifted the planter from planting corn to sowing soybeans
The control lever on the Oliver-Superior two-row corn planter that shifted the planter from planting corn to sowing soybeans

This link held the tripping mechanism in abeyance and allowed seeds to flow down both planter units continuously, rather than being released periodically along the row only when the planting unit was “tripped.”  This way the soybeans would be drilled into the rows rather than planted in hills within the rows like the corn.  Finally, our Nevada Township farmer greased the moving parts of the planter at every location where there was a grease zerk.  Thus, the planter was all ready to go the next morning, when he completed the milking and the other morning chores.

All he needed to do was to climb up into the operator’s seat of the Model 18-28 and drive the tractor and planter to the field.  The long dry spell at the beginning of May had allowed our Nevada Township farmer to get all his corn planted and now it looked as though weather would continue to hold while he planted his soybeans.  Indeed in the back of his mind was a worry that the dry weather spell might portend a dry growing season.

The sacks of soybean seed he had purchased were accompanied by a small packet of “inoculant.”  The inoculant was a black powder which acted as a natural fertilizer for the soybeans, encouraging early sprouting and growth of the soybeans after the seed was in the ground.  On planting day, our Nevada Township farmer poured the seed out of the sacks into his “triple box” wagon.  Then he opened the packet of inoculant and poured the contents of the packet over the pile of soybeans in the wagon.  Then he shoveled the soybeans to mix the inoculant evenly throughout the entire pile of soybean seed.  He hitched the wagon to his 1937 Hart-Parr/Oliver Model 28-44 tractor and drove it to the oat field.  The oats, with only a month’s worth of growth so far, appeared like a light green fuzz just visible on the surface of the ground– on the portion of the field that had been drilled in oats, but they had not yet completely covered the ground with green color.  Our Nevada Township farmer parked the wagon and the Model 28-44 tractor at the end of the field on the portion of the field where the new growth of oats were starting to grow.  Then he walked back to the homestead and started up his other tractor—the Oliver Row-Crop Model 18-28 (dual wheel)—and hitched this tractor up to his Oliver/Superior Model 9 corn planter.

Once in the field, he pulled the planter up to the rear of the wagon and loaded each seed box with soybeans.  Then he lined the planter up with the end of the field and released the row marker on the side of the planter.  This row marker was set to make a small mark in the dirt as he moved along.  He would follow this mark with the front wheels of his tractor on his return trip across the end of the field.  In this way he could be sure that the spacing between all the rows remained at 40 inches.  He would drill eight rows of soybeans across the end of the unplanted portion of this field.  These eight “end rows” would allow him room to turn around at the end of the field when cultivating the soybeans.  Before he went very far, however, he dismounted the tractor seat and went around behind the planter and uncovered a portion of the rows he had just planted.  He checked to see if the seeds were actually being correctly planted in the rows.  He found that everything was performing the way it should and the soybeans were being planted about two inches under the surface and the seeds were being placed about 4 inches apart within the rows.

Before making his first trip across the length of the field, our Nevada Township farmer “topped off” each seed box with soybean seed.  He wanted to be sure he could make a full trip across and back without running out of seed.  Additionally, while he was at the far end of the field he wanted to drill eight more end rows across the far end of the field as he had done at this end of the field.  He knew that the seed in each seed box would be used up at a much faster rate than when he had planted his corn.  Then he released the row marker on the side of the planter facing the unplanted portion of the field.  When he returned from the other side of the field he would be using the row marker on the opposite side of the planter.  Then he would fill the seed boxes and proceed again to cross the length of the field.  In this manner he completed the planting of his first soybean crop.

In late-May, after the soybeans had been planted, there were several light rains.  None of the rains, individually, delivered more than ¾ of an inch of rain and taken together all the rains were still insufficient for the crops, especially the corn.

EPSON MFP image
The Oliver Row Crop Model 18-27 with its mounted two-row cultivator worked as well on soybeans as the tractor did on corn.

Cultivation of the corn and soybeans to prevent weeds from competing with the crop for moisture and soil nutrients is important in any year.  However, this year, with less moisture to go around, cultivation of the row crops was even more crucial.  Unlike corn, however, soybeans did not have to be “cross cultivated.”  Our Nevada Township farmer tried to cultivate his corn lengthwise and then cross wise and then re-cultivate lengthwise.  He tried to cultivate the soybeans twice.  Among the periodic rains of mid-June through early-July, none really measured up the good soaking series of rains that were needed to give a boost to the row crops.  All the crops suffered from a lack of rain.  However, the corn seemed to be the hardest hit by the drought conditions.  The individual corn plants began to appear as little spike plants as the leaves of the individual corn plants curled up to preserve moisture under the hot July sun.  The soybeans were somewhat stunted in their growth.  Yet the individual soybean plants seemed to be bearing up better under the dry conditions.

Normally, the soybeans grew to about three feet in height and bushed out to cover completely the 40 inch space between the rows.  This year as the dry season continued the soybeans were not as luxurious as Mower county farmers had seen in the past, yet by late-July of 1945, the soybeans were starting to flower.  Our Nevada Township farmer ceased his cultivation of the soybeans just as flowering of the soybeans began.  Disturbing the soybeans at this stage with further cultivation, risked knocking off a great number of flowers on the individual soybean plants.  Less flowers would mean less seed pods, which would greatly reduce the per-acre yield of the soybean crop.  Consequently, our Nevada Township farmer stopped cultivation of the soybeans when before flowering started.  From that time on the soybeans were on their own in competing with the weeds.  Only one good rain occurred in August, 1945, as the dry conditions continued throughout the whole month.  By early September of 1945, the soybeans leaves had changed color to brilliant yellow as the crop began to ripen.

September of 1945, brought the long awaited news that the war in the Pacific had ended with the surrender of Japan.  Our Nevada Township farmer’s two sons would soon be heading home.  It was great news.  However, our Nevada township farmer had some trepidation to see what the end of the war would mean for farm crop prices.  Corn prices had already fallen from their wartime high of $1.22 per bushel in May of 1945 to $1.16 per bushel in September of 1945.  Our Nevada Township farmer was pleasantly surprised that prices had not fallen more during that time.  However, he suspected that prices were being buoyed by the prospect that there would be a poor harvest of corn in the fall of 1945 because of the drought during the growing season.  His own corn looked pretty bad.  However, soybean prices, on the other hand fell off by only a nickel from their steady wartime price of $2.10 per bushel in September of 1945 to $2.05 per bushel in October of 1945.  Our Nevada Township farmer noticed that the soybeans appeared in better condition as the harvest neared.

The first killing frost of the season occurred in the last days of September, which caused the leaves on the soybean plants turn brown and then to fall off the plant altogether. With no leaves, the plants were just sticks protruding up out of the ground to a height of about two feet.  Off these sticks were branches of the original plant.  Every branch was heavy with dark brown pods.  Each pod generally held three soybeans.  The dark brown color of the pods indicated that the soybeans were ready for harvesting.  Inside the pods, the soybeans were drying more and more as each day passed during the hot dry summer growing season.  The optimum moisture content for harvesting of soybeans was 14%.  Harvesting soybeans at a higher moisture content would risk mold on the soybeans.  These soybeans were called “rubbery” soybeans because of their rubber-like consistency.  Rubbery soybeans would develop mold and spoil before they could be sold.  Harvesting soybeans at a lower moisture content than 14% would cause a great number of the individual soybeans to split in two during the harvesting process.

Our Nevada Township farmer had no combine of his own to harvest the soybeans, so he hired a neighbor to come over and combine the soybeans for him.  The neighbor had obtained an Oliver Model 10 “Grainmaster” combine prior to the war.  The Grainmaster combine was manufactured in the old Nichols and Shepard factory on the 40 acre site at Marshall and Michigan Streets in Battle Creek, Michigan.  However, during the Second World War, 37% of the work performed by the Oliver Farm Equipment Company was taken up with fulfilling government contracts.  The resources needed for the production of combines was almost non-existent.

Right side view of Oliver Model 10 Grain Master combine
The Oliver Model 10 Grainmaster combine was a “pre-war” combine recognizable because of its high profile caused by the high gravity style unloading grain tank.

Accordingly, Grainmaster combine production was severely restricted.   Thus with no combines available during the war, this neighbor had virtually, the only combine in the neighborhood.  The neighbor had almost no competition for the custom combining soybeans around the neighborhood.  Consequently, this neighbor was now kept very busy doing custom combining of soybeans around the neighborhood and he had a long list of customers.  Our Nevada Township farmer would have wait for the combine to arrive on his farm.  This put him in a bind.  He knew that it was necessary that he get as much of his soybean crop harvested before the soybeans dried out to 12% moisture content or less.  At 12% moisture content the mere threshing of the soybeans would cause excessive splitting of the soybeans.  Split soybeans could not be processed as efficiently as whole soybeans.  Consequently, he would be “docked” in the price he received at the Hunting Elevator for his beans if there was an excessive amount of splitting in the crop that he delivered to the elevator.

The danger was that, as he waited for the combine to arrive on his farm, the soybeans could dry out to only 8% to 10% moisture content.  At this level of dryness, soybeans would tend to split in half with any form of rough handling.  So, here he was, stuck waiting for the custom combine to arrive on his farm.  He felt he was losing money on his new crop with every day that passed.

While he waited, our Nevada Township farmer made arrangements to have his corn picked.  As usual, this was done by another neighborhood farmer who had a corn picker who performed custom corn picking in the neighborhood.  There were many such farmers in the neighborhood, who were available for custom corn picking.  Thus, it was much easier to get the corn picked without the long wait.  Consequently, our Nevada Township farmer was able to harvest his corn and get it in the crib in October before the soybeans were harvested.  As predicted, the corn was a poor crop.  Since 1938, farmers in the area had been using “certified hybrid” seed which was purchased from seed corn dealers rather than some of their own shelled corn to plant in the spring.  The result had been an improvement in the number of corn plants that sprouted from each hill and an increase in the size of the ears that were produced by those corn plants.  This meant an improve yield of bushels per acre in production on the average farm in Mower County.  Consequently, whereas prior to 1938, farmers in Mower County had averaged about 34.1 bushels per acre, in the years from 1938 until last year, 1944, Mower County farmers had averaged 45.4 bushels per acre.  This was the “new norm” and represented a 33.1 % increase in yield per acre or more simply a one-third increase in profits for the average farm because of the use of certified seed corn.

As he counted up the 1945 corn harvest, however, our Nevada Township farmer found that the yield of corn in 1945 was considerably less than normal.  Across Mower County the average yield of corn per acre in 1945, was only 32 bushels per acre.  This was 29.1% less than the new norm yield.  Corn was usually stored in the corn crib on the farm until February of the next year when it had a chance to thoroughly dry in the cold winter air.  Usually in February the corn in the crib would be shelled out and sold to the Hunting Elevator.  Accordingly, the income from corn was usually obtained in February.  Usually, this was one of the big payoffs from his farming operation.  The income derived from corn was used to pay off big annual debts in the farming operation.  This year, our Nevada Township farmer knew that this substantial income received in February would be reduced by about 30%.  That created a big hole in the family finances.  Under usual circumstances, one might expect that the scarcity of corn coming onto the market as a result of the poor harvest, might drive the price of corn up.  In such a case the farmer might be able to recover more income because he would receive more for each bushel of corn he sold, even if he had less than the normal number of bushels to sell to the elevator.  However, in 1945, the reduced demand for corn as the United States armies came home and the fact that the drought conditions was a local phenomenon rather than a nationwide epidemic meant that the price of corn did not rise.  Our Nevada Township farmer was faced with the fact that he would have 30% less crop to sell and he would receive any additional money for that crop on a per bushel basis than he had the previous year.

Finally in November of 1945, the combine arrived on the farm of our Nevada Township farmer.  Our Nevada Township farmer could finally harvest his first soybean crop.  Earlier in November of 1945 the weather had turned colder than usual and the ground had frozen.  Furthermore, an inch and a half of snow fell in the early November.  Luckily, however, the weather warmed enough to allow the soybeans to be harvested by the middle of November.  By this time our Nevada Township farmer’s two sons had made it back to the United States from the war in the Pacific.  They were now back on the farm and were able to help get the crop harvested and hauled straight to the Hunting Elevator.  On top of the problem of dried and split soybeans, our Nevada Township farmer also worried about the timing of his crop coming to the Hunting Elevator.  He was worried that the price of soybeans would fall as more and more of the soybean crop came onto the market across the nation.  WCCO radio out of Minneapolis/St. Paul had reported that the 1945 harvest of soybeans appeared to be a new record harvest.  (This report would later be substantiated by the Department of Agriculture, who would officially report that 193,167,000 bushels of soybeans would be harvested in 1945, setting another new record for the fifth straight year.)  Our Nevada Township farmer worried that the price of soybeans would fall as more of this large harvest came to market.  If the price fell too much, he would have to store the soybeans on the farm to wait for a higher price.  He needed to get as much for the soybeans as he could to offset the losses he expected in February from the sale of his corn.

