Category Archives: Horse farming

The Barn on the Grounds of the LeSueur Pioneer Power Association

The Barn on the Grounds of the LeSueur County Pioneer Power Association 

by

Brian Wayne Wells

           This article remains under construction.  Periodically, new blocks of text will appear in the article and/or   current blocks of text will be corrected.

The restored Almena barn was restored and rebuilt on the grounds of the LeSueur County Pioneer Power Association.

In the spring of 2016 a new structure arose on the grounds of the LeSueur Pioneer Power Association.  This was a barn that had been originally built in the 1880s near the small village of Almena, Wisconsin.  The Village of Almena is located in Barron County in Wisconsin.  Indeed the Village of Almena is located on the  eastern boundary of the “Town” of Almena.  The word “Town” should not be confused with the word “village.”  In Wisconsin, the word Town refers to a piece of land 6 miles by 6 miles square.  In other states this geographical piece of land would be called a “Township.”

In this case, the most of the territory of the Village of Almena is located in Almena Town within Barron County.  However, there is a small piece of the Village of Almena that is located within the neighboring Town of Clinton also located within Barron County.

On the right side of this photo is a county map of Wisconsin, showing the location of Barron County in Wisconsin. On the left side of the photo is a map of Barron County which is divided into 25 individual “Towns.” This map also shows to location of the small Village of Almena which located on the eastern border of the Town of Almena. Indeed, while most of the Village of Almena is located within the Town of Almena, a small part of the Village of Almena is located in the neighboring Town of Clinton.

The Almena barn which was restored and reconstructed on the grounds of the LeSueur Pioneer Power Association is unique for its wood frame construction.  The frame  of the barn was held together totally by wooden pegs without the use of any screws or nails.  It is this total wood construction (which is called the mortise and tendon style of construction) that makes the frame of the barn a very collectable item.

A closeup view of the mortice and tendon style of framing embodied in the framework of the Almena barn which employed no metal nails in holding the frame of the Almena barn together.

The only nails used in the original construction of the barn were the nails used to attach the sheeting to the wood frame to enclosed the frame and make the barn a complete structure.  Once the frame of the barn was carefully re-constructed on the grounds of the Pioneer Power Association the frame was, once again,  covered with new native lumber plank sheeting to make the barn look the way it originally appeared when initially built in Almena Wisconsin.

The Almena barn, as it originally looked at the time that the barn was dismantled in Almena by Rustic Innovations Inc. of Scandia, Minnesota.

Glen Holicky and his brother, Gary Holicky, were the main instigators of the project of bringing this unique barn to the grounds of the LeSueur County Pioneer Power Association.  Together the brothers, both members of the LeSueur County Pioneer Power Association  worked with Curt B. Richter from Rustic Innovations of Scandia, Minnesota (651) 491-6430 to obtain the hand-hewed frame of the old barn.

As the Almena barn was carefully dismantled in Wisconsin the interior design of the barn came into view.

The barn was originally built on the land of a farmstead currently owned by Verlin Koehn, (715) 357-3056 Almena, Wisconsin.  It is estimated that the barn was originally built in the 1880s when this farmstead was owned by  on the a

Even the interior of the Almena barn was faithfully restored to its original design.  On the upper level is the reconstructed hay mow.  On the grounds of the LeSueur Pioneer Power Association, the Almena barn is the focus of the field demonstration showing the method by which hay was stored in past.  At the annual August show on the grounds, hay is lifted from wagons by a rope-operated hay loader and stored on this upper level hay mow.

The land on which the Almena barn was built was owned by M. J. Edson or Edward Jacobs.  Ole Oleson, who appears on the 1900 Federal Census was a carpenter living with Edward Brand, a saloon keeper in  the Village of Turtle Lake, Almena Town,
Barron county in Wisconsin, may have constructed the Almena barn initially.  Nels Twean another immigrant born in Norway was also a carpenter living in a rented house in Turtle Lake with his family and appears on the 1900 Federal Census.  Charles Wiggins was another carpenter living in Turtle Lake in 1900.

 Once on the grounds, the  thearose

Glenn Holicky of the LeSueur County Pioneer Power Association worked together with Curt B. Richter from Rustic Innovations of Scandia, Minnesota (651) 491-6430 to obtain the hand-hewed frame of an old barn built on the land in Almena, Wisconsin in Barron County. This barn was originally on the land of a farmstead currently owned by Verlin Koehn, (715) 357-3056 Almena, Wisconsin

 

            The original construction of the Almena barn was mortise and tendon construction which is total wood joints made without metal nails or screws.

The “Larson” Bundle Wagon

                                                The Larson Hayrack/Bundle Wagon

by

Brian Wayne Wells

(As published in the March-April 1996 issue of Belt Pulley magazine.)

The rear end of the light weight Larson wagon can be seen on theleft in this picture as opposed to the heavier construction of a traditional wood beam bundle wagon in the summer of .
This rear view of the light-weight “Larson” wagon on the left side of the feeder of Ira Whitney’s 28″ Case thresher during the summer of 1942, contrasts markedly with the traditional heavy wood construction of wagon on the right.

