This article remains under construction. Periodically, new blocks of text will appear in the article and/or current blocks of text will be corrected.
As noted in the article called “Alfred Fulcher and the Cresco Implement Company of Cresco, Iowa” which is included as part of this website and blog, Wells Family Tractors obtained a 1935 “unstyled” John Deere Model D tractor upon the recommendation of Marilyn (Hanks) Wells, mother of the current author. Marilyn Wells had always been intrigued by the Model D because a 1931 version of the tractor had been the first tractor that her father, Howard B. Hanks, grandfather of the current author, had ever owned.
This 1931 two-speed Model D was first purchased by John T. Goff in 1931 from Beske Implement of Minnesota Lake, Minnesota. The story of this 1931 John Deere Model D is contained in an article called “Beske Implement of Minnesota Lake, Minnesota” which is contained in this website and blog. Howard and his wife, Ethel (Buck) Hanks, rented the John T. Goff farm in Mapleton, Minnesota in 1935 and continued to operate the farm until March 1, 1945, when they purchased the “Bagan farm” in Beaver Township, Fillmore County, Minnesota, near LeRoy, Minnesota.
While on the Goff farm Howard Hanks used the 1931 Model D on a near daily basis and came to appreciate power farming. Thus, in 1945, as the Hanks family moved off the Goff farm to take possession of the Bagan farm in Fillmore county, they purchased the 1931 John Deere Model D from John T. Goff and transported the tractor to the Bagan farm near LeRoy, Minnesota.
By 1950, Howard and his oldest son Fred Hanks, were farming the Bagan farm as a partnership. Fred had been pushing to modernize the farm with newer farm machinery. Thus, when Howard and Fred were on Sunday afternoon sightseeing trip in August of 1950, they saw a 1935 three-speed John Deere Model D sitting on the used tractor lot of the John Deere dealership in Cresco, Iowa, they decided to stop and look at the tractor. In the post-World War II era old steel-wheeled, two-speed tractors like the 1931 Model D with its top speed of only 3-1/4 miles per hour, were really becoming obsolete on a modern post-war farm. However, Howard loved the old Model D. While recognizing the shortcomings of the 1931, two-speed Model D, he was favorably disposed toward obtaining this newer version of the same tractor–especially a Model D with rubber tires and a 5 mile an hour top speed. Accordingly, Howard and Fred purchased the 1935 Model D from the Cresco Implement Company in exchange for the 1931 Model D and some additional “boot” money. This 1935 Model continued to be employed on the Bagan (now Hanks) farm until the 1970s, when the tractor was sent to the Francis Mims junk yard.
Statistics recorded with Counterize - Version 3.1.4
The Rinehardt/Christian/Boehne Allis Chalmers Model E Tractor
by Brian Wayne Wells
(As published in the March/April 2007 issue of
Belt Pulley Magazine)
Minnesota’s Henderson Township is located in the southeast corner of Sibley County, of the state of Minnesota. The Minnesota River flows along the eastern edge of the township. The River’s meandering course forms the political boundary between Henderson Township and Tyrone Township, which is located in neighboring LeSueur County. To the south of Henderson Township is Lake Prairie Township in Nicollet, County which is also adjacent to the Minnesota River. Across the Minnesota River from Lake Prairie Township was Sharon Township another LeSueur County township that lay south of Tyrone Township. Much of land area of these four townships is included in the southern hardwood forest on the state of Minnesota. As such this area became the home of a considerable, if small scale, hardwood industry. For decades settlers and farmers have felled the hardwood trees and sawn the logs into lumber to build their homes and barns. Many local farmers obtained a small circular saw mill rig with the intent of supplementing their farm incomes with wintertime income sawing lumber for their neighbors.