The Model 10 Grainmaster combine, used by the neighbor, was a large combine, weighing 5,950 pounds.  This combine was really just a portable threshing machine with a ten-foot cutter bar protruding out the right side of the combine.  At ten-feet (120 inches), the cutter bar was wide enough to comfortably harvest three rows of soybeans (planted in 40 or 42 inch rows) with each pass across the field.  This was the configuration of the Model 10 combine in the field.  However, the combine in this configuration was too wide for transport down the road or even through the narrow gates into the fields of the typical post-war farm.  Thus, the cutterbar/feeder was built to be detached from the combine.  Mounted on its own auxiliary transport wheels, the cutterbar/feeder could be towed behind the combine for transporting down the road and through the gates of the individual soybean fields.  This meant that as the neighbor transported the Model 10 combine from farm to farm in the neighborhood, he appeared somewhat as a train moving down the narrow country roads of Nevada Township.

To pull the combine the neighbor used his own 1936 Hart-Parr/Oliver Model 70 Row Crop tractor.  This tractor was the early “streamlined” Model 70’s which contained a Waukesha-made four-cylinder engine.  The neighbor had purchased this Model 70 as a used tractor from Thill Implement of Rose Creek.  This particular tractor was fitted rubber tires front and rear, which was a convenient feature for a tractor involved in custom farming.  Model 70 tractors fitted with rubber tires at the factory were usually also fitted with the optional six-speed transmission including a road gear allowing the tractor to cruise along at 13¼ miles per hour (mph).  This speed certainly hastened the tractor’s ability to move from farm to farm as he towed the Model 10 Grainmaster combine around the neighborhood to harvest the soybean crop.  Additionally, rubber tires on the tractor were becoming a necessity.  The steel lugs on steel-wheeled tractors naturally tore up and ruined the surfaces of graded roads.  As a consequence, county and local governments were starting to ban all tractors with steel lugs from operating on the public roads.

When the neighbor pulled into the farm of our Nevada Township farmer with his “long train,” he immediately headed out of the yard and down the lane to the soybean field.  He pulled the long train into the soybean field where, he began to unhooked the cutterbar/feeder from the rear of the combine and moved it around to its operating position on the right side of the combine.  This whole process of setting up the combine was conducted right on top of the soybean plants located near the gate of the field.  Our Nevada Township farmer cringed as he saw the maneuvering around was running down some of the soybean plants.  Disturbing these dried soybean plants allowed some of the dried pods to crack open and the soybeans inside to fall out onto the ground.  This was a waste of the crop that would reduce the per acre yield of the soybean harvest, but it seemed unavoidable.

Once the cutterbar/feeder was attached to its operating position and all the chains, belts and rubberized aprons were back in place, the neighbor started the four-cylinder Continental engine on the Grainmaster combine.  Once the engine was warmed up he engaged the clutch on the combine and everything on the combine can alive and began to work.

The neighbor adjusted the combine header to a height as low to the ground as possible so that the cutter bar would “shave” the ground leaving a stubble of no more than 1½ inches above the surface of the ground.  He wanted to get all the soybean pods into the combine—even the lowest hanging pods, which may only be about 2 inches above the ground.  The frozen ground was actually a help in this attempt to get as close to the ground as possible.  The skids under the cutterbar/feeder would ride along harmlessly on top of the frozen ground.  Had the ground not been frozen, the skids and the cutterbar might have plunged into the soft ground.  Dirt and mud would then have been picked up and gotten into the combine.

Oliver Model 10 Grain Master Combine front view
The Oliver Company Model No. 10 combine with its 5-batt reel mounted over the cutter bar.

Over the cutter bar of the Grainmaster combine was a reel which consisted of five (5) “bats” that were long enough to reach entirely across the cutter bar.  The cylindrical reel rotated a little faster than the anticipated forward speed of the combine.  As the reel turned each of the five bats would sweep down over the cutter bar and bend the soybean plants over the cutter bar as they were being cut.  This would assure that all of the cut beans plants would fall safely onto the header where a series of rubberized canvas aprons (or drapers) would carry the soybean plants across the platform of the header and up the to the feeder where they would then be fed into the cylinder where the actual threshing of the crop took place.  For harvesting soybeans, the neighbor had slowed the speed of the cylinder down from around 1400 revolutions per minute (rpm), the speed used for threshing wheat and/or oats, to a speed of 700 rpm for gentle threshing of the soybeans.  Once threshed the soybeans fell through the grain screens to the grain pan at the bottom of the No. 10 Grainmaster combine.  There an elevator would pickup the soybeans and carry them to the top of the 50 bushel grain tank located at the very top of the combine.  This grain tank was a gravity flow tank.  Therefore the tank needed to be located above the level of wagons or grain truck beds.  As a consequence, the grain tank gave the No. 10 combine a very high profile.  Indeed, the overall height of the combine from the ground to the top of the grain elevator was in excess of 12 feet.  Usually a very high shed with a high door needed to be built to house the No. 10 Grainmaster combine on farm of every farmer that owned one of these tall combines.

Oliver Model 10 Grain Master combine unloading inO
An Oliver Model No. 10 combine unloading its grain tank into a waiting truck with a grain box.

Once in operation in the field, the No. 10 Grainmaster offered unsurpassed efficiency in the threshing and separation of all crops including soybeans.  However, getting the field “open” enough for efficient operation was another matter.  First the end rows of the near end of the field had to be combined.  The neighbor steered the Model 70 tractor so that the front wheels rolled down the pathway between the first two rows nearest the fence.  The left rear wheel of the tractor passed along in the space between the first row and the fence.  During this first pass across the end of the field only the third, four and fifth rows of soybeans were harvested.  The first two rows nearest the fence were not harvested, but rather were straddled by the tractor pulling the combine.  The soybeans in these rows were disturbed which resulted in further losses of soybeans on the ground as the tractor and the hitch of the combine passed over the dried soybean plants.  Once he reached the side of the field with the front end of the tractor almost touching the fence along the side of the field, the neighbor needed to back the tractor and combine up and turn it around so that he proceed the opposite way across the end of the field.  The process backing the large bulky combine around meant that some more soybean plants were run over by the tractor and combine.

On the return trip back across the field, the neighbor was able to harvest the two rows near the fence, the same rows he had driven over on the first turn across the end of the field.  He reached the other side of the field and turned around to harvest the three remaining rows of the end rows on the near end of the field.  Once all the end rows were harvested, our Nevada Township farmer could drive his Model 28-44 Oliver tractor and his double box wagon onto the stubble of the near end of the field.  Before attempting to combine the long lengthwise rows of the soybean field, the neighbor pulled the combine over near the wagon and stopped.  He, then, dismounted his tractor and walked back to the grain bin of the combine and lowered the chute of the combine over into the wagon.  He then raised the lever of the door of the grain tank and all the soybeans began flowing out of the grain tank and dropping into the wagon box.  The neighbor wanted to empty the 50-bushel grain tank before he headed across the length of the soybean field.  Once reaching the far end of the field, the neighbor would harvest the end rows of the far end before returning to the near end again.  He wanted to make sure he started out with an empty grain tank to be sure that he could make it all the way back with out overflowing the grain tank.

As he headed out across the length of the field, he, again, steered the tractor down the first two rows and harvest only the third, fourth and fifth rows from the fence.  After combining the end rows on the far end of the field, the neighbor made his way down the opposite side of the field harvesting the third, fourth and fifth rows from the fence on that side of the field.  With a very full grain tank he made it once again to the near side of the field.  After emptying the grain tank again he reversed his direction around the field and harvested the two rows nearest the fence that he had run over with the tractor on his first lengthwise round of the entire field.  Now with plenty of room to turn around at both ends of the field the neighbor could complete the harvesting of the soybean crop at top efficiency, without running down any more rows of soybeans.  With every return to the near end of the field, the neighbor would empty his grain tank before heading out again on another trip across the field.

Much as he had worried over the price of soybeans, our Nevada Township farmer was pleasantly surprised to find that the price of soybeans had not fallen.  Indeed the price of soybeans in November had risen to $2.10 per bushel.  Consequently, our Nevada Township farmer hauled his whole soybean crop straight from the field to Hunting elevator in Lyle, Minnesota.  He and his sons were busy hauling the wagon loads of soybeans out of the field with the tractors.  In the yard, the wagon was hitched to his car the soybeans were driven to Lyle.  To prevent the any delays in the harvesting, our Nevada Township farmer also made arrangements with a couple of neighbors with trucks to help haul the crop straight from the field to the Hunting elevator.

Our Nevada Township farmer and his neighbors found that the amount of their soybean crop had been reduced somewhat because of the dry weather conditions during the growing season.  However, this reduction in yield for soybeans was not as serious as it was for corn.  The average per acre yield of soybeans fell to 12 bushels per acre in Mower County as a whole.  This was not as high as the 14 bushels per acre in 1944, nor as high as the 15 bushels per acre county-wide average in 1943.  However, both 1944 and 1943 had been exceptional years for growing soybeans.  In each of those years, Mower County farmers had set a new record for production of soybeans.  Since 1941, the average soybean yield per acre in Mower County had been 13.25 bushels per acre.  Accordingly, despite the dry growing season, the 1945 soybean harvest was only 9.4 % less than the normal harvest.  Clearly, soybeans could sustain dry weather condition better than corn.  This decline in the yield did not prevent Mower County farmers from setting another new record for total production for the third year in a row, with 618,000 bushels of soybeans produced in 1945.

Furthermore, as noted above, when our Nevada Township farmer sold his soybeans he received about $2.10 per bushel for his soybeans.  Thus, the soybean crop largely filled the hole in his yearly budget created by the poor corn harvest.

Thus, soybeans had saved the day on our Nevada Township farmer’s farm.  In 1945, soybeans proved their worth as a cash crop on a diversified farm—a cash crop which could save the family budget when the major cash crop failed.  In his very first year of raising soybeans our Nevada Township farmer had seen the advantage of diversifying his farming operation to include the cash crop of soybeans.  Diversification of his farming operation had worked the way it was supposed to work.

Potato Farming in North Dakota with a 1937 F-20 (Part I)

Statistics recorded with Counterize - Version 3.1.4

Potato Farming in No. Dakota: The 1937 F-20    

by

Brian Wayne Wells

(As published in the July/August 2008 issue of

Belt Pulley Magazine)

Grafton Potato Growers Inc.: A major potato buyer of potaotes in Grafton, the county seat of Walsh County, North Dakota.

     It began like so many other purchases of antique farm machinery.  The late Wayne A. Wells purchased a Farmall Model F-20 at the 1992 LeSueur County Pioneer Power Swap Meet.  Wayne paid for the tractor by means of a check.  Wayne had the habit of making virtually all purchase transactions by means of a check—a habit that has been inherited and is carried on to further extremes by his son, the current author.  Future events would prove how extremely fortunate it was that the purchase was made by means of a check.

No. 71355 powering the Wallace Bauleke/Paul Meyer 22 inch McCormick-Deering thresher at the 1993 LeSueur Pioneer Power Show.. This web-site contains an independent article on the history of the Wallace Bauleke/Paul Meyer thresher.

This particular F-20 was missing its serial number tag.  However, the serial number imprinted on the frame of the tractor was 71355.  The tractor was fitted with two 6.00 X 16 inch car tires mounted on IHC cast iron drop-center, or demountable, rims in the front.  One of the first improvements to the tractor was to replace these old car tires with two new 5.50 X 16 inch tri-rib tires.  No. 71355 was also fitted with 13 X 36” rubber tires mounted on IHC cast-iron demountable rims in the rear.  The rear tires were in extremely bad shape and in April of 1993 they too were replaced with brand new tires.

No. 71355, having already been painted but still with the old rear tires,,undergoes an overhaul during Christmas of 1992.

 

No. 71355 was only the second tractor to be restored by Wayne Wells, (the first tractor to be restored was the 1945 Farmall B bearing the serial number 130161, which is mentioned in the article called “Farmall B: Second Tractor on the Farm, but First in the Heart” contained in the November/December 1993 issue of Belt Pulley), both Wayne and his two sons, Mark and the current author, were anxious to parade the tractor at the LeSueur County Pioneer Power Show to be held on the last weekend in August 1992.  Accordingly, No. 71355 was painted prior to any overhaul of the engine being performed.  (Indeed, a very “smoky” but painted, No. 71355 can be seen being driven by Mark Wells in the parade at the 1992 LeSueur Show in the second hour portion of Disc/Tape No. 1 of the International Harvester Promotional Movie collection.

No. 71355 was painted in August of 1993 an was overhauled during Christmas of 1993.

