Category Archives: Short Line Companies

Articles that describe histories of farm equipment companies which do not offer tractors in their line of farm equipment

The Keck-Gonnerman Company

                      The Keck-Gonnerman Company of Mt. Vernon, Indiana

by

Brian Wayne Wells

          As published in the November/December 2004 issue of

Belt Pulley Magazine

The Keck-Gonnerman Company insignia with a wood-frame “Indiana Special” thresher on the left and a 19 hp. steam engine on the right.  William Gonnerman’s home is in the center.

In the late eighteenth century, German immigrants flooded into the United States.  However, this flood of immigration began as only a trickle in the 1830s.  Part of this trickle was Andrew (Andreas) Keck, who came to the United States from Waldernach, Germany.  Settling temporarily in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Andrew met and married Rosana Grossman.  Rosana was also a recent immigrant from Germany.  Together, Andrew and Rosana left Philadelphia and headed west.  They arrived in Posey County in the State of Indiana in 1835.  Located on the north bank of the Ohio River in the extreme southwestern corner of Indiana, Posey County was one of the initial counties organized when Indiana became a state in 1816.

Upon arriving in Posey County in 1835, Andrew and Rosana settled on a farm in Marrs Township.  Together they had twelve children including a daughter Caroline, a second daughter Anna B., another daughter Rosanna, and a fourth daughter, Christiana, before the couple had their first son, John, born on August 7, 1851.  Their family also included a second son Peter, a son Louis H. and daughters Maria and Amelia, a son Andrew, and finally two daughters Eliza and Catherine.

Andrew’s wife,  Rosana, however, died in 1861 when their son, John, was only ten (10) years of age.  Growing up on the farm, John Keck tried his best to help his father support the large family.  Rather early in his life, it became apparent that John Keck was mechanically minded.  He attended school in Marrs Township and in nearby Evansville, Indiana, the county seat of Vanderburgh County.  After completing his schooling, John learned the machinists’ trade in Evansville.

Rosanna, one of John’s older sisters married a local boy John C. Woody.  John C. Woody and his brother, Winfield Woody, established their own small foundry business in Evansville in 1873.  However, Winfield Woody, suddenly died.  Recognizing an opportunity to put his machinist trade to work, John Keck purchased the interest in the foundry that had been owned by Winfield and went into business with his brother-in-law in 1877.  The small foundry firm was renamed Woody & Keck.  With his future somewhat secure, John Keck married Addie Franck, daughter of Valentine Franck of Louisville, Kentucky, on March 20, 1877.  The couple made their home in a house on Pearl Street in Mount Vernon, Indiana.  Eventually they would have a family made up of two sons Franck L. and Grover C. Keck.

The foundry was located just sixteen (16) miles south of Evansville.  (Jack Norbeck, Encyclopedia of American Steam Traction Engines [Crestline Pub.: Sarasota, Fla., 1976] p. 154.) The business at the foundry was mainly occupied with the manufacture of hollow ware—silver ware and cooking utensils.  In 1883, John C. Woody sold his interests in the foundry to John Onk of Louisville, Kentucky.  Accordingly, the name of the firm was changed to Keck & Onk.  With the new infusion of capital, the firm purchased a new site which occupied four city blocks at Fourth and Pearl Streets in the city of Mount Vernon, Indiana.  The site also embraced the lot of the house that was the former home of John and Addie Keck.  The family now lived in a house located at Seventh Street and College Avenue in Mount Vernon.  On their new site, the company built a new factory and a warehouse.  By 1884, the factory was employing 300 people in the manufacture of steam engines, threshers-separators, mining equipment and portable saw mills.  The business made steam engines in two different sizes—a 19 horsepower [hp.] and 20 hp. model.  (Unlike other steam engine manufacturers, the business began and the future Kay-Gee Company continued to designate their steam engine models according to drawbar hp. rather than belt pulley hp.  Accordingly, the Kay-Gee 19 hp. model delivered 45 to 50 hp. to the belt pulley.  The larger 20 hp model could deliver up to 70 hp to the belt pulley.)

A newly restored 19 horsepower (hp.) Keck-Gonnerman steam engine.

 

The company’s wooden frame threshers were known as “Indiana Special” thresher-separators and were offered to the farming public in two different sizes.  Both models had a 32-inch wide cylinder.  However, one thresher had a 48-inch separating unit.  Therefore, this model was called the 32 x 48 model.  (This model was later enlarged to become the 32 x 56 model.)  The other thresher model was the 32 x 62 model.  Both models of the Indiana Special thresher-separators were 28’ 5” in overall length.  However, whereas the 36 x 56 model weighed 9,000 pounds and could obtain a capacity of 200 bushels per hour with a 50-hp. power source, the larger 36 x 62 model thresher weighed 10,000 pound and could achieve a capacity of 250 bushels per hour capacity when operated by a 70-hp. power source.  (Robert Pripps and Andrew Moreland, Threshers: History of Separator Threshing Machine, Reaper and Harvester [Motorbooks International: Osceola, Wisc., 1992] p. 121.)

However, John Onk sold his interest in the business to William Gonnerman and Henry Kuebler in 1884 and moved back to Louisville in 1885.  At this point the firm was renamed Keck, Gonnerman and Company (or Kay-Gee for short).

The new partner, William Gonnerman, was also of German ancestry.  Born on January 5, 1856, William Gonnerman was the sixth of eleven children, born to Adam and Martha (Ripple) Gonnerman.  Adam Gonnerman was a baker in the town of Solz, in the Hesse-Nassau province of Germany.  William Gonnerman grew up and was apprenticed to the machine shop of Johann Shaefer located in Sontra Germany.  He became a journeyman machinist in 1873 at the age of seventeen years.  Johann Shaefer had married William Gonnerman’s oldest sister, Catherine.  In 1873, the same year that he became a journeyman machinist, William Gonnerman emigrated from Germany to the United States.  (C.H. Wendel, Encyclopedia of American Farm Tractors [Crestline Pub.: Sarasota, Fla.,1979] p. 167.)  All of William’s brothers and sisters remained in Germany with the exception of his older sister Christina and an older brother Conrad, both of whom also emigrated to the United States.  After settling in Indiana, Christina married William Shaus, a farmer from rural Armstrong in Vanderburgh County.  Conrad also settled in Indiana and became the foreman of the Louisville and Nashville Railroad freight depot located in Evansville, Indiana the county seat of Vanderburgh County.  Upon his arrival in the United States, William Gonnerman also settled in Evansville, Indiana and obtained a position as a machinist at Conrad Kratz machine shop in Evansville in 1875.  On September 7, 1875, William married Lena Alexander, daughter of Henry Alexander, a farmer from Rheinfaltz, Germany.  After moving to Mount Vernon in neighboring Posey County, William and Lena joined the Trinity Evangelical and Reform Church and William joined Lodge No. 277 of the Order of the Elks.  Together Lena and William Gonnerman would have a family consisting of a daughter Margaret born on November 13, 1876, a daughter Katherine born on July 30, 1878, a third daughter Caroline born on May 15, 1880, a son William H. born on July 23, 1884 and finally another daughter Lena born on December 31, 1888.  However, William’s wife, Lena, tragically died in 1891.  The three oldest daughters would grow up and marry.  Only William’s youngest daughter, Lena, would remain single throughout her life.  Two of the marriages of the Gonnerman daughters would have an impact on the Kay-Gee Company in the future.  Katherine would marry William Espenschied, a local attorney.  They would have one son, who would also become an attorney and would later serve as corporate attorney for Kay-Gee.  Margaret would marry Joseph V. Forthoffer, who served as the tool foreman for the Kay-Gee Company.

It was while working at the Kratz machine shop that William Gonnerman heard about the opportunity to purchase an interest in the Keck and Onk business.  As noted above, William Gonnerman bought the Onk interest in the business together with Henry Kuebler in 1884.  However, the next year, in 1885, Henry Kuebler sold his interest in the firm to Louis H. Keck, John Keck’s younger brother.

Having secured his financial position by joining his brother and William Gonnerman in the business, Louis H. Keck married Minnie Foshee a local Posey County girl.  Together they would have two sons, Louis D. Keck born on June 24, 1893, and Robert A. Keck born in 1898, and two daughters.

The St. Louis, Missouri, branch house of the new Keck-Gonnerman Company, serving local dealerships in Missouri and southern Illinois.

 

In 1901, the business was incorporated under the laws of Indiana as the Keck-Gonnerman Company, nicknamed “Kay-Gee” for short, with an authorized capital of $201,000.00.  John Keck was the president of the new corporation and generally in charge of purchases and sales.  William Gonnerman served as vice-president and was put in charge of the manufacturing operations at the factory.  Louis H. Keck was the secretary/treasurer of the corporation and handled the finances and office operations of the company.  The financial relationship between John Keck and William Gonnerman did not end at the gates of the Kay-Gee Company.  Together they organized the Industrial Brick Company of Mount Vernon.  In 1908, together with Charles A. Greathouse, William Gonnerman organized the Peoples Bank & Trust Company of Mount Vernon.  William Gonnerman served as a director and an officer of this bank for many years.  William also served as president of another company called William Gonnerman & Company, which served electric power to the citizens of Mount Vernon for many years.  Unlike his partners, John and Louis H. Keck and unlike a majority of the community around Mount Vernon, Indiana, William Gonnerman was a Republican.  Nonetheless, William Gonnerman was elected to the Indiana State Senate as a Republican serving this largely Democratic community.  In addition to his business affairs, William Gonnerman served in the Indiana State Senate throughout the 1907 and 1909 regular sessions of the legislature as well as serving in the 1908 special session.

John Keck’s business ventures flourished enough that he was able to purchase one of the new fangled contraptions that were becoming a popular item among persons with sufficient means—a horseless carriage.  The new “automobile” purchased by John Keck was a “General” automobile from the General Automotive and Manufacturing Company (formerly the Hansen Automotive Company) of Cleveland, Ohio.

John Keck’s new car received much notice in the “tri-state area” around Mount Vernon, Indiana.  On October 14, 1903, John and Addie Keck, their oldest son Franck Keck and Addie’s brother John Franck left on a trip in the new General automobile, traveling to Louisville, Kentucky to visit Addie’s parents.  (An account of this five-day trip to Louisville in John Keck’s own words, is contained at the Keck and Gonnerman Motor Sports website on the Internet.)

The Keck family all loaded up in their new car for a trip to Louisville, Kentucky.

 

In 1909, Frank Keck, John and Addie’s eldest son, was married to Louise Klee of Henderson, Kentucky.  The happy couple settled in a house at 613 College Ave, which the groom had built for them prior to their marriage.  Together they would raise one daughter.  In addition, Franck L. Keck served on the board of directors of the Peoples Bank and Trust Company.  He also used his engineering skills to design the facilities of the Mount Vernon Milling Company and he served on the board of directors of that company as well as serving on the board of the Home Mill and Grain Company.

