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A 1938 Allis-Chalmers Model WC Tractor at Work
by Brian Wayne Wells
As published in the July/August 2007 issue of
Belt Pulley Magazine)
Ever since it’s introduction in 1933, the row-crop, tricycle design-style Model WC tractor had been a very successful sales item for the Allis-Chalmers Manufacturing Company. As noted, previously, the sales of the Model WC tractor created a real opportunity for various businesses, like the H.B. Seitzer and Company dealership of St. Peter, Minnesota. (See the article called the “Allis-Chalmers Two-Row Corn Picker at Work” for the story of the H.B. Seitzer and company dealership, contained in the May/June 2007 issue of Belt Pulley magazine.) An even more dramatic example of the Model WC tractor creating business opportunities for local franchise owners, is the story of Albert E. Anderson. It is a story of an immigrant to the United States from Sweden.
Prior to 1880, Sweden had been the leading exporter of oats to the England. Oats were important, primarily, as feed for horses. Secondarily, were oats were rolled as oat meal for human consumption. As England industrialized, the country needed more oats to feed the growing non-agricultural, urban sector of the population and to feed the increasing number of horses employed off the farm. For decades, Sweden had filled England’s growing demand for oats. Growing oats for this market had kept money flowing into the provinces of southeastern Sweden best-known for agricultural products. Indeed, oats were in such demand that even the marginal lands of the southwestern provinces of Sweden—like the province of Smalund—were plowed and planted to oats.
However, by 1880 England had begun importing cheaper oats from the United States. The opening of the upper midwest of the United States after the War Between the States greatly expanded the capacity of the United States to become an inexpensive supplier of oats. The price of oats from the United States severely undercut the cost of production of oats in Sweden. Thus, by 1880, Sweden had lost a huge part of its foreign export market in oats to the United States. This created a long term economic recession in rural Sweden. Predictably, the young people of rural Sweden began to look for new economic opportunities outside of Sweden. Emmigration from Sweden, during this time, came largely from southern Sweden and, largely, from those southwestern provinces with more marginal agricultural land. Large numbers of the immigrants from Smalund in Sweden in the 1880s, settled in the State of Minnesota in the United States. Certain parts of southern Minnesota bear a strong resemblance to Smalund in Sweden in terms of climate and soil conditions.
One of those young persons was Albert E. Anderson. Albert had been born in Sweden on November 15, 1884. One of the most consistent and pervasive facts of his early life in Sweden had been the steady flow of friends, neighbors and relatives out of Sweden. Most of these young people left their native land to seek their fortune in the United States of America. If the letters and messages from relatives already living in the United States could be believed, life was bliss in the New World.
Albert had training as a blacksmith. However, the income that he could derive from this vocation in Sweden was so insignificant that he finally decided to leave Sweden for good. Accordingly, Albert sailed to Copenhagen, Denmark to catch the S.S. Oscar II sailing from Copenhagen to the United States. The S.S. Oscar II arrived in New York on April 8, 1909. Sailing past the Statue of Liberty the ship landed at Ellis Island in New York harbor. From the time that he descended the gang plank of the S.S. Oscar and stepped onto the dock on Ellis Island, Al Anderson found everything was strange and new.
As he made his way up the large stone staircase in the central hallway of the Ellis Island facility, Albert was considerably anxious about the medical examinations and other processes he would have to undergo on the island. If he did not pass the physical examination on Ellis Island, he could be sent back to Sweden. Little did he know that by the time that he reached the top of the staircase, his medical examination was largely completed. The meager medical staff on the Island was swamped with the large number of immigrants that landed each day. Consequently, the “medical examinations” of the incoming immigrants were considerably abbreviated and consisted, largely, of the medical staff on Island merely observing the immigrants as they made their way up the long flight of stairs in large central hallway of the main building.