 

The current author can be seen in the same movie driving the same 1945 Farmall B mentioned above, just ahead of No. 71355 in the parade.)  The badly needed engine overhaul of No. 71355 was conducted in large part over Christmas of 1992.  (Some of this work performed on No. 71355 over that Christmas was filmed and can be seen on the second hour portion of Disc/Tape No. 2 of the International Harvester Promotional Movies.)  In April of 1993, No. 71355 was pulled and started for the first time following the engine overhaul.  (This procedure of pulling No. 71355 with the 1945 Farmall B in April of 1993 can be seen on the second hour portion of Disc/Tape #5 of the International Harvester Promotional movie collection.)

While No. 71355 was the second tractor restored by Wayne A. Wells, the 1945 Farmall Model B bearing the serial number 130161 was his first restoration project.

 

As the restoration of No. 71355 proceeded, history of the tractor was examined.  Nothing of the actual history of No. 71355 was known.  Consequently, the history of the tractor was a topic of speculation.  Ordinarily a telephone call to the seller of the tractor would have been the starting point for the research into the history of the tractor.  However, time had passed since the purchase of No. 71355 in April of 1992 and the canceled check bearing the name of the seller of No. 71355 was placed away in storage with the financial papers of the Wells family.  With the check used for payment on the tractor not readily at hand, the seller’s name was not available and not even a beginning could be made as to researching the actual history of the tractor.  Only the features of the tractor itself could be used as clues as to the tractor’s past.  Luckily, the particular and unique features of No. 71355, reveal a good deal about the tractor.

The tricycle design of farm tractors was introduced by the International Harvester Company in 1924 with the “Farmall” tractor. Soon nearly all farm tractor manufcturers around the world were copying the tricycle design for their “row crop” tractors.

 

First and foremost was the “tricycle type” design of No. 71355.  The tricycle design positioned the front wheels of the tractor close together.  This configuration allowed the tractor to work in crops which were planted in rows as narrow 30 inches apart.  As a tricycle “row crop” tractor, both front wheels of the tractor were attached to a single bolster.  Thus, both front wheels shared a single pivot point.  This type of steering is called “fifth wheel” type of steering and is different than the “automotive type” steering found in “standard” or “four-wheel” designed tractors in which each wheel has its own pivot point located at the “journal” for that particular wheel.  The fifth wheel type of steering allowed the tricycle designed tractor to turn much more sharply than the automotive type steering.  Thus, the tricycle design and the ability to turn very sharp corners made No. 71355 ideally suited for row crop farm work.

The single pivot point on the front of the Farmall tractor was the steering bolster on the tractor located in front of the radiator. The particular “open” (non-enclosed) gear and sector plate style steering on the early Farmalls (now called the Farmall Regular) made the Regular somewhat dangerous to drive over rough or rocky ground. After 1932, the Regular was modified and improved and became the Farmall Model F-20 tractor. One of the main improvements made to the Farmall Regular in 1932 was the replacement of the open gear and sector plate type steering with a “worm gear” type of steering in the new F-20. As a result the Farmall Model F-20 tractor was much easier to steer than the Regular.

 

A second feature of No. 71355 that provided a clue as to its history was the optional high-speed road gear that had been installed in the standard transmission of No. 71355.  Standard equipment on the Farmall Model F-20 was a four-speed transmission with speeds of 2⅜ miles per hour (mph) in first gear, 2¾ mph in second gear, 3¼ mph in the standard third gear and 3¾ in fourth gear.  (See the tractor specifications of the F-20 in the IHC Data Book #1: 1900 to 1940 by Alan C. King at page 24.)  However, in the transmission of No. 71355, the standard equipment 3¼ mph third gear had been replaced by the optional 28-tooth gear which resulted in a speed of 7.07 mph.  (See the 28-tooth “high speed” sliding gear listed as part No. 20700D on page 124 of the F-20 Parts Catalog—TC-13-A.)

The 28-tooth sliding gear that would replace 3rd gear in the Farmall Model F-20 transmission to allow the tractor to have a 7.07 mph road speed.

 

Consequently, this optional “3rd gear” became the “new road gear” and really was the new “4th gear.”  This was a factory installed option on No. 71355, as evidenced by the fact that the numbers embossed on the base at the shifter lever of the tractor, which reflected the shifting pattern for the gear shift lever, actually had the “3” and the “4” reversed to accurately portray the new gear shift pattern given the installation of this new optional road gear.  (Oscar H. Will and Todd Markle, Collector’s Originality Guide: Farmall Regular and F-Series [Voyaguer Press: St. Paul, Minnesota, 2007] p. 68.)

Mark Wells discs the newly plowed fields on the grounds of the LeSueur Pioneer Power Show with No. 71355 in August 1994. Loss of the traditional 3rd gear meant a loss of the 3-3/4 mph speed .on No. 71355 meant the loss of a light field work speed.

 

Installation of this optional road gear was made available only on those F-20s which were fitted with rubber tires.  (Ibid. p. 72.)  Accordingly, it was determined that No. 71355, rolled off the assembly line at the Farmall Works in Rock Island, Illinois, fitted with factory-installed rubber tires.  However, when No. 71355 was manufactured in the second week of December, 1936, the tractor could not have been fitted with the same 36 inch cast-iron wheels with demountable rims that are now mounted on the rear of tractor.  Only in March of 1937, (beginning with the particular F-20 with the serial number 79522) did F-20 tractors begin to be fitted with these International Harvester-made cast-iron demountable rear wheels and rims for rubber tires.  (See the F-20 Parts Book page 207.)  Prior to March of 1937, IHC relied on an outsource contract, they had signed with the French and Hecht Company of Davenport, Iowa, to supply all the rear wheels for all their rubber-tired tractors.

The French & Hecht Company factory located in Davenport, Iowa, where the round spoke wheel rims were manufactured.

 

Likewise, the IHC cast-iron demountable drop-center rims, currently, mounted on the front wheels of No. 71355, could not have been mounted on the tractor when the tractor was first built and sold.  IHC began using their own demountable drop center rims for rubber tires on the front wheels only in January of 1938 beginning with the particular F-20 tractors bearing the serial number 109127.  (See page 175 of the F-20 parts book.)

Factory Installation of the high speed road gear in the transmission of No. 71355 indicates that rubbers tires were also installed on the rear of the tractor. Still the IHC-made drop-center rear wheels that are now mounted on rear of No. 71355 could not have been factory installed on the tractor.

 

 

Prior to that time, IHC again relied on its contract with the French and Hecht Company to supply round-spoke rims for all F-20 tractors fitted with 5.50 X 16” rubber tires in the front.  (A French and Hecht round-spoke rim is pictured on page 174 of the F-20 parts book.)  Accordingly, when No. 71355 rolled out of the Farmall Works in Rock Island, Illinois, the tractor did so with rubber tires mounted on French and Hecht round-spoke wheel rims on the front as well as the rear.

A Farmall Model F-20 is delivered to a dealership with smaller 28 inch French & Hecht “round spoke” wheels in the rear, but disc-type wheels in the front.

 

Some time after No. 71355 was initially purchased, the tractor was fitted with an auxiliary transmission manufactured by the Heisler Manufacturing Company of Hudson, Iowa.  This auxiliary transmission was located on the power train of the tractor in the open space between the clutch housing on the engine and the standard transmission.  The Heisler auxiliary transmission provided a high range to all the standard speeds of the transmission—in fact doubling the number of speeds available to the tractor.

A Heisler model H-9 series “step-up” transhission installed on a Farmall F-20 tractor. The tag on the Heisler unit appears to indicate that the gearing of the Heisler unit will increase the speed of the tractor by 2.3 times normal speed in each gear.

 

The Heisler Manufacturing Company made three different models of auxiliary transmissions for the Farmall F-20.  Model number HT-2033 auxiliary transmission would increase the speed of the F-20 tractor by a factor of 2.32 to 1 because of the gear ratio of the auxiliary transmission.  Heisler model number HT-2034 featured a gear ratio of 2.1 to 1 and Heisler model number HT-2035 featured a gear ratio of 1.99 to 1.  The reason for the Heisler Company offering the three different auxiliary transmissions was that the rubber-tired F-20 was offered to the public with different sizes of rubber tires for the rear.  The Heisler Company knew that the size of the rear tires would greatly alter the speeds of any tractor.  The particular model of Heisler auxiliary transmission added to No. 71355 was model HT-2033 with the 2.32 to 1 gear ratio.  The addition of the Heisler Model HT-2033 supplemental transmission to No. 71355, with its optional high speed road gear and with 36” rubber tires in the rear, would have added high range speeds of 5.22 mph in first gear, 6.38 mph in second gear, 7.59 in third gear and 16.4024 mph in fourth gear.  These were hardly necessary or even desirable speeds for field work.  Indeed, they all seemed to be road speeds.  Indeed, the Heisler Company specifically warns against installation of an auxiliary transmission on any F-20 tractor which already has already been fitted with the optional high-speed road gear in the standard transmission.   Continue reading Potato Farming in North Dakota with a 1937 F-20 (Part I)

Raising Poland China Hogs in Waseca County, Minnesota

Statistics recorded with Counterize - Version 3.1.4

Raising Poland China Hogs in Waseca County, Minnesota (Part I)

by

Brian Wayne Wells

(As published in the May/June 2008 issue of

Belt Pulley Magazine)

A map of Minnesota showing the location of Waseca County.

            The soil of Waseca County is black, rich, fertile and flat—very flat.  The deciduous forests of southern Wisconsin, called the “big woods,” extended into southern Minnesota up to a point about thirty-miles to the east of Waseca County.  Everything to the west of the big woods, including Waseca County flat prairie land.  Although the land is flat as a tabletop just like the Great Plains further the west, the climate of Waseca County is not at all dry like the climate of the Great Plains.  Indeed, in a normal year, Waseca County will be bathed with 34.7 inches of rainfall.  (From the Waseca page of the city-data.com web site on the Internet.)  The combination of very rich soil and abundant moisture makes Waseca County ideal for raising corn.  A healthy crop of corn requires about 22 inches of rain per year.  As a result of this abundant rainfall and rich soil, Waseca County traditionally produces corn yields that nearly double the national average yield per acre.  In 1921, for example, when the national yield per acre of corn was 27.8 bushels per acre, the yield in Waseca County was 46 bushels per acre.  (From the National Agricultural Statistics Service [N.A.S.S.] webpage of the United States Department of Agriculture [U.S.D.A.] website.)        The three townships along the southern boundary of Waseca County from east to west are New Richland Township, Byron Township and Vivian Township.  A person driving down any dirt road the within these townships in 1935, would see corn fields on both sides of the road, broken only by the driveways leading to the homesteads of the people living along that particular road.  For nearly every mile that a person traveled down that country road, the person would find another crossroad.  The crossroads usually indicated the boundary of another section of land.  Moving ahead into the next section of land the person would once again find corn planted in the fields on both sides of the road.  The only variation in this pattern was the fields of oats and hay.  Corn was the primary cash crop of farmers of Waseca County.  Oats and hay were not cash crops.  Almost all oats and hay raised on the average farm in 1935 was used on the farm—primarily to feed the horses that were needed for the field work in the summer.

Relying only on corn as a cash crop was risky.  If the corn market went “soft” and corn prices fell, the farmer would lose money.  Traditionally, diversification was the method used by farmers to avoid, or mitigate, the effects of “soft markets.”  This was usually accomplished by decreasing the amount of corn raised on the arable land of the average farm and devoting that land to a second cash crop.  Traditionally, wheat was raised as a secondary cash crop.  However, the amount of acreage devoted to wheat each year had been declining in Waseca County for a long time.  Currently, the amount of wheat raised each year was only about a quarter of the amount of corn raised in Waseca County.  The most popular method of diversification used on the farms of Waseca County was to raise pigs.  The rationale was that when corn prices fell, the farmer could feed the corn to pigs on their farm.  Then they could sell the pigs.  Provided that pork prices did not decline together with the corn prices, the farmer might still be able to make a profit despite the low corn prices.

A township map of Waseca County, Minnesota, showing the location of Byron Township in yellow in the bottom row of Townships.

 

One particular farmer in Byron Township in south central Waseca County, had this principle of diversification imprinted on his mind for most of his young life.  Originally, his grandfather had “homesteaded” this 160-acre “home” farm.  Our current Byron Township farmer’s father had taken over the farming operation from his parents in 1895.  Like their neighbors, they needed to devote 35 acres to pasture for their small herd of dairy cows, 30-35 acres to hay and 35 acres to oats.  The balance of the arable land, approximately 45 to 50 acres was devoted to corn.  The crops were rotated from field to field each year to avoid depleting the soil with any one crop.

This is an arieal view of a farm that looks much like the farm of our Byron Township farmer.

