(As published in the March-April 1996 issue of Belt Pulley magazine.)
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 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.
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→
The PAPEC Company of Shortsville, New York (Part 2):
AModel 127 PAPEC Silo Filler at Work
Brian Wayne Wells
As published in the January/February 1996 issue of
Belt Pulley Magazine
By 1931, the Pneumatic and Propeller Ensilage Company, or Papec for short, was well established at its site in the small up-state town of Shortsville, New York. Model 158, Model 127, Model 81 and Model R Papec stationary silo fillers, as well as various models of hay choppers and hammermills, were rolling out of the Papec facilities in Shortsville. (For a history of the Papec Company, see the November/December, 1995 issue of Belt Pulley, Vol. 8, No. 6.)
One particular Model 127 Papec stationary silo filler complete, with its shiny new color coat of red, black and two shades of green paint, a Rockwood pulley, and a galvanized feeder, rolled out of the Papec’s Shortsville, New York, facility in early 1931. By prior arrangement with Deere and Webber Company, wholesale distributor of Papec equipment in Minnesota, this particular silo filler was equipted with an optional large pulley for use with tractors with a high rpm. belt pulley. The Model 127 was “knocked down” (KD’ed) or taken apart, into its component parts and put in a waiting boxcar of the New York Central Railroad destined for Beske Implement of Minnesota Lake, Minnesota. The New York Central steam locomotive pulled the train containing the boxcar with the KD’ed silo filler out of Shortsville, through Buffalo, New York, across Pennsylvania’s Erie Triangle, and into the broad plains of Ohio and Indiana, arriving at the end of the New York Central line in Chicago, Illinois. Once in Chicago, the boxcar with the KD’ed silo filler was transferred to another train on the Chicago-Milwaukee and St. Paul Railroad for the next phase of the trip to Minnesota. On the Chicago-Milwaukee and St Paul line, the silo filler made its way north to Milwaukee, across Wisconsin to La Crosse, and into southern Minnesota to the little junction town of Wells (1940 pop. 2,517). At the Wells junction, the boxcar with the silo filler was connected to the train that was headed north to Mankato. The first stop on that railroad line was the town of Minnesota Lake, Minnesota (1940 pop. 526). At this stop, the Model 127 Papec silo filler was unloaded onto a truck for the short trip to the Beske Implement dealership, where the KD’ed Papec silo filler was put back together by the employees. The silo filler was soon sold to two area farmers, John T. Goff and Ernest More, of Mapleton, Minnesota (1940 pop. 1070).
Beske Implement was a very old John Deere dealership, founded by Gus Beske in about 1912. Gus Beske operated the dealership until his son, Woodrow W. Beske, took over its operation upon Gus’ retirement. Minnesota Lake was a small town, serving a rural area which included the larger town of Mapleton, Minnesota. South of Mapleton was the farm of John T. Goff. The picturesque Goff farm was known in the surrounding neighborhood as “the farm with the round barn.” John T. Goff (or “John T.” to friends and associates) had built the round barn to ease the feeding of livestock. The milking cows were placed in stanchions in a circle in the barn. All calf pens were located in the center of the barn. Hay was fed to the calves and cattle from the center of the barn.
The PAPEC Company of Shortsville, New York (Part 1)
Brian Wayne Wells
As published in the November/December 1995 issue of
Belt Pulley Magazine
The storing of forage in a silo to cure into ensilage became popular in the United States in the 1890s. To mechanize that process, the stationary silo filler was invented.
Silo fillers started out as complicated machines which chopped bundles of green corn plants and piled the chopped corn into stacks to be elevated into silos. Eventually, stationary silo fillers were modified and simplified to a single-stage machine which chopped corn into the appropriate size and then blew the ensilage up a large pipe for distribution inside a silo, all in one step. This was the stationary silo filler as it is most commonly known.
