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)→
The Rockwood Pulley Company of Indianapolis, Indiana: Manufacturer of Paper Pulleys
As published in the March/April 1997 issue of
Belt Pulley Magazine
They are everywhere at threshing shows, just as they used to be everywhere on farms: on threshing machines, corn shredders, hammer mills, ensilage cutters, and tractors. Seldom are they really noticed, but they make everything work smoothly. They are, as the advertisements used to say, the “pulleys that grip while others slip.” (See the 1938 Rockwood advertisement on page 113 of Threshers, by Robert Pripps and Andrew Moreland [Motorbooks International Publishers: Osceola, Wis. 1992]). They are Rockwood paper pulleys.
They were commonly called “paper pulleys” because of the heavy fibrous material that was wrapped around the metal core of the pulley. This fibrous material was made by a process identical to that of manufacturing paper, except that the raw material being used was straw. Because of their ability to grip, paper pulleys were a technological leap over the wooden and steel pulleys that were first used in flat belt applications like threshing machines.
Although over the years (since the first appearance of paper pulleys on the North American farm scene) other companies would enter the field of manufacturing paper pulleys, it was nonetheless Rockwood Manufacturing Company that developed the first paper pulley. Rockwood so dominated the paper pulley market, that the terms “Rockwood pulley” and “paper pulley” were often used interchangeably.
Like so many companies, the Rockwood Manufacturing Company began as the dream of a single person. William O. Rockwood was born to Rev. Elisha and Susannah Rockwood of Westboro (Westborough), Massachusetts. Elisha was a doctorate of divinity graduate of Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire. Upon graduation, he became the minister for the parish of Westborough, a post he would hold for 27 years. His wife, Susannah Brigham (Parkman) Rockwood, was the daughter of Rev. Ebenezer Parkman, who had been the first minister of the same Westborough parish. Together, they saw to it that their young son, William O. Rockwood, obtained a good education, enrolling him in Leicester and Amherst Academies, and then entering him at Yale University, in New Haven, Connecticut. William O., however, rebelled against the ministry, the path laid out for him by his parents. He had a love of the sea. Accordingly, after two years at Yale, he signed on to a sailing vessel bound for Savannah, Georgia, at which port the ship would be loaded with cotton and would sail for Liverpool, England. Upon his return to Massachusetts, he stayed for a while with his parents. On June 4, 1836, William’s mother died. This was a shock to the young man and set him on a different course in life. Continue reading Rockwood Pulley Company of Indianapolis Indiana→
Belt Pulley Magazine Articles by Brian Wayne Wells