Threshing shows are appealing because of the opportunity they offer to step back into the past.  At these shows, most public attention is usually given to the threshing machines being powered by an un-styled tractor of the pre-World War II era as opposed to a styled tractor from the post-war era.  When un-styled tractors are used, amateur photographers can often position themselves away from the crowd and take pictures that look like they could have been taken in the 1930s.  Anything that adds a 1930s touch to a threshing scene will appeal to the public.

Generally, at the LeSueur County Pioneer Power Show in LeSueur, Minnesota only modern hayracks built for hauling bales have been employed for hauling bundles of grain to the threshers.  These hayracks, with their rubber tires and lack of side supports and front standards, are of a design that definitely date from the post-World War II baled-hay era.  In recent years, one touch that added authenticity to the threshing scene at the LeSueur Show, was the bundle wagon built by Dennis Waskovsky of Faribualt, Minnesota.  The Waskovsky bundle wagon, with its steel wheels, side supports, and front and rear standards, was a definite addition to the show.  Because it was the only authentic bundle wagon at the LeSueur Show, the Waskovsky wagon was moved from thresher to thresher to allow authentic photos to be taken.

Currently, there is a definite need for more “pre-war” style bundle wagons.  To make the matter even more urgent, the Waskovsky wagon was heavily damaged at the 1995 Show when a strong gust of wind picked it up and flipped it over on its top.  Although Dennis Waskovsky is rebuilding the bundle wagon, interest was kindled for the addition of other genuine bundle wagons.  One such bundle wagon which could be built is the “Larson wagon.”

Not much is known about Mr. Larson, the man who designed the wagon.  Indeed, even Mr. Larson’s first name has been lost over the period of time since he was last contacted by members of the Hanks family in 1935.

The Larson wagon had a good reputation in Faribault county and southern Blue Earth County, Minnesota, as being a very strong and dependable hayrack/bundle wagon.  Building a Larson wagon would not only serve to add authenticity to the LeSueur County Pioneer Power Show, but would preserve another small part of the history of rural Faribault and Blue Earth Counties.

The story of the Larson wagon first intersects with the family of Fred Marshall Hanks starting in 1919.  Fred Marshall Hanks had farmed his parents’ farm in Verona Township, Faribault County, near Winnebago, Minnesota, since the untimely death of his father on January 11, 1916.  Indeed, he had gradually taken over more and more of the operation of the farm long before that time.  He had married Jeanette More Ogilvie from Pilot Grove Township in Faribault County on October 13, 1889, and together they moved into the Hanks farm house with his parents.  They had a son, Howard Bruce Hanks, on October 7, 1895.  Three other sons would follow: John Stanley, on July 27, 1902; Harlan David, on February 21, 1905; and Kenneth Warner, on December 16, 1908.  The Hanks family operated a diversified farm, like most others in Verona Township, raising oats, wheat, corn, and hay.  The livestock consisted of a milking herd, sheep, hogs, and chickens.  Fred Marshall’s father was a master at woodworking, and put this skill to work in a profitable way, building many of the barns in Verona Township and the surrounding area.  In 1900, the Hanks family purchased the 40-acre Baldwin farm which bordered the Hanks farm to the east and moved the Baldwin barn to the Hanks farm building site where it became the “bull barn.”  The Baldwin house was also moved to the Hanks farm where it became a woodworking shop.

Fred Marshall Hanks was a believer in the ability of the Milking Shorthorn breed to provide both good dairy cows and good beef cattle.

 

Fred Marshall was not interested in woodworking, as was his father.  His interest was consumed in farming.  He loved farming and was constantly looking for ways to improve his methods of farming.  In 1900, as he began to assume more responsibilities of the farm, Fred Marshall gradually began changing the dairy from a cross-bred herd to a purebred Polled Shorthorn herd, schooling himself on the proper traits to develop in an animal for purebred livestock.  A 1904 advertising card (which still exists in the possession of Fred’s son Harlan Hanks) shows that by 1904 Fred Marshall was not only raising his own stock, but was selling purebred Polled Shorthorn cattle and purebred Duroc hogs to other farmers in the area.  By 1910, his reputation had grown to the point that buyers of purebred cattle and/or purebred hogs showed up on the Hanks farm on a regular basis from across the nation to buy breeding stock.

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By 1910, visitors to the Fred Marshall Hanks farm in rural Winnebago, Minnesota.

One day in 1919, a farmer by the name of Larson, from Frost, Minnesota, arrived on the Hanks farm to buy one of the purebred Polled Shorthorn bulls.  During the conversation, Mr. Larson divulged that he had devised a new design for a horse-drawn hayrack/bundle wagon.  His “Larson” hayracks were made with curved pieces of metal which served as supports for the sides of the hayrack.  These metal supports connected the sides of the hayrack with the floor.