In the early 1930s, during what became known as the Great Depression, farmers in the Minnesota River Valley were merely trying to hang onto their farms and were not really worried about constructing buildings on their farm site. However, as the economy recovered and things started to get back to normal in the mid and late 1930s, farmers began again to think of improving their farming operations by adding additional structures and renovating the structures they already had. Six (6) miles southwest of the village of Henderson, Minnesota (1930 pop. 672), lived Rudolph and Ernestine (Doerr) Adams. Rudolph (nicknamed Rudy) and Ernestine lived in the house in the country with their newborn (May 23, 1936) son, Donald Rudolph. However, they did not farm the land directly. Instead Rudy and his older brother, George H. Adams worked together to make their living from threshing the small grain in the neighborhood during the summer months and sawing logs and making lumber for their neighbors in the wintertime. For threshing in the summer Rudy and George owned a Woods Brothers thresher with a 36 inch cylinder and a 58 inch separating table. Like most threshers of the time, the thresher had a “self-feeder” with a band cutter and with a “double wing” extension fitted onto the self-feeder. The self feeding mechanism had the capability of cutting the twine string around each bundle of grain and feeding the bundles automatically to the cylinder. Previously, a crew member had been required to stand on a platform at the front of the thresher and cut the twine on each bundle of grain and “hand feed” the bundle into the thresher by hand. The “double wing” extension of the self-feeder allowed two elevators attached to the self-feeder to be swung around and extended out at a 90º angle to the thresher on each side of the thresher. The double-wing self feeder was designed for “stack threshing.” As opposed to “shocking” their bundles of small grain in the grain field in “shocks” made up of seven to nine bundles each, some farmers of the neighborhood preferred to store their grain bundles in specially designed stacks built from the bundles. Carefully, constructed, a stack of bundles could be designed to shed rain water and keep the bundles perfectly dry until threshing day. These stacks were cylindrical and slightly conical in shape and were about 30 feet in diameter. On threshing day, the thresher would be pulled up to a location between two stacks on a farm. Then the wings of the self-feeder would be swung out and positioned to located over the center of the stacks of bundles on either side of the thresher. Crew members then needed only to stand on top of the stack and load the bundles of the stack onto the elevator wing with pitch forks.
To power and transport the thresher around the neighborhood, Rudy and George owned a 60 hp. (horsepower) J.I. Case Company traction steam engine. Helping the Adams Brothers with his threshing and saw mill business was a neighbor– Henry W. (Hank) Reinhardt. Hank and Irene (Delzer) Reinhardt rented 160 acre farm in Henderson Township. There they lived and worked with their son, Victor. Hank worked the land during the summer on his diversified farming operation. During July and August each year he would travel around the neighborhood following Rudy Adams and the thresher to help with the neighborhood threshing. Since the time when his son, Victor, became old enough to drive a team of horses, Hank would take Victor along as part of the threshing crew. Victor had the job of driving a team pulling a water wagon. He would hand-pump the 500-gallon tank on the water wagon full of water from whatever water source happened to exist on the particular farm where they were threshing. Then he would drive the team pulling the full tank of water to the grain field where the steam engine was at work. Then he would, again, hand-pump the water out of the tank on the water wagon into the 260 gallon “on board” water tanks located on the steam engine itself. Once that tank was full, the water intake hoses from the steam engine would be dropped into the opening in the top of the tank on the water wagon. For a while, Victor would have be able to take a rest while the steam engine drew all the water it needed directly from the water wagon. Once the water in the water wagon was all gone, the intake hoses were withdrawn from the water wagon and the steam engine went back to drawing its water from the on-board water tank. It was up to Victor to hurry off to fill the water wagon again and return before all the 260 gallons of water in the on-board water tank was used up. Victor was kept busy all day working on the water wagon just to assure that the steam engine always had water available for the boiler.
(As Published in the September/October 2006 issue of Belt Pulley magazine.)
As noted previously (see the article called J.I. Case Company Part IV: the Rise of the Le Roy Equipment Company contained in the July/August 2006 issue of Belt Pulley Magazine), two newly discharged veterans of the Second World War formed a partnership to accept the business opportunity of starting a new Case Company dealership in the small town of LeRoy, Minnesota (1940 pop. 752). Before the war, LeRoy, Minnesota had been the home of a Case dealership called the “LeRoy Equipment Company.” However, during the Second World War, the dealership had disbanded. Now the J. I. Case Company wanted to re-establish the “LeRoy Equipment Company” in order to take advantage of the expected boom in post-war demand for modern farm machinery. Two veterans, Merle Krinke and Duane Wetter, both originally from the small town of Lamberton located in western Minnesota, had expressed interest in this business venture.