Many small companies sprang up at about the turn of the century to supply the farmers’ demand for these silo fillers. One of these companies was founded by Billy Hamlin in Lima, New York, in 1901, and was organized with capital from members of the Hamlin family. Billy Hamlin had originally wanted to name the company the Union Manufacturing Company; however, he found that there were already six other companies with that name in New York State at that time. Accordingly, he decided on a name that would emphasize the main product manufactured by his company–silo fillers. The name he created was the Pneumatic and Propeller Ensilage Company. The only drawback about the name was that it was hard to pronounce and so the name was shortened to the mnemonic P.A.P.E.C., or Papec.
Billy Hamlin had purchased a Canadian patent for an “ensilage cutter” and set about refining the design cutter to make an improved silo filler. Thus, in 1901, Papec began production of a model of silo filler based on the Canadian patent, but with substantial improvements. This model went through other improvements over time and eventually became the Model C silo filler. However, in 1904, the venerable Model C was phased out of production and replaced with the Model D. The Model D would remain in production until 1917.
Both the Model C and Model D silo fillers were very popular with farmers. A 1931 Papec advertisement proudly stated that there was still an active market for knives for the Model C more than 27 years after production had ceased. A 1944 Papec advertisement made similar statements about the Model D which had been out of production for 27 years.
The Papec Company lost money regularly every year from the time of its founding through 1909. The shareholders blamed Billy Hamlin for the continual losses and deposed him as president of the company in 1909. At this stage, three remarkable men were enlisted by the shareholders to get the Company on the right track. Frank Hamlin, now of Naples, New York, remembers that these three men were unique: “One was a money man” (George W. Hamlin, father of Frank Hamlim, who became the Treasurer); “one was a good manager” (Ward H. Preston, who would serve as President until 1953); “and the third was an ingenious mechanic” (Fred Bullock, who became the plant manager). These men were each strong individualists. (An interesting sidelight is that Fred Bullock was a perennial candidate for governor of New York on the Socialist Party ticket until he became Vice President of Papec, at which time he became a Republican!). Ward Preston, affectionately called “The Commander” by personnel at the factory, was a colorful personality. He was a person squarely aimed at getting the job done. Photographs have captured him on hand in the factory when the 20,000th Papec silo filler was completed in 1949. On another occasion, in 1931, he was photographed at the occasion of the delivery of the first Papec with a galvanized feeder to a local New York farm.
While looking the new machine over in his barnyard, the new owner was asked how he liked it. The farmer responded that he felt the end of the galvanized feeder was a little too narrow. Whereupon, to the surprise of those present, The Commander, even then an elderly man, crawled up into the feeder and jumped up into the air and came down with his feet against both sides of the ends of the feeder–spreading the end of the feeder. “How’s that?” The Commander asked. The stunned farmer managed to reply that the improvement to the machine was just fine!
These men were individualists, and by all reasonable expectations the new management should have been rent asunder by conflict between these strong personalities. However, these three men realized that for Papec Company to survive they would each have to work together. Each of the three men developed a respect for the others and refrained from interfering with those sections of the company outside their own area of expertise. The result was a harmonious relationship within the management of the Papec Company.
Papec began to make money. For the next 45 years (until 1954) Papec prospered through the sale of silo fillers and forage equipment. During this long period of growth, the company lost money for only three years–one year immediately following World War I and for two years during the depression.
It was a long period of growth for Papec. By 1909, the Papec Machine Company had outgrown their facilities in Lima, New York, and had moved to another location in Shortsville, New York. Shortsville was located about 25 miles to the east of Lima. In Shortsville, the Papec Machine Company purchased the old Empire Grain Drill Works building site located near the Canandaigua outlet which flowed through Shortsville. In the early 1800s, the Empire Grain Drill Works had depended on water from the outlet as the source of power for the site. (Of course, by 1909, the building had long since been connected to electric power.) The building site contained a 300-foot-long foundry building and was a good site for the future expansion of Papec.
As the years went by, improvements were made to Papec silo fillers. Eventually Papec offered a line of silo fillers of different sizes including the Models F, H, and O. An advertising booklet dating from about 1931 promotes the Papec Model R and Models 81, 127 and 158. The model numbers of the last three silo fillers correspond to the area of the opening of the throat in square inches: e.g., the Model 81 had a throat size of 6-3/8″ x 12-3/4″, for a total of 81 square inches; the Model 127 had a throat size of 8-1/2″ x 15″, for a total of 127 square inches; and the Model 158 had a throat size of 8-1/2″ x 18″, for a total of 158 square inches. The Model R had a throat size of 6-1/8″ x 10-1/8″ throat, for a total of 62-plus square inches.