The sides of earlier hayrack/bundle wagon had been supported by 2 x 4 vertical pieces of wood which were attached to the floor of the wagon.  When this design was found to be too flimsy, diagonal pieces of wood were added to the vertical sides, connecting the sides to the floor at two separate locations about a foot from the outside edge, thus making the wagon stronger because of the triangle that was formed by the support with the floor of the wagon.  However, these diagonals interfered with the men working inside the hayrack unloading loose hay or bundles of wheat or oats with a pitchfork.  The solution to this problem, followed by some hayrack designs, was to have the vertical side supports protrude beneath the level of the floor of the hayrack and to connect the triangulation diagonals from the bottoms of the vertical side supports to the underside of the floor of the hayrack.  The bothersome diagonals were then under the floor of the rack.  This was a better design, but still farmers found that the side supports interfered with any work that had to be done under the wagon, such as removing a wheel on the wagon gear to grease the axle.  The metal supports in the Larson-designed hayrack were the key to the design that made the Larson hayrack/bundle wagon unique.  They eliminated the need for any triangulation support either above or beneath the floor of the hayrack.  This made for a much lighter and cleaner designed hayrack.

Based on this design with the metal supports, Mr. Larson made hayracks for use on his own farm.  His neighbors, having seen the benefits of his design, had requested that he build hayracks of the same style for them or that he provide them with the metal supports so that they could build the hayracks themselves.  As a consequence, the Larson design became quite popular around the Frost area of Faribault County.  Continue reading The “Larson” Bundle Wagon

Egg Raising in Dryden Township in Sibley County Minnesota (Part 2 of Two Parts )

A McCormick-Deering “Little Genius” Plow in Dryden Township (Part II)

 by

Brian Wayne Wells

This article is the second part of a two-part series of articles which was not published in the Belt Pulley magazine.

 

A McCormick-Deering Little Genius No. 8 two-bottom plow with 14 inch bottoms mounted on steel wheels.

 

In 1940, as previously noted, a particular farmer and his wife were engaged in diversified farming on a 160 acre farm in Dryden Township in Sibley County, Minnesota.  (See the first article in this series called “A McCormick-Deering ‘Little Genius’ Plow in Dryden Township [Part I]” contained in the January/February 2009 issue of Belt Pulley magazine.)  Also as noted previously, our Dryden Township farmer had used the money received from the unusually large “bumper” corn crop of 1939 to purchase a used 1935 Farmall Model F-20 tractor, a two-row mounted cultivator and a new two-bottom McCormick-Deering “Little Genius” No. 8 plow with 14 inch bottoms from his local International Harvester Company (IHC)  dealership—Thomes Brothers Hardware located  in Arlington, Minnesota (1930 pop. 915).

Since its introduction in 1928, the Little Genius plow had become one of the most popular tractor trailing plows sold in the North America.  The Little Genius plow replaced an earlier McCormick-Deering plow called the “Little Wonder.”  The Little Wonder had proved to be a disappointment to IHC and to farmers that used the plow.  Because of its light construction and because of the lack of clearance under the frame, the Little Wonder had trouble plowing in any kind of soil conditions especially in fields with any trash on the surface of the ground.  The Little Wonder tended to clog up in trashy conditions and never seemed to adequately turn the soil over the way a mold board plow should.  The Little Wonder was such a bad plow that farmers used to say that it was “‘little wonder’ that the plow was able to plow at all.”

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The McCormick-Deering “Little Wonder” 2-bottom plow was the predecessor to the Little Genius No. 8 plow.

 

Continued production of the Little Wonder threatened to permanently ruin the International Harvester Company’s reputation as a plow manufacturer.  Introduction of the “Little Genius” plow turned all of that around, however.  In reaction to the criticism of the Little Wonder plow, the Little Genius plow was designed to be a much heavier plow.  Furthermore, the Little Genius was unmatched in clearance under the frame.  The Little Genius could handle a great deal of trash without clogging.  Additionally, the bottoms of the Little Genius plow were more sharply angled to assure a complete roll over of the soil and to completely bury trash that was lying on the surface of the ground.  Thus, the Little Genius tended to work well in fields with a lot of trash on the surface of the ground. However, the sharp angle of the bottoms of the Little Genius plow meant that the plow had an increased load or draft as the plow was pulled across the field.  Thus, the Little Genius plow needed to be matched to tractors with more horsepower than mold board plows designed with a less angle to their bottoms—such as the Oliver A-series Model 100 Plowmaster.

Our Dryden Township farmer was pleasantly surprised at the low price that Thomes Bros. offered for the purchase of the used 1935 F-20 tractor, the new cultivator and the new Little Genius plow.  So, in the early spring of 1940, he signed the sales agreement with the Thomes Bros. Hardware dealership to purchase the tractor, plow and cultivator.  Our Dryden Township farmer was anxious to get into the fields with the tractor and new plow and so he took immediate delivery of the tractor and plow.  The winter of 1939-1940 was colder than normal with more than the usual amount of snow.  Accordingly, it looked as though, the spring field work would be delayed because of the large amount of snow.

A gray-painted Farmall Model F-20 tractor with red painted steel wheels.

 

Continue reading Egg Raising in Dryden Township in Sibley County Minnesota (Part 2 of Two Parts )

Allis-Chalmers (Part I): Dry-Land Farming in Wyoming

Statistics recorded with Counterize - Version 3.1.4

Allis Chalmers Farming (Part I): Dry-Land Farming

by Brian Wayne Wells

(As published in the January/February 2007 issue of

Belt Pulley Magazine)

            Wyoming is divided between the rocky Mountains in the west and the plains of the eastern part of the state.  Ever since the earliest settlers, cattle raising has been a part of the state’s eastern plains.  In the 1870s and ‘80s the cattle industry in Wyoming boomed, as the number of cattle grew from 8,143 head in 1870 to a maximum of 2 million head in 1885. Two counties over which these cattle grazed in the eastern plains of Wyoming were Sheridan and Jonson Counties.

