An Oliver 100 Series Two-bottom Plowmaster
with 14-inch Bottoms at Work in Nicollet County, Minnesota.
Brian Wayne Wells
as published in an issue of the
Hart-Parr Oliver Collectors Magazine
In South Bend, Indiana, among the other industrial plants located there, were the Oliver Corporation’s Plant #1 and Plant #2. Plant #1 had been devoted to the production of the famous Oliver chilled steel-bottom plows since 1853. (See C.H. Wendel, Oliver/Hart-Parr [Motorbooks International: Oseola, Wisconsin, 1992], p. 107.) Since about 1938, Oliver had been manufacturing the 100-Series Plowmaster plows at its South Bend factories. These plows had the patented Raydex bottoms which had been designed by Herman and Rudolph (Rudi) Altgelt, brothers, who were employed as engineers by the Oliver Company from the 1920s through the 1940s. (See “The First Oliver Tractor” on page 18 of the November/December 1990 issue of Antique Power for the story of the Altgelt Brothers.)
Prior to the Second World War, Plowmaster plows were manufactured with steel-wheels. However, after the war, production of the rubber-tire version of the Plowmaster boomed. Oliver 100-Series Plowmaster plows contained a number of unique features. Besides the patented Raydex bottoms and “radius curved” plow shares, the plow had a rack and pinion style mechanical lift (sometimes called a “cock’s comb”), a hand crank style of height adjustment, and an optional clasp hitch with a special rigid clevis which was sold with each plow. This clevis had to be bolted to the drawbar each time before plowing. However, once the rigid clevis was in place on the drawbar, hitching the plow to the tractor was much easier. Detaching the plow was as easy as pressing down on a button on the clasp hitch and driving the tractor forward.
The 100-Series Plowmaster plow was painted red with green wheels, even though the color scheme of the Oliver Fleetline Model 77 and Model 88 tractors introduced in 1948 was green with red wheels. Later, however, the color scheme of the plow was reversed to green with red wheels to match the tractors. Indeed, Bob Tallman, a former Oliver dealer from Tower City, Pennsylvania, from 1946 through 1969, relates that the color scheme of the Oliver 100-Series Plowmaster plows changed three times while he was operating the dealership.
In 1947, a particular 2-bottom 100-Series Plowmaster plow with 14-inch bottoms, the optional caster-type rubber-tired rear trailing wheel, and the optional clasp hitch rolled out of the production department at Plant #1. Before the plow was shipped, however, the plow was “knocked down,” or KD’ed (disassembled), by the shipping department at Plant #1. The plow was then placed in a railroad boxcar together with several other KD’ed plows which had been factory-ordered by various southern Minnesota Oliver dealerships. The plow orders for southern Minnesota had been collected by the Oliver district manager at the Oliver branch house in Minneapolis, Minnesota. These orders were then grouped together in railroad boxcar-sized groups to save shipping expenses. Each railroad boxcar loaded with plows was scheduled to arrive in a centrally located town within different regions of the State of Minnesota. All of the Oliver dealers within each region were informed of the date on which the boxcar would arrive at some central location in their region. Each dealer would then make arrangements to pick up the plows they had ordered. In this particular case, the boxcar was headed for Mankato, Minnesota, centrally located in the southern region of the state. The train left South Bend, Indiana, on the Penn Central tracks headed to Chicago. At Chicago, the boxcar was transferred to a Chicago and Northwestern train headed north to Minnesota. It then arrived at the Chicago and Northwestern railroad station in Mankato, Minnesota, where it was spotted to await the next day when the plows would be unloaded.
Among the Oliver dealers scheduled to receive a plow was the H.B. Seitzer Implement dealership of St. Peter, Minnesota, ten miles north of Mankato. St. Peter, a town of about 6500 at that time, was the county seat located on the eastern edge of Nicollet County in the colorful Minnesota River valley. Seitzer’s Implement was a family-owned business which had been founded in 1915 as the local Ford car and tractor dealership. In about 1930, they also became the local Allis-Chalmers dealership. At about the same time, they obtained the local franchise of the Oliver Company. This was a convenient combination of franchises because throughout the 1920s Ford and Oliver cooperated to sell Fordson tractors together with Oliver chilled-steel plows. In 1946, the H.B. Seitzer Company was split into two separate entities. The Ford car dealership continued at the same location in the 100 block of South Minnesota Avenue in St. Peter while the Allis-Chalmers and Oliver franchises moved to a building at 311 South Front Street in St. Peter. Both of the companies continued to be known as Seitzer’s. Mark Seitzer, son of H.B. Seitzer, founder of the company, became the operator of the Oliver and Allis-Chalmers dealership.