 

A portion of the corn used on this farm had traditionally been used for raising and fattening pgs for market.  However, the balance of the corn not needed for feed was sold to the grain elevator in New Richland in the winter of each year.  The income derived from the sale of the corn crop made up a substantial portion of the cash income of the farming operation, milking the cows and selling cream to the local creamery in New Richland provided the family with a regular income on a year-around basis.  Thus, the dairy operation represented another form of diversification of the farm income.  However, on our Byron Township farmer’s farm, it had always been the pig operation that provided the real diversification and alternate cash income when corn prices were low.  All through the 1920s, the price of corn, cycled regularly from an average annual low of $.75 per bushel to an average annual high of $1.19 per bushel.  Likewise, during the 1920’s, the wholesale price of hogs had cycled on an annual basis from an average low of $8.29 per hundred weight up to $11.21 per hundred weight.

Generally, the corn in the corn crib was shelled out in February or March each year.  After filling the granaries to feed the pigs for the rest of the year, the remainder of the shelled corn could be taken to the grain elevator in New Richland straight from the sheller and sold.  This provided the family with the major portion of their winter income on the farm.  The feeder pigs generally reached their market weight in July or August and, thus, could be sold at that time.  This provided the family with the major income in the summer.  This was the pattern of life that our Byron Township farmer knew as he grew up on his parent’s farm.

Gradually, over the years, as our Byron Township farmer grew up into an adult, his father relinquished more and more of the daily decision making regarding the farming operation to him.  It became a true partnership.  Basically, our Byron Township farmer agreed with his father on the course of the farming operation.  His father had been raising pigs for years.  Our Byron Township farmer had always been interested in the hogs.  However, the hog operation took on a whole new importance on his mind when he began showing pigs at the Waseca County Fair.

His very first pig that he had raised and shown at the county fair had been one of the newborn pigs from one of the litters born to his father’s crossbred sows.  That first pig was memorable because the pig had won a blue ribbon at the Fair that year.  Winning the blue ribbon had been more the result of more luck than of skill on his part.  Still he had been hooked.  That blue ribbon perked his interest at an early age to find out all he could about the most profitable ways of raising pigs.

Over their lives, hogs gain 3000% of their own birth weight.  (Sara Rath, The Complete Pig [Voyageur Press: Stillwater, Minn., 2000] p. 78.)  Furthermore, only a short amount of time required for raising the baby pigs for market—generally five to seven months.  Combining this rapid weight gain with the short gestation period of three months, three weeks and three days from breeding until “farrowing”  (giving birth), made the  hog operation on the average farm the most profitable part of the farming operation.  (Kelly Klober, Storey’s Guide to Raising Pigs.[Storey Pub. Co.: North Adams, Mass., 1997] p. 22.)  This rapid turn-around in time from initial investment until profit in hogs compared with the nine month gestation period in cattle and then the nearly two years needed to bring feeder cattle up to their market weight.  (See the article called “A 1931 Farmall at Work in Mower County, Minnesota” in the March/April 2008 issue of Belt Pulley magazine for a description of a small beef operation on a diversified Midwestern farm.)  Our Byron Township farmer and his father both knew that this very rapid turn-around combined with fact that an average sow would farrow a litter usually contained ten baby pigs could generate a great deal of income for the farming operation and  be a real “mortgage lifter.”  It all depended on getting the baby pigs successfully raised to their full market weight.  Proper management was the key.  It all started with the mother sow.  Continue reading Raising Poland China Hogs in Waseca County, Minnesota

Tobacco Farming with a Farmall Super C

                  Tobacco Farming in West Virginia

with the Farmall Super C

by

Brian Wayne Wells

As Published in the September/October2005 issue of

Belt Pulley Magazine

The restored Raymond and Edith Thompson Farmall Model Super C at the 2016 LeSueur Pioneer Power Show.

Ever since the Surgeon General’s report of January 11, 1964, linking smoking of tobacco with lung cancer, smoking of cigarettes has been on the decline. Today, with only 22.8% of the public of the United State still engaging in the habit of smoking, it seems hard to imagine a time when the majority of the American public smoked. In 1949, 44-47% of the nation’s total population (50% of all men and 33% of all women) smoked. Cigarette manufacturing was a large and lucrative business. Supplying that large and lucrative business with at least some of the raw product—tobacco plants—were North American farmers, particularly the farmers of the southeastern part of the United States. West Virginia does not produce much tobacco. Currently West Virginia is 16th among all the states in the production of tobacco. In 1953, West Virginia ranked 15th out of the 21 tobacco growing states, ranking just ahead of Missouri in tobacco production.

Despite the drought in 1953, West Virginia produced only 4,542,000 pounds of the light burley type of tobacco out of the 2 billion pounds of tobacco produced in the United States that year. Lincoln County in West Virginia produced 31.4% of the State’s total production of tobacco with 1,426,000 pounds grown that year. Hamlin is the county seat of Lincoln County. State Road #3 runs through the center of Hamlin from west to east. About 1½ miles east of Hamlin, State Road #3 intersects with State Road #34. About a mile north of this intersection on S.R. #34 is Harvey’s Creek Road. Living on the first farm on the left down Harvey’s Creek Road in 1953 was Raymond and Edyth Marie (Byrd) Thompson. Raymond worked off the farm and was employed by the Tennessee Gas Company. However, ever since they purchased their 85 acre farm on Harvey’s Creek Road from J.A Pack in January of 1944, Raymond and Edyth had dreamed of making their living from their own land. Much of their farm could not be cultivated because of the rough terrain. Thus, they made the rough terrain profitable by making it a permanent pasture for the Hereford beef cattle they raised.

Given the terrain of the State, beef farming is a natural choice for most farming operations in West Virginia. Indeed beef farming does constitute a great deal of the farming conducted in the State of West Virginia. Within the West Virginia beef cattle industry, Hereford cattle are predominant. Additionally, a surprising number of Hereford farmers in West Virginia have become interested in improving blood lines of their Hereford cattle. Toward this end a significant portion of West Virginia beef farmers raised “purebred” Hereford beef cattle. These purebred Hereford farmers will generally register the best cows and bulls in their herds with the American Hereford Association in Kansas City, Missouri. Native West Virginian B.C. (Bud) Snidow, now retired and living in Mission, Kansas, worked for the American Hereford Association from 1951 until 1983. Born in Princeton, West Virginian, Bud Snidow, throughout his career, naturally kept track of the registered Hereford beef industry in his native state. He noted that following the Second World War there was an increase in the number of registered Hereford cattle in West Virginia. This increased pushed West Virginia to a position of 20th among all states in the number of registered Hereford cattle herds. Raymond did not follow the purebred blood lines of the Hereford breed like some beef farmers, but he did insist on raising only Hereford cattle on his farm. He liked his Hereford cattle.

Because most of their farm was taken up in the hillsides and bluffs which are common to Lincoln County, West Virginia, leaving only a very small quantity of flat bottom land that was arable, Raymond rented two other 15 acre fields from Eb Oxley. Eb Oxley was actually a distant relative of Raymond and Ethyl Thompson. These two 15 acre fields were located about one mile north of Raymond and Edyth’s farm on S.R. #34 just across the county line into Putnam County. On these two fields rented from Eb Oxley, Raymond raised hay and corn every year alternating the crops from one field to the other every other year. On the very small arable acreage of his own farm, located in the bottom of the Harvey’s Creek “hollow” where they lived, Raymond and Edyth raised oats that they needed for the horses and they also set aside 7/10s of an acre for their tobacco allotment, issued by the United States Department of Agriculture. Pursuant to this allotment Raymond and Edyth were permitted to raise up to 7/10s of an acre of tobacco. Like his neighbors, Raymond knew that, despite the small size of the acreage, tobacco could become a major crop on any farm. For this reason, tobacco allotments were highly prized by farmers.

Tobacco raising had been strictly controlled by means of acreage allotments since the 1933 Agricultural Adjustment Act. The original intent of the tobacco acreage allotments was to provide the tobacco farmer with the security of price supports. However, since the end of the Second World War, these price supports had hardly been necessary. The price of tobacco had led all other farm commodities in return for the time and labor invested. Indeed, it was said that the tobacco allotment “paid for many a farm.” As time went by, tobacco allotments added a great deal to the value of a farm. So much so, that some buyers insisted that a particular paragraph be added to the deed of sale of the land they were purchasing which would make specific mention of the transfer of the tobacco allotment with the purchase of the land. (Paragraphs, like these really provided no protection for the buyer of a farm. The Farm Service Agency (F.S.A.) of the United States Department of Agriculture issued acreage allotments, each year, only to the person owning a particular farm that particular year. Any attempted transfer of the acreage allotment not tied to the sale of the farm would not be recognized by the F.S.A. Instead the purchaser of a farm would have to file an application with the F.S.A. each year, to obtain a tobacco allotment for that year.)

For Raymond and Edyth Thompson the growing season of tobacco came in the middle of March every year with a trip to Stone’s Southern States, a feed and seed farm supply store on the west end of Hamlin. Raymond would drive off to Stone’s in his Chevrolet pickup and there he would buy the small packet of certified tobacco seed he needed for his tobacco crop. Returning home after picking up a few other things for of the farm, Raymond opened the seed packet and blended the contents together with some corn meal in a coffee can. The individual tobacco seed is so small that a single teaspoon full will contain a million tobacco seeds. Thus, the certified seed is mixed thoroughly with a small quantity of corn meal to allow the seed to be sown in a uniform manner.

Tobacco seed which is packaged and sold every year is raised by some tobacco farmers. Indeed a little further up Harvey’s Creek Road where the road crosses the county line into Putnam County, was the 100 acre farm of Stanley and Garnet (Painter) Young and their sons. In addition to their own large tobacco allotment in the early 1950s, the Young family had an additional plot of tobacco that they were “letting go to seed.” The flowers on these tobacco plants would not be removed. Instead the flowers were allowed to bloom and the seed pods were allowed to form. In the fall of the year after these tobacco plants had fully ripened, the seed pods would be harvested and sold to the tobacco warehouse in Huntington, West Virginia.

There had been very little snow over the winter of 1952-1953. Although temperatures had been colder than usual in late February, it looked as though March was “coming in like a lamb” with higher than ordinary temperatures. Raymond Thompson burned off a small patch of ground on his farm. This patch was just big enough to be covered by a wooden frame with a large piece of cheesecloth stretched over the wooden frame. After working up this small patch of ground with a garden hoe to form a seed bed, he sowed the corn meal/tobacco seed mixture on the newly worked ground and covered the ground with his “hot house” frame. This frame, which was used every year was made of wooden boards placed edgewise and was nailed together at the corners. This frame was taken down out of storage in the barn. There were some small nails sticking upward out of the frame which would allow a large piece of cheese cloth to be stretched across the frame. The wooden frame and the cheese cloth formed a hot house over the small seed bed where the tobacco seed had been sown. The porous nature of the cheese cloth allowed the sun to shine through to the seed bed and allowed the rain to keep the seed bed moist. However, the heat from the sun was trapped under the cheese cloth and kept the little seed bed warm enough to allow the tobacco to germinate, despite the cold weather and occasional snows of the late winter and early spring . Indeed, Raymond and Ethyl also started a bed of leaf lettuce under the same cheese cloth “hot house” to get an early start on the family garden. Raymond would make daily inspections of the hot house under the cheese cloth. Gradually, he would begin to see the young tobacco sprouts poking up out of the ground under the cheese cloth. After the spouts leafed out and became small seedlings, Raymond would start removing the hot house frame from the seed bed during the daylight hours and cover the bed again at night. This procedure allowed the tobacco seedlings to absorb the direct sunlight during the day and to “harden,” or become accustomed to the warming weather outside the hot house.

Eventually, the weather would be warm enough to allow the hot house frame to be removed altogether. The tobacco seedlings would continue to grow as Raymond began his seasons work on the rest of his farm. He tilled the ground on his farm with his horses to form a proper seedbed. Then, he sowed the oats that he would need for the next year to feed the horses. Next, he planted his corn.

As in years past, he borrowed a wire-check corn planter from a neighbor to plant his corn. The wire-check planter came complete with a roll of wire that was long enough to stretch all the way across any field. This wire contained little wire buttons attached to the wire at intervals of 42 inches. This wire was stretched across the field along the side of the field where the farmer wanted to begin planting corn. The wire was attached to the checking mechanism the located on the side of the planter. As the horses pulled the planter across the field the buttons would slide through the checking mechanism and trip the planter releasing seed into the ground with each tripping action. The result would be that the corn would be planted uniformly in 42 inch spaces along the rows. When the horses and planter reached the end of the field, the wire was temporarily disconnected from the planter. The horses and planter were then turned around to line up for the next two rows of corn to be planted along side the first two rows just completed. The wire was then attached to the checking mechanism on the opposite side of the planter. As the planter moves across the field again, the wire passing through the checking mechanism, again, tripped the planter to release seed corn to the ground at 42 inch intervals and the seed placement in these next two rows exactly matched the seed placement in the first two rows just planted.Thus, the corn would be in a grid of 42 inch rows and with “hills” of corn located 42 inches apart along each row. This would allow the corn to be “cross-cultivated” as well as cultivated lengthwise. This way, the weeds within the rows between the hills of corn could also be controlled.

