The Behlen Manufacturing Company (Part II)

            The Behlen Manufacturing Company: (Part II)

The Hi-Speed Gear Box 

by

Brian Wayne Wells

As published in the November/December 2002 issue of

Belt Pulley Magazine

 

As noted previously in Part I of this series of articles, the Behlen Manufacturing Company was the brainchild of Walter Behlen.  (“The Behlen Manufacturing Company, Part I” in the September/October 2002 issue of Belt Pulley magazine.)  Along with his brothers Gilbert and Herbert (called Mike) and their father Fred, Walter had built a small company (which began in his own garage) into a nationwide supplier of grain storage and drying systems.  Emerging from the Second World War, the company was manufacturing many products besides its mainline product of grain systems.  One of its lesser-known products was the Hi-Speed Gear Box meant for installation on older, pre-war, steel-wheeled tractors.

Following the war, farmers across North America began to demand devices which would upgrade their old, pre-war farm tractors.  One way farmers upgraded their old tractors was by cutting off the steel bands on the rear wheels and welding on a rim for mounting of rubber tires on the rear.  Once the rubber tires were mounted in the rear, farmers began to notice how really slow these old, pre-war tractors were.  Thus, a market was established for some sort of supplemental transmission to provide a faster road gear for these tractors.  The Behlen Hi-Speed Gear Box was just such a supplemental transmission.  Behlen made its Hi-Speed Gear Box in three different styles:  one for installation on the John Deere Model A and/or Model B tractor; another for installation on McCormick-Deering’s Farmall F-30 tractor; and, the most popular of all, the Hi-Speed Gear Box made for installation on the Farmall “Regular” and/or the Farmall F-20.  The Farmall Regular and its successor, the F-20, had been pioneers in the tricycle style design of tractors.  The Hi-Speed Gear Box was intended to give these old pioneering tractors, a new lease on life in the post-World War II era.

Development of the “Farmall” had actually begun in the midst of an earlier war.  By 1915, the war in Europe was settling down to the stalemate in the trenches, with no end in sight and the Wilson administration seeking to keep the United States out of the war.  Meanwhile, on the average family farm in North America, the horse was already being displaced by the tractor.  Most of the heavier tasks on the farm, such as plowing and seedbed preparation, were already the domain of tractors, with “standard tread” model tractors of all companies taking over many of the heavier jobs.  Belt power, provided by these standard tread tractors was also being used to run grain threshers, silo fillers, corn huskers and feed grinders.  However, one task remained that was definitely for the horse – the cultivation of row crops.  Standard, or “four-wheeled,” tractors were simply not designed or suited for that task.

In 1915, it became the goal of the International Harvester Company to design a machine specifically for use in cultivation of row crops on the farm.  Research and experimentation was intensive, and by 1919, two engineers at IHC – Edward Johnston and C.W. Mott – had obtained a patent on a specialized machine know as the “motor cultivator.”  (Barbara Marsh, A Corporate Tragedy: The Agony of International Harvester, [Doubleday and Co.: Garden City, N.Y. 1985], p. 53.)  (Photographs of the development of the various prototypes of the “motor cultivator” can be seen in International Harvester Farm Equipment, by Ralph Baumheckel and Kent Borghoff [American Society of Engineers Pub.: St. Joseph, Mich. 1997], pp. 125-126).  However, the trouble with the motor cultivator was that it was another expensive piece of self-propelled machinery designed to perform only one task and would have to be stored by the farmer for a whole year until it could be used again.

Finally, in 1921, IHC determined that a new type of tractor design was needed – a design which would allow the tractor to cultivate corn as well as perform all the rest of the chores around the farm.  Consequently, the “tricycle” design of farm tractor was conceived and the “Farmall System” of farming was born.  In 1924, the Farmall Regular was introduced.  The goal of the Farmall System was aimed at total mechanization of all farm tasks and the elimination of all horses from the farm.  The tricycle design would prove successful from the very start.  Eventually, all tractor manufacturers copied the tricycle design for their row-crop tractors – leading International Harvester to counter with the advertising campaign slogan, “If it isn’t a McCormick-Deering, it isn’t a Farmall.”  (Ibid. p. 144)

In 1932, the Farmall (now called the “Regular”) was replaced by a new and improved version called the Farmall F-20.  The F-20 had 10% more horsepower than the Regular (23.11 hp as opposed to 20.05 hp) and had a new 4-speed transmission (2-1/4 mph, 2-3/4 mph, 3-1/4 mph and 3-3/4 mph) as opposed to the 3-speed transmission (2 mph, 3 mph and 4 mph) of the Regular.  (C.H. Wendel, Nebraska Tractor Tests, [Crestline Pub.: Osceola, Wisc. 1993], pp. 51 and 85.)  Additionally, the two-plow F-20 was joined in the Farmall line by the three-plow F-30, introduced in 1931, and the single-plow F-12, introduced in 1932.