Mark Seitzer, now retired, noted that the 100-Series Plowmaster plow was a popular product with area farmers. The Oliver plows had a good reputation in the area around St. Peter. Ivan Reddemann, who farms northeast of St. Peter across the Minnesota River in Tyrone Township in LeSueur County, remembers that his father, Edwin Reddemann, found that the Oliver plow was the only plow that would scour easily in the rich black gumbo soil of Nicollet and LeSueur Counties. Edwin Reddemann had previously tried a McCormick-Deering Little Genius 2-bottom 14-inch plow on steel wheels and a Case 2-bottom 16-inch plow on rubber tires behind the Reddemann family’s Farmall H before settling on an Oliver 100-Series Plowmaster 2-bottom 16-inch plow on rubber tires.
To the west of St. Peter, in New Sweden township in Nicollet County, Gerald and Ruby (Quist) Wise farmed a 160-acre farm which had originally been homesteaded by Ruby’s mother’s family (Ostrom) in 1869. In 1947, this farming operation also used an Oliver 2-bottom 100-Series Plowmaster with a 1942 John Deere B. The Wise family also found that the Plowmaster, which had been purchased at Seitzer’s Implement, worked well in the same type of soil on their farm. The Plowmaster plow would continue to be used on the Wise farm through the time that Warren Rodning (who married Marilyn Wise, daughter of Gerald and Ruby Wise) took over the farming operation in 1956. Warren continued to use the Plowmaster plow until he traded the John Deere B and the Plowmaster for the larger and more modern John Deere 630 with a mounted 3-bottom John Deere plow in 1958.
The termination of war-time production quotas, plus the rise in farm commodity prices fueled by the sale of United States foodstuffs in Europe under the Aid to Greece program which was signed into law on May 22, 1947 (Truman, Harry S., Years of Trial and Hope [New American Library, New York, 1956], p. 131) and the tantalizing promise of much wider sales to Europe under the Marshall Plan which was outlined to the public on June 5, 1947 (McCullough, David, Truman [Simon & Schuster, New York, 1950], p. 562) created a large demand for farm machinery in 1947. Because of the demand and the Plowmaster’s good reputation in the St. Peter area, the management at Seitzer’s knew the Plowmaster they had ordered would not be in the dealership warehouse very long before it would be sold.
After being informed by the Minneapolis branch house of the date on which the plows in the boxcar would be unloaded at Mankato, the Seitzer management made arrangements with a local farmer, who had a truck with a grain box, to go to Mankato to pick up the plow.
Expectations of the management at Seitzer’s proved correct. Shortly after the Plowmaster arrived at the dealership, it was sold to Alton and Alice (Miner) Jacobson. At this point, the plow was re-assembled by the employees at Seitzer’s.
Alton and Alice Jacobson farmed 80 acres west of St. Peter in Oshawa Township in Nicollet County. This farm had been owned by the Jacobson family ever since it was homesteaded by their ancestors in 1875. (The farm would become a registered “Century Farm” in 1975.) In 1947, the Jacobson’s and their two sons, Warren and Raymond, were milking cows and raising sheep, hogs, and chickens on their diversified farming operation. They used nearly all of the corn, oats, and hay they raised as feed for their livestock, but they did sell soybeans each year. Although they continued to farm with horses in the post-World War II period, they had purchased a new WC Allis-Chalmers tractor on rubber tires from Seitzer Implement in 1940. It was this tractor that pulled the Plowmaster for most of its productive life on the Jacobson farm.
The Oliver Plowmaster was used on the Jacobson farm until 1985 when Alton Jacobson died. An auction of the farm machinery was held that year. Attending the auction was Fred Netz, who had married Jan Miner, niece of Alton and Alice (Miner) Jacobson. Fred and Jan were both teaching at the elementary school in Nicollet, Minnesota. In addition, they had just bought a 220-acre farm in the same vicinity, keeping a small parcel for the horses they intended to raise and renting the remaining acreage to Fred’s brother.
Fred arrived late to the Alton Jacobson auction because he had been busy that morning purchasing a 1944 Farmall H for use on their new farm. At the conclusion of the auction, he found that with the remaining small amount of property that did not sell was the trusty little Oliver 100-Series Plowmaster plow. The plow was in very good shape and the two 14-inch bottoms were still shiny with their “land polish” which had been carefully varnished with grease. The special clevis that had been purchased with the plow was still connected to the hitch. The auctioneer, however, had been unable to raise a bid on the plow because by 1985 moldboard plowing had fallen out of style in favor of minimum tillage. Furthermore, the 2-bottom plow was much too small for modern farming requirements. Therefore, Fred bought the little plow for a nominal price at the conclusion of the sale as a convenience to the estate and the auctioneer.