John and Addie’s second son, Grover C. Keck, grew up and attended Purdue, University in West LaFayette, Indiana.  Following his graduation from Purdue in 1907, Grover Keck returned to Mount Vernon and founded, together with his father John Keck, the automobile division of the Keck-Gonnerman Company.  The automobile division served as a sales dealership for the Cadillac Automotive Company of Detroit, the Maxwell-Briscoe Motor Company of Tarrytown, New York, the Stanley Motor Carriage Company of Watertown, Massachusetts, the Nash Motors Company of Kenosha, Wisconsin and the Oakland Motor Car Company of Pontiac. Michigan.  In 1912, the automobile division also became the local dealer for the Ford Motor Company of Dearborn, Michigan.  However, sometime during the First World War, Ford began requiring all of their local dealerships to sell exclusively Ford-made cars.  Thus, the automobile division of Kay-Gee dropped all other franchises except Ford.  As a result, John Keck obtained a 1917 Ford Model T “Coupelet” for use as a demonstrator vehicle.  Actually, 1917 was the last year that Ford produced the Coupelet, which was a two passenger automobile with an enclosed body like a coup with full glass windows on the sides of the vehicle which could be adjusted up and down by straps.  (George H. Dammann, Ninety Years of Ford [Motor Books Intl. Pub.: Osceola, Wisc., 1993] pp. 65, 71 and 74.)  However, unlike a coup, the roof of the Coupelet would fold down and the car would become a completely open car.  This was the first real convertible car which was not to be confused with the various models of roadsters, runabouts and touring cars which had no glass windows on the sides.  (Ibid.)  After settling in to his new position as head of the automotive division, Grover married Lena Highman.  Together they would have two sons, John Robert born in 1917 and William born in 1919.

Recognizing the trend toward internal combustion engines not only for automobiles, but also for farm power uses, the Keck and Gonnerman Company introduced the Model 12-24 kerosene powered tractor in 1917.  (C.H. Wendel, The Encyclopedia of American Farm Tractors [Crestline Pub.: Sarasota, Fla., 1979] p. 167.)  As the model number of the tractor would suggest, with a twin-cylinder 6-1/2 inch bore and 8 inch stroke engine, the Model 12-24 tractor developed twelve (12) hp. at the drawbar and 24 hp. at the belt pulley.  (Ibid.)  In 1918 the Model 12-24 sold for $1,250.00.  (Ibid.)  In 1920, Kay-Gee modified the tractor by increasing the bore to 7-1/4 inches with the same 8 inch stroke.  This modification increased the horsepower of the tractor to 15 hp. at the drawbar and 30 hp. at the belt pulley.  (Ibid.)  Thus, the newly modified tractor was designated the Model 15-30.  (Ibid.)  The Model 15-30 was priced $1, 650.00 in 1920, but in the price wars of the early 1920’s which were inspired by Henry Ford and his Fordson tractor, the price of the Kay-Gee Model 15-30 tractor fell to $1,075.00 in 1923.  (Ibid.)  Options for the tractor included a cab for the additional price of $25.00 and 6 inch extension rims for the rear drive wheels for $60.00 a pair.  (Ibid.)

A Keck-Gonnerman Model 15-30 farm tractor.

 

The Kay-Gee tractors were still not powerful enough to operate the large Kay-Gee threshers.  Still the trend following the First World War was tending toward smaller threshers which could be powered by internal combustion engine tractors.  Answering this trend, Kay-Gee introduced their line of “Junior” threshers.  The Junior threshers were offered in two sizes.  The 5,400-pound 21 x 38 model Junior was 24’ 9” in overall length and had a 21-inch twelve-bar cylinder and a separating unit that was 38” wide.  Requiring a 20 hp. power source for optimum operation this thresher had a capacity of 90 bushels per hour.  (Robert Pripps and Andrew Moreland, Threshers: History of Separator Threshing Machine, Reaper and Harvester p. 121.)  The larger model 28 x 40 model Junior thresher was also 24’ 9”in overall length.  However, this, this thresher weighed 6,000 pounds and had a 28 inch cylinder with twelve bars, and a 48 inch wide separator unit.  This thresher was had a capacity to handle 165 bushels per hour when properly powered with a 30 hp power source.  (Ibid.)

Image result for Keck-Gonnerman 28" by 40" Junior grain thresher/separator

 

Although Kay-Gee began the manufacture of their internal combustion tractors, they also continued production of their steam engines.  Indeed, they expanded their line of steam engines by adding a 13 hp., a 15 hp., a 16 hp., and an 18-hp. model to the line of steam engines.  Still the larger 19-hp. and 20-hp. models remained the most popular steam engines in terms of sales.  (Jack Norbeck, Encyclopedia of American Steam Traction Engines, p. 155.)  At first the steam engines were fitted with side-mounted single steam cylinders.  (Ibid., p. 154.)  Later double cylinder units were used for more efficient power.  The Kay-Gee steam engines featured rocker grates in the firebox for easy removal of the ashes from the live coals in the firebox.  (Ibid.)  Cross head pumps and injectors were used on the steam engines.  Traveling at only 2¼ miles per hour the 20,000-pound steam engines were not even as fast as a walking team of horses.  (Ibid., p. 155.)  However, arriving at the work site, the Kay Gee steam engine was fitted with an Arnold reverse gear which allowed the steam engine to “lean back” into a drive belt and perform the work for which it was really made.

In 1921, Kay-Gee fitted their steam engines with new and improved boilers, which met the new A.S.M.E. (American Society of Mechanical Engineers) standards.  These new waist double butt strap riveted boilers were made of 3/8” metal in order to stand a working steam pressure of up to 175 pounds.  (Ibid., p. 156.)

In 1923, a particular 19 hp. Kay-Gee steam engine bearing the serial number 1728, rolled out of the Kay-Gee factory in Mount Vernon, Indiana.  The steam engine had already been sold to Grover Myers from Versailles, Indiana.  Accordingly, No. 1728 was loaded onto a railroad flatcar for the journey east across Indiana to the town of Versailles.  Upon arrival in Versailles the steam engine was used in threshing.  Some time in its early life, No. 1728 was damaged in what may have been a rollover accident.  This may have occurred as early as the unloading of the steam engine from the flat bed railroad car in 1923.  In addition to threshing No. 1728 was used in road construction.  No doubt the work that No. 1728 performed on road construction was in response to the various local Good Roads Associations that sprang up all across the nation in the early 1920s to promote road construction by state and county governments.  As has been shown in a previous article, at least some of the work on the roads under construction was performed by the farmers that lived on or near those roads.  (See the article called “Farming with a Titan 10-20” contained in the May/June 1996 issue of Belt Pulley magazine at page 16.)  Thus although Grover Myers was probably a farmer and probably a custom thresher in his neighborhood, No. 1728 was probably marshaled into service when local roads in his neighborhood were being built.

However, in the mid-1950’s, No. 1728 was sold to Justin Hitgen of LaMotte, Iowa.  Located in Jackson County LaMotte is located only about eleven (11) miles south of Dubuque, Iowa.  Justin Hitgen used No. 1728 in threshing shows that were put on for the public in the LaMotte area.  In about 1968, No. 1728 was sold to Joe Edel of Montgomery Minnesota.  Later in 1997, Gary Jones of Owatonna Minnesota purchased the Kay-Gee 19hp. steam engine from the .Edel family.  Gary Jones remains the current owner of No.1728 and operates the steam engine each year at the annual LeSueur County Pioneer Power Association Show held in rural LeSueur, Minnesota during the last weekend in August.  The steam engine will once again be seen by attendees at the 2004 Pioneer Power show held on August 27-29, 2004.

Following No. 1728 out of the Kay-Gee factory, was another 19hp. steam engine bearing the serial number 1787 which was purchased new in 1924 by Arnold Knopp of Campbell Hill, Illinois.  No. 1787 is, currently, pictured on the Keck-Gonnerman web page of the Keck Motor Sports Company website.  As noted at that particular page, Arnold Knopp owned No. 1787 until his death in 1969.  No. 1787 was later owned by Tim Mathis of Pinkneyville, Illinois and was restored to its current condition, as shown in the color picture on the web page, by Gerald Fink of Murphysville, Illinois.

Kay-Gee continued to make steam engines until 1930 when the last of the Kay-Gee steam engines rolled out of the company shops in Mount Vernon.  Kay-Gee steam engines were employed in some unusual ways even after their production was ceased.  In 1937, Kay-Gee Company steam engines would achieve local renown for the roll they played in the Great Flood of 1937.  The Ohio River began rising on January 5, 1937 and did not recede to its normal banks until February 9.  During this time the waterworks of Mount Vernon was inundated by the flood.  Three Kay-Gee steam engines were employed on a full time basis to keep the citizens of Mount Vernon supplied with fresh water.  Additionally, Kay-Gee steam engines were used in Kentucky to sterilize the soil of seed beds for tobacco seedlings.  Tobacco is grown from seed in seed beds the size of the area of the floor space of the average house.  In this particular application in Kentucky, plastic was placed over the entire seedbed and live steam from the Kay-Gee steam engine was blown under the plastic and held by the plastic against the soil of the seedbed.  In this way, all the weed seeds in the seed bed were killed and the ground was “sterilized” for the tobacco seed to sprout and grow unhindered into seedlings, at which time, they would be transplanted to rows in the fields.

In 1924, Kay-Gee underwent another corporate reorganization as the retail automotive division of the Company was spun off to form an independent business called the Keck Motor Company.  Grover Keck and his father, John Keck, became the sole owners of the Keck Motor Company with Grover conducting the day-to-day affairs of the company.  Although originally the retail business of the Keck Motor Company was conducted from the grounds of the Kay-Gee factory works in Mount Vernon, the Keck Motor Company eventually purchased a building located on Main Street in Mount Vernon from which the retail operations were conducted.  The Keck Company continued to sell Ford cars from this building until a fire destroyed the building in 1982.

The Kay-Gee Company continued to be involved in the retail business, serving as local franchisee for the Allis-Chalmers Manufacturing Company of Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  In addition to selling Allis Chalmers farm equipment, Kay-Gee sold balers manufactured by the Ann Arbor Agricultural Company of Ann Arbor, Michigan.  The Keck Motor Company was able to benefit from the fact that the Ann Arbor Company had developed the first pickup device for balers (portable hay presses) such that the baler could be brought to the hay rather than the hay being brought to the stationary hay press.  In 1941, its first successful automated self-tying hay baler was introduced by the Ann Arbor Company.  However, in 1943, Ann Arbor leased its factory and business operations to the Oliver Farm Equipment Company of Charles City, Iowa and later the Ann Arbor Company was officially merged with Oliver.  With Ann Arbor balers no longer available the Kay-Gee retail division became the local franchise holder for the New Holland Machine Company of Lancaster, Pennsylvania.  This franchise enabled Kay-Gee to market the famous New Holland “Automaton” self-tying twine baler.

In 1924, William Gonnerman, together with Louis D. Keck and Robert A. Keck, both sons of Louis H. Keck, formed the Gonnerman Motor Company, which became the local distributor for Chevrolet cars in the Mount Vernon area.  Louis D. Keck, son of Louis H. Keck, graduated from Mount Vernon High School in 1911 and entered a course of studies at the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois.  However, because of the illness and subsequent death of his father, Louis D. Keck returned home to assume the corporate responsibilities left by the death of his father.  On October 2, 1918, Louis D. Keck married Roblye Powell of Carmi, Illinois.  They would have one son, Louis D. Keck Jr., who would tragically be killed in an automobile accident in 1949.  In addition to his involvement in the family business, Louis D. Keck Sr. became a member of the board of directors of the First National Bank in Mount Vernon.