Duane and Merle had known each other at Lamberton High School. Furthermore, ever since April 8, 1944 when Merle Krinke married Duane’s sister, Zona Wetter, Duane and Merle had been brother-in laws.
Merle had been discharged from the Army Air Corp at the end of the war in the Pacific in September of 1945. Since that time, Merle had been employed at the Myhere and Nelson Implement dealership, a local Case franchise dealership in Montevideo, Minnesota. Montevideo was a small town located on the South Dakota border with Minnesota, northwest of Lamberton. It was at Myhere and Nelson that Merle had first heard about the opportunity of starting the dealership in Le Roy.
During the war, Duane Wetter had served as a decorated fighter pilot in U.S. Army Air Corp and had flown 75 combat missions in the European theater. Since the end of the war in Europe in May of 1945, he had been stationed in Stuttgart Germany as part of the U.S. occupation forces. He was discharged in November of 1945. Scarcely had he returned to his wife and young son in Minnesota, than he was asked to make the decision to join in a partnership with Merle and move off to LeRoy with his whole family. Le Roy was located in the southeastern corner of Mower County, just ½ mile from the Iowa border. This was a long way from Lamberton, Minnesota. Nonetheless, a decision about the starting the dealership in LeRoy, Minnesota needed to be made as soon as possible by the two veterans. They would re-establish the dealership under the name “LeRoy Equipment Company” to take advantage of the good will that had been formed by the pre-war dealership of the same name. Continue reading Case Farming Part V: Decline of the LeRoy Equipment Company→
J.I. Case Company Part II: Steam Engines & Threshers
Brian Wayne Wells
(As Published in the March/April 2006 issue of
Belt Pulley Magazine)
At the age of 23 years, Jerome Increase Case set out from his birthplace and home in Oswego County, New York in the summer of 1842. He had purchased six (6) groundhog threshing machines on credit. He traveled to Wisconsin with the intent of selling the groundhog threshers along the way. Arriving in Racine, Wisconsin, Jerome began to work on his own design for a thresher. In 1844, he rented a small shop on the bank of the river in Racine and began making threshers. This was the beginning of what would become the J.I Case Threshing Machine Company. The Company became one of the leading manufacturers of threshing machines. To power these threshing machines, the company began the manufacture of a sweep-style horsepower in the early 1860’s. (See the article on the Case sweep-style horse-power in the January/February 2006 issue of Belt Pulley magazine.) The company soon realized the limitations of the sweep as a power source. This was particularly true as Case began to add innovative improvements to the basic design of their threshers. In 1880 Case introduced the Agitator thresher with the vibrating or agitating separator tables. In 1882, Case installed their patented tubular-style elevator on their threshers. Case developed their own straw stacker for the rear of the thresher which could lift stack the straw from the threshing operation into a tall stack behind the thresher. In 1888, a mechanical grain weigher was added to the top of the grain elevator. By 1893, self feeders were becoming a common part of nearly all Case threshers. These new improvements made the J.I. Case Threshing Machine Company, the leading producer of threshers. However, nearly all of these improvements imposed additional power requirements on the power source powering the thresher. At this time, Case offered threshers in a variety of sizes—one model with a 28 inch cylinder and a 46 inch separating unit, a model with a 32 inch cylinder and a 54 inch separator , a 36 inch x 58 inch thresher and a 40 x 62 model. The largest of the Case sweep-style horsepower—the seven team sweep—could produce up to about 28 horsepower. However, even the smallest of the new Case threshers—the 28 x 46 model—when fully outfitted with the new improvements, required 34 hp. to run at top efficiency. Obviously the sweep style horsepower was hopelessly outdated as a power source for these new threshers. Consequently, the Case Company began to look to a new source of power for their new threshers. The Company began to manufacture of steam engines in 1869. In 1876, the Company introduced its first “traction” steam engine, a steam engine that could move under its own power. From this time forward, the Case Company also became a leading manufacturer of steam engines and particularly traction steam engines. Until the 1890s, the J.I. Case Threshing Machine Company operated out of a singe factory located on Bridge Street in Racine, Wisconsin. Then during the 1890s, this building was torn down and replaced with the “Eagle” Building which became part of a new factory complex of buildings known as the “Main Works.” From the Main Works, the Case Company became a leading manufacturer of both a wide range of steam engines and a wide range of wood-frame grain threshers/separators.
