Navy Bean Farming (Part III): The Innes Company of Bettendorf, Iowa
Brian Wayne Wells
As published in the May/June 2005 issue of
Belt Pulley Magazine
As noted previously, a revolution in edible bean farming occurred in 1937. (See the article called Navy Bean Farming [Part II] in the March/April 2005 issue of Belt Pulley magazine.) The effect of that revolution can be seen in the harvest production figures for 1937. Also as noted previously, across the nation that spring, 1,911,000 acres of edible beans were planted. (From the National Agricultural Statistics Service page of the United Sates Department of Agriculture website.) In the fall of that year, 88.7% of this acreage was harvested. (Ibid.) The yield per acre was a record 934 pounds per acre. (Ibid.) This was a 23.7% increase in the average yield of 712 pounds per acre of 1936. After 1937, the average yield never again fell below 800 pounds per acre. (Ibid.) As noted previously, this dramatic and permanent increase in the average yield of navy beans was due in large part to the introduction of the small combine to navy bean harvesting in place of the stationary thresher.
The year 1948 was another revolutionary year in the per acre yield of edible beans. Nationwide, there was a nearly 11% increase in the average per acre yield of edible beans. For the first time the average per acre yield of edible beans rose above 1000 pounds per acre (1,074 pounds per acre). In 1949, the per acre yield rose another 6% to 1,134 pounds per acre. After 1949, despite some growing seasons with adverse weather conditions and mediocre harvests, the average annual yield of edible beans never again fell below 1,100 pounds per acre. If the drastic improvement in the per acre yield of 1937 was the result of the invasion of the combine into the edible bean threshing market, the further drastic improvement in yield in 1948 was the result of the small combine finishing the job of total domination of the edible bean market.
In both cases, the improvement in yield was largely due to the reduction of loss of beans in the harvesting and threshing operation wrought by the combine as opposed to the losses incurred by the stationary thresher method of harvesting and threshing edible beans. The savings in losses were twofold in nature. First, savings in loss of beans were obtained by the fact that combining edible beans resulted in much less “handling” of the beans. Secondly, combining sped up the harvest. Thus, there was less chance of the navy beans being affected by mildew and the resultant discolorization.
As noted earlier, navy beans grown in the state of Michigan composed the largest part of the United States edible bean harvest. In years past, upwards of 80% of the nation’s crop of navy beans were grown in Michigan. Within Michigan, Huron County, lead all other counties in production of navy beans.
The navy bean plant grows to only about 18 inches in height as compared to the 36“ height of a good crop of soybeans. Consequently, every pod of navy beans on the plants in the field becomes important. Thus, whereas the soybean farmer may cut soybeans off at a level 1½ inches above the ground and consider the loss of any pods attached to this 1½ inch stubble left in the field as a very negligible loss, the navy bean farmer, on the other hand, would suffer a considerable loss of yield by leaving 1-½ inch stubble in his navy bean field. Furthermore, prior to the introduction of the first hybrid bush style navy bean variety (the Sanilac variety in 1956), all navy bean varieties were “vining” plants that grew along the ground. Thus, navy beans were harvested by “pulling” the plants. The process of “pulling” involved cutting off the navy bean plants below the ground. Traditionally, this was accomplished with a horse-drawn one-row cultivator fitted with “knives” that would pass under the ground and cut the row of navy bean plants off at the root below the ground. The navy beans vines would then be left lying on top of the ground. After the navy bean crop had been pulled, the farmer would return to the field with a pitch fork and stack, or “cock” the vines into conveniently located piles spaced throughout the field. The vines would, then, await the day that the neighborhood thresher arrived on the farm before they were forked onto the wagon and hauled to the thresher and then forked into the thresher. Each handling of the vines would result in a further loss of beans as the pods either fell off or were cracked open letting the beans fall on the ground. Furthermore, additional handling of the beans occurred if a rain fell while the vines were cocked in the field, as the farmer would have to return to the navy bean field with his pitchfork and turn each pile of navy bean vines to allow the vines to dry thoroughly without mildewing.
Even the navy beans which successfully, made it through the harvesting process were not necessarily saleable. Once delivered to the grain elevator, the navy beans were inspected by hand. All discolored navy beans were removed. Only the pearly white beans that passed inspection were then marketed. Generally, the farmer would “buy back” the discolored, or “cull,” beans from the elevator. Usually, the cull beans were fed to the pigs or other livestock on the farm. The farmer’s purchase of the cull beans paid for the process of hand inspection of the total bean crop. All over Huron County, Michigan, the inspection of the navy bean crop was done by workers hired by the grain elevator. These workers sat at specialized machines designed to allow navy beans to flow past the eyes of the worker. The cull beans would then be removed by worker one bean at a time. (These machines have since been discarded in favor of faster more efficient automatic machines. However, some of the old machines are kept as antiques of a by-gone era. One such machine is, currently, owned by Dave MacDonald of Bad Axe, Michigan. The machine is kept in his garage and is used to entertain visiting children and grandchildren. Today, instead of separating cull beans from good beans this old machine in the MacDonald garage is used to separate red marbles from white marbles.)