The Company also made Model N, L and K hay choppers which were identical to the Models 81, 127 and 158 silo fillers, respectively, except the hay choppers were reinforced with heavier construction at certain points to allow for the difficult task of handling dry crops. Additionally, Papec expanded into the manufacture of the Model 8 and Model 10 Feed Cutters and 13-inch and 16-inch hammermills. By 1944, the large Model 158 silo filler had been discontinued, and the Model 127 became the largest silo filler built by Papec.
The whole Papec product line was painted with a complicated color scheme, including red, black, and two shades of green, with yellow stenciling or decals. Originally, the sides of the feeding table of the Papec silo fillers were wooden. Papec painted these red.
Meanwhile, other improvements were introduced into the line of silo fillers. In about 1928, Papec discontinued the use of cast iron belt pulleys and contracted with the Rockwood Pulley Company of New York City to supply all the belt pulleys for Papec silo fillers. Therefore, about from 1928 on, the Rockwood fiber pulley was used exclusively on all Papec silo fillers. In 1931, Papec introduced a new style of feeding table for their silo fillers and hay choppers. This new feeding table had galvanized sides so that only the floor of the feeding table remained wooden. The galvanized feeding table was made standard equipment on the Models 81, 127 and 158 silo fillers. Only the Model R continued to have a wooden feeding table. By 1944, however, Model R had been converted from the wooden feeder to the galvanized feeder to match the rest of the Papec line of silo fillers.
Although New York was the fourth largest dairy producing state in the nation, the first three dairy states (Wisconsin, Minnesota and Michigan) were located a considerable distance from Shortsville. Because forage equipment was used predominately by dairy farmers, Papec needed to find some way of marketing their product to their richest target: dairy farmers in the upper midwest and Canada. In Canada, Papec arranged for the Cockshutt Plow Company Limited to serve as wholesaler and distributor for the Canadian provinces. Cockshutt had wholesale warehouses at Truro, Nova Scotia; Moncton, New Brunswick; Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island; Montreal, Quebec; Smiths Falls and Brantford, Ontario; Saskatoon, Saskatchewan; and Edmonton, Alberta. Additionally, Cockshutt had a string of dealerships which were served by these wholesale facilities. By this single agreement, Papec was positioned to reach nearly every dairy farmer in Canada with sales and service. The export market was served by Papec facilities at 1 Park Avenue in New York City. In the United States, Papec established its own Papec wholesale outlets in Indianapolis, Indiana, and Kansas City, Kansas. As to the remainder of the United States, however, Papec depended on individual wholesaling contracts. Washington, Oregon, California, and Idaho were served by a contract with John Deere Plow Company, whereby Papec would be marketed through the John Deere dealerships in those states. The John Deere Company and Deere family brother-in-law C.C. Webber, had formed the wholesaling firm of Deere and Webber Company located at 800-828 Washington Avenue North in Minneapolis, which served as the wholesaler for John Deere equipment in Minnesota. As a result of Papec’s contract with Deere and Webber, Papec equipment was offered for sale at every John Deere dealership in the state of Minnesota. In Pennsylvania, Papec contracted with Landis Brothers at the corner of North Queen Street and Walnut Street in Lancaster to serve as wholesaler of Papec equipment for the whole state of Pennsylvania. Brown County Warehouse Company, located at 501 Liberty Street in Green Bay, served the important state of Wisconsin. Michigan was served by Western Michigan Storage Company, located at 128-138 Coldbrook Street Northeast in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
In the rest of the nation, Papec sought to make individual contractual arrangements with dealerships. John Deere dealerships frequently offered the best opportunity as a potential outlet for Papec equipment, because the John Deere line of farm equipment did not include a stationary silo filler. (Don Mcmillan and Russell Jones, John Deere Tractors and Equipment, Vol. I [New York, N.Y.: American Society of Engineers Press: 1988], p. 272). As noted in John Deere Tractors and Equipment, the John Deere Company did not get into the manufacture of forage equipment until 1936 with the introduction of their first model of ensilage field harvester. Consequently, until they began manufacturing their own field harvester, John Deere dealerships were inclined to contract with Papec to supplement the line of John Deere equipment offered by their dealerships.