The cattle ranchers were not the only people that were attracted to the Wyoming plains.  In the 1880’s the eastern plains of Wyoming began to attract settlers intent on making a living tilling the soil of the plains to raise marketable crops—especially wheat.  The competition for land and water in the arid environment of the plains of eastern Wyoming, created tension between large cattle ranchers and the farmers who fenced in the open range.  In 1889, this tension exploded into open warfare in what became known as the “Johnson County War.”  While the cattle barons won battles in this conflict, they lost the war.  Wave after wave of settlers coming into eastern Wyoming doomed the large scale cattle ranchers.  Helping the setters was a new federal law passed in the United States congress in 1862—the Homestead Act.

The Homestead Act had

Continue reading Allis-Chalmers (Part I): Dry-Land Farming in Wyoming

Raising Sheep in Wyoming

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Sheep Raising in Wyoming

       by Brian Wayne Wells

(As published in the November/December 2006 issue of

Belt Pulley Magazine)

            The 100° longitude meridian line runs north and south over the states of North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas.  This longitude line is more than a man-made global positioning line.  The 100º meridian coincides to a remarkable degree with the climatological boundary between the Midwestern area of the United States and the Great Plains.  East of the 100º meridian is the Midwest with its plentiful annual rainfall amounts.  To the west, in the much drier land of the Great Plains.  Whereas farming in the Midwest is diversified and includes row crops like corn and soybeans, farming in the Great Plains is specialized—limited to the growing of small grains, predominately wheat.  Wheat is grown in abundance in the Great Plains.  Thus, the Great Plains has been called the “bread basket” of the United States.

The entire state of Wyoming is located in the Great Plains.  Situated along the eastern escarpment of the Rocky Mountains, the climate of Wyoming tends to be very dry, even by the standards of the Great Plains.  Because of the extremely dry conditions of the state, Wyoming was, at first, considered unsuitable for crop raising.  Wyoming seemed fit only for grazing cattle—and Wyoming had grazing land available.  Over 80% of the land of the state of Wyoming was publicly owned (federal and state) land.  This public owned land was called “open range.”  The open range had long been freely available for grazing by the cattle by ranchers that settled in Wyoming.

An individual cow requires forty acres of grazing land to sustain itself.  Thus, even a small herd of cattle requires a great deal of land for grazing through out the year.  Thanks to this free grazing policy on federal and state owned lands, individual ranchers did not need to “own” (and pay taxes on) the large amount of land required to support there cattle.  They needed only own a small site for their house, barn and other buildings.  The cattle could be grazed on the open range for most of the year.  Even though the winter snows presented a feeding problem for the cattle rancher in Wyoming, this problem could be overcome by the rancher putting up hay in the summer to feed in the winter when the grazing became too scarce.  The ranchers could even cut hay on the publicly-owned open range and store the hay in their barns to supplement the grazing during the winter months.

Wyoming has proudly nicknamed itself as the “Cowboy State” in recognition of the vast cattle herds (and the men on horseback that handled those herds) that still graze the land of Wyoming.  At first, cattle raising had a monopoly on the open range of Wyoming.  However, in the mid-1880s, sheep were introduced into Wyoming and began to compete with cattle for the grass on the open range.  A struggle between sheep ranchers and cattle ranchers, over grazing rights on the open range, resulted.  This struggle or “range war” between the sheep men and the cattle men has been a popular subject for Hollywood movies.  However, the overwhelming reality of the introduction of sheep into the Great Plains is a bit more prosaic.  Sheep gradually replaced cattle on the open range of Wyoming, because sheep simply offered a more profitable means of making a living than did beef cattle following the mid 1880s.

Since the end of the American Civil War, beef prices had ranged from a normal high of about $6.30 per hundred pounds to a normal low of about $4.00.  However, in February of 1886, the price of beef fell to $3.85 per hundred pounds and from that time down through 1896, beef prices began to fluctuate within a range from a normal high of about $4.00 per hundred pounds and a normal low of $3.30 per hundred pounds.  Raising cattle had become less profitable as time went on.  On the other hand, the price of wool presented a different story.

Traditionally, United States wool growers had benefited from the protective tariff duties which were imposed on the importation of foreign wool into the United States.  High duties on imported wool, assured domestic growers of wool within the United States of a high price for their product without foreign competition.  Protective tariffs had been a highly charged and much debated political issue throughout much of United States history.  The tariff issue had, traditionally, divided the two major political parties of the United States.  Since the time of President Andrew Jackson, the Democratic Party had stood in opposition to the policy of high protective tariffs.  The Republican Party, and before them, the Whig Party, had traditionally supported high tariffs to protect United States industries.  Predictably, when the Republicans were in control of the presidency and the Congress, high tariffs were the enacted.  Conversely, when the Democrats were in power tariff reductions were enacted.  Recently, this dynamic had resulted in the passage of the McKinley Tariff Act in the autumn of 1890 by the Republican-controlled during the administration of Republican President Benjamin Harrison.   Then in the summer of 1894, during the second administration of Democratic President Grover Cleveland, the Democrat-controlled Congress passed the Wilson-Gorman Tariff.  The Wilson-Gorman Tariff Act had removed all duties on imported wool.   Consequently, wool prices sagged to a new low of 34.8 cents per pound in June of 1895.

