Statistics recorded with Counterize - Version 3.1.4
An Allis-Chalmers Two-Row Mounted Corn Picker at Work
by Brian Wayne Wells
(As published in the May/June 2007 issue of
Belt Pulley Magazine)
Throughout the 1930’s in southern Minnesota, wheat production was on the decline as a cash crop on the average family farm. (This declining trend in wheat production is alluded to in the article called “The Rinehardt/Christian/Boehne Model E Thresherman Special” contained in the March/April 2007 issue of Belt Pulley magazine.) Taking the place of wheat as the primary cash crop on the average farm was corn. Corn was preferred as a cash crop to replace wheat because corn had a dual use on the average family farm. Corn could serve as a cash crop, but could also serves as a feed crop for live stock which could then be sold by the farmer. On the “diversified” farms which were common in southern Minnesota, pigs and/or beef cattle were raised on the farm together with corn and other crops. The perfect ideal of the diversified farm was that when pork prices rose higher than corn prices, the number of pigs could be increased and the corn raised on the farm could shifted quickly to feed for the pigs. Likewise, when pork prices fell in comparison to corn, the pigs might be sold off to save the corn for direct sale on the market.
One county in south-central Minnesota where this dynamic was at work was Nicollet, County. In 1921, Nicollet County farmers had planted and harvested 31,065 acres of wheat. By 1931, this figure had fallen to only 13,800 acres. During the same period of time, total corn acreage in the county had risen from 46,716 acres in 1921 to 62,600 acres in 1931. As one might expect, this increase in corn acreage was also accompanied by a parallel increase in the hogs raised in Nicollet County. In 1929, there were already 51,000 head of hogs in Nicollet County. Over the following decade this number increased by 45.1% to 74,000 head in 1939.
However, whether used as a cash crop or as a feed crop, growing corn plants needed special treatment, not required for small grains like wheat and oats. As a row crop, corn needed much cultivation during the summer months to control weeds that might grow up in the corn field and steal the moisture and soil ingredients that were needed for the corn crop. Long after the development of the internal combustion tractor, cultivation of row crops was still a task that had to be done with horses. The reason was that the first tractors were of a “four-wheel” or a “standard” configuration or design. As such these tractors were unable to straddle the row crops in the field in order to be fitted with any kind of cultivating device. However, in 1924 the “Farmall” tractor was introduced by the International Harvester Company. The Farmall tractor had a “tricycle” design and was specifically designed for cultivation of row crops. The Farmall was able to provide all the power needs of the farm; thus, its name—Farmall. The Farmall was a great sales success from the very beginning. Soon all the other major tractor manufacturers were scrambling to come out with their own renditions of the tricycle style Farmall.
The Allis Chalmers Manufacturing Company was no different. Their first foray into the field of row crop tractors was in 1930 with the introduction of the Model UC tractor. However, production of the Model UC was soon overshadowed following the introduction of the improved Model WC row-crop tractor in 1933. In 1934, the first full year of production, the WC outsold all other Allis Chalmers tractors. The Model WC tractor went on to become a very popular sales item for the Allis-Chalmers Manufacturing Company. There was a huge demand among North American farmers for the Model WC tractor. By 1935, one business located in St. Peter, Minnesota (1930 pop. 4,811), the county seat of Nicollet County, was already trying to position itself to take full advantage of this growing demand within Nicollet County. This business was the H.B. Seitzer and Company dealership in St. Peter.
The dealership was born in about 1914, when Henry Bernard Seitzer left his parent’s (William and Mary [Borsch] Seitzer) farm in Oshawa Township, Nicollet County, to seek his future in the county seat. He started a automobile repair garage in St. Peter called the H.B. Seitzer garage. Soon Henry was selling automobiles from his garage. It was an opportune time for him for three major reasons. Firstly, the automobile was just starting to become a popular item with the American public. Henry was getting into the automobile business on the bottom floor at just the right time. Secondly, although, at first, Henry Seitzer was selling cars of all makes and models, he soon signed an exclusive dealership franchise agreement with the Ford Motor Company. In the decade of the 1920s, sales of Ford’s Model T skyrocketed. The Model T was a very inexpensive car to purchase, and everybody wanted one. By signing this agreement in 1915, to sell only to Ford cars and, in exchange, becoming the only Ford dealership in the area, Henry Seitzer was able to ride the immense popularity of the Ford Model T to success in business.