Robert A. Keck, Louis H. Keck’s younger son had returned to Mount Vernon, following his service in the United States Naval Reserve during World War I and after his graduation from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor Michigan.  He married Louise Hopkins.  Together they would have three children, Robert A. Jr. (known as Andy), James H. and David M. Keck.  (Andy Keck currently lives in retirement in Mount Vernon and supplied background information for this article.)  Along with serving as the assistant secretary/treasurer of the Kay-Gee Company and in addition to his responsibilities as a founder of the Gonnerman Motor Company, Robert A. Keck Sr. was a member of the board of directors of the Peoples Bank and Trust Company of Mount Vernon.  Like most of the Keck family, Louis D. Keck was a Democrat.  During the 1920s and 1930s he served as Treasurer of the Posey County Democratic Party.  With a wide range of acquaintances, he became a power, in and of himself within the Democratic Party of Southern Indiana, and he identified with the “Old Guard” wing of that party.  From 1948 until 1952 he would also serve on the Board of Education of the Mount Vernon City School system.

Within the Kay-Gee Company changes were afoot.  By 1926, Kay-Gee was still manufacturing only one size of farm tractor.  A piece of literature dating from 1926, reflects that the Kay-Gee Company still offered only its original two-cylinder kerosene cross-motor tractor.  However, in the interim, the tractor had been improved and was now rated as delivering 18 hp. to drawbar and 35 hp. to the belt pulley.  By 1926, Kay-Gee was offering steam engines in only two sizes—the popular 19-hp. model and the new 22-hp. steam engine, which replaced the 20 hp model steam engine.  Also in 1926, Kay-Gee introduced its line of steel frame threshers.  Both the large threshers (now called the “Senior” line of threshers) and all models of the Junior line were offered to the public in either wood frame or steel frame configurations.

The 1926 piece of advertising literature also reflects Kay-Gee’s growing connection with the edible bean industry of the United States.  Three different sizes of pea and bean threshers (or “hullers”) were offered to edible bean producers—a 24 x 36 model, a 32 x 40 model and a 36 x 48 model.  Small grain threshers could be modified to act as bean hullers by merely replacing the pulleys on the cylinder shaft with larger pulleys.  These larger pulleys would allow the speed of the cylinder to be slowed to 400 revolutions per minute (rpm) without slowing the operation of the rest of the thresher.  As opposed to the cylinder speed of 400 rpm. recommended for optimum threshing of beans, wheat and other small grains required a cylinder speed of 1100-1150 rpm.  Although, the conversion of an ordinary thresher to a bean huller could be made with relative ease, Kay-Gee felt that a market existed for threshers or hullers that were specifically made at the factory for use in threshing (or hulling) beans.

Since 1900, most of the nation’s edible beans (especially navy beans) were raised in Michigan.  (Navy bean farming in the State of Michigan will be the subject of a two-part series of articles in the November/December 2004 and the January/February 2005 issues of Belt Pulley magazine.)  Thus Kay-Gee’s connection with the edible bean industry was in reality a connection with the State of Michigan.  Besides Michigan, the Kay-Gee sales network extended into Indiana, Illinois, Missouri and Kentucky.  Later, distribution of Kay-Gee machines was extended to Canada and to California.  Eventually, Kay-Gee had “factory direct” branch houses in St. Louis, Missouri, Peoria, Illinois and Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.  These branch houses served local dealerships and retail outlets in their respective areas.  Kay-Gee threshers were also exported to Cuba for threshing rice that was being raised in that country.  These rice threshers were modified with pulleys on the cylinder shaft which were larger than those required for wheat and yet smaller than those required for edible beans.  Thus the cylinder was allowed to turn at an optimal 800 to 850 rpm., which is recommended for the threshing of rice while allowing the rest of the thresher to operate at normal speed.

In 1928, Kay-Gee introduced a new line of four-cylinder tractors.  (C.H. Wendel, The Encyclopedia of American Farm Tractors p. 167.)  Smallest in the line was the Model 18-35.  (Ibid.)  Not to be confused with the two-cylinder kerosene cross-motor 18-35 model tractor noted above, this new Model 18-35 tractor was not of a cross-motor design.  Its four-cylinder engine was lined up perpendicular to the rear axle in what would become a conventional and universal design for tractors, trucks and automobiles.  As a power source for this new tractor, Kay-Gee turned to the Buda Company of Harvey, Illinois and contracted for Buda’s 4-1/2 by 6 inch (bore and stroke) four-cylinder engine for installation in the Model 18-35.  (C.H. Wendel, Gas Engine Trademarks, [Stemgas Pub.: Lancaster, Penn., 1995] p. 14.)  The 5,200 pound Model 18-35 sold for $1,600.  (C.H. Wendel, Encyclopedia of American Farm Tractors, p. 167.)  In 1935, the Model 18-35 was fitted with a 5-1/8 by 7 inch engine from the Waukesha Motor Company of Waukesha, Wisconsin and was designated the Model ZW.  The second Model ZW ever made bearing the Serial No. 3502, has been restored by Paul Mauer of Mount Vernon and is currently displayed each year at the annual show of the Keck-Gonnerman Antique Machinery Association held on the first full weekend in August each year at the Posey County Fairgrounds.  The first two digits of the serial number of all Model ZW tractors reflect the year that the particular tractor was made.  Thus number 3502 was built in 1935.  Only 83 Model ZW tractors were ever built by Kay-Gee.  Surprisingly, 48 of these Model ZW tractors are still in existence and their present locations are known.  This is quite a record for tractors of this age.

Also introduced in 1928, was the Kay-Gee Model 25-50.  (Ibid.)  Originally rated at 22 hp at the drawbar and 45 hp. at the belt pulley, the Model 25-50 was later upgraded to 25 hp. at the drawbar and 50hp. at the belt pulley.  The Model 25-50 was made from a number of outsourced products.  As a power source for this engine, Kay-Gee contracted for the 5-1/4 by 7 inch motor manufactured by the Le Roi Company of West Allis Wisconsin.  (C.H. Wendel, Gas Engine Trademarks, p. 62,)  Weighing 9,800 pounds the Model 25-50 was fitted with a carburetor from the Ensign Carburetor Company of Los Angeles, California.  (C.H. Wendel, Encyclopedia of American Farm Tractors, p. 167.)  For a magneto for the Model 25-50, Kay-Gee contracted with the German firm of Ernst Eismann & Company of Stuttgart, Germany.  (Ibid.)  The radiator for the Model 25-50 came from the Modine Manufacturing Company of Racine, Wisconsin, the clutch came from the Twin Disc Clutch Company of Racine, Wisconsin and the air cleaner came from the Pomona Company.  Pictures of the Kay-Gee tractors reveal that probably after 1935, the tractors were fitted with “paper” belt pulleys from the Rockwood Manufacturing Company.  (For a history of the Rockwood Company, see the article on page 14 of the March/April 1997 issue of Belt Pulley.)

The largest tractor the Kay-Gee line introduced in 1928 was the Model 27-55.  (Ibid.)  Designated the Model N, this tractor was eventually upgraded to delivering 30 hp. at the drawbar and 60 hp. at the belt pulley.  (Ibid.)  The Model 30-60 (or Model N) had a Le Roi Company engine with a 5-1/2 inch bore and a 7-inch stroke.  Weighing more than 10,000 pounds the Model N sold for $3,000.00.  Kay-Gee tractors were available with electric lighting and electric starting systems from Leece-Neville Company of Arcade, New York.  Production of the Model 30-60 was ended in 1937.  (Ibid.)  Paul Mauer, who is noted above, also has restored one of these Model N tractors.  This particular Model N bears the serial number 469.  Unlike the Model ZW, it is not known how many Model N tractors were actually made.  Furthermore, unlike the Model ZW, the serial numbers of the Model N do not provide a clue as to the year the tractor was made.  Still No. 469 is thought to be a 1929 tractor.

Although farm machinery, particularly threshers, steam engines and tractors remained the core business for Kay-Gee the Company also began manufacture of repair parts for the boats that were operating on the nearby Ohio River.  Kay-Gee also pioneered in the development of a tungnut picker or gatherer for use in the southern United States.  Tungnuts are used in the making of tung oil which is commonly used as an element in quick-drying paints and lacquers, as a waterproofing agent and as a component in linoleum.

The advent of the 1930s brought the more of the younger generation of Kecks and Gonnermans to the forefront in positions of responsibility within the Kay-Gee Company and the related businesses.  William H. Gonnerman, son of William Gonnerman, the founder of the company, attended Purdue University in West LaFayette, Indiana.  He majored in mechanical engineering, and after graduation in 1906, William H. Gonnerman returned to Mount Vernon to become a mechanical engineer for the Kay-Gee Company.  He married Fannie Highman, the daughter of Edward E. Highman, another prominent family in Posey County.  The young couple settled into a house on Walnut Street in Mount Vernon and started a family which consisted of a single daughter.  Upon the death of Louis H. Keck, William H. Gonnerman succeeded to the office of secretary/treasurer of the company.  As noted above, both of the sons of the late Louis H. Keck became corporate officers in the Kay-Gee Company.  Louis D. Keck, the eldest son of Louis H. Keck, became the assistant secretary/treasurer.  Robert A. Keck, the younger son of Louis H. Keck, became the sales manager of the Kay-Gee Company.

Financing of the purchases of Kay-Gee threshers, tractors and other Kay-Gee equipment was conducted in a number of different ways.  Sometimes Kay-Gee itself would “carry the note” and the farmer purchasing the equipment would make regular payments directly to the Kay Gee Company.  Sometimes the purchaser of the farm equipment would fall in arrears of his payments.  The Company would then have to turn the account over to a law firm for collection of the balance of the bill.  Among the law firms employed by the Company for bill collection was the Emison law firm of Vincennes, Indiana.  This law firm is one of the oldest continuing law firms in the State of Indiana and is a premier law firms in southwestern Indiana.  Indeed a letter still exists in the possession of Richard Keck, great-grandson of John Keck and current owner and operator of Keck Motor Sports of Evansville, Indiana, which was written by John Keck to John Wade Emison, senior partner of the Emison law firm, requesting legal action be pursued in the collection of a particular debt owed to the Kay-Gee Company.  Years later in 1947, Ellen Emison, a grand-daughter of John Wade Emison, would marry William Keck, a grandson of John Keck.  Their son would be Richard Keck.  Thus, the letter that Richard Keck currently possesses was written by his paternal great-grandfather to his maternal great-grandfather long before any family connection exited between the Keck and Emison families.

On December 2, 1938, John Keck died at the age of 87 years due to a gall bladder ailment.  He had served as president of the Kay-Gee Company until his death.  He was succeeded in the office of president by the vice president of the company, William Gonnerman.  After a short term as president, William Gonnerman stepped aside in favor of the elder of the late John Keck’s two sons, Franck Keck, who was then elected as president of the Keck-Gonnerman Company.  Lloyd Quinn moved from his own business as the head of the Quinn Paint and Glass Company in Mount Vernon to begin his long association with the Kay-Gee Company as bookkeeper for the Company in 1937.  Following the Second World War, Lloyd would become the sales manager of the Company.

Tragedy struck the Gonnerman and Keck families more than once in this period of time.  Fannie (Highman) Keck, the wife of William H. Gonnerman died suddenly in 1939.  William H. Gonnerman never quite recovered from this loss.  In 1943, William H Gonnerman sold his house on Walnut Street and moved in to the house at 521 Mill Street with his 87 year old father and his 43 year old sister, Lena.  However, he committed suicide on March 13, 1945 at the age of 60.  Louis D. Keck, succeeded William H. Gonnerman as secretary/treasurer of the Kay-Gee Company.  In the fall of 1948, William Gonnerman, himself died at the age of 92.  As noted above, Louis D. Keck’s own son, Louis D. Keck Jr., died suddenly and tragically in an automobile accident in 1949.  Then in 1951, Louis D. Keck Sr., himself died of a heart attack at the young age of 58.