The inspection of navy beans at the elevator had serious consequences for the navy bean farmer . A navy bean farmer could find that 50% of his crop was lost through discolorization. Discolorization was caused by mildew. It was bad enough that the navy bean vines grew so close to the ground, but the hand cocking of the navy beans in the field left the vines lying on the ground and susceptible to mildew. A rain falling on the cocked beans would add even more exposure to mildew.
No wonder then that the combine became so popular in the navy bean fields. The harvesting process was reduced to “pulling” the beans two rows at a time with a tractor. The tractor mounted bean puller would fold the two rows into a single windrow lying on top of the ground. After pulling the entire field of navy beans the farmer would then return the next day, or maybe even the same day to combine the navy beans. As a result there was very little “handling” of the beans. Additionally, after the navy bean vines were “pulled,” the vines spent very little time on the ground in a windrow, exposed to rain and weather, before being threshed by the combine. Thus, mildew and discolorization would have less chance to form on the navy beans.
As noted earlier, the Allis Chalmers All-Crop harvester was the pioneer small combine that led the way in crowding the stationary thresher out of the navy bean field. (See the article called “Navy Bean Farming in Huron County [Part II]: The All Crop Harvester” contained in the March/April 2005 issue of Belt Pulley magazine.) The All Crop Harvester was introduced in 1935. Although by 1947, the suggested retail price of an All Crop Harvester had risen to $885.00 farmers continued to flock to their Allis Chalmers dealers to purchase the little orange combine. The Allis Chalmers Company was turning out 150 All Crop Harvesters per day at the LaPorte, Indiana plant, just to keep up with the huge demand. This was the peak year of production for the All-Crop Harvester. Allis Chalmers had a 40% share of the small combine market. (From the 1954 Allis Chalmers promotional movie called “The All-Crop Story” available on VHS video tape from Keith Oltrogge, Post Office Box 529, Denver, Iowa 52622-0529. Telephone:  984-5292.)
Just one indicator of the role the All Crop Harvester played in this revolutionary change in farming in Huron County, Michigan, was the number of Allis Chalmers dealerships that sprang up all across Huron County. First was the H.A. Henne & Son of Bay Port, Michigan. As noted earlier, although addressed 8982 Henne Road, Bay Port; the Henne dealership was actually located in McKinley Township, 1½ miles east of the city limits of Bay Port. (See the article, cited above, called “Navy Bean Farming in Huron County [Part II]) Henry A. Henne and his son, Floyd, organized this Allis Chalmers dealership business in 1932.
Meanwhile, the privately owned grain elevator in the small town of Ruth, Michigan, had re-organized itself as a farmer owned co-operative elevator in 1933. In 1938, the Ruth Cooperative Elevator also obtained a franchise to sell Allis Chalmers farm equipment and Roman Booms began his long tenure as the chairman of the board of the cooperative. (Roman Booms is mentioned in this capacity in the book called Plow Peddler written by Walter M. Buescher [Glenbridge Pub. Ltd.: MaComb, Illinois, 1992] p. 100.) Over the years, the machinery dealership side of Ruth Co-operative employed a number of local citizens including LaVern Hanselman as service manager and Earl Edwards as parts manager. Also in 1938 Harold Leese obtained an AllisChalmers dealership franchise. Harold established the dealership on the 60 acre farm that he and his wife, Gertrude (Champagne) Leese owned in Gore Township. Located on Kaufman Road, near the village of Port Hope, the Leese farm was just one mile north of the country school/Gore Township Hall on route #25. In 1940, Al Bowron and his son, Harold, started the Al Bowron and Son dealership in the county seat of Huron County—Bad Axe, Michigan. These new dealerships and, indeed, all the Allis Chalmers dealerships in Michigan were served by the AllisChalmers warehouse and branch office at Toledo Ohio. Personnel from the Toledo Branch Office including Ed Howe, Branch Service Manager, often traveled to the individual dealerships to provide any assistance required by the new dealerships.