The Panic of 1893 which began in the east hit Wyoming hard when the Union Pacific Railroad became bankrupt in October of 1893.  Sheep ranchers struggled under the double effects of the lack of any protection from cheap imported wool and the further  restriction of markets for their wool imposed by the economic recession which followed the Panic of 1893.  Still, despite the economic hardships faced by the sheep ranchers, the beef industry was harder hit economically.  In Wyoming, the number of sheep had long since surpassed the number of cattle in the state.  However, the Panic if 1893 and the depression that followed the Panic widened this gap between the number of sheep and the number of cattle in the State.  By 1898, there were 1,940,021 head of sheep in Wyoming as opposed to only 706,000 head of cattle.

As the economic depression which followed the Panic stretched into it third year the public became disenchanted with the incumbent Democratic (Grover Cleveland) Administration.  As the presidential campaign started in 1896, it seemed clear that the public was in a mood to turn the Democrats out of office.  All indications pointed to a Republican victory in November of 1896.  In anticipation of the return of the Republican party, and the expected return of the high protective tariff, the price of wool began to climb.  If any further indication were needed, the Republican National Convention held in June 1896, voted in support of a platform that strongly favored a high tariff.  Senator William McKinley, author of the 1890 high tariff Act which bore his name, was nominated by the same convention as the Republican nominee for president of the United States.  In October, 1896, the price of wool rose to 39.1 cents per pound as a monthly average for the entire month.  On election day in November of 1896, McKinley won the presidential race.  Wool climbed to 41.3 cents per pound as a monthly average for November 1896.

In 1897, Congressman Dingley of Maine became the new chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee.  Additionally, Chairman Dingley introduced a a tariff bill that would bear his name.  The Dingley Tariff bill proposed to raise duties on imported wool higher than the duties had ever been under the McKinley Tariff of 1890.   Ordinarily, wool prices operated in an annual cycle, dropping in June or July as the sheep flocks across the nation are shorn of their wool and all the shorn wool makes its way into the market and rising again in the fall and winter.  However, as the spring of 1897 yielded to the months of summer, the price of wool did not drop.  Rather, the price of wool continued to rise to 42.4 cents per pound as an average for March and to 45.6 cents a pound in April, 1897.

Bands of sheep herders had always moved across the landscape of Wyoming. Wandering along in pursuit of the next patch of good grazing for the sheep, these flocks of sheep, accompanied by sheepherders, dogs and camp wagons, averaged in size about 2,500-3,000 head.  Thus, the average band needed to cover a great amount of land area to find adequate grazing.  Many of the bands crossing the State of Wyoming did not originate within the borders of Wyoming.  Many flocks of sheep actually originated from Colorado, Utah or other neighboring states.  In 1897, the high price of wool and the anticipation of still higher prices supported by a new Republican protective tariff, brought even more flocks of sheep into the state.

In the spring of 1897, one particular sheepherder and his brother were tending a flock of 2500 head of Rambouillet sheep on the plains adjacent to the western escarpment of the Wasatch Mountain range in the State of Utah.  This was their home.  They lived here with their families.  However, every spring our Wasatch Range sheep herder and his brother rounded up the sheep in their flock and started to drive them north across these plains known as the Wasatch Plateau.  Leaving their families behind, our Wasatch Range sheep herder bid his family goodbye and told his young son to obey his mother and “be the head of the family” while he was gone.  Our Wasatch Range sheep herder would be gone all summer grazing the sheep in the Wyoming Rocky Mountains. He and his brother would not see their respective families again until the coming September.  He and his brother spent nearly as much time in Wyoming as they did in their “homes” in the Wasatch Range.      Continue reading Raising Sheep in Wyoming

Case Farming Part V: Decline of the LeRoy Equipment Company

J.I. Case Company Part V:

The Decline of the LeRoy Equipment Company

by

Brian Wayne Wells

 (As Published in the September/October 2006 issue of Belt Pulley magazine.)

During the post-World War II period, the Case Model DC tractor remained the most popular selling tractor of the entire Case line of tractors. However with the labor strike which happened at the Main Works factor in Racine Wisconsin, the LeRoy Equipment Company was unable to obtain any tractors for the inventory of their dealership
During the post-World War II period, the Case Model DC tractor remained the most popular selling tractor of the entire Case line of tractors.

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

Case Farming Part I: Sweep-Style Horsepowers

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J.I. Case Company Part I: Sweep-Style Horsepowers

by

Brian Wayne Wells

(As published in the January/February 2006 issue of

                         Belt Pulley Magazine)

           Food, clothing and shelter are well known as the three basic requirements of human beings. Agricultural is generally concerned with the production of the raw materials i.e. plants and animals, that become the food for mankind. To a lesser degree, agriculture also is concerned with the production of raw materials for clothing for mankind e.g. cotton and wool. To a still lesser degree, agriculture may be said to be involved in one of the most basic building materials used in providing shelter for mankind i.e. wood. This is especially true in recent days when forests are replanted after harvest in preparation for another harvest of trees in the future.