Production of threshers and tractors was greatly curtailed by the wartime economic restrictions imposed on United States industry by the government.  Indeed, tractor production was suspended altogether for the duration of the war.  Furthermore, although Keck & Gonnermann was still listed in tractor directories as late as 1946, tractor production was not resumed by the Kay-Gee Company even when the wartime economic restrictions were lifted at the close of the war in 1945.  Kay-Gee never really actively advertised tractors after 1937.  (Ibid.)

In the post-war era the retail sales division of the Kay-Gee Company added a local Massey-Harris franchise to the line of farm machinery that retail sales division offered to the public.  However, stationary threshers remained the main focus of Kay-Gee.  The Company resumed making stationary threshers after V-J day in September 1945.  Indeed, the company continued making stationary threshers long after many other companies had ceased production of threshers in favor of combines.  The combine was revolutionizing the harvesting of small grains and was taking over the market from the stationary threshers.

Kay-Gee attempted to adapt to these new conditions by obtaining the outsourcing contracts to make the straw walkers for several different combine manufacturers.  However, the writing was on the wall for Kay-Gee.  In 1952, Kay-Gee had sold 2,210 stationary threshers in the Canadian wheat belt.  The next year in 1953 the company sold only 701 threshers.  Consequently, that same year, 1953 the Keck and Gonnerman families began negotiations with a Stockton, California engineering firm.  Robert R. Harrison, a mechanical engineer; Durward A. Spencer, a sales engineer with manufacturing experience with his own company in California and Donald C. Rowe, all members of that California engineering firm felt that they could change the Kay-Gee Company from a producer of threshers to a manufacturer of combines by simply redesigning the Kay-Gee threshers, adding a cutter bar and/or grain windrow pickup and adding a method of locomotion to the current Kay-Gee stationary threshers.  Initially, Harrison, Spencer and Rowe wanted only to contract with the Kay-Gee Company to produce a new hydraulic self-propelled rice combine, a pull type edible bean harvester and a large self-propelled small grain combine.  However, negotiations took a different path and after six months of negotiations, the Kay-Gee Company agreed to allow Harrison, Spencer and Rowe to take over the management of the Kay-Gee Company and develop these three new machines themselves.  Under the new management, the Kay-Gee Company spent approximately $400,000.00 on the redesign of their threshers to convert them into combines.  As part of this new agreement the company was reorganized.  Franck L. Keck retired from the presidency of the company and was replaced by Robert Harrison.  Robert A. Keck resigned his position as secretary/treasurer and was replaced by John R. Keck, treasurer and N.N. Williams, assistant treasurer.  Robert A. Keck became a vice president of the newly reorganized company.  His son, Robert A. (Andy) Keck Jr. was placed in charge of production control of the new company.  Lloyd Quinn, who had been serving as sales manager also became a vice-president of the new company.  Durward A. Spencer and Donald C. Rowe also became vice presidents.  Rodney J. Brunton, an Evansville accountant, joined the company as vice president in charge of accounting and William Espenschied, whose mother, as was noted above, was Katherine (Gonnerman) Espenshied, joined the new company as corporate attorney.

Production of rice combines was begun by the new company.  A supply contract with the Chrysler Corporation of Detroit Michigan was signed for the 180 h.p. Chrysler V-8 engine that would be used to power the self-propelled rice combine and for the 60 h.p. Chrysler industrial engine that was intended for the pull-type bean combine.  The self-propelled rice harvesters were at heart nothing more than a Keck and Gonnerman thresher with a 36” cylinder and a 62” separating unit, to which a 16-foot header and an engine were added and to which wheels—or rather tracks—were mounted.  As opposed to wheels for locomotion, the new Kay-Gee rice combine rode on a track system manufactured by the C.P. Galanot Company of Alliance, Ohio.  Weighing 37,000 pounds, the new Kay-Gee rice combine was 14½ feet tall and 26 feet long and had a suggested retail price of $35,000.00.  While the self-propelled small grain combine, which Kay-Gee was endeavoring to produce, was fitted with straw walkers, the rice combine was fitted with eight two-wing beaters for better separation of the rice.  The Kay-Gee rice combine had a capacity to harvest 500 to 600 one hundred pound sacks of rice every hour.  A sales contract was concluded with rice farmers in Cuba in 1955 and those combines participated in the Cuban rice harvest that year.

Production of the new Kay-Gee pull-type bean combine began with a contract signed in February of 1955 by A. J. Martin of Bad Axe, Michigan.  A.J. (Red) Martin was the owner of the Thumb Farm Machinery Company dealership located in Huron County in the heart of the premier edible bean producing area of the United States.  Delivery of the first 20 pull-type bean harvesters to the Thumb Farm Machinery Company dealership was scheduled for June or July of 1955.  This pull-type bean combine featured a six-foot pickup table with a new pickup unit that would gently lift the bean vines up off the ground and deliver then to the cylinder without cracking open the pods before theu reached the cylinder.

However, it is unknown whether delivery of these 20 pull-type bean combines was ever made to the Thumb Farm Machinery Company dealership.  On November 15, 1955, the Mount Vernon Democrat carried the story that Edmond M. Richards of New Harmony, Indiana was appointed receiver in bankruptcy of the Keck-Gonnerman Company.  Edmond Richards was the former traffic manager of Mount Vernon Milling Company.  The newspaper article went on to note that the liquidation of the company had already been in process for several weeks prior to the appointment of a receiver by Judge Francis E. Knowles of the Posey County Circuit Court.  Despite the best efforts of the new company to adapt to the new economy of combine sales, the tide had been too much against Kay-Gee.  The great employer of Mount Vernon, Indiana was gone.

All that remained of Kay-Gee were the businesses that had been spun off from the original company—chiefly the Keck Motor Company.  However, the post war period brought changes to the Keck Motor Company also.  On December 26, 1947 Grover Keck, owner of the Keck Motor Company dealership, suddenly and unexpectedly died.  Although neither of his sons, John Robert Keck or William (Bill) Keck had been involved in the Ford car dealership, both sons now entered the business doing their best to fill the shoes of their deceased father.  As noted above Bill Keck married Ellen Emison of Vincennes, Indiana in 1947.  Together they would have a family that included three children—a daughter, Katie, a son Richard and another daughter Sally.  In 1980, following his graduation from Indiana University, Richard joined the management team of Keck Motor Company.  Richard replaced his uncle John Robert who retired from the business.  As noted above, in 1982 a fire destroyed the 1917 building which housed the Keck Motor Company dealership.  The fire badly damaged the 1917 Ford Model T Coupelet which as noted above John Keck had used as a demonstrator vehicle when the business first opened.  Fortunately, the Coupelet was able to be rebuilt in the late 1980s.

Over the 80 plus years that the Keck Motor Company had served as the franchised Ford dealer for the Mount Vernon area, the dealership had won many awards for sales.  The dealership ranked in the top twenty dealerships in the nation in continuous length of operation.  In 1994, Bill and Richard expanded their business concerns by purchasing the local Chevrolet dealership in Mount Vernon.  In 1995, the Chevrolet dealership was moved to a new location on 4th Street in Mount Vernon.  Together Bill and his son, Richard, operated the business until February 9, 2000 when Bill Keck died at 81 years of age after a long battle with cancer.

Following the death of his father, Richard made some changes in order to fit the new economic circumstances.  He added an Indian motorcycle franchise to the Chevrolet dealership location in July of 2000.  In November of 2000, he closed the Ford dealership.  Finally in January of 2002, he sold the Chevrolet dealership to concentrate on the ever growing Indian motorcycle business.  Additionally he moved the motorcycle dealership, now known as Keck Motor Sports, to its current location at 217 North Stockwell Road in  Evansville, Indiana.

With the closure of the offices at the Kay-Gee facilities in Mount Vernon, Indiana in 1955, one might have suspected that a great deal of information would have been lost.  However, historians and restorers of Kay-Gee equipment are extremely fortunate in that all the production records, sales records and other company papers of the Keck and Gonnerman Company were turned over to the library and museum at the Working Men’s Institute at 107 West Tavern Street in New Harmony, Indiana  17631  (Telephone No. [812] 682-1806).  This pool of information contained at the Working Men’s Institute is a great resource of information on individual threshers, steam engines and/or tractors which were made by Kay-Gee, as well as being a great source of information on the company itself.

Additionally, some local citizens in Mount Vernon formed the Keck-Gonnerman Antique Machinery Association to keep memories of the company alive.  In about 1986, this association began an annual celebration of remembrance called the Keck and Gonnerman Reunion.  This reunion is held on the first full weekend in August each year.  It has grown every year to the present.  At the 2004 Reunion held on August 6 through 8, there were 206 tractors exhibited.  It is certain that this Reunion together with the historical records kept at the Working Men’s Institute will keep memories of Kay-Gee alive—memories of a company that played a great role in the history of United States agriculture.

Rosenthal Cornhusker Company (Part V)

The Rosenthal Cornhusker Company of Milwaukee, Wisconsin:

The Self-Feeder and the Last Years (Part V)

by

Brian Wayne Wells

with the assistance of

Jim McFarlane of Waunakee, Wisconsin

Lyle Sundry of Byron, Minnesota

Gary J. Jones of Owatonna, Minnesota

Jim Esbenshade of Colbert, Oklahoma

John McNamara of Eagle Rock, Missouri

and

Keith Oltrogge of Denver, Iowa

As published in the January/February 2002 issue of

Belt Pulley Magazine

            As noted in Part IV of this series on the Rosenthal Company, one could foresee that the future of ripe corn harvesting would not bode well for the Company if it remained solely as a producer of stationary corn shredders.  (See “The Rosenthal Corn Husker Company Part IV: The Cornbine” in the November/December 2001, issue of Belt Pulley Vol 14, No. 6.) Also, noted in Part IV they were unable introduce their own corn picker into the already overcrowded corn picker market.  What was not noted in Part IV was that they knew from experience that they could not do so.

            As part V of this series was nearing completion, information was received from Keith Oltrogge,  editor of the Massey-Harris collector’s newsletter called Wild Harvest, that indicated the Rosenthal Company experimented with a two-row pull-type corn picker.  Experimentation with this prototype of the Rosenthal cornpicker was conducted on the farm of Herman and Millie (Kohagen) Oltrogge in Bremer County, Iowa, from 1931 until 1933.  Herman and Millie were the grandparents of Keith Oltrogge.  Together Herman and Millie owned and operated a 300 to 400-acre farm located which is ed seven miles east of  Waverly, Iowa (pop. 8,539) on State Road No. 3 straight across the intersection with U.S. #63 number and another ½ a mile on the north side of S.R. #3.   They had a dairy operation, with about 30 head of Holstein cattle being milked at any one time throughout the year.  They also raised about 200 to 300 pigs and 500 chickens.  Approximately half of their arable land was planted in corn.  Since they did not have a silo on their farm, they built a bunker for storing corn silage.  A portion of their corn was harvested as green corn silage; the remainder of the corn was harvested when ripe.  Much of the ripe corn was stored on the farm and fed to the pigs, chickens and dairy cattle.  (Although Keith is a Certified Public Accountant, who practices in the nearby town of Denver, Iowa, he still owns and lives on his father’s and grandfather’s farm.)