Once the distribution network had been arranged, Papec needed to insure sufficient transportation to get their products to the wholesaling agents across the nation. According to Tim Record, historian of the Shortsville/Manchester area of New York State, Shortsville was excellently served by the New York Central Railroad and the small LeHigh Valley Railroad. However, Papec most often used the Vanderbilt-owned New York Central lines to get their machines to their intended markets.
As farming operations modernized after World War II and filling silo changed from the use of silo fillers to the use of field harvesters, Papec gradually phased out production of the stationary silo filler in favor of production of field forage harvesters. The ease of handling corn chopped in the field and bringing it to the silo by forage wagon was doing away with the technology of binding corn, just as surely as grain combines had done away with the process binding small grains and feeding the bundles into a thresher.
The Papec Corporation recognized the direction in which the market for farm forage equipment was headed and started manufacturing forage wagons in 1946. They also began manufacturing their own Papec field harvester. However, even with Papec’s extension into the area of field forage harvesters, the company was still in a period of decline. The whole farm machinery market was dwindling. Furthermore, whereas John Deere had wanted to co-operate with Papec in selling stationary silo fillers, John Deere had long been working on their own design for a field forage harvester and no longer had any interest in working with Papec for the sale of either the stationary silo filler or the Papec field forage harvester.
The year of 1949 proved to be the high water mark for earnings and profits for the Papec Corporation. After 1954, sales and profits continued to sag throughout the remainder of the 1950s and 1960s. The Company was headed into a long period of decline. At its peak in 1950, Papec employed 300 people. Among the long-term employees at Papec were Glen Brackett and Harold Lyon, who were both employed in the engineering department. In the 1920s and early 1930s, Ken VanSickle worked as a draftsman, Carl Dudley served as plant superintendent, and Harry Sheet also worked at Papec. In later years, Wayne Holtz and Randy Woodhams served as superintendent and John Kolberg served in the paint department. Paul Bailey and Paul Sleight also worked at the Shortsville, New York, plant of the Papec Company.
In 1953, “The Commander”–Ward Preston–announced his retirement effective as of November 1. He also announced that Frank Hamlin would be taking over the operation of the Company. Frank Hamlin, who despite being the son of one of the founders of the company, had started with the Company as a laborer in the sheet metal department. Over the years he had been groomed by “The Commander” to take over the Company. Now, at 47 years of age, after 25 years of employment in various positions in the Company–and, incidentally, the largest shareholder of stock in Papec–Frank Hamlin became the President of the Company.
After financial losses in 1968, 1969, and 1970, Papec was sold in 1972 to the Lansdowne Steel and Iron Company of Morton, Pennsylvania. Papec went through a corporate down-sizing under the management of Landsdowne Steel. However, this did not save Papec from continual decline, and in November of 1979, all manufacturing ceased. In February of 1981, Landsdowne closed down all the facilities in Shortsville. After attempting to make a profit selling replacement parts, Papec closed down all operations in April of 1981. While lying vacant, the historic old building at the Shortsville site–which had originally been the home of Empire Drill Works–was destroyed by fire.