Any individual immigrant that appeared to have trouble climbing the flight of stairs would be pulled aside for further medical tests. Clearly, Albert Anderson passed his “medical examination” and was leaving Ellis Island much sooner than he expected. As previously arranged, he started out of New York and headed straight westward toward Verona Township in Faribault County in Minnesota where he expected to meet some of his family members and old neighbors from his old community in Sweden. Albert hoped to put his experience as a blacksmith to work in the small growing settlement of Huntley, Minnesota located in Verona Township. Shortly after arriving in Huntley, Albert established a hardware business in a building in the small un-incorporated settlement that was Huntley.
Within the first few years in Huntley, Albert Anderson met a young lady, named Phoebe G. Skabrud. They fell in love and were married in 1914. In August of 1915, Phoebe gave birth to a son, Paul C. Anderson. Their family was completed by the birth of a daughter, Florence Phoebe, born on November 10, 1917; and finally a son, Albert Elden, born in 1921.
When the 1920 United States Census taker showed up in Huntley, Minnesota, on January 22, 1920, he listed Al Anderson’s primary language as “Swedish.” However, in Huntley, Al Anderson was not alone. The Census report listed a number of heads of household within the settlement of Huntley that also spoke Swedish. Additionally, the Census report indicated that, in 1920, Al Anderson was already occupied as a “merchant” in the “farm machinery” business. One would have to surmise that Al Anderson knew enough English to not only make himself understood in English, but could actually make a successful sales pitch to English-speaking customers. By the time of the 1930 United States Census, Albert Anderson’s occupation was listed as a “proprietor” of a business described as a “hardware/farm implement” business.
As shown previously, the Allis-Chalmers Manufacturing Company, in the mid-to-late 1930s, engaged in a campaign to build up and extend its nationwide sales network. (See the history of the Distel Oil Company dealership described in the article called “The Rinehardt/Christian/Boehne Allis-Chalmers Model E Threshermans Special Tractor” in March/April 2007 issue of Belt Pulley magazine and the history of the H.B. Seitzer and Company dealership described in the article called “The Allis-Chalmers Two-Row Corn Picker at Work” contained in the May/June 2007 issue of Belt Pulley magazine.) This campaign was carried on by Allis-Chalmers sales representatives scouring the countryside of the Midwest looking for local businesses that would be willing to become Allis-Chalmers franchise dealers. When the sales representatives arrived in Faribault County sometime in the mid-1930s, they must have found the Al Anderson hardware store, which already had a long history of serving as a local farm machinery sales outlet, an attractive prospect. For his part, Al Anderson knew that by becoming an authorized Allis Chalmers dealer, he would be able to sell farm tractors along with all the other farm machinery he already was offering to the farming public of his community. Al Anderson realized that, by accepting the offer of an Allis Chalmers dealership, he would suddenly become “full line” farm equipment dealership. Furthermore, Al knew that the Model WC row-crop tractor was a very popular sales item. As noted in a previous article, sales of the Model WC tractor had been explosive since the tractor had been introduced in 1933. (See the article called “An Allis-Chalmers Two-Row Mounted Corn Picker at Work” contained in the May/June 2007 issue of Belt Pulley magazine.) Nation-wide, sales of the Model WC had reached 17,914 tractors in 1936.
Last year in 1937, nation-wide sales nearly doubled and rose to 29,006 despite the recession of 1937. This was a record year for the production of the Model WC by the Allis-Chalmers Manufacturing Company. This was an average of 2,417 model WC tractors per month throughout 1937. So far in 1938, sales of the Model WC were starting to pick up again as the effects of the 1937 recession started to wear off. However, production of the Model WC tractor was suspended while the Allis-Chalmers Tractor Works in West Allis, Wisconsin was being re-tooled for introduction of a “new” Model WC tractor.
Because of the spectacular sales of the Model WC tractor, Al Anderson agreed to become the local Allis-Chalmers franchise dealership for Huntley, Minnesota. He would sell the Allis-Chalmers line of farm equipment out of his hardware store in Huntley, Minnesota. The sales area covered by his new franchise would include, not only Verona Township where Huntley was located, but included the much larger area of western Faribault County and eastern Martin Counties in southern Minnesota.