The Farmall F-12 (Part I): The 1935 Minnesota State Fair
Brian Wayne Wells
As published in the May/June 2003 issue of
Belt Pulley Magazine
When looking at a map, Minnesota appears as a tall state with a narrow “waist” in the middle. In actual fact, this “waist” is important in the geography of the state, as it separates the rich agricultural area of the southern part of the state from the acid, sandy, more marginal agricultural soils of the north. Whereas the land south of the waist is divided between the hardwood forests of southeastern Minnesota and the flat prairies of the southwestern part of the state, the land north of the waist is dominated by soft woods – pine and fir trees. Minnesota is known as the “Land of 10,000 Lakes,” but in actuality, that figure may be closer to 100,000 lakes, with most of the lakes located in the northern part of the state. With the exception of the Red River valley which forms the border between Minnesota and North Dakota, farming tends to become more marginal as one travels north of the waist.
Consequently, the waist of Minnesota forms an important watershed in the state in terms of geography, agriculture and fishing. One of the counties of the waist is Sherburne County. The east border of Sherburne County runs directly north from the Minnesota River at a point just 50 miles northwest of the Twin Cities. From another point on the Minnesota River directly across from the City of St. Cloud (1930 pop. 21,000), the north border of the county extends straight east until it meets the eastern border of the county forming a 90# angle. Thus, with the Minnesota River forming the hypotenuse of the triangular shaped county, Sherburne County appears on the map as a near perfect right triangle, lying along the northern bank of the Minnesota River as it flows southward from St. Cloud to the Twin Cities of Minneapolis (1930 pop. 464,356) and St. Paul (1930 pop. 271,606). Located between these two population centers of the state, Sherburne County was, in the mid-1930s, one of the least populated counties in the entire state. (1930 pop. 9,709). Much of the land of the county was hilly and remained covered with trees–not well suited to agricultural crop growing. Indeed a great portion of Sherburne County would later be set aside by the national and state governments through the establishment of the Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge and the Sand Dune State Forrest.
Outside of these two recreational areas, farming in Sherburne County was confined to either the area located along the northern bank of the Minnesota River or the townships in the western part of the county near St. Cloud. The sandy soil of the area of the county along the Minnesota River and U.S. Highway 10, which runs roughly parallel to the Minnesota River, was found to be perfect for farming potatoes. Indeed, from about 1890 to the late 1920s, this area was second only to the famous Red River Valley of the North in the production of potatoes in the State of Minnesota. However, the Great Depression which began in 1929 caused many people in the towns of the United States to start growing their own potatoes in their back yards in order to save money during the hard economic times. Thus, the commercial market for potatoes collapsed and potato production in Sherburne County came to a near complete halt. Farmers of the area suffered from the effects of their lack of diversification in their farming operations. They struggled to get into raising corn or other crops in an attempt to save their farms. Specialization in potato production would return to this part of Sherburne County in the 1950s, but in the interim, potatoes in Sherburne County would be grown only on a much reduced scale.
In the other major faming area of the county, near St. Cloud, farmers were also hard hit by the economic effects of the Great Depression. However, this was a dairy producing area. It was a land of rolling hills. The farms were small with irregular shaped fields. Generally, the fields were used for pasturage of dairy cattle. Whatever flat land existed was planted in corn. While this might appear from the surface to be a diversification of the farming operations of the county, it really was not. The small amounts of corn that were raised in this area of the county would generally be used by the farmer on his dairy farm each year to feed his cattle. Thus, during the Great Depression, farmers of this area also suffered from a lack of diversification. The one advantage dairy farmers had over potato farmers of the area was that, while town families may have been able to save money by growing their own potatoes, they could not save money by milking their own cows. Thus, even though butter prices hit a new low of 184 per pound in the summer of 1932 (John D. Hicks, Republican Ascendancy, [Harper Bros.: New York 1960], p. 267) and milk prices did not do well throughout the next year, established farmers were able to hang on until dairy prices returned to acceptable levels again.
One of the townships of the western, dairy area end of Sherburne County was Palmer Township. Farming an 80-acre farm in the northwestern part of Palmer Township was one particular farmer. He had been operating this farm since taking over the operations from his wife’s family. His farm was far enough removed from the Minnesota River and U.S. 10 that it had never been a potato farm. This farm was a dairy farm and had been a dairy farm since his father-in-law had begun farming.
Just as his father-in-law had done before him, he took pride in the small herd of registered, purebred Jersey milking cows that he raised on the farm. The fawn-colored, black-faced Jersey cow is the smallest in stature of all the traditional breeds of dairy cattle—with cows weighing only about 1000 pounds at full maturity. (Sara Rath, About Cows [Voyageur Press: Stillwater, Minn., 1987] p. 23.) (By way of comparison a Holstein cow can weigh around 1,500 pounds at maturity. Ibid. p. 21.)
As a result, Jersey cattle did not produce as great a quantity of milk with each milking as did the popular Holstein cow, but Jersey milk was the richest milk in terms of butterfat content of any of the traditional breeds of cattle. It was a point of pride with our Palmer Township farmer, as it was with other Jersey dairymen, that the golden or yellow colored Jersey milk traditionally contained on average about 5.2% butterfat, whereas Holstein cows traditionally yielded milk with only about 3.23% butterfat. (Encyclopedia Britannica, [Chicago 1976], Vol. 5, p. 425.) Holstein milk was sometimes derogatorily referred to as “blue milk” because it was so low in butterfat content. This fact led to a common joke among dairymen which goes: There was a Jersey dairy farmer talking with a Holstein farmer. The Jersey farmer said that Holstein blue milk was so “thin” that he could drop a dime in a pail of milk from a Holstein and still see the dime through the blue milk. The Holstein farmer replied that he could also see a dime dropped into a pail of Jersey milk–because there was so little milk from an individual Jersey cow that the milk would not cover the thickness of a dime! (an interview with Marilyn [Hanks] Wells in November of 2002.) Continue reading The 1936 Loren Helmbrecht Farmall F-12 Tractor (Part I)