Fortunately for restorers of Papec implements, in 1981 the entire parts inventory owned by Papec was purchased by the Randy Hale family of Shelbyville, Tennessee, who then formed J.H. & R. Enterprises. J.H. & R. Enterprises, located at 1049 Madison Street, Shelbyville, Tennessee 37160-3621, Telephone: (615) 684-9737, offers parts books for sale on the old stationary silo fillers, and by use of these books, Papec parts can still be ordered for stationary silo fillers, or any of the other Papec machines, by the original Papec part numbers. For the restorer of Papec farm equipment, this source for replacement parts is invaluable. However, there is one shortcoming. In the late 1950s, Papec changed its Company colors from the complicated two shades of green, red, and black with yellow lettering, to the simpler yellow with black lettering. From this point on, even the replacement parts for the older Papec equipment were painted yellow or black. Therefore, the parts in the inventory of J.H. & R. provide no clue as to the shade of green paint used on the old Papec stationary silo fillers because all of these replacement parts are painted yellow or black, reflecting the Company’s newer colors. There seems to be no Company records which would help the restorer of Papec machines discover the right shade of paints. The only clue as to the correct paint shade seems to be a 1987 restoration of a Model 127 silo filler performed by several former Papec employees in Shortsville, New York.
In 1987, Shortsville celebrated its Centennial. In celebration of Papec, the town’s dominant employer until the 1970s, some of the former employees of Papec and other interested townspeople restored a Papec Model 127 silo filler. Involved in the restoration were the Mayor of Shortsville Francis (Cap) Walker, his wife Ann Walker, who served as village historian, former Papec employees Paul Bailey, Paul Sleight, Harold Lyons, Wayne Holtz, Randy Woodhams and John Koberg, as well as Jim Tobey, Bill Fox and John Liberty.
The silo filler selected by the Shortsville group had a small Rockwood pulley. The silo filler was in very good shape and did not need much repair. It did, however, need to be repainted and re-stenciled. Working from memory, the former Papec employees used a regular gloss or semi-gloss black for the wheels. Farmall Red (IHC #2150, PPG-Ditzler #71310 or Martin-Senour #99-4115) was used for the cast iron feed roller housing and the frame and shafts supporting the knife sharpening wheel. A regular silver paint was used on the galvanized portion of the feeder. As for the two shades of green, Cap Walker, who works at the local hardware store, spent one evening with the former Papec employees in the project at the hardware store mixing batches of the store’s collection of Benjamin Moore paints to get the most accurate shades of green. Resulting from that evening session was the conclusion that the lime green color used on the axles and frame is Benjamin Moore Impervo Enamel #420. Working from a color photo of the restored Model 127, the author found that this shade of lime green is most closely represented by Martin-Senour #274A (Signal Green). The dark olive green is Benjamin Moore, Morse House Paint #110-43, (Essex Green). The author found this color to most closely match Martin-Senour #281A. Cross-indexing of paints to Martin-Senour paint numbers means that these shades of paint will be readily available to restorers across the nation at their local NAPA auto parts stores.
The 1987 restoration of the Model 127 Papec in Shortsville, New York, may be the final word we ever have on the exact shades of paint used on early Papec equipment. Since 1987, all of the former employees of Papec involved in the restoration project have died. Furthermore, as time goes by, the restored Papec in Shortsville will become even more important. Not only will it serve as a research tool for restorers, but it will stand as a permanent monument to all those men and women who labored in the design, manufacture and sale of the Papec line of equipment.
History of the Algoma Foundary and Machine Company of Algoma, Wisconsin
Brian Wayne Wells
As published in the March/April 1995 issue of
Belt Pulley Magazine
The ensilage process of chopping green corn or hay and storing it in a silo was first developed by August Goffart, a French experimenter, in 1877. (Robert C. Nesbit, Wisconsin: A History [University of Wisconsin Press; Madison, Wisconsin, 1973], p. 291.) In 1880, Dr. H.S. Weeks, of Ononomowoc, Wisconsin, also conducted experiments with ensilage stored in silos. The success of Dr. Weeks’ experiments led some pioneering farmers to construct silos for storage of this new type of cattle feed. Later experiments found that three cows could be fed for seven months on one acre of silage crops while it would take two acres of hay to feed just one cow for the same seven months.
At first, there was a major resistance to this new method of chopping and storing ensilage based on the belief that the fodder would eat away at the stomachs of cows or cause them to lose their teeth. As of 1904, there were only 716 silos in the entire state of Wisconsin. However, in the early 1900s, William Dempster Hoard, editor of Hoard’s Dairyman, began promoting silage for dairy herds in his magazine. Thus, following the First World War, silos started to spring up across the nation as farmers began to see the advantages of silage.