            Herman Oltrogge processed much of his ripe corn into dry feed by means of a Sprout-Waldron feed grinder, or burr mill.  (Keith still has this old burr mill on the farm.)  To power the burr mill and to provide mechanical power for some of the other tasks on the his farm, Herman had purchased a new Wallis model “OK” tractor in 1926.  The Wallis tractor was manufactured by the J.I. Case Plow Company, which was a separate entity from the more familiar J.I. Case Company which manufactured threshers and tractors under the Case name.  The J.I. Case Plow Company had originally been spun off from the J.I. Case Company in 1890 as a separate entity under the presidency of Jackson I. Case, son of the original founder, Jerome Increase Case.  However, Jackson Case was succeeded in the presidency of the J.I. Case Plow Company by Henry M. Wallis in 1892.  (C.H. Wendel, 150 Years of J.I. Case [Crestline Pub. Co.: Sarasota, Fla., 1991], p. 14.)  This was the beginning of production of the Wallis tractor.  In 1893, Jacob Price and the T.M. Company purchased the J.I. Case Plow Company; however, production of the Wallis tractor continued under the new ownership.  By 1922, the model OK Wallis tractor had been introduced to replace the Wallis Model K tractor.  (C.H. Wendel, Encyclopedia of American Farm Tractors [Crestline Pub. : Sarasota, Fla., 1979] p. 59.)  At its tests in Lincoln, Nebraska, in April and May of 1923, the  Model OK tractor had developed a maximum horsepower of 18.15 on the drawbar and 27.13 hp at the belt pulley.  It was this model of tractor that Herman Oltrogge purchased in 1926 at a dealership in Waverly, Iowa, and put to work on his farm.

            At the same time, Herman’s brother, Louis Oltrogge, also traded in his old Lauson tractor in to the same dealorship on a new Wallis Model OK tractor.  In nearly all farming operations throughout the year, Herman cooperated with his brother.  Louis and his wife, Hilda Kohagen) Oltrogge, lived on a 240-acre farm adjacent to Herman and Millie’s farm.  Hilda was a sister of Millie; thus, brothers had married sisters.  Louis and Hilda’s farm was on U.S. 63 about a ½ a mile north of the intersection of U.S. 63 and S.R. No. 3.  When traveling between the two farms, however, the families preferred to use the field lane that connected the two farms, rather than take farm machinery out on the road.   Louis and Hilda also had a large Holstein dairy operation and raised chickens and pigs.  However, not having a silo or a bunker on his farm, all of the corn on their farm was harvested as ripe corn.

            Bremer County, where the Oltrogge farms were located, had its own Rosenthal dealership in the form of Shumacher’s Blacksmith Shop which had expanded into a short-line machinery dealership.  William (Bill) Schumacher was the owner and operator of this blacksmith shop and shortline dealership located in Denver, Iowa (approximate 1930 population 500-600).  As noted previously, the Rosenthal Company did very little advertising itself, relying largely on “word of mouth” and the reputation of the company for building quality machines.  Thus, it was left to the individual shortline dealers carrying the Rosenthal line to do their own advertising.  Schumacher’s did just that by means of promotional ink pens with their name and the “Rosenthal” name emblazoned on the barrel of the pens.  (Keith Oltrogge still has examples of these promotional pens.)

            Because of his location in Bremer County, it seems likely that Bill Schumacher had something to do with arranging the tests of the Rosenthal corn picker prototype on the Oltrogge farm.  However, because Bremer County is adjacent to Chickasaw County and the Oltrogge farm is only 27 miles south of New Hampton, Iowa (the county seat of Chickasaw County), it is tempting to believe that the Mielke Manufacturing and Sales Co. of New Hampton, Iowa, was also involved in making the arrangements for the testing of the prototype corn picker in conjunction with Schumachers.  (As we know from Part IV of this series, it was William J. Mielke, who would later, in 1943, arrange for the testing of the prototype of the Cornbine on the John and Catherine Landreck farm in neighboring Fayette County.)

            Nevertheless, in the fall of 1931, a prototype of the Rosenthal corn picker was brought to Herman and Millie’s farm by Rosenthal engineers.  They wished to see how the picker would operate under actual field conditions.  Just as with the testing of the prototype of the Cornbine some 12 years later on the Landreck farm, the company also wished to have the corn picker powered by the tractor of the hosting farmer.  Consequently, Herman’s Wallis Model  OK tractor was used to pull the prototype of the corn picker in the corn field on his farm.  Accompanying the engineers and the prototype to Herman and Millie’s farm in the fall of 1931 was Henry Rosenthal himself.  (As noted in Part II of this series of articles, Henry was the son of August Rosenthal.  August was the oldest of the four Rosenthal brothers who had founded the Rosenthal Corn Husker Company.  Also as previously noted, Henry Rosenthal would succeed his father into the presidency of the Rosenthal Company in 1936.)  Henry was not pretentious, nor afraid to get his hands dirty in pursuit of the job at hand.  Herman’s camera caught Henry Rosenthal taking a turn at the controls of the Wallis tractor while it was pulling the prototype corn picker around the corn field.  From the tractor seat, Henry was able to see for himself the operation of the picker as the corn passed through the snapping rollers.

            At the end of the harvest, Henry and the Rosenthal engineers had learned a great deal about their prototype.  They packaged up the prototype corn picker and shipped it back to the Rosenthal factory at West Allis, Wisconsin for further modifications based on improvements suggested by Henry and the engineers.  Due to all the modifications on the prototype, however, the Company felt that more testing of the new modified two-row corn picker prototype was needed before the company went into production with the two-row corn picker.  Indeed, when the prototype reappeared on the Oltrogge farm in fall of 1932, it had changed a great deal in appearance.  The most apparent change was the addition of more streamlined sheet metal and more sheet metal covering the elevator carrying the ears of corn from the snapping rollers up to the husking roller bed.  Once again, Henry Rosenthal accompanied the Rosenthal engineers to the Oltrogge farm.  Continue reading Rosenthal Cornhusker Company (Part V)

Rosenthal Cornhusker Company (Part IV): The Cornbine (

The Rosenthal Cornhusker Company

of Milwaukee, Wisconsin (Part 4):

The Cornbine

by

Brian Wayne Wells

                                                             with the assistance of

Jim McFarlane of Waunakee, Wisconsin

Lyle Sundry of Byron, Minnesota

Gary J. Jones of Owatonna, Minnesota

Jim Esbenshade of Colbert, Oklahoma

John McNamara of Eagle Rock Missouri

and

Neal Holcomb of Eleva, Wisconsin

As published in the November/December 2001 issue of

Belt Pulley Magazine

By the end of the Second World War, the trend on North American farms was moving strongly in the direction of mechanical picking of ripe corn rather than husking and shredding the ripe corn.  This trend portended disaster for the Rosenthal Cornhusking Company of Milwaukee Wisconsin, as their only product–the corn husker/shredder–was rapidly becoming obsolete.  As noted earlier, the Rosenthal Company had attempted to combat this trend by making husking/shredding more attractive to the average farmer.  (See the article “The Rosenthal Cornhusking Company: Part III” in the September/October 2001 issue of Belt Pulley.)  As shown, the Company did this by introducing the new, lower-priced Model Steel 4-20 corn husker/shredder.  However, even the Steel 4-20 could not stem the trend toward the picking of corn in the field.

Much less hand-work was involved in mechanically picking corn in the field.  With a tractor and a power-take-off powered cornpicker, ripe corn could be harvested and elevated directly into a wagon.  The wagon full of corn would then be taken to the corn crib and unloaded.  There was no need for time consuming labor in the fields binding and shocking bundles of ripe corn, no need for time consuming labor in the fields loading the bundles onto a wagon for transport to the husker/shredder.  With mechanical picking of corn, all operations could be handled in the field in a single operation.

The Rosenthal Company simply could not introduce another corn picker into a market which was already overcrowded with corn picker manufacturers.  Thus the Company realized that its fortunes were tied to the husking/shredding of corn.  Consequently, if the Rosenthal Company were to survive, it needed to develop a machine that would take the corn husking/shredding process directly to the field, thereby, eliminating the need to bring the corn to the husker/shredder.  In other words, the process of husking/shredding of corn had to become as simple and mechanical as corn picking.  Thus during the Second World War, the engineering department at the Rosenthal Company began to design and build a machine that would do just that.  This machine was called the Cornbine.

The Cornbine was designed as a one-row, pull-type, ripe corn harvester which would husk and shred the ripe corn right in the field.  One model of Cornbine was powered by the power-take-off shaft from the tractor that towed it.  The second model depended on a Wisconsin VE-4, air-cooled, 30 horsepower engine for power.  (Regular readers of the Belt Pulley magazine will remember that the same Wisconsin VE-4 engine was used on the Case NCM baler, one of which was owned by the Hanks family and Wayne Wells of LeRoy, Minnesota [See the January/February 1995 issue of Belt Pulley, p. 31].  The problematic Wisconsin VE-4 flathead engine has been abused by many a user as being the engine that will not start when it is too hot, will not start when it is too cold, leading one to wonder when on God’s green earth the thing would ever start.  We will revisit the Wisconsin VE-4 air-cooled engine in a future article on a Wisconsin powered Massy Harris Clipper combine and in another article on the history of the Wisconsin Engine Company itself.)  Continue reading Rosenthal Cornhusker Company (Part IV): The Cornbine (

The Rosenthau Corn Husker Company (Part II)

    The Rosenthal Corn Husker Company of

Milwaukee, Wisconsin (Part II)

                                                                        by

Brian Wayne Wells

                                                             with the assistance of

Jim McFarlane of Waunakee, Wisconsin

Lyle Sundry of Byron, Minnesota

Gary Jones of Owatonna, Minnesota

Jim Esbenshade of Colbert, Oklahoma

and

John McNamara of Eagle Rock Missouri

As published in the July/August 2001 issue of

 Belt Pulley Magazine

            The Rosenthal Corn Husker Company of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, was a pioneer in the corn husker/shredder market.  As the reader may recall, August Rosenthal had developed the idea of a corn husker/shredder on his parents’ farm in Reedsburg, Wisconsin, and had built the first successful prototype there.  In 1889, August, with the help of three of his brothers–William H, Gustav H., and Carl F.–patented the corn husker and incorporated the Rosenthal Corn Husking Machine Company to mass produce and sell their corn husker/shredder.  (See Part I of the “Rosenthal Corn Husker Company,” May/June 2001 issue of Belt Pulley magazine.)

Within the management of the new company, August served as Superintending Engineer and General Manager, William H. served as Manufacturing Superintendent, Gustav H. served as Corporate Secretary and Sales Manager, and Carl served as General Mechanician.  In addition, the Corporation hired on an attorney, James F. Trottman, who served as General Counsel. With the end of the First World War, the corn husking market was in a state of change.

Corn husker/shredders were dangerous machines and production of these machines could be fraught with liability.  For this reason, many producers of corn husker/shredders fell by the wayside and others merely withdrew from production.  J.I. Case withdrew from production of corn husker-shredders in 1920.  (C.H. Wendel, 150 Years of J.I. Case [Crestline Publishers: Sarasota, Fla., 1991], p. 125.)  Likewise, Advance-Rumley ceased production of its corn husker/shredders in 1928.  (C.H. Wendel, The Allis Chalmers Story [Crestline Publishing: Sarasota, Fla., 1988], p. 43.)