Because of the sudden popularity of the Farmall Regular, its production was moved, in 1927, out of the Tractor Works at 2600 West 31st Boulevard in Chicago and into the Company’s new factory, The Farmall Works, located at 4201 Fifth Avenue in Rock Island, Illinois.  Production of all F-20s and F-30s was carried on at the Farmall Works.  Only production of the F-12 remained at the Tractor Works in Chicago.  By the time No. 127613 rolled off the assembly line in the morning of May 13, 1938, the Farmall Works was only eleven years old.

The price of a new F-20 with rubber tires front and rear in 1939 was $1,190.00.  (Ralph Baumhecckel and Kent Borghoff, International Harvester Farm Equipment, p. 146.)  This was a great deal of money for a farmer emerging from the experience of the Great Depression.  Still, as they learned that rubber tires would grip the ground just as well as steel wheels, farmers dreamed of having rubber tires on the front and rear of their tractors for the smoother ride the rubber tires could provide.  One particular farmer who dreamed of having and then purchased an F-20 with rubber tires front and rear is portrayed in the 1938 International Harvester promotional movie called Writing Your Own Ticket.  This movie advertises the new Income Purchase Plan which was being introduced by the International Harvester Company (IHC) as a way to help potential farm customers individualize an installment plan for loan repayment.  This plan would allow them to pay installments as their income came to the farm, rather than on a rigid monthly installment plan.  In this way, farmers could “write their own ticket.”  (“Writing Your Own Ticket” is available on VHS video Tape #3 from International Promotional Movies)

While rubber tires on the rear were nice, they would add nearly $150.00 to the price of a tractor.  (Donald R. Darst, F-30 Farmall Restoration Guide and Story: From Field to Hot Rod to Show [1993], p. 3B.)  Thus, many farmers dropped this option when purchasing their tractors.  Farmers felt they could live with the “bouncy” ride of the tractor, thereby reducing the initial outlay of money they would need for the tractor.  A cheaper option was to have rubber tires in the front in order to improve the steering of the tractor.  Thus, it was a typical configuration for most tractors of that era to have rubber tires in the front and steel wheels in the rear.  No. 127613 was no exception.  On the front, No. 127613 had two 6.00 x 16” rubber tires mounted on IHC-made, cast iron, drop-center wheels with 4.50 x 16” rims.  These cast iron front wheels had replaced the 4.50 x 16” French and Hecht (F. & H.) round spoke rims.  International Harvester had made this switch at the F-20 tractor bearing the serial number 109124, which came off the assembly line in late 1937.  (McCormick Deering Model F-20 Farmall Tractor Parts Catalogue, p. 175)  (Kurt Aumann, Ed., Antique Tractor Serial Number Index [Belt Pulley Publishing: Nokomis, Ill. 1993], p. 16.)  Accordingly, when No 127613 was manufactured a year later, it was fitted with cast iron wheels with rubber tires in front and IHC-made steel wheels on the rear. Continue reading The Behlen Manufacturing Company (Part II)

The Behlen Manufacturing Company (Part I)

The Behlen Manufacturing Company (Part I)

by

Brian Wayne Wells

As published in the September/October 2002 issue of

Belt Pulley Magazine

            Nebraska became an organized territory of the United States on May 30, 1854, as a result to the Kansas-Nebraska Act.  This Act would become one of the most recognizable landmarks on the road to the American Civil War.  Demand for the establishment of Nebraska as an organized territory came not from the populous within the boundaries of the territory, but rather from economic forces outside Nebraska.  Since the time of the Lewis and Clark expedition in 1803-1805, the land of the great plains had been crossed by hundreds of explorers and thousands of settlers, all headed for someplace else.  The Oregon Trail, the Mormon Trail, the California Trail, and the Pony Express all wove their way across the future state of Nebraska, but few of the travelers on those trails ever settled there.