Most commonly, silage was cut into pieces about an inch in length. Machines were developed to facilitate this procedure, and the ensilage cutter–or stationary forage harvester–was born, with the dairy state of Wisconsin becoming the center for manufacturing and sales of silage equipment. One of the companies that realized the potential market for ensilage cutters in Wisconsin was the Algoma Foundry and Machine Company of Algoma, Wisconsin.
Algoma is a small city of 3,600 people located on the shore of Lake Michigan at the base of Door Peninsula. The entity that was to become the Algoma Company was first established there in 1883 as A. Hamacek and Company by Adolf and Anton Hamacek. A. Hamacek and Company made horse-drawn farm machinery and operated an electric light plant for those Algoma residents who had electric lighting in their homes and businesses. On August 28, 1891, Adolph Hamacek left the partnership and moved to Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin. Anton, however, continued to operate the business alone until the spring of 1893 when he formed another partnership with Joseph Wodsedalek and August Ziemer from Kewaunee, Wisconsin. On August 6, 1895, a fire totally destroyed the business’s two-story building located in the 600 block of Fremont Street in Algoma. Following the fire, the partnership purchased a new property, just east of the new Fourth Street Bridge in Algoma, owned by John Ihlenfeld. This was an excellent location which was served by a spur of the Green Bay and Western Railroad. The partnership then moved their operations to the single-story building located on that property.
During World War I, one of the partnership’s employees, Joseph Sticka, a machinist, conceived of his own design for a stationary forage harvester and left the employ of the partnership to establish his own business. However, the business he established was not sufficiently capitalized and he soon sought the backing of his old employer. Thus, in 1920, the partnership began mass producing the forage harvester developed by Joseph Sticka.
In March of 1920, the partnership was transformed into a company and incorporated as the Algoma Foundry and Machine Company. Joseph Wodsedalek became president and Joseph F. Sticka became a director. E.W. Anderogg, general manager of the Algoma Net Company, also became a director. While continuing his work at the Net Company, Mr Anderogg sat on the board of the Algoma Foundry and Machine Company as representative of the interests of his boss, M.W. Perry, president of the Algoma Net Company. M.W. Perry, although a minority shareholder, had loaned the Algoma Foundry and Machine Company a great deal of money. Therefore, M.L. Perry had much influence over the company.
Shortly after they became incorporated, the Algoma Company introduced a new line of modern farm equipment bearing the trade name OK. This line included forage harvesters–or ensilage cutters–forage blowers, feed grinders and hammermills. This expansion, however, was ill-timed.
Although it is commonly accepted that the Great Depression began with the stock market crash in 1929 following a period of prosperity throughout the 1920s, the facts are that in the rural areas of the nation the depression actually began in 1921 with the fall in the price of farm products following the end of World War I. Farmers were feeling the effects of the depression as early as 1921. This meant that there was little demand for new farm machinery from that time until the nation began to recover in the 1930s. As a result, the Algoma Foundry and Machine Company suffered deficits for the first nine years of its existence.
A financial statement, dated Feb. 1, 1929, noted that the corporation had a $38,807.20 deficit in its annual budget at that time. The board required action and the corporation underwent a financial reorganization whereby the persons who had loaned the company money were made preferred stockholders in the corporation. Suddenly, all the creditors of the company became the owners of the company. In short, this meant that M.W. Perry became the majority shareholder of the company with 51% of the shares. He also bought out all of the remaining inrterests of the Joseph Wodsedalek family.
On March 2, 1929, a new management team was installed. M.W. Perry became the new president and E.W. Anderogg became the new general manager of the Algoma Foundry and Machine Company. Following the reorganization, the compamy underwent a corporate down-sizing and under the new leadership managed to finish the year in good order and even showed a profit. Consequently, in 1929, the corporation made its first profit in the face of the financial dislocations which occurred on Wall Street in October of 1929 and continued profitably for the next three years.