Despite the fact that some competitors left the corn husker/shredder market, some serious competitors of the Rosenthal corn husker/shredder continued to spring up.  One of the most significant competitors was the New Idea Company which introduced its own six-roll model corn husker/shredder in 1927.  (C.H. Wendel, American Farm Implements and Antiques, [Krause Publications: Iola, Wisc., 1997], p. 55.)  In 1935, New Idea introduced a four-roll husker/shredder.  (See the article called the “New Idea Spreader Company of Coldwater, Ohio” in the September/October 1998 issue of Belt Pulley, Vol. 11, No. 5, p. 37.)  Soon New Idea had its own line of husker/shredders, including a two-roll model, a four-roll model and a six-roll model.  When all these events settled out, there were three “big names” left in the corn husker/shredder market, e.g., International Harvester, New Idea and Rosenthal.

Following the successful introduction of the Big 4 four-roll corn husker/shredder in 1903, the Rosenthal Company completely redesigned its two-roll Big Cyclone model corn husker/shredder and called it the No. 1.  The No. 1 was a 1,685 pound machine which the Rosenthal Company alleged could be adequately powered with a 6 to 8 horsepower gasoline engine.  The No. 1 was the smallest corn husker in the Rosenthal line and, although it was clearly designed for single farm usage, it would now have a wheeled carriage for easy transport.  After having lost much market share to competitors because of its adherence to the outdated concept of single farm usage, the company now knew that the corn husker was more akin to the grain thresher that would be used on many different farms throughout a “season” rather than being used on a single farm intermittently throughout the entire winter.  Thus, all corn huskers/shredders in the entire Rosenthal line would now be mounted on wheel carriages for easy transport. Continue reading The Rosenthau Corn Husker Company (Part II)

The Rosenthal Corn Husker Company (Part I)

The Rosenthal Corn Husker Company of

Milwaukee, Wisconsin

                                                                       by

Brian Wayne Wells

                                                       with the assistance of

Jim McFarlane of Waunakee, Wisconsin

Gary Jones of Owatonna, Minnesota

and

John McNamara of Eagle Rock, Missouri

 

 

Picture a field bare of all plant-life except for the four-inch corn stubble carpeting the entire field, interrupted only by corn shocks (each shock composed of four or five bundles standing upright leaning against each other to permit the corn to dry in the field), with two or three pumpkins gathered at the feet of the first one or two shocks as one enters the field.  This memory conjures up some of the most romantic ideas of 19th century farmlife.  It is the time of season when the dry, cool air suggests that there may be “frost on the pumpkin” as the shocks sit through the night of the “harvest moon” (first full moon after the fall equinox).  By the time of the “hunter’s moon” (the second full moon after the fall equinox, occurring 28 days after the harvest moon), the pumpkins would have been gathered for fear of a “hard freeze.”  However, the corn would still be left in the field to be gathered by the farmer as he needed it throughout the wintertime, at which time he would “process” the corn (shuck and shell and/or grind) for feeding or for selling or, as he found the time in the winter, process the corn for storage.

Corn stored in the field in shocks for the winter.

 

Many devices (which are now museum pieces) were used in the early 19th century for processing corn, in particular, drying racks which were made of metal and designed to be hung from rafters to protect the corn from mice.  Each rack contained six to eight sharp spikes on which were impaled husked ears of corn.  The corn would hang from the rafters until needed by the farmer.

Corn drying on an individual drying rack.

 

Well into the winter, after snow blanketed the ground, the farmer would hitch up a team of horses to his “bundle wagon.”  For more convenient use during the winter, the wagon wheels of the bundle wagon would have been removed and replaced with runners.  The farmer would then head to the fields after his morning chores were complete to load up the wagon (sleigh) with corn shocks.  The shocks were then brought back to the barn where the farmer would remove each ear of corn by hand from its stalk and store the ears on a drying rack.  The by-product of this process (the corn stalk) would then be fed whole to the cows.  Cows are not finicky eaters, but in this case they would usually eat the leaves and the husks, and not the whole stalk.  Thus, the area around the feed bunk and the feed buck itself would become full of old corn stalks.  Farmers knew this was a waste of an important by-product.  However, at that time, there was little he could do about it; that is, until a new and unique machine came along to help the farmer speed the process of husking corn and to help refine the by-product into a more palatable product for the cows.  This new machine would be the corn husker-shredder.

Cornhuskers allowed the farmer to save the corn stalks and the corn husks–the by-product of a usual ripe corn harvest. Once chopped, the stalks and husks are called “stover” and can be fed to the cattle. Here this farmer has gone to the corn field with his bundle wagon and picked up a load of corn bundles from the shocks. Now his is operating the cornhusker/shredder with his tractor and ears of corn are coming out of the elevator of the corn husker into a waiting grain wagon. This ear corn will be taken to a small corn crib on the farm or may be stored on corn drying racks in the granary if there is no corn crib. Meanwhile the freshly chopped stover is being blown through the light-colored blower pipe, seen in this picture sticking upwards through the barn door leading to the mow of the barn. This stover is being piled up in the hay loft next to the hay. The stover will be fed to the milking cows throughout the winter. This is such a large barn that there may be a separate “room” to isolate and contain the pile of stower being blown into the hay loft, from being spread around in the hay loft. At milking time throughout the winter, the farmer will throw some of the stover down the hay chute into a waiting feed cart which will then be rolled around the barn to feed the entire dairy herd. Every couple of weeks throughout the winter, this farmer will be going to the field to pickup more corn shocks and repeat the process of corn husking/shredding just to keep a supply of stover on hand in the mow of the barn.   Invention of the corn husker/shredder allowed all farmers the possibility using a major by-product of the farm to be processed into a valuable feed for the farm.

 

The corn husker-shredder was the brainchild of a young boy, August Rosenthal, who developed the corn husker while living on his parents’ farm south of Reedsburg, Wisconsin, in Sauk County.  August Rosenthal’s parents, Carl Ludwig and Dora Rosenthal, were German Lutheran immigrants from the area around Hamburg, Germany.  Carl was a carpenter by trade, who, along with many other German immigrants of the time, settled in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  In 1880, as their family grew in size (seven children–all boys) and grew in maturity, Carl and Dora moved the family to a small farm south of Reedsburg.  Reedsburg was located near two great rivers–the Fox River and the Wisconsin River–which area would, in years to come, become the heartland of dairying in Wisconsin and would make Wisconsin the nation’s leading dairy state.  The Rosenthal boys all became enterprising young men as they grew up.  John Rosenthal, the oldest son, went into business in the Big Store in Reedsburg.  Friedrich, the next oldest, would go into business with the Meyer Harness Company in Reedsburg.  August, the middle son, was born in 1867.  Three other boys followed in succession:   William H., born in 1871; Gustav H., born in 1874; and Carl, born in 1878.  August and his three younger brothers would remain on the farm as typical farm boys, so it is not surprising that they were ingeniously inclined toward making farm work more mechanical and less labor-intensive.  August, however, showed more than just the usual amount of talent for practical farm mechanics.

In 1882, at the tender age of 15 years, August Rosenthal began experimenting with the idea of husking corn by machine.  His first machine, however, was crude and unsuccessful, but he continued to experiment.  In 1888, Carl Ludwig died, leaving Dora and her sons to fend for themselves on the farm.  It was a discouraging time, but August refused to give up on his idea despite the increased responsibilities he and his brothers now faced running the farm.  In 1889, after seven years of work, August was able to test a new, large machine that was operated by a horse walking in a circle around the machine pulling a sweep.  By this time, the entire Rosenthal family was actively involved in August’s new invention–particularly, his younger brothers Gustav H., William H. and Carl.  Using “Prince,” one of the family’s work horses, the family hitched Prince to the pole on the sweep and said “giddap.”  Prince then began moving in a circular path around the machine, pulling the pole which turned the gears of the drive mechanism located above the machine, thus powering the machine via a chain that connected the drive mechanism with the new husking machine.  With the machine running, August began feeding corn stalks into the machine.  Before long, a steady stream of ears of corn began sliding down the hopper of the machine into a waiting bushel basket.  Meanwhile, the corn stalk was discarded intact on the ground behind the machine.  The machine was a success.  Next, August set to work designing and building a second husking machine which incorporated chopping or shredding of the corn stalk into little pieces.  This new machine, however, turned to the internal combustion engine for its power, rather than the horse, and the shredded stalk material (called “stover”) was elevated to a nearby wagon where it could be taken to storage.  Over the next few years, several more improvements were made to the husking machine, and, in 1894, the Cyclone Model No. 1 corn husker shredder was introduced which incorporated all of these improvements.  The Cyclone Model No. 1 was constructed with a combination of two snapping and husking rollers which removed the ears from the stalk.  They also removed a great deal of the husks from the ears before dropping the ears into a bushel basket. In addition, the Cyclone Model No. 1 was outfitted with a blower which would gather the shredded stalks and blow them through a large pipe into a nearby barn or shed.  Thus, the modern corn husker-shredder was born.  On March 5, 1895, the Cyclone Model No. 1 was patented by the Rosenthal family.  Continue reading The Rosenthal Corn Husker Company (Part I)

Wood Brothers Company (Part II)

The Wood Bros. Company (Part II):

The Model WB-1-P Cornpicker

by

Brian Wayne Wells

with the assistance of

Gary Oechsner of Fond-du-Lac, Wisconsin

Clarence L. Goodburn of Madelia, Minnesota

Alan C. King of Radnor, Ohio

            Charles R. Durham of Brainerd, Minnesota

and

Hugh Hash of Sparta, North Carolina

By 1928, the Wood Bros. Thresher Company appeared to be at the top of its form, and its future looked even brighter.  Having successfully overcome a few challenges in its recent history (the disastrous fire of 1917, another fire–although somewhat less disastrous–in 1926, and a change of factory locations in 1926), production of threshing machines was at a new all-time high.  Franz L. Wood presided over a company that was the largest, single industrial project between the Mississippi River and the Rocky Mountains, with his brother Robert L. serving as treasurer.  The company produced enough threshers that year, such that 200 threshers were delivered aboard a single train to its branch house in Fargo, North Dakota.  Yet, just when everything appeared to be at its best, the greatest disasters befell.  Already in 1928, warning signs were out which too many people would ignore, pointing to a major economic cataclysm just ahead.  The effects of this period of economic stress would have a tremendous impact on the Wood Bros. Thresher Company.

Despite the debt that the company had accrued in its move in 1926 to the new location at 1700 E. Aurora Avenue, and despite objections from his brother and other people within the company, Franz was able to divert some of the resources from the sale of threshers into building combine harvesters.  Franz correctly foresaw that combine harvesters were the wave of the future that would eventually replace the stationary thresher/separator on all United States farms.  He wanted to position the company securely in the new combine market before thresher sales started to decline in favor of the new combines.  It was a bold plan that promised to assure the future prospects of the company.