Next it was time to transplant his tobacco to the field. Because, tobacco plants remove a great deal of nutrients from the soil during the growing season, Raymond had to rotate the tobacco crop to a different field each year to prevent the soil from becoming “exhausted.” This year, as an additional guard against soil depletion, he started the practice of adding some artificial fertilizer to the tobacco ground. He “broadcast” the fertilizer on the ground with a horse-drawn fertilizer spreader after disking the soil and before he finalized the seed bed with a peg-tooth harrow or drag. Following suggestions of tobacco experts at the F.S.A., he spread the fertilizer at a rate of 200 pounds per acre. Tobacco allotments are issued by the F.S.A. in sizes ranging from as little as 1/10th an acre upwards in steps of 1/10th of an acre. Generally, in Lincoln County, tobacco allotments ranged from ½ (or 5/10s) of an acre to a full-acre. As noted above, Raymond’s allotment was 7/10s of an acre. The transplanting stage was one of the stages where he really “felt” the size of this large allotment.

To be sure the ground intended for the tobacco that year could be worked up into a seedbed with the horses, just as in the other fields. However, the transplanting of the tobacco was all handwork. The little tobacco transplants were carefully dug up and placed in a large tub and then taken to the field. Then a long string with a stake on either end was uncoiled and stretched across the entire field. The string was tightened into a straight line across the entire length of the field and the stakes were pounded into the ground on either end of the field. Transplanting was an affair for the whole Thompson family. One family member would walk along the string with a stick or a pole and make little holes in the ground along one side of the string—each hole was 18” apart along the string. Another member of the Thompson family could then follow with the tub full of tobacco transplants and place one plant in each hole and then close up the hole around the roots of the transplant with dirt. Packing the ground around the new transplant assured good contact of the root with the dirt of the seedbed and guaranteed the best start possible for the new transplants. When one row was completed over the entire length of the field, the stakes at the ends of the field would be moved over in the seedbed 42”. The string was again tightened out straight across the field and the second row of tobacco transplants was set out in the field. This process was repeated until the whole 7/10ths-of-an-acre field was planted in tobacco.

Almost as soon as the whole field had been completely transplanted, the cultivation of the tobacco was begun.   Under the hot summer sun the tobacco transplants grew very fast. Generally, within three weeks after the transplanting of the tobacco, the young plants had grown to the point where the horses and the one row cultivator could not move easily between the rows without damaging the plants. Thus, all cultivation of the tobacco to eliminate weeds had to be completed within the three week period of time following the transplanting of the tobacco crop. Because of the rapid growing nature of the tobacco plants, there was no need to worry about cross cultivating the tobacco. The plants would soon be big enough to cover the space between the plants and shade out any weeds attempting to grow there. In the crush of the summer time field work, Raymond felt himself lucky to cultivate the tobacco three times in the three week period of time that he had to complete the cultivation of the tobacco. Especially since he needed to begin cutting and putting up his hay crop at the same time as he was attempting to cultivate the tobacco three times. Then there was the need to continue the cultivation and cross-cultivation of his corn crop. It was always a busy time. There just were not enough hours in the day. Raymond also knew that he would have to cultivate his corn at least once prior to hay season.

Haying was started at about the first of June. He needed to get the hay down and raked into windrows quickly. Cecil Lewis, who provided custom baling of the hay for the farmers in Harvey’s Creek, would be scheduling his New Holland Model 77 baler and Ford Model 8N tractor to visit the farms in the area rather soon. Raymond wanted to have his hay ready for any convenient time that Cecil might have to come to the Thompson farm. However, as he mowed and raked his hay, Raymond had to keep an eye on the tobacco to notice when plants began to grow buds in preparation for flowering. June was the time that the tobacco plants would begin to flower. Some times as soon as one week following the end of cultivation the tobacco plants would begin to flower. To keep the energy of the growing tobacco plants directed toward the growing leaves rather than into the production of flowers, the emerging buds had to be removed from the plants as soon as they started to develop. The operation of removing the flowering buds was another task that had to be completed by hand. The entire tobacco field had to be walked and the buds removed from each individual plant.

Even this was not the end of the hand work in the tobacco field, however. Once the flower buds had been removed, some of the tobacco plants would develop “suckers” or additional shoots which would spring up out of the same stem and root system. If allowed to grow these suckers would also sap away energy from the leaves of the plant. So, within a week after the deflowering of the tobacco plants, the field had to be walked again by the family to remove these suckers which may be attempting to grow. These tasks had to be fitted in to the summers work whenever time could be found during their busy summer schedule—whenever the family was not involved in putting up hay and/or cultivating the corn.   There was no time to rest and scarcely enough time to get all the field work done. Then, there were usually rainy days in which no work was accomplished at all. This year in 1953, however, Raymond fervently wished for a few more rainy days. He could see that the leaves of corn were starting to roll up, indicating the lack of water. August was incredibly dry. The radio reported that over in Kentucky the rainfall for the growing season was 12 full inches less than normal. In late August.

As Labor day  approached in 1953, the leaves on the tobacco plants began to turn from the dark green color of summer to the light green or yellow-green color that indicated that the tobacco plants were beginning to mature. All plants that mature or ripen in the fall, go through a process, whereby, the vital fluids of the plant are returning from the leaves to the roots in the ground for the winter. As the fluids flow out of the leaves, the leaves begin to loose their green color and start to yellow. The more yellow the leaves are, the more fluids have departed the leaves. In tobacco, these fluids in the leaves, and the ingredients that are contained in the fluids, are the very elements thing that make the tobacco leaves marketable. Thus, the proper time to cut the tobacco plants is just when the maturation of the leaves has begun. In this way all the fluids will be retained in the leaves. Accordingly, the tobacco plants are cut off at the stem.

Harvesting the tobacco is hand work which requires the work of the whole family. Cutting and handling is performed carefully so as to not damage the outside leaves. These outside or lower leaves are called flynes and are the most valuable leaves. The tobacco plants are then “speared” or placed on a thin 4 foot long stick. The stick full of tobacco plants is then hung upside down on a rack in the barn. Hanging upside down allows any fluids in the stem to flow back into the leaves. The barns in tobacco growing areas of the country are not like barns in other areas of the United States. Usually barns are built tight to prevent cold weather from infiltrating the inside of the barn. However, a tobacco barn is purposely constructed with the boards on the sides of the barn spaced so as to allow cracks between the vertically-placed boards in the walls of the barn. Observing a tobacco barn, a person will see daylight showing through the walls. These cracks allow air to pass through the walls of the barn and air-dry the tobacco hanging inside the barn. The process of air drying tobacco in the barn takes six to eight weeks.

During this time Raymond harvested his corn. The yield on the corn was disappointing because of the dry weather. Across Lincoln County in 1953, the yield of corn was down by 9%, from the year before—from 31.8 bushels per acre to 28.9 bushels per acre. (From the National Agricultural Statistics Service page on the website of the United States Department of Agriculture.)   Yet because the drought was limited to the eastern Kentucky and West Virginia areas there was no dramatic rise in price of corn. (Ibid.) Indeed, of the 81,574,000 acres of corn planted across the nation 98.6% (or 80,459,000 acres) was harvested in the fall of 1953, resulting in a nationwide bumper crop of corn that actually depressed corn prices. Additionally, the nationwide “per acre yield” from the 1953 corn harvest averaged 40.7 bushels per acre—fourth highest yield in the history of United States corn farming. On the Thompson farm, this condition meant that not as much corn was actually harvested and the price obtained for the small amount of corn that was harvested was low.

Thus, Raymond Thompson would feed a great deal of his corn to his beef cattle. Feeding more corn to the young calves would cause them to gain weight faster and be ready for market at an earlier date. This was one means of diversification of the corn crop that Raymond could employ on his own farm. If corn was not getting a good price then using it for cattle feed could possibly be a way of getting a more money for the corn. However, although surpluses were not as big a problem in the beef market, beef prices had been on a slow, but steady, decline since the December in 1952. After reaching a high of 35 to 36 cents a pound caused by the demands of the Korean War, beef prices had dipped to 20 cents per pound and even now was only was hovering around 25 cents per pound. (Omaha Choice Historic Beef Steer Prices from 1950-2005 page at the United States Department of Agriculture website on the Internet.) So, in 1953, even the beef market was a disappointment for Raymond.

Thus, Raymond’s hope for a successful crop year lay with his tobacco crop. Tobacco plants can withstand dry conditions better than corn. Proof of this was shown when the tobacco was harvested. Over all of Lincoln County a new record level tobacco harvest was reached with 1,426,000 lbs, over the entire county—up 2% from 1952. Considering that only 920 acres of tobacco were planted in 1953 as compared with 950 acres in 1952, this was a staggering result considering the extreme dryness of the growing season. The 1953 average yield in Lincoln County was 1,550 lbs. per acre—up almost 5½ % from 1952. The only explanation, that Raymond could find for the higher yield in a dry year was the fact that he had joined many of his neighbors in adding artificial fertilizer to the tobacco ground. Before the tobacco leaves could be sold, however, the Thompson family had to strip the leaves off the stem of each plant. Starting, generally, in November, the process of stripping was also a long process which involved the most hand labor of all the tobacco growing procedures. The sticks full of dried plants were taken down from the drying racks in the barn. The plants were removed from the sticks and the leaves were then stripped from the stem. In order that the leaves would not be too brittle to be destroyed by handling, Raymond usually waited for one of the uncommonly humid days in the fall to get the racks down from the barn and begin the process of stripping. Handling the leaves in a relatively humid environment would not damage the leaves especially the outer or lower leaves which were the most valuable leaves. Handling the leaves at this stage was somewhat messy work. While stripping the leaves by hand a dark residue would settle on the hands.

Still it was with some anticipation that the family performed the tasks. At the end of the process, Raymond knew that, in an ordinary year, the 7/10 of an acre allotment would allow his family to load the Chevy pickup up with a thousand pounds of leaves for delivery to the Huntington Tobacco Warehouse at 20 Twenty-Sixth Street in Huntington, West Virginia. Once at the tobacco warehouse, the tobacco would be auctioned off to the highest bidder. Auctions were held at the warehouse from November through January each year. Buyers from the R.J. Reynolds, American Tobacco, Phillip Morris and all the other tobacco companies would be present at these auctions to bid on the tobacco.  Coming this late in the year and being the major cash crop on the farm, Raymond would use a portion of the money he would receive for the tobacco to pay off the debts. Then they would get the new shoes and clothes that the children would need.

(Carol [Young] Mullins, granddaughter of Stanley and Garnet Young, remembers that she and her family too anticipated Christmas as they worked to strip the tobacco leaves. The Young children looked forward to a happy Christmas which would be financed in part by the money the fetched at market. Anticipating Christmas led the children to work diligently at stripping the tobacco leaves.)

This year, in the late fall of 1953 Raymond looked over at his children as they worked together stripping the tobacco. They were becoming adults. Eleanor Gay (“Gay”) and Patricia Fay (“Fay”) were already teenagers and would soon be setting out on their own. Soon he would be more shorthanded that he already was in doing his farm work. He became aware that he would soon have to think about doing something to save time in his farming operation. Toward this end he had been considering the purchase of a farm tractor. He felt this was the year that he would have to make his move to purchase a farm tractor and replace the horses on his farm. Accordingly, over the winter of 1953-54 he visited Henderson Implement Company in downtown Hurricane, West Virginia. Hurricane, West Virginia is located across the county line into Putnam County about 14 miles north of the Thompson farm. Bernie Henderson had started selling horse drawn McCormick-Deering equipment from his dealership located on Main Street in downtown Hurricane. However, since the end of the Second World War, he had found that the market for small tractors was really growing by leaps and bounds. In addition to the Farmall C and Super C, he found that the Farmall Cub was becoming a mainstay of the sales from his dealership. Continue reading Tobacco Farming with a Farmall Super C

Behlen Manufacturing Company (Part IV): The Rest of the Story

       The Behlen Manufacturing Company Part IV:

The Rest of the Story

by

Brian Wayne Wells

As published in the March/April 2003 issue of

Belt Pulley Magazine

 

Following World War II, the Behlen Manufacturing Company of Columbus, Nebrfaska, marketed its own supplemental transmission called the “Hi-Speed gear box.”  (See the article called “The Behlen Company—Part II: The Hi-Speed Gear Box” posted on this website and published in the November/December 2002 issue of Belt Pulley, Vol 15, No. 6, p. 8.)  The Hi-Speed gear box modernized and updated many pre-war Farmall Model F-20 tractors and allowed then to be used profitably in the post-war era.  One example was the Farmall F-20 bearing the serial number 127631.  (See the article called “The Behlen Company—Part III: 1974—the Soybean Year” also posted on this website and published in the January/February 2003 issue of Belt Pulley, Vol 16, No. 1.)