In the Spring of 1932, E.W. Anderogg was made treasurer. The Company then began to cast about to find the right person to fill the position of general manager and were fortunate in obtaining the services of E.J. Albro for this position. He had served as manager of the farm equipment division of the Montgomery Ward Company for 15 years, from 1917 to 1932. In his position at Montgomery Ward, E.J. Albro had supervised the purchasing of thousands of dollars of fly nets from the Algoma Net Company. Now he used his influence to arrange for Montgomery Ward to purchase all of their hammermills from the Algoma Foundry and Machine Company. Montgomery Ward would sell these farm implements under their own name and eventually would become the Algoma Foundry and Machine Company’s largest single customer, absorbing 35% of all of the farm equipment they produced.
The silo fillers produced by the Algoma Foundry and Machine Company continued to follow the original design conceived by Joseph F. Sticka; however, with some small improvements made to the original design. Two sizes of silo fillers were offered, e.g., a 13″ throat model and a 15″ throat model. These two models came out of the factory, along with the hammermills and all of the other farm equipment offered by the Algoma Foundry and Machine Company, cloaked in the green paint that in the early years symbolized the OK line of farm machinery. A bright yellow “OK” insignia would appear on both sides of the hinged casing covering the knife wheel. Another insignia declaring “Mfd. by Algoma Foundry and Machine Company, Algoma, Wisconsin” was stenciled on both sides of the transport frame underneath the feeding table. Although no paint numbers now exist which could allow a restorer to recreate the exact shade of this green paint, according to John Beitling, long-term employee of the paint department, the shade was very close to the green color which was habitually used on 1948-1950 Chevrolet pickups.
When Montgomery Ward began placing large orders for hammermills and other equipment, the purchasing contract required that such equipment be painted Montgomery Ward red and that the equipment bear no insignias. Marvin Zirbel, another former employee of the Algoma Company, remembers that to save cost the Company made the decision to change the color of its entire line of OK equipment to Montgomery Ward red, Martin-Senour 99L-1637. (Later, in 1964, when Massey-Ferguson bought the corporate entity which included the Algoma Company, Massey-Ferguson personnel found that the red paint used by the Algoma Company was indistinguishable from their own Massey-Ferguson red.) The bright yellow insignias and lettering, however, would still appear in the same locations on the silo fillers and on all of those machines which were not sold to Montgomery Ward but were offered to the public through jobbers and wholesalers under the Company’s own name.
In 1943, one of these OK silo fillers rolled out of the plant cloaked in its red paint job and insignias. It was one of the smaller models with a 13″ throat. It traveled by railroad flatbed out of Algoma, across Wisconsin and into Minnesota, where it was sold to its first owner. After only one season, the silo filler was resold in 1944 to Roy Johnson (a beef farmer), Harold Nelsen and Harris Quist (who milked Holstein herds on their farms), and Leonard Johnson (who milked Jersey cows). They bought the silo filler together, along with a McCormick-Deering corn binder which had a wagon loading attachment. (A two-row version of this binder with the wagon loading attachment can be seen in the 1934 International Harvester movie, Farming the Farmall Way.) The four Lindstrom-area farmers used the silo filler to fill their own silos on all four farms and for some custom work in their neighborhood as well. Harold Nelsen remembers that the OK silo filler was a “light runner”–a smooth and easy operating machine–powered most often by a Farmall H. Each summer the silo filler was towed from farm to farm in the Lindstrom neighborhood by the Farmall H and performed admirably.
Following World War II, a flood of new and more efficient farm machinery came onto the market. In 1944, International Harvester had introduced the No. 55-T baler, their first successful cotton stripper, and the new No. 2 field forage harvester. All of these machines were advertised as “one-man harvesting machines.” (See the 1944 IH movies called “One-Man Harvesting” and “One-Man Cotton Harvesting.”)
Like other farmers across the nation, these four farmers saw the advantages of single-stage processing of ensilage in the field, rather than carrying bundles of corn to the silo for processing. Thus, in about 1949, Roy Johnson bought one of the new McCormick-Deering field choppers. The other three farmers then hired him to fill the silos on their farms and the OK silo filler was sold to Maynard Mohn of Center City, Minnesota. After a few years, the Mohn family also upgraded their silo filling operations; however, the OK silo filler remained stored under cover on the Mohn farm until it was put up for sale several years later at an auction.