In 1904, Case continued its technological innovations in thresher technology. One of the major shortcomings of wood frame threshers was the threat of fire posed by a wood frame machine working in association with a steam engine sitting next to a highly flammable stack of dry straw. Consequently, the Case Company, in 1904, introduced the first “all-steel” thresher. These threshers were sold side by side with the wood-frame threshers until 1906 when production of the wooden threshers was discontinued.
At the beginning of the 20th century, threshers were very much in demand because settlement of certain areas of the arable land of the Midwest was still ongoing. New farming operations were still being formed. One such area was western Blue Earth County Minnesota. The townships of Lake Crystal, Judson, Garden City, Lincoln and Butternut Valley Townships were organized in western Blue Earth County as settlement came to the area. Right in the middle of these townships was the village of Lake Crystal, Minnesota (1900 pop. 1,215). Located on the boundary between Judson and Garden City Townships the village of Lake Crystal is actually divided between these two townships. The settlement that became the town of Lake Crystal was built around a junction of the east/west Chicago Northwestern Railroad line with another Chicago Northwestern line coming up from Iowa in the south. Continue reading Case Farming Part II: Steam Engines and Threshers→
As Published in the November/December 2005 issue of
Belt Pulley Magazine
The horse was domesticated by early man in about 4000 to 3000 B.C.E. (Before the Common Era). (Encyclopedia Britannica [University of Chicago: Chicago, Illinois] Volume 5, p. 970.) Naturally, at first, the horse was ridden by man. However, around 2500 B.C.E. the chariot was developed. This was the beginning of the use of horses as a source of “draft” power. Draft power was converted for use in agriculture shortly after that time. From that time up to the middle of the twentieth century, the horse was in widespread use in agricultural fields around the world. Draft power provided by animals was a real step forward for agriculture technology and at first, draft horse power served all the needs of the farmer. However, as agriculture became more mechanized, stationary machines were developed to ease labor for mankind. A different form of power was needed for these station stationary machines. At first, the power for stationary machines was provided by waterfalls or by the wind. However, these power sources depended too much on the whims of nature to be totally reliable as a consistent source of power for stationary machines. At some time in the past, farmers found that a tread mill could be used to capture animal power as a source of “brake” horsepower for stationary machines. The unit of measurement of force of strength necessary to operate these new stationary machines became known as “horsepower” based on the average pulling power of an average draft horse. Typically, the average draft horse was considered as having the “tractive” power to pull 1/8 of its weight for 20 miles traveling at 2.5 miles per hour. (Ronald Stokes Barlow, 300 Years of Farm Implements [Krause Pub.: Iola, Wisc., 2003] p. 24.) Thus, a typical 1,500 pound draft horse could develop 33,000 foot pounds per minute which became defined as one horsepower (hp.). By changing the nature of the power of the average horse from tractive pulling power to a stationary source of power, the treadmill actually improved on the horse’s ability. A 1000 pound horse on a treadmill inclined at a rate of 1 to 4 (an incline of one inch up for every four inches of length) could develop 1.33 hp. A 1600 pound horse on the same tread mill could develop 2.13 hp. (Ibid.) With the coming of the Industrial Revolution, there was an increased need for stationary power sources not only in agriculture but also in industry. The use of the treadmill was improved in design and efficiency. By 1830 the tread mill had become a very practical source of real power for the farm. Single horse treadmills were used on the farm for such tasks as butter churning, grinding feed for livestock, sawing wood and cutting fodder. The single horse treadmill could supply power at a rate of 32 to 36 revolutions per minute (r.p.m.) on the reel shaft. This speed could then be geared up to 96 to 108 r.p.m. on the main shaft and the attached band wheel. (C.H. Wendel, Encyclopedia of American Farm Implements & Antiques [Krause Pub.: Iola, Wisc., 1997] pp. 211 and 213.)