Just as the development of the mechanical thresher/separator revolutionized the threshing small grains, so too did the sawmill revolutionize the lumber industry. In the early days of the settlement of the upper Midwest of the United States and Canada, homes were made from logs. However, a log house had a tremendous tendency to shrink or “settle” over the years. This settling was especially pronounced in the first couple years after the construction. Settling meant that windows and doors would not remain square and, thus, tight fitting doors and windows were impossible in traditional log homes. Only frame-built houses would allow for tight fitting windows and doors. As civilization came to the Midwest with more people settling in the towns and on the farms of the Midwest, the frame house became the rule in home construction.

This tremendous growth of frame house got under way in the period following the War Between the States—the golden age of American agriculture. This boom in frame built housing created a vigorous demand for sawn lumber. Thus saw mills sprung up all over the Midwest. Usually, these sawmills were located at the falls of a particular river. This would allow the sawmill to use the power generated by the falling water and a water wheel to power the saw. Additionally, the river would be used as a transportation medium for the logs as lumber camps cut the native timber of the watershed up river from the sawmill and floated the logs down the river to the sawmill. The water might be captured by a dam on the river just above the sawmill to provide a reservoir of water to power the sawmill through any dry spells. This “mill pond” above the sawmill also served as a storage place for all the logs that came floating down the river.

The wood most in demand for building construction was pine. Pine is a straight grained, light but strong wood. It is easily worked with a handsaw and/or a plane. Furthermore, it tends to maintain its proper dimensions and shape,once it had been properly seasoned. (Robert C. Nesbit and William F. Thompson, Wisconsin: A History [University of Wisconsin: Madison, 1989] p. 297.)   However, pine was not available in all areas of the United States.

Because of these desirable characteristics, pine could be transported a considerable distance and compete economically with any lumber found locally in any hardwood community. (Ibid.) Any person that has tried to hammer a nail into a “native” hardwood board will recognize why this is true. Pine tree forests were discovered to be most abundant in two belts of land in the United States. First was the wide belt of land that reached from New England through the Great Lakes area, with Lake Erie representing the southern most fringe of this belt, and extending on to present-day northern Minnesota. (Ibid.)   Secondly, there was the Southern pine wood belt which started in eastern North Carolina (Hugh Talmage Lefler & Albert Ray Newsome, North Carolina: The History of a Southern State [University of North Carolina Press: Chapel Hill, 1973] pp. 100-101.) and arched to the south and including nearly all of South Carolina (David Duncan Wallace, South Carolina: A Short History [University of North Carolina Press: Chapel Hill, 1951] pp. 3-4.)southern Georgia ( Kenneth Coleman & et al. A History of Georgia), northern Florida (Charlton W. Tebeau, A History of Florida [University of Miami Press: Coral Gables, Florida, 1971] pp. 42 & 52.), southern Alabama and southern Mississippi (Nollie Hickman, Mississippi Harvest: Lumbering in the Longleaf Pine Belt 1840-1915 [Paragon Press: Montgomery, Alabama 1962] pp. 3-11].

scene-of-an-early-american-sawmill

Lumbering of the northern pine woods began in Maine and followed the virgin forests of this band of land westward. The market for all this lumber was south of this belt where civilization in the form of towns and farms arose along the upper Ohio River valley during the early nineteenth. The cities of Pittsburg, Cincinnati, Louisville and Evansville were all build with pine wood harvested from the northern pine woods.

Scene from an early American steam- powered sawmill.
Scene from an early American steam- powered sawmill.

Continue reading Case Farming Part I: Sweep-Style Horsepowers

Ellis Keystone’s Horse-powered Tread Mill

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   The Ellis Keystone Single Horse Powered

Tread Mill

by

Brian Wayne Wells

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 Michigan (Part II): The All-Crop Harvester

                    Navy Bean Farming in Huron County, Michigan (Part II)

by

Brian Wayne Wells

As published in the March/April issue of

Belt Pulley Magazine

            As noted earlier, the lower peninsula of Michigan is shaped in the form of a winter mitton.  Huron County, Michigan lies at the tip of what is called “the Thumb” of the State of Michigan.  (See the article on called “Navy Bean Harvesting in Huron County Michigan [Part I]” in the January/February 2005 issue of Belt Pulley.)  Although navy beans had been raised in in Huron County and the Thumb since 1900, the production of navy beans in really became a major crop in Michigan only in 1915.  Spurring that growth in production was the high prices that all edible beans were fetching in the market starting in 1914 due to the war in Europe.  Additionally, in 1915 the Michigan State University released its newly researched and developed “Robust” variety of navy bean.  The Robust variety had been bred to have genetic features which made this variety of navy bean adapted for commercial growing in Michigan.  By the 1920s, production of navy beans on the Thumb and in the neighboring Saginaw River Valley, located at the base of the Thumb, was sufficient to push Michigan into first place among all states in the United States in the production of field beans.  (Willis F. Dunbar, Michigan:A History of the Wolverine State [Eerdmans Pub. Co.: Grand Rapids, Mich., 1980] p. 578.).  Within the State of Michigan, Huron County became the leading county in the state for the production of field beans.  Indeed Bad Axe, Michigan, the county seat of Huron County, began to identify itself as the “Navy Bean Capital of the World.”