Sales of the Hi-Speed gear box had been so successful that the Behlen Manufacturing Company soon found that it was ordering gears from wholesalers in Chicago by the truck load.  The management of the company concluded that it would be less expensive for the Company to start cutting, hardening and grinding, their own gears.  Hobbing, grinding and heat treating equipment were all obtained and installed at the factory facilities in Columbus, Nebraska.  (Walter D. Behlen, The Story of the Behlen Manufacturing Company [a speech given at the Cornhusker Hotel in Lincoln, Nebraska on October 11, 1968] p. 3.)  However, production of the Hi-Speed gear box was destined to be limited.  It could not have been otherwise.  Sooner or later, continued upgrading of the pre-war tractors would become unnecessary because older tractors would be replaced on the average family farm by new improved tractors that were already fitted with modern transmissions that would not need upgrading.  However as the Hi-Speed gear box faded as a product for the Company, another new product for farm tractors and road graders arose—the hydraulic power steering unit.

Throughout the 1950’s the International Harvester Company had been locked in a struggle to remain in first place in the sales of farm equipment.  Although between 1945 and 1960, sales of farm tractors in the United States had doubled and sales of combines had tripled, International Harvester had been loosing market share in the farm equipment business.  (Barbara Marsh A Corporate Tragedy: The Agony of International Harvester Company [Doubleday and Co.: Garden City, New York, 1985] p. 101.)  By 1958, International Harvester would be in second place behind its chief rival Deere and Company.  (Ibid. p. 94.)  One of the main reasons for this was that while International Harvester was dissipating its energies and resources on forays into the refrigerator and freezer market and by investing heavily in the very small tractor market—the Farmall Cub, John Deere was continually improving its large tractors—its core product.  In 1954, John Deere introduced power steering on its large tractors.  Caught behind on this advance in technology, International Harvester sought to quickly add power steering to large tractors.  International Harvester turned to the Behlen Company to supply the power steering units that they required for installation on their new tractors—the Model 350, Model 450 and Model 650 introduced in 1956.  Development of the power steering unit had cost the Behlen Company $50,000.00 Sales of the power steering unit to the upgrade market only had resulted in a loss of $20,000.00 to the Behlen Company.  However, International Harvester’s first order for power steering units turned things around for the Behlen Company  and brought $268,000.00 to the Behlen Company.  Two years later the net profit derived from the power steering units along was $750,000.00.  (Walter D. Behlen, The Story of the Behlen Manufacturing Company, p. 4.)

Still grain systems remained the flagship product of the Behlen Company.  The Company had come a long way with its production of grain systems.  As noted previously, in the period of time immediately following the Second World War, galvanized wire mesh for the building of round corn cribs had been so difficult to obtain that the Behlen Company had launched off into its own welding and galvanizing of the wire mesh.  (See the article called “The Behlen Company: Part I” in the September/October 2002 issue of Belt Pulley, Vol. 15, No. 5, p. 10.)  The wire rod, itself, for making the wire mesh panels, had also been difficult for the Behlen Company to obtain domestically in the immediate post war era.  Thus, the Behlen Company had to import its first wire rod from Europe rather than buying from United States sources.  The making of Behlen corn cribs continued to be the Company’s best sales product until 1960 when grain bins for shelled corn began taking over the crib market.  (Ibid. p. 3.)  Construction of the corn cribs and later grain bins along with the grain dryers and entire grain systems required a great deal of steel, stainless steel and aluminum bolts.  Once again to lower costs of production, in 1956, the Behlen Company expanded its own production and manufacture of bolts to include stainless steel and aluminum bolts.  (Ibid. p. 4.) Continue reading Behlen Manufacturing Company (Part IV): The Rest of the Story

The Behlen Manufacturing Company (Part II)

            The Behlen Manufacturing Company: (Part II)

The Hi-Speed Gear Box 

by

Brian Wayne Wells

As published in the November/December 2002 issue of

Belt Pulley Magazine

 

As noted previously in Part I of this series of articles, the Behlen Manufacturing Company was the brainchild of Walter Behlen.  (“The Behlen Manufacturing Company, Part I” in the September/October 2002 issue of Belt Pulley magazine.)  Along with his brothers Gilbert and Herbert (called Mike) and their father Fred, Walter had built a small company (which began in his own garage) into a nationwide supplier of grain storage and drying systems.  Emerging from the Second World War, the company was manufacturing many products besides its mainline product of grain systems.  One of its lesser-known products was the Hi-Speed Gear Box meant for installation on older, pre-war, steel-wheeled tractors.

Following the war, farmers across North America began to demand devices which would upgrade their old, pre-war farm tractors.  One way farmers upgraded their old tractors was by cutting off the steel bands on the rear wheels and welding on a rim for mounting of rubber tires on the rear.  Once the rubber tires were mounted in the rear, farmers began to notice how really slow these old, pre-war tractors were.  Thus, a market was established for some sort of supplemental transmission to provide a faster road gear for these tractors.  The Behlen Hi-Speed Gear Box was just such a supplemental transmission.  Behlen made its Hi-Speed Gear Box in three different styles:  one for installation on the John Deere Model A and/or Model B tractor; another for installation on McCormick-Deering’s Farmall F-30 tractor; and, the most popular of all, the Hi-Speed Gear Box made for installation on the Farmall “Regular” and/or the Farmall F-20.  The Farmall Regular and its successor, the F-20, had been pioneers in the tricycle style design of tractors.  The Hi-Speed Gear Box was intended to give these old pioneering tractors, a new lease on life in the post-World War II era.

Development of the “Farmall” had actually begun in the midst of an earlier war.  By 1915, the war in Europe was settling down to the stalemate in the trenches, with no end in sight and the Wilson administration seeking to keep the United States out of the war.  Meanwhile, on the average family farm in North America, the horse was already being displaced by the tractor.  Most of the heavier tasks on the farm, such as plowing and seedbed preparation, were already the domain of tractors, with “standard tread” model tractors of all companies taking over many of the heavier jobs.  Belt power, provided by these standard tread tractors was also being used to run grain threshers, silo fillers, corn huskers and feed grinders.  However, one task remained that was definitely for the horse – the cultivation of row crops.  Standard, or “four-wheeled,” tractors were simply not designed or suited for that task.

In 1915, it became the goal of the International Harvester Company to design a machine specifically for use in cultivation of row crops on the farm.  Research and experimentation was intensive, and by 1919, two engineers at IHC – Edward Johnston and C.W. Mott – had obtained a patent on a specialized machine know as the “motor cultivator.”  (Barbara Marsh, A Corporate Tragedy: The Agony of International Harvester, [Doubleday and Co.: Garden City, N.Y. 1985], p. 53.)  (Photographs of the development of the various prototypes of the “motor cultivator” can be seen in International Harvester Farm Equipment, by Ralph Baumheckel and Kent Borghoff [American Society of Engineers Pub.: St. Joseph, Mich. 1997], pp. 125-126).  However, the trouble with the motor cultivator was that it was another expensive piece of self-propelled machinery designed to perform only one task and would have to be stored by the farmer for a whole year until it could be used again.

Finally, in 1921, IHC determined that a new type of tractor design was needed – a design which would allow the tractor to cultivate corn as well as perform all the rest of the chores around the farm.  Consequently, the “tricycle” design of farm tractor was conceived and the “Farmall System” of farming was born.  In 1924, the Farmall Regular was introduced.  The goal of the Farmall System was aimed at total mechanization of all farm tasks and the elimination of all horses from the farm.  The tricycle design would prove successful from the very start.  Eventually, all tractor manufacturers copied the tricycle design for their row-crop tractors – leading International Harvester to counter with the advertising campaign slogan, “If it isn’t a McCormick-Deering, it isn’t a Farmall.”  (Ibid. p. 144)

In 1932, the Farmall (now called the “Regular”) was replaced by a new and improved version called the Farmall F-20.  The F-20 had 10% more horsepower than the Regular (23.11 hp as opposed to 20.05 hp) and had a new 4-speed transmission (2-1/4 mph, 2-3/4 mph, 3-1/4 mph and 3-3/4 mph) as opposed to the 3-speed transmission (2 mph, 3 mph and 4 mph) of the Regular.  (C.H. Wendel, Nebraska Tractor Tests, [Crestline Pub.: Osceola, Wisc. 1993], pp. 51 and 85.)  Additionally, the two-plow F-20 was joined in the Farmall line by the three-plow F-30, introduced in 1931, and the single-plow F-12, introduced in 1932.

Because of the sudden popularity of the Farmall Regular, its production was moved, in 1927, out of the Tractor Works at 2600 West 31st Boulevard in Chicago and into the Company’s new factory, The Farmall Works, located at 4201 Fifth Avenue in Rock Island, Illinois.  Production of all F-20s and F-30s was carried on at the Farmall Works.  Only production of the F-12 remained at the Tractor Works in Chicago.  By the time No. 127613 rolled off the assembly line in the morning of May 13, 1938, the Farmall Works was only eleven years old.

The price of a new F-20 with rubber tires front and rear in 1939 was $1,190.00.  (Ralph Baumhecckel and Kent Borghoff, International Harvester Farm Equipment, p. 146.)  This was a great deal of money for a farmer emerging from the experience of the Great Depression.  Still, as they learned that rubber tires would grip the ground just as well as steel wheels, farmers dreamed of having rubber tires on the front and rear of their tractors for the smoother ride the rubber tires could provide.  One particular farmer who dreamed of having and then purchased an F-20 with rubber tires front and rear is portrayed in the 1938 International Harvester promotional movie called Writing Your Own Ticket.  This movie advertises the new Income Purchase Plan which was being introduced by the International Harvester Company (IHC) as a way to help potential farm customers individualize an installment plan for loan repayment.  This plan would allow them to pay installments as their income came to the farm, rather than on a rigid monthly installment plan.  In this way, farmers could “write their own ticket.”  (“Writing Your Own Ticket” is available on VHS video Tape #3 from International Promotional Movies)

While rubber tires on the rear were nice, they would add nearly $150.00 to the price of a tractor.  (Donald R. Darst, F-30 Farmall Restoration Guide and Story: From Field to Hot Rod to Show [1993], p. 3B.)  Thus, many farmers dropped this option when purchasing their tractors.  Farmers felt they could live with the “bouncy” ride of the tractor, thereby reducing the initial outlay of money they would need for the tractor.  A cheaper option was to have rubber tires in the front in order to improve the steering of the tractor.  Thus, it was a typical configuration for most tractors of that era to have rubber tires in the front and steel wheels in the rear.  No. 127613 was no exception.  On the front, No. 127613 had two 6.00 x 16” rubber tires mounted on IHC-made, cast iron, drop-center wheels with 4.50 x 16” rims.  These cast iron front wheels had replaced the 4.50 x 16” French and Hecht (F. & H.) round spoke rims.  International Harvester had made this switch at the F-20 tractor bearing the serial number 109124, which came off the assembly line in late 1937.  (McCormick Deering Model F-20 Farmall Tractor Parts Catalogue, p. 175)  (Kurt Aumann, Ed., Antique Tractor Serial Number Index [Belt Pulley Publishing: Nokomis, Ill. 1993], p. 16.)  Accordingly, when No 127613 was manufactured a year later, it was fitted with cast iron wheels with rubber tires in front and IHC-made steel wheels on the rear. Continue reading The Behlen Manufacturing Company (Part II)

The Behlen Manufacturing Company (Part I)

The Behlen Manufacturing Company (Part I)

by

Brian Wayne Wells

As published in the September/October 2002 issue of

Belt Pulley Magazine

            Nebraska became an organized territory of the United States on May 30, 1854, as a result to the Kansas-Nebraska Act.  This Act would become one of the most recognizable landmarks on the road to the American Civil War.  Demand for the establishment of Nebraska as an organized territory came not from the populous within the boundaries of the territory, but rather from economic forces outside Nebraska.  Since the time of the Lewis and Clark expedition in 1803-1805, the land of the great plains had been crossed by hundreds of explorers and thousands of settlers, all headed for someplace else.  The Oregon Trail, the Mormon Trail, the California Trail, and the Pony Express all wove their way across the future state of Nebraska, but few of the travelers on those trails ever settled there.