The post-World War II era, brought forth a new generation of farmers who had new ideas about farming. One of the young farmers walking into the Henne dealership to inquire about the an All-Crop Harvester in 1947 was John Prich. John was the second son of George Prich, of rural Bach, Michigan. As noted earlier, the 80 acre Prich farm was located in Brookfield Township in Huron County. (See the article, cited above, called “Navy Bean Farming in Huron County [Part II].) John’s older brother, George Jr., took over the farming operations from their father, George Sr., on the home farm. Although he continued to live at home, John Prich struck out on his own and started renting and farming what land he could find in the neighborhood. He raised wheat, oats, sugar beets and of course, navy beans. In addition to the horses, John and his brother George Jr. shared ownership of an unstyled model A John Deere tractor as a source of power in their respective farming operations. The tractor had rubber tires and, thus, the Model A could be driven down the public roads to the fields that John rented in the neighborhood. For planting his wheat and oats John and his brother used a 9-foot grain drill made by the Ontario Drill Company of Despatch, New York. This grain drill contained fifteen planting units. By closing off some of the holes in the bottom of the grain box of the drill, John could also use the Ontario grain drill to plant his navy beans in 30-inch rows.
Just like their father, both John Prich and his brother, George Jr., employed the Kuhl family for threshing their crops. Bill Kuhl Sr. lived on a farm north of Bath, Michigan in Huron County. Along with his sons, Bill Jr., Floyd, Don and Robert, Bill Kuhl owned a 36” x 62” Keck and Gonnerman thresher which they used to do custom threshing in the neighborhood. To power the large Kay-Gee thresher, the Kuhls owned a 30-60 Model S two-cylinder Oil Pull tractor manufactured by the Advance-Rumley Thresher Company of La Porte, Indiana. (The Kuhl family has continued to maintain an interest in Oil Pull tractors to this day. Carol Kuhl, daughter of Floyd Kuhl, later married Duane J. Deering, now of Unionville, Michigan in Huron County. Duane purchased, restored and currently owns a 1929 Model X 25-40 Oil Pull tractor.)
However, in the late fall of 1947, John Prich was able to withdraw from the hand labor and responsibilities involved in stationary threshing when he contracted with Heene Implement in Bay Port, Michigan, for the purchase of an Allis Chalmers All-Crop Harvester. Thus, John Prich became one of the 20,825 purchasers of an Allis Chalmers Model 60 All Crop Harvester combine in 1947. The combine purchased by John Prich was not fitted with any windrow pickup at all. It was too late in the season to use the All-Crop Harvester for the harvest of 1947. Consequently, John returned to Heene Implement in the summer of 1948 to purchase a windrow pickup for the new combine. From their experience the Heene Implement dealership knew that the Innes pickup made by the Innes Company of Bettendorf, Iowa , was superios to any of the Allis Chalmers windrow pickups. Therefore, John purchased a new Innes stiff finger windrow pickup from Heene Impliment in the summer of 1948 for the price of $95.00. (John Prich still has the receipt from this purchase made more than 55 years ago.
By 1947, the Innes name was becoming quite well known in the navy bean farming areas of Michigan. The Innes Company of Bettendorf, Iowa, actually began in 1914 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania as the brainchild of George Innes. George and his wife, Edith, were happily living in Philadelphia which at that time was a bustling city of 1,549,008 (1910 census). Thus, Philadelphia was, at the time, the third largest city in the United States. George Innes was of Scottish ancestry and had an inquisitive mind. He could not stop thinking about how to improve things. Toward this end he used his ability to think in mechanical terms to try many new inventions. On December 12, 1914 a son, Donald, was born to George and Edith. The Innes family would eventually have three boys with the addition of Robert and Brainard Innes to the family.
Perhaps it was the restlessness of George’s inventive mind or the social changes that were being wrought on the United States economy in the post-World War I era, but in 1923, George and Edith moved out of Philadelphia to settle in the town of Bettendorf, Iowa (1920 pop. 2,178). Bettendorf is the smallest of four cities which all border each other at the confluence of the Rock River and the Mississippi River. These four cities, Rock Island and Moline, Illinois, and Davenport and Bettendorf, Iowa are commonly referred to as the “Quad Cities” because of their close proximity to each other. Adapting himself rather quickly to the rural Midwestern community to which he had decided to settle, George was soon at work on a new invention.
As noted earlier, combines, especially small combines, were just making there appearance in the Midwestern part of the United States. (See the article called “Navy Bean Farming (Part II) in the March/April 2005 issue of Belt Pulley magazine.) The “combine” had originally developed in California. A big bulky apparatus, the combine was profitable for use only in the “horizon to horizon” farming of the western states. Use of combines in the diversified farming areas of the Midwest, had to await development of the small combine, starting with the Allis-Chalmers All-Crop Harvester. (Ibid.)
Unlike the western states, combining of oats and other small grains in the Midwest could not easily be accomplished by harvesting the grain as it stood in the field. Generally the grain needed to be cut and laid into windrows to allow the grain to “sweat” as it would in the shock and to allow any extraneous “green” material to wither and dry up and pass through the small combine in an easier manner. (Jeff Creighton, Combines and Harvesters [Motorbooks International: Osceola, Wisc, 1996] pp. 69 and 113.)