Now, however, in 1854, the need for an intercontinental railroad demanded that the Nebraska Territory be organized.  Citizens and congressmen alike from Illinois, Iowa, and Missouri were very aware of the benefits a transcontinental railroad would have on their communities, and they lobbied hard for the Kansas-Nebraska Act.  The proposed route of the transcontinental railroad would follow the Platte River across the land which eventually was to become the state of Nebraska.

It was always intended that Nebraska would become a state.  However, becoming a state would be delayed first by the Panic of 1857 and then by the Civil War.  Only on March 1, 1867, would Nebraska become the thirty-seventh state to be admitted to the union.  (James C. Olson, History of Nebraska [University of Nebraska Press: Lincoln, Neb. 1966], pp. 63, 73, and 127.)  Unlike other states in the Great Plains, Nebraska would not become a great wheat producing state.  Settlers coming into Nebraska tended to be from the corn producing states of the East.  Thus, these farmers naturally wanted to raise corn on their new farms, and they would soon give the new state its nickname – the Cornhusker State.  Corn production in Nebraska exploded from 65,450,135 bushels in 1879 to 215,895,996 bushels in 1889.  Meanwhile, wheat production actually declined from 13,037,116 bushels to 10,571,059 bushels over the same ten=year period.  (Ibid.p. 197.)

Along with settlers from the eastern United States, immigrants from outside the United States also came to seek their fortune in Nebraska.  By 1880, 21.53% of Nebraska’s population was of foreign descent.  (Ibid. p. 173.)  Of these groups, the largest was German-speaking, with 31,125 settlers in 1880.  A distant second was the Swedish speaking group, with 10,164.  (Ibid.)

Among the group of first generation Germans in Nebraska was the family of Anna (From) Behlen and her three sons – Friederick, Deitrich, and John Behlen Jr.

Anna Behlen, together with her husband John Behlen Sr., had lived in the province of Oldenburg, Germany.  In 1858, however, things changed for the family when John Sr. suddenly died.  Deitrich, born in 1853, was only five years of age at the time.  Needless to say, in the years immediately following the death of her husband, Anna had to struggle hard to feed herself and her sons.  Continue reading The Behlen Manufacturing Company (Part I)

Pioneer Implement House and the Great Binder Wars

       The Pioneer Implement House Farm Equipment Dealership of

Winnebago, Minnesota, and the Great Binder Wars of the 1890

by

Brian Wayne Wells

As published in the July/Augsut 2002 issue of

Belt Pulley Magazine

In the 1880s, farming was in its golden age.  As old painful memories of the Panic of 1873 were fading, a new generation came with a whole new set of advantages to make farming easier.  To be sure, mechanical cutting of wheat and oats had been developed well prior to the Civil War, with most credit going to Cyrus McCormick for the invention of the successful reaper in 1831.  However, harvesting small grains still required a tremendous amount of manpower, because reapers basically only cut grain.  Even raking cut grain from the cutting table was done by hand until self-raking reapers were developed – like McCormick’s own “Daisy.”  (A picture of the Daisy can be seen in C. H. Wendel’s book 150 Years of International Harvester [Crestline Publishers: Sarasota, Fla., 1981], p. 20.  Additionally, there is a Daisy self-raking reaper among the permanent collection at the LeSueur County Pioneer Power Show which can be seen in the parade at the 1992 show on the second hour portion of Tape #1 of the International Harvester Promotional Movies.)

While the Daisy self-raking reaper was a big advance in technology, grain harvesting still required a great deal of hand labor.  The first real advance in the area of small grain harvesting came only in 1873 with development of the wire-tied grain binder by the Walter A. Wood Mowing and Reaping Machine Company of Hoosick Falls, New York.  (C.H. Wendel, Encyclopedia of American Farm Implements and Antiques [Krause Publications: Iola, Iowa, 1997], p. 160.)