John Bjonstad, grandnephew of Maynard Mohn, having observed the OK silo filler several times on the Mohn farm, expressed an interest in seeing the silo filler saved from the cutting torch. At the auction, therefore, John’s grandfather, Paul Holm, of Almelund, Minnesota, purchased the silo filler for his grandson. John and his grandfather then transported the silo filler to the site of the LeSueur Pioneer Power Show near LeCenter, Minnesota. There, in 1990, the silo filler was set up and operated by John and his grandfather as an exhibit at the Show.
Following that Show, the silo filler was wintered at the Pioneer Power site; however, due to the shortage of storage buildings, the OK silo filler was stored outside for one of the first winters since it had been manufactured. Unfortunately, it has not been operated as an exhibit in any of the Shows since 1990.
In August of 1994, the OK silo filler was found by the author and his brother, Mark Wells, of Billerica, Massachusetts, in about the same location where it had been stored following the 1990 Show. Even in 1994, after four years of sitting outside in the elements, the knives and shear bar seemed to be in very good condition. The pressed-paper pulley showed evidence of having recently been treated with fuel oil. It appeared, however, that the growing layer of rust threatened to obliterate the “OK” decal hinged blower cover and the “Algoma Foundry and Machine Co.” stencilling on the frame under the feeding table. It was at this point that the author and his brother began to think about restoration of the OK silo filler. Research into the proper paint scheme, the correct shade of paint, and remaking of the proper decals is currently being conducted and plans are being made for a 1995 restoration.
The Algoma Foundry and Machine Company continued to function independently until September 14, 1962, when the company was sold to Badger Northland Company, Inc. The Algoma Company became a division of the Badger Company, with Karl Kuehn of Kaukauna, Wisconsin, serving as head of the Algoma farm equipment division. Badger was manufacturing a short line of farm equipment, which included silo unloaders and barn cleaners, when they bought out the Algoma Company. They hoped, through the acquisition of the Algoma Company, to broaden their line of Badger products to include forage equipment, particularly their field chopper.
In 1964, Badger Northland was in turn acquired by the Massey-Ferguson Company. By this time, however, no silo fillers or forage equipment were being made at the Algoma site. It was a sign of the times that only garden tractors (the Massey-Ferguson model 10) and snowmobiles were being made in the old foundry building. In the summer of 1970, operations at the Algoma plant were entirely discontinued by Massey-Ferguson.
Before the merger with Massey-Ferguson in 1964, the president of Badger Northland was Wisconsin native Vincent Rolf. He had been one of the founders of the Badger Farm Equipment Company in Kaukauna, Wisconsin, in 1949. In 1965, he along with almost all of the original founders of Badger formed a new company called Calumet Corporation of Kaukauna, Wisconsin. Calumet manufactured liquid pumps, liquid manure spreaders, and a line of trailers for transporting boats, snowmobiles, and garden tractors at its plant in Dundas, Wisconsin. Upon learning that the old foundry building in Algoma was available, Calumet moved its manufacturing operations from Dundas to the foundry building in December of 1970, operating there until 1973.
Over the years, many people of the Algoma area were employed at the foundry: Lester Zimmerman was a machinist at the foundry; George Bietling, Marvin Zirbel amd Doug Silmer worked there at different times; as noted previously, John Beitling worked for many years in the paint department; and Emil Bostick, now of Luxembourg, Wisconsin, worked in the stenciling department.
It is a different world now than when the foundry was first opened in 1895, reflecting the changes in farming methods which have occurred in the interim and reflecting the transition of the United States from an agricultural nation into an industrial nation. Restoration of old farm machinery is one way in which the agricultural history of the nation can be preserved for future generations. It is hoped that restoration of the 1943 OK silo filler will compose one more chapter of that history, a chapter which will recognize not only the farmers that used the silo filler but also the men and women who made the silo filler.
Belt Pulley Magazine Articles by Brian Wayne Wells