The stationary grain thresher/separator is one of the labor saving machines developed for agriculture which required brake style power. Development of the thresher started with simple, hand-fed machines to threshing machines with “apron” separating units which could thresh from 35 to 60 bushels per day. (Ibid., p. 336.) These early hand fed threshing machines generally used a single horse or two horse treadmill as a power source. Indeed, the treadmill was so closely associated with hand threshing machines that the horse tread mills were often sold together with threshers as a package deal. Such was the case with the Ellis-Keystone Company of Pottstown, Pennsylvania. The Ellis Keystone Company began as the brainchild of John Ellis from the small community of Ellis Woods, Pennsylvania in Chester County. John was first and foremost an inventor who was thrust into operating his own business. Sometime before 1876, John was engaged in attempting to develop a small hand-fed thresher which would be called the “Champion Grain Thresher.” In 1876, the company was chartered and a factory was built at the corner of Cross and Keim Streets in Pottsville, Pennsylvania for the mass production of the hand-fed thresher and the treadmill. He obtained a patent from the United States Government for part of his new hand-fed thresher on July 1, 1878. He obtained another patent for a different feature of the little thresher on July 25, 1880 and yet a third patent was obtained in October of 1884. Notice of these patents was stenciled onto every thresher made by the Ellis Keystone Company. Continue reading Ellis Keystone’s Horse-powered Tread Mill→
Navy Bean Farming in Huron County, Michigan (Part I)
Brian Wayne Wells
As published in the January/February 2005 issue of
Belt Pulley Magazine
As mentioned in past articles, agriculture in the United States has long served as a beacon of hope for many immigrant groups which came to the United States in search of a new future. This was especially true for the earlier waves of immigration from North Europe and Scandinavia. It is generally assumed that for the later waves of immigration from eastern and southern Europe were limited in their opportunities to only industrial and mining occupations. However, even for these later waves of immigration, agriculture in the United States still offered some opportunities. One such immigrant group who recognized these opportunities in agriculture were the Poles.
The struggles of the Polish population for a nation of their own had long been an important feature of European history. From 1773 until 1795 the Polish nation underwent three different land grabs (politely called “partitions”) by its more powerful neighbors—Prussia, Russia and Austria. (Norman Davies, God’s Playground: A History of Poland Volume I :The Origins to 1795 [Columbia University Press: New York, 1982) p. 512.) By the time of the third partition in the 1795 there was no independent Polish nation left, all the territory had been swallowed up. However, the spirit of Polish nationalism never ceased to exert itself. The Poles of Cracow (or Krakow) was located right on the border of the Russian occupied part of the old Polish State where that border met the Austrian occupied zone.
However, during the dislocations caused by Napoleon’s Wars in eastern Europe, which included the temporary establishment of the Duchy of Warsaw from 1807 until 1815. Following the Congress of Vienna in 1815, Cracow became an independent “free city state.” In February of 1846, the rising tide of revolutionary patriotism among the Polish people exploded into the “Krakow Uprising” against the occupying forces. This uprising was suppressed by the Austrian armed forces crossing their border with the Free City State of Cracow. In the end, the Austrian Empire annexed Cracow into the Austrian part of the Polish partition.
Two years later, in 1848, there was a rash of revolts which broke out all across German speaking lands. (This period of time saw the emigration of William Frederich Oltrogge from Germany to the United States. See the article called “Massey-Harris Farming: The Oltrogge Family of Waverly, Iowa” in the March/April 2004 issue of Belt Pulley. This article is also published on this website.) This series of revolts spilled over into the parts of Poland controlled by the German speaking kingdom of Prussia, as the Poles in the city of Posnan rose in revolt. (H.W. Koch, A History of Prussia [Dorset Press: New York, 1978] p. 236.) In both 1830 and in 1863, the Polish population of the part of Poland controlled by Russia revolted against the Russian Government. (Edward Crankshaw,The Shadow of the Winter Palace [Viking Press: New York, 1976] pp. 105-109 and 203-206.) All of these revolts were unsuccessful and were put down by the authorities. The suppression of each of these each of these revolts had the effect of spurring emigration from the various parts of occupied Poland. These Poles sought to build a new future for themselves in the United States. One of the major destinations for the immigrating Poles was the State of Michigan. Michigan had entered the union of the United States only in 1837. In 1848, the first Poles settled in Michigan. Throughout the 1850s and 1860s, Poles were arriving in large numbers in Detroit, Michigan, which was rapidly becoming Michigan’s premier town.