The advantages of self-binding reapers were very quickly recognized by the farming public and demand for these binders skyrocketed.  In 1876, 5,000 binders were purchased by Minnesota farmers alone.  (Theodore C. Blegen, Minnesota: A History of the State [University of Minnesota Press: St. Paul, 1963], p. 342)  By 1880, the knotter-bill design for twine-tying of grain bundles was perfected.  That same year, the Deering Harvester Company made 3,000 of these twine-tying grain binders for the 1880 harvest season.  (C.H. Wendel, 150 Years of International Harvester [Crestline Publishing: Sarasota, Florida, 1981], p. 23)  Twine was a great improvement over wire because farmers would not have to worry about pieces of wire breaking off and getting into the grain where it might be accidentally swallowed by cows.  Small bits of metal swallowed by cows tended to get stuck in the lining of the cows’ stomachs and would cause “hardware disease,” a disease which causes cows to become sickly and eat less.  Thus, beef cattle will gain less weight and milk cows will produce less milk.  Twine, on the other hand, if accidentally swallowed, was harmless to the intestinal tracts of cattle.

Demand for the new twine-tying grain binders caused many companies to be formed solely for the purpose of making binders and caused other, older companies to focus more directly on the booming binder market.  Not only did the grain binder create opportunities for the manufacturers of farm equipment, but opportunities were also created at the retail end of the farm machinery business.  Many young men became aware of these opportunities for selling farm machinery, especially grain binders, to the farming public.  One such young man was John Azro Hanks.

Born on December 16, 1860, on a farm near Warren, Vermont, John Azro Hanks was the second child and first son of John Marshall and Charlotte (Bruce) Hanks.  A lifelong lover of books and an avid reader, John Azro completed his schooling in Warren, and went on to graduate from Randolph Normal School in Randolph Center, Vermont.  He had taught one year of school (1879-1880) in Vermont, when, in August of 1880, his parents and younger brother Fred Marshall moved to Minnesota and settled on a farm in Verona Township, Faribault County, near the town of Winnebago.  They intended to get settled on a farm before spring field work would begin.  John Azro, who was 20 years old at this time, remained in Vermont to teach school for another year before he too would immigrate to Minnesota in the spring of 1881.  (John Azro also had an older sister – Ellen Ione Hanks – who was 26 years of age in 1880 and had been married to George Provonche since February 11, 1874.)  Continue reading Pioneer Implement House and the Great Binder Wars

The Willmar Thrun 1937 John Deere Model B (Short Frame) Tractor (Part II)

The Mankato Implement Dealership (Part 2 of 2 Parts):

     Wilmar Thrun 1937 John Deere Model B (Short Frame) Tractor

by

Brian Wayne Wells

As published in the May/June 2002 issue of

Belt Pulley Magazine

In the spring of 1937, a farmer living in Rapidan Township in Blue Earth County, Minnesota, started working in the fields of his 80-acre farm with his newly purchased John Deere Model B tractor bearing the serial number 34081.  Just the previous February he and his family had attended the annual open house at the Mankato Implement Company the local John Deere dealership located in Mankato, Minnesota.  (See the March/April 2002 issue of Belt Pulley Vol. 15, No. 2, p. 16 for the history of the Mankato Implement Company dealership and story of the 1937 open house.)  At the open house, our Rapidan Township farmer had acted on a dream that had occupied his thoughts for some time.  He had purchased his first farm tractor.

Being a tractor that was manufactured prior to Serial No. 42200, No. 34081 was one of the “short frame” John Deere Model B tractors.  Our Raidan Township farmer found that No. 34081 was a vast improvement for his farm in all seasons.  However as time passed he found that some improvements were needed to the tractor.  As noted in the earlier article in this series, our Rapidan Township farmer replaced the seat on No. 34081 with an after-market Easy-Ride seat.  The Easy Ride seat was made by the Monroe Automobile Equipment Manufacturing Company of Monroe, Michigan and was composed of a large coil spring and a Monroe shock absorber.  The Easy Ride seat was much more comfortable than the original John Deere seat—especially on a tractor with steel wheels and 3” high lugs.  As noted in the earlier article in this series, International Harvester had begun installing the Easy Ride seat on its Farmall tractors in 1939.  The seat was a factory-installed option and became such a commonly requested option on the Farmall “letter-series” tractors—the Model M and Model H etc.—that the Easy Ride seat might just as well been standard equipment.

Although no evidence exists that the Monroe Easy Ride seat was ever a factory-installed option for John Deere tractors.  However as noted previously, a surprising number of un-styled and early styled Model B tractors were fitted with the Monroe seat.  Accordingly, it is not surprising that our Rapidan Township farmer had No. 34081 fitted with the Easy Ride seat which he purchased from a third-party short-line farm tractor parts business in Mankato.  When he purchased the Monroe seat, he found that the seat had already been painted green in color for John Deere buyers.  The Monroe Easy Ride certainly made No. 34081 much smoother to ride.