In 1929, Wood Bros. marketed its first model combine harvester/thresher.  Three models of the new combine, with its unique overshot-type cylinder and fork-type impeller feeder, were offered to the public–a model with a 12-foot cutter bar, a model with a 16-foot cutter bar, and a model with a 20-foot cutter bar.  Furthermore, the company made plans to boost combine production to 1,000 machines in 1930.  The company, borrowing more money from the bank for the increase in production, suddenly found that the total debt on the bonds they still had left to pay together with the new loan they had just taken out added up to $950,000.00. Continue reading Wood Brothers Company (Part II)

The Wood Brothers Company (Part I)

The Wood Bros. Company (Part I)

                                                                         by

Brian Wayne Wells

                                                            with the assistance of

Gary Oechsner of Fond-du-Lac, Wisconsin

Clarence L. Goodburn of Madelia, Minnesota

                    Alan C. King of Radnor, Ohio

                                                                           and

Hugh Hash of Sparta, North Carolina

 As published in the January/February 2001 issue of

Belt Pulley Magazine

In 1831, when Hiram and John Pitts developed the first threshing machine, bundles of grain had to be fed by hand into the thresher.  Until the process of harvesting grain was mechanized in the late nineteenth century, hand-feeding of bundles into a thresher created a real bottleneck.  Hand-feeding required a worker to stand at the front of the thresher to receive each bundle from another worker on the bundle wagon or stack.  Then he had to cut the twine on the bundle and feed the bundle into the thresher.  The threshing process could go no faster than the worker feeding the bundles into the thresher.  Furthermore, hand-feeding of bundles was a dangerous job:  once the bundle was fed, the rapidly spinning cylinder tended to “snatch” the bundle out of the hands of the person feeding the bundle.  The person’s hands were only a short distance away from the cylinder and in danger of serious injury.  There was also the danger of foreign materials getting into the cylinder and being thrown back up into the face of the person feeding the bundles.  Consequently, there was a real need to develop some device that would eliminate the need for a person in this dangerous position and that would considerably speed up the threshing process.  In the middle 1880s, just such a device was under experimentation on a South Dakota farm owned by the Wood family.

An old Buffalo-Pitts thresher.

 

South Dakota was, in the 1880s, in the middle of a boom period, as the effects of the Panic of 1873 had subsided by 1878.  They were showing signs of becoming a great wheat producing state, and settlers were moving in from Minnesota and other points to the east.  (Herbert S. Schell, History of South Dakota, [University of Neb. Press: Lincoln, 1975] pp. 158-174.)  There were growing pains, of course, and emotional debates would break out over a great number of issues.  One such instance was the six-year “Spink County War” which broke out in 1878 over the issue of whether the county seat should be located in the town of Ashton or the town of Redfield.

A road map of Spink County showing the locations of the towns of Redfield and Ashton the object of the Spink County War.

 

This dispute eventually led in an armed mob of 300 citizens of Ashton in 1884 marching on Redfield to demand the return of county records which had been forcibly removed from Ashton by Redfield citizens.  As a consequence, two companies of territorial militia had to be dispatched from Fargo to Spink County to dispell the conflict.  However, by the time the militia arrived, the tense situation had eased.  (Ibid. p. 204.)  Nonetheless, boundless optimism was in the air in South Dakota. Anything seemed possible, and this feeling attracted young men from all over the United States.  Among the young farm families immigrating into South Dakota in the spring of 1885 was the Wood family.

A map of South Dakota showing the location of Spink County.

 

Originally from Marlboro, Massachusetts, the Wood family consisted of the parents and two daughters–Susan (born in 1855) and Clara (born in 1858).  Sometime in the late 1850s or early 1860s, the family moved from Massachusetts and settled in Freemont Township in what would become Winona County in the southeastern corner of Minnesota.  While living in Freemont Township, two sons were born–Robert L. (on August 31, 1861) and Franz John (on March 7, 1864)–thereby completing the family.  In the spring of 1885, the Wood family learned of free land available for settling in South Dakota.  Thus, they moved there and settled on a piece of land in the extreme southeastern corner on the state in Spink County on the border with Hand County.  Later that same year, Franz Wood took “pre-emption” on a plot of land for himself a short distance away and Robert also took a claim on yet another plot of land.  (Later, Robert would use his land as collateral when he went to Huron to get a loan in order to buy two identical mules–Jack and Jinnie.)

The summer of 1886 was a busy one for the Wood family, but they also made time to socialize with their neighbors.  They helped organize the Turtle Creek baseball team, with Robert chosen as captain.  Also, in 1886, Robert and Franz Wood purchased a straw-burning, 12-horsepower Case traction steam engine and a hand-feeding Case 36″ x 58″ thresher and began a custom threshing business operating from their parents’ farm.  Moving from farm to farm in the neighborhood, they supplemented their farm income with this business.

A Case steam engine like the one used by the Wood Bros. on their threshing tour around South Dakota in 1886.

 

Over the next couple of years, the brothers became intimately aware of the problems inherent with hand-fed threshers.  Thus, they set about developing a self-feeding mechanism.  In the optimistic enthusiasm that was part of the atmosphere of South Dakota during this time, the young men believed that they could invent  a feeding mechanism that would speed the process of threshing and make it safer.  At the end of the harvesting season in 1889, Franz purchased a blacksmith’s forge, hammer and tongs, as well as an old claim shanty to house his new shop.  All during the fall and winter of 1889-1890, he worked on the new self-feeder.  When it was completed, the new self-feeder was tested on their own Case 36″ thresher in the summer of 1890.  Unfortunately, it proved to be a disappointment and broke under the stress after just 10 minutes of operation.

After many attempts, the Wood Brothers finally struck upon a successful design and went into production with their own self-feeder.  This is a 1905 advertisement of the Wood Bros. Company self feeder.

 

Not to be deterred, Franz began again to build another feeder made from stronger steel.  In order to have important castings properly made, Franz traveled back to Freemont, Minnesota, where he had been born, to have his cousin’s husband, Arthur Craine, a local blacksmith, work on the self-feeder with him.  While in eastern Minnesota working on the self-feeder, Franz traveled to another blacksmith shop in Rushford, where he worked on the self-feeder most of the winter. Continue reading The Wood Brothers 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 PAPEC Company of Shortsville, New York (Part 1)

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The PAPEC Company of Shortsville, New York (Part 1)

by

Brian Wayne Wells

As published in the November/December 1995 issue of

Belt Pulley Magazine

The 1987 restoration of a PAPEC Model 127 silo filler at Shortsville, New York.
This is the PAPEC Model 127 silo filler that was restored at Shortsville, New York by a group of former employees of the PAPEC Company as described in this article.

The storing of forage in a silo to cure into ensilage became popular in the United States in the 1890s.  To mechanize that process, the stationary silo filler was invented.

Silo fillers started out as complicated machines which chopped bundles of green corn plants and piled the chopped corn into stacks to be elevated into silos.  Eventually, stationary silo fillers were modified and simplified to a single-stage machine which chopped corn into the appropriate size and then blew the ensilage up a large pipe for distribution inside a silo, all in one step.  This was the stationary silo filler as it is most commonly known.

Many small companies sprang up at about the turn of the century to supply the farmers’ demand for these silo fillers.  One of these companies was founded by Billy Hamlin in Lima, New York, in 1901, and was organized with capital from members of the Hamlin family.  Billy Hamlin had originally wanted to name the company the Union Manufacturing Company; however, he found that there were already six other companies with that name in New York State at that time.  Accordingly, he decided on a name that would emphasize the main product manufactured by his company–silo fillers.  The name he created was the Pneumatic and Propeller Ensilage Company.  The only drawback about the name was that it was hard to pronounce and so the name was shortened to the mnemonic P.A.P.E.C., or Papec.

Filling silo with corn ensilage by means of a PAPEC Model K-3 silo filler
A PAPEC silo filler at work.

Billy Hamlin had purchased a Canadian patent for an “ensilage cutter” and set about refining the design cutter to make an improved silo filler.  Thus, in 1901, Papec began production of a model of silo filler based on the Canadian patent, but with substantial improvements.  This model went through other improvements over time and eventually became the Model C silo filler.  However, in 1904, the venerable Model C was phased out of production and replaced with the Model D.  The Model D would remain in production until 1917.

Empire Tool Company building was sold to PAPEC in 1909
This picture was taken prior to 1909 and is actually the workforce of Empire Tool Company of Shortsville, New York, who worked in the Empire Tool Company buildings in the background. However in 1909, the PAPEC Company purchased these buildings from Empire Tool and began making silo fillers at the site.

 

Both the Model C and Model D silo fillers were very popular with farmers.  A 1931 Papec advertisement proudly stated that there was still an active market for knives for the Model C more than 27 years after production had ceased.  A 1944 Papec advertisement made similar statements about the Model D which had been out of production for 27 years.

The Papec Company lost money regularly every year from the time of its founding through 1909.  The shareholders blamed Billy Hamlin for the continual losses and deposed him as president of the company in 1909.  At this stage, three remarkable men were enlisted by the shareholders to get the Company on the right track.  Frank Hamlin, now of Naples, New York, remembers that these three men were unique:  “One was a money man” (George W. Hamlin, father of Frank Hamlim, who became the Treasurer); “one was a good manager” (Ward H. Preston, who would serve as President until 1953); “and the third was an ingenious mechanic” (Fred Bullock, who became the plant manager).  These men were each strong individualists.  (An interesting sidelight is that Fred Bullock was a perennial candidate for governor of New York on the Socialist Party ticket until he became Vice President of Papec, at which time he became a Republican!).  Ward Preston, affectionately called “The Commander” by personnel at the factory, was a colorful personality.  He was a person squarely aimed at getting the job done.  Photographs have captured him on hand in the factory when the 20,000th Papec silo filler was completed in 1949.  On another occasion, in 1931, he was photographed at the occasion of the delivery of the first Papec with a galvanized feeder to a local New York farm.

Ward Preston in forground looking at the front of the feeder before crawling up on top of the feeder
Ward Preston inspects a new Model 127 PAPEC silo filler before crawling up on the feeder and pushing the sides of the feeder further apart by jumping on the feeder.

While looking the new machine over in his barnyard, the new owner was asked how he liked it.  The farmer responded that he felt the end of the galvanized feeder was a little too narrow.  Whereupon, to the surprise of those present, The Commander, even then an elderly man, crawled up into the feeder and jumped up into the air and came down with his feet against both sides of the ends of the feeder–spreading the end of the feeder.  “How’s that?” The Commander asked.  The stunned farmer managed to reply that the improvement to the machine was just fine!

These men were individualists, and by all reasonable expectations the new management should have been rent asunder by conflict between these strong personalities.  However, these three men realized that for Papec Company to survive they would each have to work together.  Each of the three men developed a respect for the others and refrained from interfering with those sections of the company outside their own area of expertise.  The result was a harmonious relationship within the management of the Papec Company.

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Bridge leading to the PAPEC factory over the river in Shortsville, New York.

            Papec began to make money.  For the next 45 years (until 1954) Papec prospered through the sale of silo fillers and forage equipment.  During this long period of growth, the company lost money for only three years–one year immediately following World War I and for two years during the depression.

It was a long period of growth for Papec.  By 1909, the Papec Machine Company had outgrown their facilities in Lima, New York, and had moved to another location in Shortsville, New York.  Shortsville was located about 25 miles to the east of Lima.  In Shortsville, the Papec Machine Company purchased the old Empire Grain Drill Works building site located near the Canandaigua outlet which flowed through Shortsville.  In the early 1800s, the Empire Grain Drill Works had depended on water from the outlet as the source of power for the site.  (Of course, by 1909, the building had long since been connected to electric power.)  The building site contained a 300-foot-long foundry building and was a good site for the future expansion of Papec.

The Bridge over the river in Shortsville, NY leading to the old Empire Tool Company factory which became the PAPEC factory in 1909.
The Bridge over the river in Shortsville, NY leading to the old Empire Tool Company factory which became the PAPEC factory in 1909.

As the years went by, improvements were made to Papec silo fillers.  Eventually Papec offered a line of silo fillers of different sizes including the Models F, H, and O.  An advertising booklet dating from about 1931 promotes the Papec Model R and Models 81, 127 and 158.  The model numbers of the last three silo fillers correspond to the area of the opening of the throat in square inches:  e.g., the Model 81 had a throat size of 6-3/8″ x 12-3/4″, for a total of 81 square inches; the Model 127 had a throat size of 8-1/2″ x 15″, for a total of 127 square inches; and the Model 158 had a throat size of 8-1/2″ x 18″, for a total of 158 square inches.  The Model R had a throat size of 6-1/8″ x 10-1/8″ throat, for a total of 62-plus square inches.