Then in 1881, Czar Alexander II was assassinated. Despite the fact that Czar Alexander II had been assassinated by Russian radicals and not-Poles, the Russian Government began another round of persecutions of the Poles in retaliation for the assassination As a consequence of this Russian repression of the Poles, a second and much greater wave of Polish emigration to the United States was begun in the 1880s. (Maldwyn Allen Jones, American Immigration [University of Chicago Press: Chicago, 1960] p. 198.) Russian immigration (of which Polish immigration was considered a part) grew from only 5,000 in 1880, to 81,000 in 1892 and rose to a peak of 258,000 by 1907. (Ibid., p. 202.) Of this total “Russian” immigration approximately 25% was actually Polish immigration. (Ibid.)
Once again Detroit, Michigan, became a destination for many Poles in this second wave of immigration. (See the article on the Wisconsin Motor Manufacturing Company in the September/October 2004 isue of Belt Pulley magazine.) However, not all of the Polish immigrants of the second wave chose to remain in the urban areas. Across the nation some of the Polish immigrants migrated out of urban areas to seek their fortune in the rural areas of the nations. “After 1900, there was a small, but significant movement of Poles from American cities, factories and steel mills to the semi-abandoned farms of the the East. In western Massachusetts and Connecticut, Polish farmers began to cultivated onions and tobacco, crops requiring special soils, intensive hand-labor and not a little technical skill and business ability.” (Maldwyn Allen Jones, American Immigration, p. 215.) Thus, some of the Poles that came to Detroit, chose to pass through the town and settle in a rural area of Michigan known as “the Thumb.”
Michigan is divided into two land masses—the Upper Peninsula and the Lower Penninsula. The geographical shape of the Lower Penninsula on a map appears to be in the shape of a hand or a winter mitten. North of the city of Detroit lies a protrusion out into the Lake Huron which appears to be the “thumb” of the mitton-shaped Lower Penninsula.
Located on the very tip of the Thumb is Huron County, Michigan. The townships along the shoreline of Huron County, Siebewaing, Fairhaven, McKinley, Seville, Lake, Hume, Port Austin, Huron, Gore, Rubicon, Sand Beach and Sherman Townships were predominately involved with fishing and later became the tourist and vacation destinations for the population of the Detroit metropolitan area. Thus, after the fading of the fishing industry, the economy of these shoreline townships came to revolve around the summertime tourist trade coming largely from Detroit. However, in the middle of Huron County are fourteen townships, Chandler, Meade, Lincoln, Bloomfeld, Windsor, Oliver, Colfax, Verona, Siegel, Brookfield, Grant, Sheridan, Bingham and Paris, which are primarily agricultural in economy. The level ground of these townships with their covering of the clay/loam soil is conducive to agriculture. Furthermore, the mild summer weather moderated by the close proximity of Lake Huron adds to the natural plant growing capability of Huron County, Michigan.
Huron County was organized as a political sub-division of the State of Michigan in 1859. However settlement of the area had begun much earlier. Polish settlement of Huron County began in the late 1840s and early 1850s, by immigrants coming directly from Poland but arriving in the Michigan from Canada. The early settlers gathered around the small town of Parisville., Michigan. In 1852, the first Roman Catholic mission was opened in Parisville. By 1858 the foundation of St. Mary’s Church in Paris Township was laid by Reverend Peter Kluck, himself an immigrant from Poland.