When the United States became involved in the Second World War, our Rapidan Township farmer found that prices for his farm products rose higher than he had ever remembered.  No. 34081 sped up his ability to complete the field work on his farm.  Because of this increase in efficiency, he was able to take full advantage of all the arrable land on his farm planting from “hedgerow to hedgerow” for the war effort.  He even was able to add a couple of cows to his milking herd of Holsteins.  With a modern tractor-powered and, by now, electrified farm our Rapidan Township farmer was well positioned to take full advantage of the of the rise in prices which accompanied the nation’s attempt to feed the armies around the world.  The John Deere Model B, now with rubber tires on the front wheels worked very well for him all through the Second World War.  During this period, he found that the tractor allowed him to complete much more field work each day than in the past and he was still able to get the milking done at a decent hour in the evening.

By his figuring, in the new environment of higher farm prices, our Rapidan Township farmer figured that the tractor had paid for itself many times over by the time that the war ended.  Now, with the return of peace in 1945, he, like the rest of his neighbors, now thought of trying to upgrade the tractor further by putting rubber tires on the rear of the tractor.

The most popular way of converting the rear wheels to rubber tires was to have a local blacksmith shop cutting the flat spokes of the steel wheels and removing the steel band on the outside of the wheel and then welding on a new rim designed for rubber tires.  Local blacksmith shops all across the Midwest were doing a brisk business in the post-war era in cutting down steel wheels and welding on tire rims.  Indeed, just seven miles south in Good Thunder, Minnesota, the welding shop owned by Dick Scheur was doing a good deal of this work.  To our Rapidan Township farmer having the steel wheels cut down seemed the most prudent way to mount rubber tires on the rear of his tractor.  Consequently, in the early spring of 1946, just as the last traces of snow left in the ditches and shady areas, our Rapidan Township farmer placed No. 34081 securely up on blocks and removed both rear wheels.  He loaded the steel wheels into the back of his new 1946 Chevrolet pickup and headed out his driveway and down the township road toward County Road No. 9.  It certainly wasn’t cold enough for the heater to be turned on.  Indeed he reached up and turned the little crank o the center of the dash board that opened the bottom of the windshield.  He opened the bottom of the windshield just a crack to let in some fresh air.  His new pickup was one of the “Art Deco” Chevrolet pickups which had a great deal of chrome running up and down the front grill.  It was a design that had appealed to him ever since these Art Deco trucks had been introduced in 1941.  Continue reading The Willmar Thrun 1937 John Deere Model B (Short Frame) Tractor (Part II)

The Willmar Thrun 1937 John Deere Model B (Short Frame) Tractor (Part I): The Mankato Implement Company

The Mankato Implement Company (Part 1 of 2 Parts):

                    Wilmer Thrun 1937 John Deere Model B (Short Frame) Tractor

by

Brian Wayne Wells

As published in the March/April 2002 issue of

Belt Pulley Magazine

            As has been noted on previous occasions most farm equipment dealorships grew out of the traditional small-town general store or hardware store.  (See the article “The Grams & Krautkremer Hardware: John Deere Dealor in Jordan Minnesota” in the July/August issue of Belt Pulley Vo. 13, No. 4, p. 16 and the article “Ray Christian/Easterlund Impliment of LeSueur, Minnesotaand the Wagner/Wacker 1947 John Deere A” in the September/October 2000 issue of the Belt Pulley Vol. 13, No. 5, p. 18.)  These early “dealorships” sometimes held the franchises to multiple competing farm equipment companies.  (Regular readers will remember the fact that the Miles Supply in the small settlement in Clear Creek Township in Eau Claire, Wisconsin had both a John Deere franchise and an International Harvester franchise.  (See the article “The Rosenthal Cornhusker Company of Millwaukee, Wisconsin [Part IV]: the Cornbine” in the November/December 2001 issue of is Belt Pulley Vol 14, No. 6.)  Indeed, some small towns would have two franchises from the same company.  Two John Deere dealors in the same town would create as much competition between John Deere and  John Deere as it would between John Deere and International Harvester within that town.  Barbara Marsh, A Corporate Tragedy: The Agony of International Harvester (Doubleday: Garden City, New York, 1985) p. 99.)  This situation was not conducive to the efficient sales network that the farm equipment companies wished to establish.