To allow the grain to sweat and dry properly, it was generally suggested that grains be cut into wind rows, leaving stubble 6” to 8” tall. (From the “Operating Manual for the John Deere 12A Combine,” p. 80.) “A stubble of this height will allow free circulation of air under the windrow.” (Id.) With stubble of this height and with the windrow resting on top of the stubble, the feeder unit of the combine containing the cutter bar, could easily be slid under the windrow and the harvesting of the grain could be accomplished without the need of any special pickup attachment. However, in reality the stubble would not always be of this height and, in reality, the windrow might well be resting on or near the ground and on top of the stubble. Thus, need required the invention of a windrow pickup attachment. (J.R. Hobbs, writer for the Green Magazine has written a nice history of the development of windrow type of grain harvesting and the development and patenting of the “traveling combine” and the pickup by the Hovland brothers of Ortley, South Dakota in 1907, and the in the article called “Amber Waves of Grain Laid Down by John Deere Windrowers.” J.R. Hobbs also reflects on the improvements that were made to the technology of the windrow style of combining in 1926 and 1927 by Helmer Hanson and his brother. This article is contained in the July, 2003 issue of Green Magazine.)
Typically, before mounting the windrow pickup to the feeder unit of the combine, both the reel used in standing crops and the sickle in the cutter bar were removed. The most common pickup attachment that evolved and became universalized throughout the industry generally consisted of rows of wire teeth set on an axle. The teeth protruded through slots in a stationary piece of sheet metal. The teeth would pick up the windrow and raise it up into the feeder unit. The stationary piece of metal would “comb” the windrow off the pickup attachment and allow the windrow to proceed into the feeding unit of the combine. The combing action of the stationary portion of the pickup was intended to prevent the teeth from hanging on to the straw in the windrow and causing the windrow to wrap around the axle of the pickup attachment. Despite the partial success of the combing action of the typical windrow pickup, “wrapping” of the windrow around the pickup attachment remained a problem. This is problem that caught George Innes’ attention.
Sometime after moving to Bettendorf, Iowa, George began working on a new type of pickup attachment. The Innes designed pickup consisted of a metal cylinder which contained a number of holes. Inside the cylinder was a shaft to which stiff metal teeth were attached. Because the shaft was not located in the very center of the cylinder, but rather was located “off-center” to the front inside the cylinder, the stiff teeth attached to the off-center shaft emerged and withdrew from the slots in the cylinder as the cylinder turned. Both the axle to which the teeth were attached and the metal cylinder in the Innes designed windrow pickup would revolve at the same speed. With each revolution of the cylinder the teeth would protrude out of holes of the cylinder to full extension to pickup the windrow and then withdraw back into the cylinder as the cylinder continued to revolve bringing the windrow up to the feeding unit. Combing action in the Innes designed windrow pickup was eliminated by this extension and withdrawal of the teeth into the cylinder as the cylinder revolved. Thus, the Innes design greatly reduced “wrapping” of the grain around the pickup. The design of this cylinder style of windrow pickup was and would remain George Innes’ greatest invention.
George Innes, determined to mass produce and market his new pickup for the farming public. In this endeavor, George received some help from his son, Donald. Donald Innes graduated from Augustana College located in neighboring Rock Island, Illinois and in 1937 joined with his father in an attempt to manufacture and market the new pickup in mass numbers. Toward this end George and Donald Innes, incorporated the Innes Company in 1938 to manufacture his new pickup attachment. Although located in the state of Iowa, the Innes Company was incorporated as a Delaware Corporation to take advantage of the tax benefits and other benefits traditionally accorded Delaware corporations. (Harry G. Henn and John R., Alexander, Laws of Corporations (West Pub.: St. Paul, Minn., 1983) pp. 187-189.) Incorporation under the laws of Delaware was a common practice for many corporations. However, since the corporation’s manufacturing facilities were to be located in Bettendorf, George filed Articles of Business Activity with the Iowa Secretary of State’s Office on February 7. 1938. On this original document the Company reported $10,000 as initial “startup” capital. About a year and a half later, on September 7, 1940 the company was reporting capital of $84,000. The Company obtained a manufacturing site located in rural Bettendorf. The new company was thus able to take advantage of the excellent railroad connections that the Quad Cities enjoyed—especially the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railway which served the Quads to the east and to the west. The new Innes factory site came alive with activity. The Company chose dark blue as their trademark color. Soon the dark blue Innes pickups were pouring out of the factory. Each pickup was carefully packaged up and loaded onto waiting boxcars for shipment to all parts of the nation. Continue reading Navy Bean Farming (Part III): The Innes Company