The town of Bad Axe was located in the middle of Huron County and became the county seat of newly organized Huron County. Poles arriving in Huron County from Detroit as a result of the massive second wave of Polish immigration and worked on farms owned by others. However, they soon became farm owners themselves. Polish Settlement of the Huron County tended to be centralized in the townships east of Bad Axe. Immigrants of German heritage tended to settle the townships west of Bad Axe.
Like most frontier areas, the early settlers on the Thumb raised a great deal of alfalfa hay and small grains—largely for their own use. However, with the coming of the market economy and modern transportation, farmers on the Thumb began to find a specialized niche in United States agriculture. The flat land and silt loam, clay, well drained soil of the Thumb was found to be extremely accommodating to the raising of dry edible (field) beans—specifically navy beans.
The navy bean is a very high source of protein and obtained its name because of the fact that once dried, the beans could be stored for a very long time. Thus, the navy bean was perfectly suited for storage aboard ships. The first navy beans were introduced to Huron County in 1892 as six (6) acres were planted to navy beans that year. In 1895, still only eight acres of navy beans were grown in Huron County. However, an explosion in the growth of navy bean production occurred in 1900. By 1909, Huron County, alone, was raising 10% of all edible beans raised in the whole United States. In 1910, 20,015 acres within Huron County were devoted to navy beans. Following 1909, the navy bean market stablized for a number of years until 1914, when the outbreak of war in Europe created an increased demand and another spurt in production of edible beans occurred.
In 1915, one particular farmer in Bingham Township in Huron County became interested in raising navy beans on his own 160 acre farm. Just like his neighbors our Bingham Township farmer raised oats, hay and winter wheat. Just like his neighbors, our Bingham township farmer used nearly all of the hay and oats that he raised on his farm as animal feed. Only winter wheat served as a “cash crop” which was sold each year.
Winter wheat was planted each year in mid September. It grew some in the fall and then went dormant in the frozen ground under a blanket of snow during the winter. Upon the first thaw of the ground in the spring, the winter wheat began growing again. Having already established a root system the winter wheat always matured well ahead of other crops that had been planted in the spring. Consequently, winter wheat usually ripened and was ready to harvest each year in July.
Each year, our Bingham Township farmer would carefully watch the price of wheat. Sometimes he would sell his wheat immediately after threshing in July if he thought the price was right. He did this in 1910 and in 1912 and had been able to get $1.00 per bushel and $1.01 per bushel, respectively. (From the Macro-history Prices page of the National Bureau of Economic Research web page on the Internet.) However, in most years the price fell in July as a result of the glut in the market, created when everybody attempted to sell wheat at the end of the harvest. In 1911, he stored his wheat and waited until October and finally sold his wheat at 97¢ per bushel. This was nearly 10¢ more per bushel that the price had been in July of 1911. Last year, in 1914, the price of wheat reached $1.09 per bushel. He really felt that this high price would not persist. However, the war in Europe had created and was continuing to create some unusual price conditions in the market and the price of wheat had continued to rise in the winter and spring of 1915 until the price reached $1.57 per bushel in March of this year—1915. He now wished now that he had held on to his wheat through the winter. However, hind site is always 20/20.
Our Bingham Township farmer was a member of the grain co-operative that owned the grain elevator in Ubly. Ubly was a small village located in the central part of Bingham Township. Every winter the co-operative held its annual meeting to elect new members to the Board of Directors. Speakers were invited to this meeting to talk about new trends in farming. For some years now, speakers at this meeting had been urging farmers in the Ubly area to plant navy beans in addition to their other crops. Pointing out the recent “volatility” of the winter wheat market, they noted that navy beans would provide Huron County farmers with some economic stability by providing at least some diversification of their cash crops. By not having all their “eggs in one basket” Huron County farmers would have a “hedge” against any dip in the price of winter wheat. These speakers pointed out that since 1909, the overall price of dry edible beans had increased from $3.30 per hundred weight in 1909 to $4.00 per hundred weight in 1914—a 52% increase in the price. (A “hundred weight” referred to a 100 pound sack of beans. One hundred pounds of beans was equivalent to roughly two (2) bushels of beans, since a bushel of beans weighed about 56 pounds.)
As published in the November/December 2004 issue of
Belt Pulley Magazine
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.)