Following the First World War, the map of Europe changed following the disintegration of four empires—the Ottoman Empire, the Russian Empire, the German Empire and the Austro-Hungarian Empire.  A series of newly independent nations sprang up Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, Romania, Hungary, Czechslovakia and Poland.  The economic dislocations caused by this new order set off another wave immigration to the United States.  In 1920, George Prich immigrated from the newly formed nation of Czechslovkia to Detroit.  His parents, George and Marie (Sliacky) Prich remained in Czechslovakia.  However, the family did have relatives living in Detroit.  However, George did not remain long in Detroit.  He moved out of the city and up to the Thumb.  Settling in the western part of Huron County on the Thumb, he rented a farm and commenced farming winter wheat, corn, hay, sugar beets and navy beans and raising some hogs and beef cows.  In August of 1924, he married a local German girl by the name of Martha Haag.  They began were blessed by the birth of a son—George Jr. (really the third George) born in June of 1925.  On March 1, 1926, they purchased an 80-acre farm in a low-lying area of Brookfield Township in western Huron County.  However, the farm was on the county line road between Huron County and Tuscola County.  Consequently, the Prich family still had strong contacts with western Huron County.  The Prich family farm was located in a low liying area called the “Columbia swamp.”  On their new farm they had three more children—John born in 1926, Florence born in 1929 and Albert born in 1933.  The main crops raised on the farm were hay, oats and corn.  However, each year about 10 acres were planted to sugar beets and about 10 to 15 acres were planted to navy beans.

During the same time another family was living on a farm in southwestern Seigel Township located east of Bad Axe and north west of the settlement of Parisville.  Even before the sun rose, one morning in October of 1935, activity was brewing on this 160 acre farm.  Our Siegel Township farmer was taking a team of horses to the field towing a one-row “Albion Bean Harvester.”  The bean harvester or “puller” that he was towing behind the team of Percheron horses—Pete and Moll—was really a horse-drawn a cultivator with the shovels removed and horizontal long knives bolted onto the cultivator frame.  The Albion line of bean harvesters were made by the Gale Manufacturing Company of Albion, Michigan.

Our Siegel Township farmer arrived in the field were the navy beans were stood.  Although planted in rows, the 18” yellow/brown vines had grown out along the ground and blurred the 30” pathways between the rows.  Our Siegel Township farmer “drew up” the horses to a halt with the reins at the start of the first row in the field of navy beans that he and his father had grown during the summer.

He and his father raised navy beans as part of a diversified farming operation that included oats and wheat on their farm.  However, the summer of 1935 had been a difficult growing season.  Indeed the past couple of years had seen drought conditions all across the United States.  Nationwide the dry condition, which was coming to called the “dust bowl” on radio, had begun in 1932.  (William E. Leuchtenburg, Franklin Roosevelt and the New Deal [Harper and Rowe Pub.: New York, 1963] p. 172.)  In Huron County the dry conditions had started in June 1933, when only 1.91 inches of rain fell during the whole month.  (From the monthly average historic rainfall for Saginaw Michigan on the web page for Saginaw, at the NOAA weather web site on the Internet.)  A normal June would have seen 2.9 inches of rainfall. (From the Bad Axe average rainfall page of the Worldclimate.com web site.)  July and August of 1933 had followed with only 1.13 inches of rain in each month.  2.9 and 3.3 inches of rain was normal for those months.

Last year’s growing season had continued to be extremely dry.  May of 1934 had yielded only 0.76 inches of rain for the whole month, whereas 3.3 inches would have been normal.  June, July and August of 1934 all continued to be dry with rainfall amounts of 1.7 inches, 1.29 inches and 1.43 inches of rain falling in those months, respectively.  Although normal rains had returned in September of 1934, this was too late to help the crops and the rains only succeeded in making harvesting of the crops difficult.  As a result of the drought conditions in 1934, only 1,461,000 acres or only 75% of all the acreage planted to edible beans nationally were actually harvested.  Generally, 90% of all acres planted were harvested in a normal year.

The drought conditions returned last April with only 0.86 inches of rainfall for the entire month of April 1935.  However, suddenly in May, the weather reversed itself.  Last May (1935) had been the coolest month of May on record since 1925.  This was largely due to the 4.5 inches of snow had fallen in May.  (Ibid. on the historic monthly snowfall page.)  Snow in May!  It was not a good beginning to the growing season.  Spring planting had been delayed because of the cold spring in 1935.  Once June did arrive, the rains would not abate.  The radio reported that the Thumb had had 5.09 inches of rain in month of June whereas only 2.9 was average for June.  (From the Bad Axe average rainfall page of the Worldclimate.com web site.)

As a result, spring planting development of all the crops were delayed.  Only the winter wheat which had been planted in September of the prior year (1934) was growing according to schedule.  Following the heavy rains of June, the drought conditions returned throughout July and August with only half the usual amount of rainfall for those months.  (Ibid.)  Usually, our Siegel Township farmer began pulling the navy beans in mid-September.  However, the beans were still growing and maturing in September.  Now here he was in October just getting started with the task of pulling the beans.