Fred took the plow to his new farm. Despite the fact that the 2-bottom plow was outdated on most modern farms, he found that the plow allowed him to get closer to fence rows and ditches than the new larger plows. Because of this capability, he was able to find a niche for the little Plowmaster in his farming operation and also in the modern farming operations of his brother and other area farmers. On occasion, Fred performed some “end-row” plowing in some neighborhood fields; however, this work was infrequent and the plow was used less and less as the years went by. Finally, in 1993, Fred decided to sell both the Farmall H and the Oliver 100-Series Plowmaster plow.
A former Nicollet elementary school principal, Wayne Wells, now of LeSueur, Minnesota, answered his advertisement. Wayne Wells, definitely a Farmall man, was interested in purchasing the Farmall H, but was not interested in the Oliver plow. Fred insisted, however, that the plow be part of the package and so the agreement was made. The tractor and plow were loaded up and transported the short distance to LeSueur, Minnesota.
Mark Wells, of Billerica, Massachusetts, and myself, both sons of Wayne Wells, first saw the little Oliver 2-bottom plow sitting in the backyard of the Wells home in LeSueur, Minnesota, in August of 1993 when we arrived for our annual visit to attend the LeSueur Pioneer Power Show. As usual, plans had been made to do some work on one of the Wells family’s restoration projects for the Show. The primary project for this particular Show was to be the restoration of the pre-war McCormick-Deering Little Genius 2-bottom plow. (The story of this restoration was carried in the September/October 1994 issue of Belt Pulley magazine and is shown in the “second hour” portion of Tape #6 from the International Harvester Promotional Movies Collection.)
During the restoration of the Little Genius, there was plenty of opportunity to compare the Oliver 100-Series Plowmaster plow with the Little Genius side by side. Wayne Wells noted that the angle of the Raydex bottoms on the Oliver plow was reduced such that it appeared the bottom would slide through the ground easier and that the sod could be turned over more gently than on the Little Genius. He thought that this must have been the key to Oliver’s reputation for easy scouring in the rich black gumbo soil in the area.
The 100-Series Plowmaster plow was a heavily decaled plow as opposed to the McCormick-Deering plows. There was a “Plowmaster” decal on the leveling lever, a green and yellow “Oliver” decal on the support beam between the bottoms near the rear of the plow, and then there were the curved “Oliver/Raydex” decals on the backs of the moldboards. (Actually, on this particular plow, only the rear bottom had the “Oliver/Raydex” decal.) The front bottom, unlike the rear bottom, was green and had no decal. It looked as though the front bottom had been replaced sometime during the life of the plow. As we began to examine the plow closely and to hear other members of the LeSueur Pioneer Power Association talk about the plow, the more we began to warm to the idea of restoring the Plowmaster plow. However, we determined that the Oliver plow would be long-term project needing a lot of research, definitely not something that was going to be completed even in 1994.
First there were some mechanical problems that needed to be addressed. The height adjustment crank was rusted tight at one setting. (This is a typical problem for Plowmasters which are stored outdoors. Because the crank is designed such that the top part screws into a lower pipe, the lower-end pipe catches all the rain water running down the upper portion of the adjustment crank.) Also, the correct shade of paint and the making of custom-made decals indicated that much time would pass before the plow was completely restored. Furthermore, the bottoms had lost their shiny “land polish” due to a lack of use and it would take time in the field to get the land polish back.
At the August 1993 Threshing Show of the LeSueur Pioneer Power Association, the plow was used to plow a few rounds. (These first few rounds performed by the as-yet unpainted Plowmaster, pulled by the Wells family’s 1953 Super M, can be seen in the second hour portion of Tape #8 available from International Harvester Promotional Movies.) This work did wonders for the little 100-Series Plowmaster plow. After one round, the height adjustment crank had broken loose to allow partial height adjustment. After a couple more rounds, full range of motion had returned to the height adjustment crank. Furthermore, the land polish on the bottoms started coming back. At the conclusion of the 1993 Show, the bottoms on the 100-Series Plowmaster plow were varnished with grease and the plow was stored away under a shelter for the winter.
Upon returning to West Virginia, I began to research the 100-Series Plowmaster plow and found that support services for the Oliver plow were very far advanced. Usually reprints for implements are rare and we have to rely on Swap Meets to find an original implement parts manual or operator’s manual. However, I was pleased to discover that an Operator’s Manual for the 100-Series Plowmaster plow was available from McMillian’s Oliver Collectibles, Dept. B, 9176 U.S. Route 36, Bradford, Ohio 45308, Telephone: (513) 448-2216. Contacting Kurt Aumann, Editor of Belt Pulley magazine and a member of the Hart-Parr/Oliver Collectors Association, I was put in touch with Lynn Polesch, 926 Watson St., Ripon, Wisconsin 54971-1761, Telephone: (414) 748-2366 or (414) 748-3996.