Both International Harvester and the John Deere Company began to change this situation.  John Deere initiated a plan for “key dealorships” program.  Realizing that farmers in the 1920s were willing to drive further (over the increasing number of newly paved roads) to find large dealerships which would serve their entire farm machinery needs, John Deere sought to establish larger dealorships in larger towns–especially county seats of the various counties across rural America.  Ibid.

One such county seat was Mankato, Minnesota (1920 pop. 12,469), located on the Minnesota River on the northern edge of Blue Earth County.  Because John Deere had no franchise holder in Mankato, the Company decided to establish a Company-owned dealership in Mankato–Mankato Implement Company.  (This was not Mankato’s first experience with a company-owned dealership.  International Harvester had established a company-owned dealership at 301 So. Second Street in Mankato in 1905.  Later this company-owned dealership was moved to 426 No. Front Street where it stayed for nearly 60 years.  Long-time readers of the Belt Pulley will remember that in the article “Deering and McCormick Grain Binders” in the May/June 1995 issue of Belt Pulley Vol. 8, No. 3, p. 21, was accompanied by a small reproduction of a poster from the International Harvester Company dealership located at 426 No. Front Street in Mankato, Minnesota.  It was implied in that article the John and Mary Depuydt 10 foot McCormick-Deering grain binder had been purchased from that dealership in the 1940s.  Additionally, readers may remember that in the article “The Wartime Farmall H” contained in the July/August 1994 issue of Belt Pulley Vo. 7, No. 4 p. 14, it was noted that Fred and Bruce Hanks had made their way to Mankato for some shopping in the winter of 1944-1945.  There they purchased a pair of new drop center cast iron wheels and matching rims for the 1942 Farmall H they had just purchased.  Although the name of the dealership was not mentioned in that article, the wheels and rims for the Farmall H were purchased at the International Harvester company-owned dealership in Mankato.)

In 1930, John Deere also decided to establish a company-owned dealership in Mankato, Minnesota, originally it was planned that the dealership would also serve as a “branch house” or a distribution center for the other smaller John Deere dealerships around southern Minnesota.  For the purposes of establishing this dealorship/block house, John Deere sent Joseph Rolstad to Mankato in the spring of 1930.  He took a room at a boarding house located at 328 Center Street and served as the first general manager or “branch manager” of the new company owned dealership which became known as the Mankato Implement Comany.  A building was purchased at 212 North Front Street and the new dealership was initiated.  Later the premises next door, at 210 North Front Street were also acquired and merged with the dealership and the address of the Mankato Implement Company dealership was officially changes to 210 No. Front Street.  Later it was decided that the branch house for the entire state of Minnesota would be the Deere and Webber Company distributorship located at 800-828 Washington Avenue North in Minneapolis, Minnesota.  Thus, the Mankato Implement Company lost its destination as a branch house and became a straight dealership.

The building at 800-828 Washington Avenue North which housed the Deere and Webber Company in Minneapolis, Minnesota the branch warehouse for John Deere dealerships all over the State of Minnesota.

 

It had never been the intent of Joseph Rolstad to serve as the permanent manager of the new dealership.  He was merely assigned the duty of coming to Mankato to get the dealership up and running and then move on to another assignment as soon as a permanent manager had been hired.  A couple of permanent managers were tried but eventually, in the spring of 1934, Lore E. Smith was hired as permanent manager of the Mankato Implement Company.  Lore and his wife, Marie, moved into a house at 918 No. Second Street in Mankato. In addition to the new dealership at 210 North Front Street, John Deere had purchased a building at 1101 North Broad Street in Mankato to serve as their warehouse.  Continue reading The Willmar Thrun 1937 John Deere Model B (Short Frame) Tractor (Part I): The Mankato Implement Company

Rosenthal Cornhusker Company (Part V)

The Rosenthal Cornhusker Company of Milwaukee, Wisconsin:

The Self-Feeder and the Last Years (Part V)

by

Brian Wayne Wells

with the assistance of

Jim McFarlane of Waunakee, Wisconsin

Lyle Sundry of Byron, Minnesota

Gary J. Jones of Owatonna, Minnesota

Jim Esbenshade of Colbert, Oklahoma

John McNamara of Eagle Rock, Missouri

and

Keith Oltrogge of Denver, Iowa

As published in the January/February 2002 issue of

Belt Pulley Magazine

            As noted in Part IV of this series on the Rosenthal Company, one could foresee that the future of ripe corn harvesting would not bode well for the Company if it remained solely as a producer of stationary corn shredders.  (See “The Rosenthal Corn Husker Company Part IV: The Cornbine” in the November/December 2001, issue of Belt Pulley Vol 14, No. 6.) Also, noted in Part IV they were unable introduce their own corn picker into the already overcrowded corn picker market.  What was not noted in Part IV was that they knew from experience that they could not do so.