Now, however, in 1854, the need for an intercontinental railroad demanded that the Nebraska Territory be organized.  Citizens and congressmen alike from Illinois, Iowa, and Missouri were very aware of the benefits a transcontinental railroad would have on their communities, and they lobbied hard for the Kansas-Nebraska Act.  The proposed route of the transcontinental railroad would follow the Platte River across the land which eventually was to become the state of Nebraska.

It was always intended that Nebraska would become a state.  However, becoming a state would be delayed first by the Panic of 1857 and then by the Civil War.  Only on March 1, 1867, would Nebraska become the thirty-seventh state to be admitted to the union.  (James C. Olson, History of Nebraska [University of Nebraska Press: Lincoln, Neb. 1966], pp. 63, 73, and 127.)  Unlike other states in the Great Plains, Nebraska would not become a great wheat producing state.  Settlers coming into Nebraska tended to be from the corn producing states of the East.  Thus, these farmers naturally wanted to raise corn on their new farms, and they would soon give the new state its nickname – the Cornhusker State.  Corn production in Nebraska exploded from 65,450,135 bushels in 1879 to 215,895,996 bushels in 1889.  Meanwhile, wheat production actually declined from 13,037,116 bushels to 10,571,059 bushels over the same ten=year period.  (Ibid.p. 197.)

Along with settlers from the eastern United States, immigrants from outside the United States also came to seek their fortune in Nebraska.  By 1880, 21.53% of Nebraska’s population was of foreign descent.  (Ibid. p. 173.)  Of these groups, the largest was German-speaking, with 31,125 settlers in 1880.  A distant second was the Swedish speaking group, with 10,164.  (Ibid.)

Among the group of first generation Germans in Nebraska was the family of Anna (From) Behlen and her three sons – Friederick, Deitrich, and John Behlen Jr.

Anna Behlen, together with her husband John Behlen Sr., had lived in the province of Oldenburg, Germany.  In 1858, however, things changed for the family when John Sr. suddenly died.  Deitrich, born in 1853, was only five years of age at the time.  Needless to say, in the years immediately following the death of her husband, Anna had to struggle hard to feed herself and her sons.  Continue reading The Behlen Manufacturing Company (Part I)

The PAPEC Company of Shortsville, New York (Part 2): A Model 127 PAPEC Silo Filler at Work

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The PAPEC Company of Shortsville, New York (Part 2):

A Model 127 PAPEC Silo Filler at Work

by

 Brian Wayne Wells

As published in the January/February 1996 issue of

Belt Pulley Magazine

This is a PAPEC Model127 silo filler that was restored by former employees of the PAPEC factory in Shortsville, NY. in 1987.
This is a PAPEC Model127 silo filler that was restored by former employees of the PAPEC factory in Shortsville, NY. in 1987.

            By 1931, the Pneumatic and Propeller Ensilage Company, or Papec for short, was well established at its site in the small up-state town of Shortsville, New York. Model 158, Model 127, Model 81 and Model R Papec stationary silo fillers, as well as various models of hay choppers and hammermills, were rolling out of the Papec facilities in Shortsville. (For a history of the Papec Company, see the November/December, 1995 issue of Belt Pulley, Vol. 8, No. 6.)

            One particular Model 127 Papec stationary silo filler complete, with its shiny new color coat of red, black and two shades of green paint, a Rockwood pulley, and a galvanized feeder, rolled out of the Papec’s Shortsville, New York, facility in early 1931. By prior arrangement with Deere and Webber Company, wholesale distributor of Papec equipment in Minnesota, this particular silo filler was equipted with an optional large pulley for use with tractors with a high rpm. belt pulley. The Model 127 was “knocked down” (KD’ed) or taken apart, into its component parts and put in a waiting boxcar of the New York Central Railroad destined for Beske Implement of Minnesota Lake, Minnesota. The New York Central steam locomotive pulled the train containing the boxcar with the KD’ed silo filler out of Shortsville, through Buffalo, New York, across Pennsylvania’s Erie Triangle, and into the broad plains of Ohio and Indiana, arriving at the end of the New York Central line in Chicago, Illinois. Once in Chicago, the boxcar with the KD’ed silo filler was transferred to another train on the Chicago-Milwaukee and St. Paul Railroad for the next phase of the trip to Minnesota. On the Chicago-Milwaukee and St Paul line, the silo filler made its way north to Milwaukee, across Wisconsin to La Crosse, and into southern Minnesota to the little junction town of Wells (1940 pop. 2,517). At the Wells junction, the boxcar with the silo filler was connected to the train that was headed north to Mankato. The first stop on that railroad line was the town of Minnesota Lake, Minnesota (1940 pop. 526). At this stop, the Model 127 Papec silo filler was unloaded onto a truck for the short trip to the Beske Implement dealership, where the KD’ed Papec silo filler was put back together by the employees. The silo filler was soon sold to two area farmers, John T. Goff and Ernest More, of Mapleton, Minnesota (1940 pop. 1070).

            Beske Implement was a very old John Deere dealership, founded by Gus Beske in about 1912. Gus Beske operated the dealership until his son, Woodrow W. Beske, took over its operation upon Gus’ retirement. Minnesota Lake was a small town, serving a rural area which included the larger town of Mapleton, Minnesota. South of Mapleton was the farm of John T. Goff. The picturesque Goff farm was known in the surrounding neighborhood as “the farm with the round barn.” John T. Goff (or “John T.” to friends and associates) had built the round barn to ease the feeding of livestock. The milking cows were placed in stanchions in a circle in the barn. All calf pens were located in the center of the barn. Hay was fed to the calves and cattle from the center of the barn.

A very tall man, himself, John T. Goff takes a break from binding his very tall crop of sorghum on his farm in Mapleton Township, Blue Earth County, Minnesota in 1937.
A very tall man, himself, John T. Goff takes a break from binding his very tall crop of sorghum on his farm in Mapleton Township, Blue Earth County, Minnesota in 1937.

Continue reading The PAPEC Company of Shortsville, New York (Part 2): A Model 127 PAPEC Silo Filler at Work

The Algoma Foundry and Machine Company of Algoma Wisconsin

Algoma is “OK”:

History of the Algoma Foundary and Machine Company of Algoma, Wisconsin

by

Brian Wayne Wells

As published in the March/April 1995 issue of

Belt Pulley Magazine

The restored Lindstom silo filler in 1994.
The restored OK silo filler manufactured by Algoma Foundry and Machine Company which was formerly owned by Roy Johnson, Harris Quist, Howard Nelson and Leonard Johnson and later sold to Maynard Mohn od Center City, Minnesota.

The ensilage process of chopping green corn or hay and storing it in a silo was first developed by August Goffart, a French experimenter, in 1877.  (Robert C. Nesbit, Wisconsin: A History [University of Wisconsin Press; Madison, Wisconsin, 1973], p. 291.)  In 1880, Dr. H.S. Weeks, of Ononomowoc, Wisconsin, also conducted experiments with ensilage stored in silos.  The success of Dr. Weeks’ experiments led some pioneering farmers to construct silos for storage of this new type of cattle feed.  Later experiments found that three cows could be fed for seven months on one acre of silage crops while it would take two acres of hay to feed just one cow for the same seven months.

At first, there was a major resistance to this new method of chopping and storing ensilage based on the belief that the fodder would eat away at the stomachs of cows or cause them to lose their teeth.  As of 1904, there were only 716 silos in the entire state of Wisconsin.  However, in the early 1900s, William Dempster Hoard, editor of Hoard’s Dairyman, began promoting silage for dairy herds in his magazine.  Thus, following the First World War, silos started to spring up across the nation as farmers began to see the advantages of silage.

Most commonly, silage was cut into pieces about an inch in length.  Machines were developed to facilitate this procedure, and the ensilage cutter–or stationary forage harvester–was born, with the dairy state of Wisconsin becoming the center for manufacturing and sales of silage equipment.  One of the companies that realized the potential market for ensilage cutters in Wisconsin was the Algoma Foundry and Machine Company of Algoma, Wisconsin.

The Algoma Machine company factory located east of the 4th Street Bridge
The Algoma Machine company factory located east of the 4th Street Bridge

Algoma is a small city of 3,600 people located on the shore of Lake Michigan at the base of Door Peninsula.  The entity that was to become the  Algoma Company was first established there in 1883 as A. Hamacek and Company by Adolf and Anton Hamacek.  A. Hamacek and Company made horse-drawn farm machinery and operated an electric light plant for those Algoma residents who had electric lighting in their homes and businesses.  On August 28, 1891, Adolph Hamacek left the partnership and moved to Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin.  Anton, however, continued to operate the business alone until the spring of 1893 when he formed another partnership with Joseph Wodsedalek and August Ziemer from Kewaunee, Wisconsin.  On August 6, 1895, a fire totally destroyed the business’s two-story building located in the 600 block of Fremont Street in Algoma.  Following the fire, the partnership purchased a new property, just east of the new Fourth Street Bridge in Algoma, owned by John Ihlenfeld.  This was an excellent location which was served by a spur of the Green Bay and Western Railroad.  The partnership then moved their operations to the single-story building located on that property.

During World War I, one of the partnership’s employees, Joseph Sticka, a machinist, conceived of his own design for a stationary forage harvester and left the employ of the partnership to establish his own business.  However, the business he established was not sufficiently capitalized and he soon sought the backing of his old employer.  Thus, in 1920, the partnership began mass producing the forage harvester developed by Joseph Sticka.

In March of 1920, the partnership was transformed into a company and incorporated as the Algoma Foundry and Machine Company.  Joseph Wodsedalek became president and Joseph F. Sticka became a director.  E.W. Anderogg, general manager of the Algoma Net Company, also became a director.  While continuing his work at the Net Company, Mr Anderogg sat on the board of the Algoma Foundry and Machine Company as representative of the interests of his boss, M.W. Perry, president of the Algoma Net Company.  M.W. Perry, although a minority shareholder, had loaned the Algoma Foundry and Machine Company a great deal of money.  Therefore, M.L. Perry had much influence over the company.

Shortly after they became incorporated, the Algoma Company introduced a new line of modern farm equipment bearing the trade name OK.  This line included forage harvesters–or ensilage cutters–forage blowers, feed grinders and hammermills.  This expansion, however, was ill-timed.

Workers in the Algoma Foundry and Machine Company in Algoma Wisconsin.
Workers in the Algoma Foundry and Machine Company in Algoma Wisconsin.

Although it is commonly accepted that the Great Depression began with the stock market crash in 1929 following a period of prosperity throughout the 1920s, the facts are that in the rural areas of the nation the depression actually began in 1921 with the fall in the price of farm products following the end of World War I.  Farmers were feeling the effects of the depression as early as 1921.  This meant that there was little demand for new farm machinery from that time until the nation began to recover in the 1930s.  As a result, the Algoma Foundry and Machine Company suffered deficits for the first nine years of its existence.

A financial statement, dated Feb. 1, 1929, noted that the corporation had a $38,807.20 deficit in its annual budget at that time.  The board required action and the corporation underwent a financial reorganization whereby the persons who had loaned the company money were made preferred stockholders in the corporation.  Suddenly, all the creditors of the company became the owners of the company.  In short, this meant that M.W. Perry became the majority shareholder of the company with 51% of the shares.  He also bought out all of the remaining inrterests of the Joseph Wodsedalek family.

On March 2, 1929, a new management team was installed.  M.W. Perry became the new president and E.W. Anderogg became the new general manager of the Algoma Foundry and Machine Company.  Following the reorganization, the compamy underwent a corporate down-sizing and under the new leadership managed to finish the year in good order and even showed a profit.  Consequently, in 1929, the corporation made its first profit in the face of the financial dislocations which occurred on Wall Street in October of 1929 and continued profitably for the next three years.

In the Spring of 1932, E.W. Anderogg was made treasurer.  The Company then began to cast about to find the right person to fill the position of general manager and were fortunate in obtaining the services of E.J. Albro for this position.  He had served as manager of the farm equipment division of the Montgomery Ward Company for 15 years, from 1917 to 1932.   In his position at Montgomery Ward, E.J. Albro had supervised the purchasing of thousands of dollars of fly nets from the Algoma Net Company.  Now he used his influence to arrange for Montgomery Ward to purchase all of their hammermills from the Algoma Foundry and Machine CompanyMontgomery Ward would sell these farm implements under their own name and eventually would become the Algoma Foundry and Machine Company’s largest single customer, absorbing 35% of all of the farm equipment they produced.

The silo fillers produced by the Algoma Foundry and Machine Company continued to follow the original design conceived by Joseph F. Sticka; however, with some small improvements made to the original design.  Two sizes of silo fillers were offered, e.g., a 13″ throat model and a 15″ throat model.  These two models came out of the factory, along with the hammermills and all of the other farm equipment offered by the Algoma Foundry and Machine Company, cloaked in the green paint that in the early years symbolized the OK line of farm machinery.  A bright yellow “OK” insignia would appear on both sides of the hinged casing covering the knife wheel.  Another insignia declaring “Mfd. by Algoma Foundry and Machine Company, Algoma, Wisconsin” was stenciled on both sides of the transport frame underneath the feeding table.  Although no paint numbers now exist which could allow a restorer to recreate the exact shade of this green paint, according to John Beitling, long-term employee of the paint department, the shade was very close to the green color which was habitually used on 1948-1950 Chevrolet pickups.