Lynn Polesch had just restored an identical 100-Series Plowmaster plow and had made all of the necessary decals. He had the two-color “Oliver” decal, the “Plowmaster” decals, and the special curved “Oliver/Raydex” decals for the back of the plow bottoms. He even had the three U.S. Patent numbers which are mounted on the back of the plow bottoms under the curved “Oliver/Raydex” decal and above the plowshare. Lynn Polesch had made a set of these decals for a friend of his and was willing to sell me a set also. We have not always found implement decals so readily available. Indeed, Lynn Polesch is attempting to develop a proper copy of the “McCormick-Deering/ Little Genius No. 8” decal so that restoration of our Little Genius plows may be completed. Although two different toy models of this plow are currently available from Ertl with the proper decals on them, there is as yet no source for a decal for the full-sized Little Genius plow.
Using C.H. Wendel’s Notebook, the author found that the proper Oliver green paint was Martin-Senour 99L-8746 and the proper red paint for the Oliver tractor wheels was Martin Senour 99N-3752. These paints can be found at any NAPA store by supplying them with the Martin-Senour numbers. Although, the Oliver red noted above is the paint recommended for the tractor wheels, I was informed that the red used on the plows made at the South Bend plant may have been slightly different from the red used on the tractor wheels manufactured at the Charles City, Iowa, Oliver tractor plant. Although this difference is very small, the exact shade for implements is easily obtained by using True Value “Tractor Red” paint which is very inexpensive and available at any True Value hardware store.
The gathering of this information proceeded much more rapidly than the author had anticipated and we began to have expectations that the 100-Series Plowmaster plow could be completed by the time of the 1994 LeSueur Pioneer Power Show. We ordered the decals and had them sent to LeSueur, Minnesota. Once again, Mark and I gathered at our parents’ home in LeSueur prior to the show to work on the restoration projects. This time the Oliver plow was at the top of the list, together with another McCormick-Deering Little Genius (this one a 2-bottom plow of the post-war variety). Cleaning, wire brushing, and priming of the Oliver plow went as planned. We obtained paints from the local NAPA store and the local True Value building supply store, and the painting and decaling were completed without difficulty. The tires on the plow looked to be original equipment, and although they were worn, they appeared to be good tires. In other words, the restoration of the Oliver plow was a dream. (This is the way that all restorations should proceed–without difficulties or unexpected problems.) The plow was finished ahead of schedule and was very flashy in appearance with the extensive number of decals. However, the plow needed to do more than just look good, it needed to perform. It needed to be worked in the fields to further polish the bottoms and to bring back the land finish to the surface of the bottoms. Accordingly, the plow was hooked up to the 1944 Farmall H and taken on a few rounds. The little plow won much praise at the 1994 Pioneer Power Threshing Show.
Only one problem regarding the Oliver plow arose at the 1994 Show: what tractor would we use to tow the Plowmaster in the parade held each day of the Threshing Show? The plow looked somewhat like an orphan among the many Wells family Farmalls. Despite the fact that the plow had never in its entire life been coupled with an Oliver tractor, it looked incomplete being towed by any tractor other than an Oliver tractor–preferably an Oliver 77 which would be an exact match for the 100-Series Plowmaster plow. (Miles Zimmerman was quick to suggest to the author that the Cletrac HG would also be an exact match for the 100-Series Plowmaster plow!) As a partial solution to this problem, it was towed behind a 1930 Model A (22-40) Oliver/Hart-Parr owned by Dave Preuhs of LeCenter, Minnesota. Although this tractor was a predecessor of the Fleetline Oliver tractor, the Model A Oliver/Hart-Parr was seventeen years older than the 100-Series Plowmaster plow and was not an exact match.
To the author, the Plowmaster still appears to be an orphan waiting for a post-1947 Fleetline Oliver tractor. Recent developments, however, suggest that this wait may be over sometime in the foreseeable future. In the summer of 1994, the Wells family obtained a “family heirloom”–a 1938 F-20 which had belonged to the late Robert Westfall, brother-in-law of Wayne Wells. Robert Westfall had farmed with this tractor until 1978 when it was abandoned in the grove on their farm near Dexter, Minnesota. While work on this “family heirloom” continues, Wells family members are already casting an eager eye toward another tractor which is still in use on the Westfall farm–an Oliver 77. As Kurt Aumann has said to the author on many occasions: “Wait until you start hearing the smooth sound of that six-cylinder engine on a regular basis. Those Farmalls may have some company.”