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.
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.)
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.)
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.)
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.  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.
The Pioneer Implement House Farm Equipment Dealership of
Winnebago, Minnesota, and the Great Binder Wars of the 1890
Brian Wayne Wells
As published in the July/Augsut 2002 issue of
Belt Pulley Magazine
In the 1880s, farming was in its golden age. As old painful memories of the Panic of 1873 were fading, a new generation came with a whole new set of advantages to make farming easier. To be sure, mechanical cutting of wheat and oats had been developed well prior to the Civil War, with most credit going to Cyrus McCormick for the invention of the successful reaper in 1831. However, harvesting small grains still required a tremendous amount of manpower, because reapers basically only cut grain. Even raking cut grain from the cutting table was done by hand until self-raking reapers were developed – like McCormick’s own “Daisy.” (A picture of the Daisy can be seen in C. H. Wendel’s book 150 Years of International Harvester [Crestline Publishers: Sarasota, Fla., 1981], p. 20. Additionally, there is a Daisy self-raking reaper among the permanent collection at the LeSueur County Pioneer Power Show which can be seen in the parade at the 1992 show on the second hour portion of Tape #1 of the International Harvester Promotional Movies.)
While the Daisy self-raking reaper was a big advance in technology, grain harvesting still required a great deal of hand labor. The first real advance in the area of small grain harvesting came only in 1873 with development of the wire-tied grain binder by the Walter A. Wood Mowing and Reaping Machine Company of Hoosick Falls, New York. (C.H. Wendel, Encyclopedia of American Farm Implements and Antiques [Krause Publications: Iola, Iowa, 1997], p. 160.)
The advantages of self-binding reapers were very quickly recognized by the farming public and demand for these binders skyrocketed. In 1876, 5,000 binders were purchased by Minnesota farmers alone. (Theodore C. Blegen, Minnesota: A History of the State [University of Minnesota Press: St. Paul, 1963], p. 342) By 1880, the knotter-bill design for twine-tying of grain bundles was perfected. That same year, the Deering Harvester Company made 3,000 of these twine-tying grain binders for the 1880 harvest season. (C.H. Wendel, 150 Years of International Harvester [Crestline Publishing: Sarasota, Florida, 1981], p. 23) Twine was a great improvement over wire because farmers would not have to worry about pieces of wire breaking off and getting into the grain where it might be accidentally swallowed by cows. Small bits of metal swallowed by cows tended to get stuck in the lining of the cows’ stomachs and would cause “hardware disease,” a disease which causes cows to become sickly and eat less. Thus, beef cattle will gain less weight and milk cows will produce less milk. Twine, on the other hand, if accidentally swallowed, was harmless to the intestinal tracts of cattle.
Demand for the new twine-tying grain binders caused many companies to be formed solely for the purpose of making binders and caused other, older companies to focus more directly on the booming binder market. Not only did the grain binder create opportunities for the manufacturers of farm equipment, but opportunities were also created at the retail end of the farm machinery business. Many young men became aware of these opportunities for selling farm machinery, especially grain binders, to the farming public. One such young man was John Azro Hanks.
Born on December 16, 1860, on a farm near Warren, Vermont, John Azro Hanks was the second child and first son of John Marshall and Charlotte (Bruce) Hanks. A lifelong lover of books and an avid reader, John Azro completed his schooling in Warren, and went on to graduate from Randolph Normal School in Randolph Center, Vermont. He had taught one year of school (1879-1880) in Vermont, when, in August of 1880, his parents and younger brother Fred Marshall moved to Minnesota and settled on a farm in Verona Township, Faribault County, near the town of Winnebago. They intended to get settled on a farm before spring field work would begin. John Azro, who was 20 years old at this time, remained in Vermont to teach school for another year before he too would immigrate to Minnesota in the spring of 1881. (John Azro also had an older sister – Ellen Ione Hanks – who was 26 years of age in 1880 and had been married to George Provonche since February 11, 1874.) Continue reading Pioneer Implement House and the Great Binder Wars→
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)→
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)→
Belt Pulley Magazine Articles by Brian Wayne Wells