Across Huron County to the west and indeed, just across the county line in Elmwood Township of Tuscola County township the George Prich family was also struggling to get the navy bean crop harvested.  George had planted the navy beans in rows with his 7½ foot Van Brunt grain drill.  This grain drill had 13 planting units.  However, by closing off the proper amount of holes in the bottom of the seeder box of his Van Brunt grain drill he could use the old grain drill to plant navy beans on his farm also in 30 inch rows.

The 30-inch rows meant that there was room for a horse to walk down the pathway between the rows without stepping on the rows of growing beans.  This would allow the navy beans to be cultivated.  However as the navy bean plants grew, they began to “vine” along the ground and to tended to cover over pathway between the rows.  Thus, the navy beans could only be cultivated a couple of times before the bean plants became too viney and covered too much of the 30 inch pathway.  By harvest time in the fall, the beans had become a tangled mass of plants in the field.

Now in October of 1935, our Siegel Township farmer lowered the cultivator on the first row of navy beans the newly sharpened knives lay horizontally on top of the ground over the hilled up row of beans.  As he urged the Pete and Moll forward with a shake on the reins and uttering a “giddap” the knives slid under the ground and moved along through the hill of beans, cutting off the beans from their roots just below the surface of the hilled up row of beans.

Our young Siegel Township farmer regreted loss of navy beans that he knew was occurring during this harvesting process.  All he needed to do is to look down on the ground and see the naked white beans laying on the ground to know that some loss was occurring because of the cracking of bean pods under Pete and Moll’s feet.  Although Pete and Moll walked down pathways between the rows, they could not help treading on the vines.which tended to cover over the 30 inch pathways.  This caused a loss of some of the navy beans on the ground as the horses’ feet cracked open the pods of the beans.  Indeed the mere manipulation of the bean plants by the cultivator tended to crack open the dry pods on the vines spilling the pearly white navy beans onto the ground.  To avoid this type of cracking of dry pods, our young Siegel Township farmer had begun pulling beans with the team early in the morning while the dew was still heavy on the plants.  In this way it was hoped that they would complete a great deal of the bean pulling while the dew lasted.  The dew tended to moisten the dry pods and to prevent cracking.  Once the dew had lifted under the sun of the mid-morning, our young Siegel Township farmer would cease his work in the navy bean field.  This meant that work in the navy bean field was limited to early morning work.

Looking down at the little white beans that lay on the ground, our young Siegel Township farmer was struck by a feeling of digust.  He had always felt that way.  Ever since he was a child he had felt a repugnance against waste that had caused him remorse over the loss of even a single good bean.  As a child, his father had attempted to assure him that the losses were usually of “cull beans” which were too discolored or too immature to pass inspection at the grain elevator anyway.  However, out in the field he could see that these beans, lying on the ground, were pearly white and were certainly good beans.  While reading some articles in the Michigan Farmer, he was gratified to find that his feelings about waste were reflective of the modern trend in scientific farming.

In addition to noting the waste on the ground, our Siegel Township farmer was beginning to doubt the value of having navy beans in the crop rotation on his farm.  Despite the passing of the worst part of the depression, prices of all edible beans last year (1934) had averaged only $3.52 per 100 pounds.  (From the National Agricultural Statistics Service page of the United Sates Department of Agriculture website.)  This was only 52% of the average price of 1929, the year before the depression.  (Ibid.)  Continue reading Navy Bean Farming in Michigan (Part II): The All-Crop Harvester

Navy Bean Farming in Michigan (Part I)

                      Navy Bean Farming in Huron County, Michigan (Part I)

by

Brian Wayne Wells

    As published in the January/February 2005 issue of

Belt Pulley Magazine

 

Freshly harvested navy beans.

 

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 third partition of Poland of 1795 eliminated entirely the Polish State. Here the Austrian Empire’s part of Poland is seen here in yellow.

 

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.

Austrian and Russian forces combine to put down the revolts in Poland in 1846

 

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.

A painting of the assassination of Czar Alexander II of the Russian Empire.

 

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.)

Map showing the location of Detroit in the State of Michigan as an inland port for the Midwestern United States on Lake St. Clair which connects Lake Huron with Lake Erie.

 

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.”

A map of Michigan showing the location of the “thumb” in Michigan with Huron County at the tip of 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.

A township map of Huron County, Michigan showing the location of Bingham Township as the third orange-colored township from the left on the bottom row of townships.

 

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.

The grain elevator in the city of Bad Axe, the county seat of Huron County, Michigan. This elevator buys a great deal of the navy beans grown in Huron County.

 

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.

Navy beans growing in the field.

 

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.

The shocked corn in the background of this advertisement picture of the Hoosier Drill Company reveals shows that the farmer is planting winter wheat in September after he has already harvested bundled and shocked his corn.

 

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.

An aerial view of a farm that looks very much like the farm of our Bingham Township farmer.

 

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.

The old abandoned grain elevator in Ubly, Michigan, where our Bingham Township farmer sold his winter wheat.

 

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.)

Continue reading Navy Bean Farming in Michigan (Part I)