The third major advantage that Henry Seitzer had going for him was that St. Peter was going through a period of strong growth just as the H.B. Seitzer and Company dealership was hitting its stride. In particular, in the 1930s, while neighboring LeSueur County had grown by only 6.9% in population between 1930 and 1940 and while neighboring Sibley County had experienced growth of only 4.8% in the same period, Nicollet County had underwent a population growth of 10.5% during the 1930’s. Furthermore, St. Peter, itself, experienced a 22.0% growth in municipal population during this period of time. This rapid growth of population brought even more buyers to the doors of the H.B. Seitzer and Company dealership.
Under these favorable conditions, Henry Seitzer’s business began to flourish. In the eleven years from 1916 to 1927, Seitzer’s sold an incredible 1,550 Model T automobiles. With introduction of the Model A Ford in 1928, sales at the H.B. Seitzer continued to be brisk. Just two years into the production run of the Model A, the dealership had already sold 280 Model A cars. (Robert Wettergren, A Little Bit of Heaven in St. Peter [St. Peter, Minnesota 2001] p. 13-14.)
In 1917, Henry felt secure enough in his new business that he could start a family. That year, he married an Oshawa Township girl, Kathryn Austa Boys, daughter of Frank and Mary (Kennedy) Boys. Together they rented a house in St. Peter located at 429 W. Nashua Street.
In 1919, Kathyrn’s parents, Fred and Mary Boys, retired from farming, sold their farm in Oshawa Township and bought a house at 311 W. Pine Street in St. Peter. Their 21-year-old son, Russel Boys moved into the Pine Street house. Later they rented part of the large house to Henry and Kathryn Seitzer and their new infant daughter Marjorie. In 1921, Henry Seitzer took his brother-in-law, Russel, into the car dealership as a partner. Signing the agreement with the Ford Motor Company in 1915, the H.B. Seitzer and Company dealership located at 311 South Front Street in St. Peter was to become one of the oldest Ford dealerships in the state of Minnesota.
The Model T brought the automobile within the economic reach of the common man. This was a revolution in transportation that drastically changed the face of North America. The Ford Motor Company created another such revolution in the agricultural industry with the introduction of the Fordson farm tractor. Throughout the 1920s, explosive sales of the small 2,710-pound Fordson tractor sent a panic through all the larger more established farm tractor manufacturers and caused them to scramble to introduce newer, smaller, less expensive farm tractors. As the exclusive dealership for the St. Peter area, the H.B. Seitzer dealership was also benefiting from this revolution in agriculture. Prior to 1930 the dealership had also sold 85 Fordsons to the farmers in the St. Peter community. As the corporate ties between the Ford Motor Company and the Wood Brothers Threshing Machine Company grew, the H. B. Seitzer dealership started selling Wood Bros. threshers also. (The history of the Wood Bros. Threshing Machine Company is described in the two part series of articles contained in the November/December 2000 and January/February 2001 issues of the Belt Pulley magazine.)
From the very beginning, however, the rural farming public was demanding a wider range of farm machinery than was available than the Ford Motor Company could offer. To meet this demand, the H. B. Seitzer dealership, obtained a franchise from the Oliver Farm Equipment Company to sell the entire line of Oliver farm implements. Oliver had only recently become a full-line farm equipment company as a result of the merger in 1929 of the Hart-Parr Gasoline Engine Company, the Nichols and Shepard Company, the American Seeding Machine Company and the Oliver Chilled Plow Works Company; into the new corporate entity called Oliver Farm Equipment Company. In the early 1930s, the franchise looked like a good fit for the H. B. Seitzer and Company dealership. The dealership vigorously advertised the Oliver farm equipment and tractors in the St. Peter Herald semi-weekly newspaper which appeared in St. Peter on Wednesday and Friday each week.
With corn raising on the increase in southern Minnesota, H.B. Seitzer and Company placed high hopes in the new Oliver Row Crop tractors which had been introduced in 1930. The dealership strongly emphasized the Oliver Row Crop tractor in their newspaper advertisements. Still, nationwide sales of the Oliver row crop tractors remained disappointing. In 1932, only 298 Oliver row crop tractors were sold. This was followed by only 420 Row Crops nationwide in 1933, only 811 Row Crops in 1934 and 2,460 in 1935. The H. B. Seitzer and Company dealership could not help but notice that the Allis-Chalmers Company was enjoying far greater success with its new row crop tractor—the Model WC tractor. In 1934, in its first full year of production, 3,098 Model WC tractors were sold, nationwide. The next year, 1935, production of WCs reached 10,743, nationwide.