When Montgomery Ward began placing large orders for hammermills and other equipment, the purchasing contract required that such equipment be painted Montgomery Ward red and that the equipment bear no insignias.  Marvin Zirbel, another former employee of the Algoma Company, remembers that to save cost the Company made the decision to change the color of its entire line of OK equipment to Montgomery Ward red, Martin-Senour 99L-1637.  (Later, in 1964, when Massey-Ferguson bought the corporate entity which included the Algoma Company, Massey-Ferguson personnel found that the red paint used by the Algoma Company was indistinguishable from their own Massey-Ferguson red.)  The bright yellow insignias and lettering, however, would still appear in the same locations on the silo fillers and on all of those machines which were not sold to Montgomery Ward but were offered to the public through jobbers and wholesalers under the Company’s own name.

Marvin Zirbel and Ben Schneider work in the foundary of the Algoma Machine Company factory.
Marvin Zirbel and Ben Schneider work in the foundary of the Algoma Machine Company factory.

In 1943, one of these OK silo fillers rolled out of the plant cloaked in its red paint job and insignias.  It was one of the smaller models with a 13″ throat.  It traveled by railroad flatbed out of Algoma, across Wisconsin and into Minnesota, where it was sold to its first owner.  After only one season, the silo filler was resold in 1944 to Roy Johnson (a beef farmer), Harold Nelsen and Harris Quist (who milked Holstein herds on their farms), and Leonard Johnson (who milked Jersey cows).  They bought the silo filler together, along with a McCormick-Deering corn binder which had a wagon loading attachment.  (A two-row version of this binder with the wagon loading attachment can be seen in the 1934 International Harvester movie, Farming the Farmall Way.)  The four Lindstrom-area farmers used the silo filler to fill their own silos on all four farms and for some custom work in their neighborhood as well.  Harold Nelsen remembers that the OK silo filler was a “light runner”–a smooth and easy operating machine–powered most often by a Farmall H.  Each summer the silo filler was towed from farm to farm in the Lindstrom neighborhood by the Farmall H and performed admirably.

Following World War II, a flood of new and more efficient farm machinery came onto the market.  In 1944, International Harvester had introduced the No. 55-T baler, their first successful cotton stripper, and the new No. 2 field forage harvester.  All of these machines were advertised as “one-man harvesting machines.”  (See the 1944 IH movies called “One-Man Harvesting” and “One-Man Cotton Harvesting.”)

Like other farmers across the nation, these four farmers saw the advantages of single-stage processing of ensilage in the field, rather than carrying bundles of corn to the silo for processing.  Thus, in about 1949, Roy Johnson bought one of the new McCormick-Deering field choppers.  The other three farmers then hired him to fill the silos on their farms and the OK silo filler was sold to Maynard Mohn of Center City, Minnesota.  After a few years, the Mohn family also upgraded their silo filling operations; however, the OK silo filler remained stored under cover on the Mohn farm until it was put up for sale several years later at an auction.

John Bjornstad, grandnephew of Maynard Mohn, former owner of the OK silo filler inspects the knives of the OK silo filler.
John Bjornstad, grandnephew of Maynard Mohn, former owner of the OK silo filler inspects the knives of the OK silo filler.

John Bjonstad, grandnephew of Maynard Mohn, having observed the OK silo filler several times on the Mohn farm, expressed an interest in seeing the silo filler saved from the cutting torch.  At the auction, therefore, John’s grandfather, Paul Holm, of Almelund, Minnesota, purchased the silo filler for his grandson.  John and his grandfather then transported the silo filler to the site of the LeSueur Pioneer Power Show near LeCenter, Minnesota.  There, in 1990, the silo filler was set up and operated by John and his grandfather as an exhibit at the Show.

John Bjornstad and his wife pose beside the silo filler that he remembers from his childhood.
John Bjornstad and his wife pose beside the silo filler that he remembers from his childhood.

Following that Show, the silo filler was wintered at the Pioneer Power site; however, due to the shortage of storage buildings, the OK silo filler was stored outside for one of the first winters since it had been manufactured.   Unfortunately, it has not been operated as an exhibit in any of the Shows since 1990.

In August of 1994, the OK silo filler was found by the author and his brother, Mark Wells, of Billerica, Massachusetts, in about the same location where it had been stored following the 1990 Show.  Even in 1994, after four years of sitting outside in the elements, the knives and shear bar seemed to be in very good condition. The pressed-paper pulley showed evidence of having recently been treated with fuel oil.  It appeared, however, that the growing layer of rust threatened to obliterate the “OK” decal hinged blower cover and the “Algoma Foundry and Machine Co.” stencilling on the frame under the feeding table.  It was at this point that the author and his brother began to think about restoration of the OK silo filler.  Research into the proper paint scheme, the correct shade of paint, and remaking of the proper decals is currently being conducted and plans are being made for a 1995 restoration.

The Algoma Foundry and Machine Company continued to function independently until September 14, 1962, when they were sold to Badger Northland Company, Inc.  The Algoma Company became a division of the Badger Company, with Karl Kuehn of Kaukauna, Wisconsin, serving as head of the Algoma farm equipment division.  Badger was manufacturing a short line of farm equipment, which included silo unloaders and barn cleaners, when they bought out the Algoma Company.  They hoped, through the acquisition of the Algoma Company, to broaden their line of Badger products to include forage equipment, particularly their field chopper.

In 1964, Badger Northland was in turn acquired by the Massey-Ferguson Company.  By this time, however, no silo fillers or forage equipment were being made at the Algoma site.  It was a sign of the times that only garden tractors (the Massey-Ferguson model 10) and snowmobiles were being made in the old foundry building.  In the summer of 1970, operations at the Algoma plant were entirely discontinued by Massey-Ferguson.

Before the merger with Massey-Ferguson in 1964, the president of Badger Northland was Wisconsin native Vincent Rolf.  He had been one of the founders of the Badger Farm Equipment Company in Kaukauna, Wisconsin, in 1949.  In 1965, he along with almost all of the original founders of Badger formed a new company called Calumet Corporation of Kaukauna, Wisconsin.  Calumet manufactured liquid pumps, liquid manure spreaders, and a line of trailers for transporting boats, snowmobiles, and garden tractors at its plant in Dundas, Wisconsin.  Upon learning that the old foundry building in Algoma was available, Calumet moved its manufacturing operations from Dundas to the foundry building in December of 1970, operating there until 1973.

Over the years, many people of the Algoma area were employed at the foundry:  Lester Zimmerman was a machinist at the foundry; George Bietling, Marvin Zirbel amd Doug Silmer worked there at different times; as noted previously, John Beitling worked for many years in the paint department; and Emil Bostick, now of Luxembourg, Wisconsin, worked in the stenciling department.

It is a different world now than when the foundry was first opened in 1895, reflecting the changes in farming methods which have occurred in the interim and reflecting the transition of the United States from an agricultural nation into an industrial nation.  Restoration of old farm machinery is one way in which the agricultural history of the nation can be preserved for future generations.  It is hoped that restoration of the 1943 OK silo filler will compose one more chapter of that history, a chapter which will recognize not only the farmers that used the silo filler but also the men and women who made the silo filler.

 

The Case Model NCM Baler and a Family’s Crucial Year

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The Case Model NCM baler and a Family’s Crucial Year

by

Brian Wayne Wells

As published in the January/February 1995 issue of

Belt Pulley Magazine

Case color advertisement 2

            As related in an earlier article, the Howard Hanks family had moved to LeRoy, Minnesota from Mapleton, Minnesota in 1945.  “The Wartime Farmall H,” Belt Pulley, July/August 1994, Vol. 7, No. 4, p. 13.  They had purchased the big 400-acre Bagan farm five miles east of LeRoy, Minnesota.  The payments on the newly-purchased farm were a big concern.  The expense involved with moving a family from a renting operation to ownership of a farm was no small matter.  Then there were the usual expenses entailed in raising a large family.  Furthermore, three of the oldest Hanks children were planning to be married in 1947.  What the family needed was a period of normalcy to consolidate their financial position; however, as 1946 ended, it looked as though the family was not going to get that period of normalcy.  The Second World War had ended and prices for farm products had fallen.  On the other hand, wartime price controls had ended and farm equipment prices immediately climbed.  Then, too, there was the weather.

The fall of 1946 harvest season was very wet.  The family had to borrow a Farmall M which belonged to Reuben Jacobson just to pull the big John Deere No. 7 combine through the soggy soybean fields.  The Hanks’ 1942 Farmall H, with its new cut down steel rear wheels which were now fitted with rims and rubber tires, was unable to pull the combine as it had in the fall of 1945.  The Reuben Jacobson Farmall M had wheel weights and fluid in the tires and thus was used to harvest soybeans on the home farm, as well as for all of the custom work.

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The rains started in the fall of 1946. During the fall harvest that year the Hanks family had to borrow a Farmall model M tractor to pull the large John Deere No. 7 combine through the mud of the soybean field that year.

 

The rain continued throughout the fall of 1946, and in the spring of 1947 it started again with a vengeance.  By the time of the first wedding that year (Bruce Hanks and Mary Keller on April 2), the ground was a quagmire.  Even the roads were a mess, and the farm tractors were employed to help negotiate these roads.

More rain came all through the spring and early summer.  Field work had to be delayed to the point where the situation began to look grim.  By the time of the second family wedding that year (Lorraine Hanks and Robert Westfall on June 25), it was clear that even the garden had failed because of the continuing rain.  As with most families of the time, gardening was not a mere hobby, but was a real source of food for the family.  The failure of the garden meant that household expenses would be just that much higher for the summer and for the following winter.

The oldest son, Fred Hanks, who had been serving in the United States Army in Italy, arrived home just in time for the second wedding on June 25.  He was shocked to find that the soybeans were not yet entirely planted, even at this late date!  The family did not complete planting soybeans until July 6.  They felt as though planting soybeans so late in the season would be a waste of time and money, and 1947 was showing every sign of being a make-or-break year for the family.  In addition, they were counting on the income that would be derived from custom combining in the neighborhood, and prospects for that income were not good unless the rain stopped.

The third family wedding that year (Marilyn Hanks and Wayne Wells) was held on July 12.  Howard and Ethel Hanks, parents of the bride, were hosting the reception at their house on the Hanks farm.  Ethel Buck Hanks, mother of the bride, was distressed that she did not have any crystal or a matched set of glassware to make the reception dinner a formal affair, and the family’s dire straits held no promise that there would be money for even such a small luxury as this.  However, Howard went uptown and negotiated with the proprietor of the hardware store to borrow a set of gobbets and a matching set of sherbet stemware.  This crystal would be used for the reception, then packaged up again and returned to the store.  Ethel was extremely pleased with the goblets and sherbet stemware when Howard brought it home several days prior to the wedding.  Ethel carefully unpacked the gobbets and sherbet stemware and washed each piece in preparation for the wedding reception.  Following the wedding reception, she carefully washed each piece, wrapped it and sadly placed it back into the box for the journey back to town.

The new son-in-law, Wayne Wells, had taken over the farming operation on the 160-acre farm owned by his father, George Wells, which was two miles to the west of the Hanks farm.  Wayne Wells and the Hanks family were planning to cooperate in some farming activities, i.e., corn planting and haying.  They anticipated putting the loose hay in the barn as they had in past years; however, Wayne, who had been thinking of new ways to improve the efficiency of the farming operation, explored the possibility of baling the hay for storage in the barn.  He also saw the possibilities of doing custom baling in the neighborhood.  Many of the same farmers who paid to have their oats and soybeans combined may also pay to have their hay and straw baled.  Since there were very few pickup balers in the neighborhood, the Wells and Hanks families would have a monopoly on the whole market.  Furthermore, with daughter Hildreth, age 17, and son John, age 12, still living at home on the Hanks farm, Bruce and Mary living on the Tony Machovec farm about 1/2 mile south of the Hanks farm, and with Fred’s return from the Army, there would be more than sufficient people to outfit a baling crew and still keep up with the chores.

The Hanks family was receptive to the suggestion of purchasing a baler in hopes of earning extra income from custom baling.  Later, they saw an advertisement for a used Case NCM baler.  In the middle of the rainy summer, it seemed like a gamble considering all of the other pressing concerns.  However, as the old saying goes, “You have to spend money to make money.”  They decided to act. Continue reading The Case Model NCM Baler and a Family’s Crucial Year