The Company also made Model N, L and K hay choppers which were identical to the Models 81, 127 and 158 silo fillers, respectively, except the hay choppers were reinforced with heavier construction at certain points to allow for the difficult task of handling dry crops.  Additionally, Papec expanded into the manufacture of the Model 8 and Model 10 Feed Cutters and 13-inch and 16-inch hammermills.  By 1944, the large Model 158 silo filler had been discontinued, and the Model 127 became the largest silo filler built by Papec.

The whole Papec product line was painted with a complicated color scheme, including red, black, and two shades of green, with yellow stenciling or decals.  Originally, the sides of the feeding table of the Papec silo fillers were wooden.  Papec painted these red.

Meanwhile, other improvements were introduced into the line of silo fillers.  In about 1928, Papec discontinued the use of cast iron belt pulleys and contracted with the Rockwood Pulley Company of New York City to supply all the belt pulleys for Papec silo fillers.  Therefore, about from 1928 on, the Rockwood fiber pulley was used exclusively on all Papec silo fillers.  In 1931, Papec introduced a new style of feeding table for their silo fillers and hay choppers.  This new feeding table had galvanized sides so that only the floor of the feeding table remained wooden.  The galvanized feeding table was made standard equipment on the Models 81, 127 and 158 silo fillers.  Only the Model R continued to have a wooden feeding table.  By 1944, however, Model R had been converted from the wooden feeder to the galvanized feeder to match the rest of the Papec line of silo fillers.

Although New York was the fourth largest dairy producing state in the nation, the first three dairy states (Wisconsin, Minnesota and Michigan) were located a considerable distance from Shortsville.  Because forage equipment was used predominately by dairy farmers, Papec needed to find some way of marketing their product to their richest target:  dairy farmers in the upper midwest and Canada.  In Canada, Papec arranged for the Cockshutt Plow Company Limited to serve as wholesaler and distributor for the Canadian provinces.  Cockshutt had wholesale warehouses at Truro, Nova Scotia; Moncton, New Brunswick; Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island; Montreal, Quebec; Smiths Falls and Brantford, Ontario; Saskatoon, Saskatchewan; and Edmonton, Alberta.  Additionally, Cockshutt had a string of dealerships which were served by these wholesale facilities.  By this single agreement, Papec was positioned to reach nearly every dairy farmer in Canada with sales and service.  The export market was served by Papec facilities at 1 Park Avenue in New York City.  In the United States, Papec established its own Papec wholesale outlets in Indianapolis, Indiana, and Kansas City, Kansas.  As to the remainder of the United States, however, Papec depended on individual wholesaling contracts.  Washington, Oregon, California, and Idaho were served by a contract with John Deere Plow Company, whereby Papec would be marketed through the John Deere dealerships in those states.  The John Deere Company and Deere family brother-in-law C.C. Webber, had formed the wholesaling firm of Deere and Webber Company located at 800-828 Washington Avenue North in Minneapolis, which served as the wholesaler for John Deere equipment in Minnesota.  As a result of Papec’s contract with Deere and Webber, Papec equipment was offered for sale at every John Deere dealership in the state of Minnesota.   In Pennsylvania, Papec contracted with Landis Brothers at the corner of North Queen Street and Walnut Street in Lancaster to serve as wholesaler of Papec equipment for the whole state of Pennsylvania.  Brown County Warehouse Company, located at 501 Liberty Street in Green Bay, served the important state of Wisconsin.  Michigan was served by Western Michigan Storage Company, located at 128-138 Coldbrook Street Northeast in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

In the rest of the nation, Papec sought to make individual contractual arrangements with dealerships.  John Deere dealerships frequently offered the best opportunity as a potential outlet for Papec equipment, because the John Deere line of farm equipment did not include a stationary silo filler.  (Don Mcmillan and Russell Jones, John Deere Tractors and Equipment, Vol. I [New York, N.Y.: American Society of Engineers Press: 1988], p. 272).  As noted in John Deere Tractors and Equipment, the John Deere Company did not get into the manufacture of forage equipment until 1936 with the introduction of their first model of ensilage field harvester.    Consequently, until they began manufacturing their own field harvester, John Deere dealerships were inclined to contract with Papec to supplement the line of John Deere equipment offered by their dealerships.

Once the distribution network had been arranged, Papec needed to insure sufficient transportation to get their products to the wholesaling agents across the nation.  According to Tim Record, historian of the Shortsville/Manchester area of New York State, Shortsville was excellently served by the New York Central Railroad and the small LeHigh Valley Railroad.  However, Papec most often used the Vanderbilt-owned New York Central lines to get their machines to their intended markets.

As farming operations modernized after World War II and filling silo changed from the use of silo fillers to the use of field harvesters, Papec gradually phased out production of the stationary silo filler in favor of production of field forage harvesters.  The ease of handling corn chopped in the field and bringing it to the silo by forage wagon was doing away with the technology of binding corn, just as surely as grain combines had done away with the process binding small grains and feeding the bundles into a thresher.

The Papec Corporation recognized the direction in which the market for farm forage equipment was headed and started manufacturing forage wagons in 1946. They also began manufacturing their own Papec field harvester.  However, even with Papec’s extension into the area of field forage harvesters, the company was still in a period of decline.  The whole farm machinery market was dwindling.  Furthermore, whereas John Deere had wanted to co-operate with Papec in selling stationary silo fillers, John Deere had long been working on their own design for a field forage harvester and no longer had any interest in working with Papec for the sale of either the stationary silo filler or the Papec field forage harvester.

The year of 1949 proved to be the high water mark for earnings and profits for the Papec Corporation.  After 1954, sales and profits continued to sag throughout the remainder of the 1950s and 1960s.  The Company was headed into a long period of decline.  At its peak in 1950, Papec employed 300 people.  Among the long-term employees at Papec were Glen Brackett and Harold Lyon, who were both employed in the engineering department.  In the 1920s and early 1930s, Ken VanSickle worked as a draftsman, Carl Dudley served as plant superintendent, and Harry Sheet also worked at Papec.  In later years, Wayne Holtz and Randy Woodhams served as superintendent and John Kolberg served in the paint department.  Paul Bailey and Paul Sleight also worked at the Shortsville, New York, plant of the Papec Company.

In 1950, the PAPEC Company manufactured the 20,000th silo filler and the event was recognized by "the Old Commander"--Ward Preston.
In 1950, the PAPEC Company manufactured the 20,000th silo filler and the event was recognized by “the Old Commander”–Ward Preston.

In 1953, “The Commander”–Ward Preston–announced his retirement effective as of November 1.  He also announced that Frank Hamlin would be taking over the operation of the Company.  Frank Hamlin, who despite being the son of one of the founders of the company, had started with the Company as a laborer in the sheet metal department.  Over the years he had been groomed by “The Commander” to take over the Company.  Now, at 47 years of age, after 25 years of employment in various positions in the Company–and, incidentally, the largest shareholder of stock in Papec–Frank Hamlin became the President of the Company.

After financial losses in 1968, 1969, and 1970, Papec was sold in 1972 to the Lansdowne Steel and Iron Company of Morton, Pennsylvania.  Papec went through a corporate down-sizing under the management of Landsdowne Steel.  However, this did not save Papec from continual decline, and in November of 1979, all manufacturing ceased.  In February of 1981, Landsdowne closed down all the facilities in Shortsville.  After attempting to make a profit selling replacement parts, Papec closed down all operations in April of 1981.  While lying vacant, the historic old building at the Shortsville site–which had originally been the home of Empire Drill Works–was destroyed by fire.

A PAPEC silo filler at work in hay.
A PAPEC silo filler at work in hay.

Fortunately for restorers of Papec implements, in 1981 the entire parts inventory owned by Papec was purchased by the Randy Hale family of Shelbyville, Tennessee, who then formed J.H. & R. EnterprisesJ.H. & R. Enterprises, located at 1049 Madison Street, Shelbyville, Tennessee  37160-3621, Telephone: (615) 684-9737, offers parts books for sale on the old stationary silo fillers, and by use of these books, Papec parts can still be ordered for stationary silo fillers, or any of the other Papec machines, by the original Papec part numbers.  For the restorer of Papec farm equipment, this source for replacement parts is invaluable.  However, there is one shortcoming.  In the late 1950s, Papec changed its Company colors from the complicated two shades of green, red, and black with yellow lettering, to the simpler yellow with black lettering.   From this point on, even the replacement parts for the older Papec equipment were painted yellow or black.  Therefore, the parts in the inventory of J.H. & R. provide no clue as to the shade of green paint used on the old Papec stationary silo fillers because all of these replacement parts are painted yellow or black, reflecting the Company’s newer colors.  There seems to be no Company records which would help the restorer of Papec machines discover the right shade of paints.  The only clue as to the correct paint shade seems to be a 1987 restoration of a Model 127 silo filler performed by several former Papec employees in Shortsville, New York.

In 1987, Shortsville celebrated its Centennial.  In celebration of Papec, the town’s dominant employer until the 1970s, some of the former employees of Papec and other interested townspeople restored a Papec Model 127 silo filler.  Involved in the restoration were the Mayor of Shortsville Francis (Cap) Walker, his wife Ann Walker, who served as village historian, former Papec employees Paul Bailey, Paul Sleight, Harold Lyons, Wayne Holtz, Randy Woodhams and John Koberg, as well as Jim Tobey, Bill Fox and John Liberty.

The silo filler selected by the Shortsville group had a small Rockwood pulley.  The silo filler was in very good shape and did not need much repair.   It did, however, need to be repainted and re-stenciled.  Working from memory, the former Papec employees used a regular gloss or semi-gloss black for the wheels.  Farmall Red (IHC #2150, PPG-Ditzler #71310 or Martin-Senour #99-4115) was used for the cast iron feed roller housing and the frame and shafts supporting the knife sharpening wheel.  A regular silver paint was used on the galvanized portion of the feeder.  As for the two shades of green, Cap Walker, who works at the local hardware store, spent one evening with the former Papec employees in the project at the hardware store mixing batches of the store’s collection of Benjamin Moore paints to get the most accurate shades of green.  Resulting from that evening session was the conclusion that the lime green color used on the axles and frame is Benjamin Moore Impervo Enamel #420.  Working from a color photo of the restored Model 127, the author found that this shade of lime green is most closely represented by Martin-Senour #274A (Signal Green).  The dark olive green is Benjamin Moore, Morse House Paint #110-43, (Essex Green).  The author found this color to most closely match Martin-Senour #281A.  Cross-indexing of paints to Martin-Senour paint numbers means that these shades of paint will be readily available to restorers across the nation at their local NAPA auto parts stores.

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The complicated color scheme of the PAPEC silo filler is clearly evident in this picture of the Model 127 restored in Shortsville, New York by members of the retired work force in 1987.

The 1987 restoration of the Model 127 Papec in Shortsville, New York, may be the final word we ever have on the exact shades of paint used on early Papec equipment.  Since 1987, all of the former employees of Papec involved in the restoration project have died.  Furthermore, as time goes by, the restored Papec in Shortsville will become even more important.  Not only will it serve as a research tool for restorers, but it will stand as a permanent monument to all those men and women who labored in the design, manufacture and sale of the Papec line of equipment.

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 the company was 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.