The success of the Allis-Chalmers Model WC tractor, as opposed to the Oliver Row Crop tractor may have been related to price. The suggested retail price of the Oliver Row Crop tractor was $1,005.00. This was the bare tractor with steel wheels. The power take-off was an option that cost an additional $8.00. The suggested retail price of the Allis-Chalmers Model WC tractor, on the other hand, was $747.50. Even when the buyer added rubber tires on the front and on the rear, the price rose only to $925.00. Another reason for the low sales of the Oliver Row Crop tractor may have been the Oliver Company’s insistence on promoting their “Tip-Toe” design of steel wheels in the face of the growing demand for rubber tires on tractors. An H. B. Seitzer advertisement contained in the April 6, 1934 issue of the St. Peter Herald shows that the dealership was continuing to valiantly struggle to point out the advantages of the Tip-Toe rear wheels of the Row Crop tractor.
Eventually, however, the dealership came to the realization that rubber tires was definitely the trend of the future. With that realization, the attention of the dealership turned to the Allis-Chalmers Manufacturing Company of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. As early as 1929, Allis-Chalmers had been the pioneer in mounting rubber tires on farm equipment—introducing both the Model U (standard) tractor and the original All-Crop Harvester combine on rubber tires in 1929. Like the Oliver Farm Equipment Company, the Allis-Chalmers Manufacturing Company had also just finished a series of corporate mergers. By purchasing companies like the Monarch Tractor Company of Springfield, Illinois, which was bought in 1928; the LaCrosse Plow Company of LaCrosse, Wisconsin purchased in 1929; the Advance-Rumley Thresher Company of LaPorte, Indiana bought in 1931 and the Birdsell Company of South Bend, Indiana also purchased in 1931, the Allis-Chalmers Company was able to offer a full-line of farm equipment for the buying public. This series of corporate purchases, plus the purchase of the Brenneis Manufacturing Company of Oxnard, California in 1938, provided the Allis-Chalmers Manufacturing Company immediately with additional tractor technology and factory works, a full line of sulky and tractor plows, a full line of threshers and other tillage and planting farm equipment. Thus, when the Allis-Chalmers sales representative showed up in St. Peter in the spring of 1935, to sell a franchise to the H. B. Seitzer and Company dealership; little actual persuasion was needed. Recognizing the advantages offered by the Allis-Chalmers full line of farm equipment, the H. B. Seitzer dealership signed a dealership franchise agreement to sell Allis Chalmers farm equipment. An advertisement in the July 24, 1935 issue of the St. Peter Herald proudly announced that H. B. Seitzer & Company was the new “distributor” of Allis-Chalmers farm equipment for the St. Peter area.
However, since neither the Allis-Chalmers franchise, nor the Oliver Company franchise were “exclusive” franchises, the H.B. Seitzer dealership held onto the Oliver franchise and became a dealer for both companies. This was a fortuitous combination of franchises for the H. B. Seitzer dealership. The dealership had found that the Oliver plow was superior to the Allis-Chalmers plow. Thus, the company started making package deals to farmer/customers which included the Allis-Chalmers Model WC tractor and the Oliver Plowmaster two-bottom plow.
The economic depression of the early 1930s created havoc with the whole economy of the United States. Many farmers lost their farms altogether. Recovery from the depression was agonizingly slow, but the mid-1930s, farmers throughout the St. Peter community had were starting to feel more secure in their economic situations and were even thinking of modernizing and improving their farming operations. One such farmer was Henry Juberien of Belgrade Township in Nicollet County which was adjacent to the southern border of Oshawa Township. Henry and Emma (Meyer) Juberien operated a 290 acre farm, eleven (11) miles to the west of St. Peter. They lived on the farm with their nine children—Marvin Peter born on September 29, 1915; Anna M. born on December 30, 1916; Louise S. born in December of 1918; Lorna E. born in 1919; Ruth M. born in June 17, 1920; Celia Agnes born in 1923; Henry Albert (nicknamed “Sam”) born on July 22, 1924; Elnor (nicknamed “Babe”) born on November 29, 1925; and Wallace born on December 30, 1929. Continue reading Allis-Chalmers (Part III): The Two-Row Mounted Corn Picker