            As part V of this series was nearing completion, information was received from Keith Oltrogge,  editor of the Massey-Harris collector’s newsletter called Wild Harvest, that indicated the Rosenthal Company experimented with a two-row pull-type corn picker.  Experimentation with this prototype of the Rosenthal cornpicker was conducted on the farm of Herman and Millie (Kohagen) Oltrogge in Bremer County, Iowa, from 1931 until 1933.  Herman and Millie were the grandparents of Keith Oltrogge.  Together Herman and Millie owned and operated a 300 to 400-acre farm located which is ed seven miles east of  Waverly, Iowa (pop. 8,539) on State Road No. 3 straight across the intersection with U.S. #63 number and another ½ a mile on the north side of S.R. #3.   They had a dairy operation, with about 30 head of Holstein cattle being milked at any one time throughout the year.  They also raised about 200 to 300 pigs and 500 chickens.  Approximately half of their arable land was planted in corn.  Since they did not have a silo on their farm, they built a bunker for storing corn silage.  A portion of their corn was harvested as green corn silage; the remainder of the corn was harvested when ripe.  Much of the ripe corn was stored on the farm and fed to the pigs, chickens and dairy cattle.  (Although Keith is a Certified Public Accountant, who practices in the nearby town of Denver, Iowa, he still owns and lives on his father’s and grandfather’s farm.)

            Herman Oltrogge processed much of his ripe corn into dry feed by means of a Sprout-Waldron feed grinder, or burr mill.  (Keith still has this old burr mill on the farm.)  To power the burr mill and to provide mechanical power for some of the other tasks on the his farm, Herman had purchased a new Wallis model “OK” tractor in 1926.  The Wallis tractor was manufactured by the J.I. Case Plow Company, which was a separate entity from the more familiar J.I. Case Company which manufactured threshers and tractors under the Case name.  The J.I. Case Plow Company had originally been spun off from the J.I. Case Company in 1890 as a separate entity under the presidency of Jackson I. Case, son of the original founder, Jerome Increase Case.  However, Jackson Case was succeeded in the presidency of the J.I. Case Plow Company by Henry M. Wallis in 1892.  (C.H. Wendel, 150 Years of J.I. Case [Crestline Pub. Co.: Sarasota, Fla., 1991], p. 14.)  This was the beginning of production of the Wallis tractor.  In 1893, Jacob Price and the T.M. Company purchased the J.I. Case Plow Company; however, production of the Wallis tractor continued under the new ownership.  By 1922, the model OK Wallis tractor had been introduced to replace the Wallis Model K tractor.  (C.H. Wendel, Encyclopedia of American Farm Tractors [Crestline Pub. : Sarasota, Fla., 1979] p. 59.)  At its tests in Lincoln, Nebraska, in April and May of 1923, the  Model OK tractor had developed a maximum horsepower of 18.15 on the drawbar and 27.13 hp at the belt pulley.  It was this model of tractor that Herman Oltrogge purchased in 1926 at a dealership in Waverly, Iowa, and put to work on his farm.

            At the same time, Herman’s brother, Louis Oltrogge, also traded in his old Lauson tractor in to the same dealorship on a new Wallis Model OK tractor.  In nearly all farming operations throughout the year, Herman cooperated with his brother.  Louis and his wife, Hilda Kohagen) Oltrogge, lived on a 240-acre farm adjacent to Herman and Millie’s farm.  Hilda was a sister of Millie; thus, brothers had married sisters.  Louis and Hilda’s farm was on U.S. 63 about a ½ a mile north of the intersection of U.S. 63 and S.R. No. 3.  When traveling between the two farms, however, the families preferred to use the field lane that connected the two farms, rather than take farm machinery out on the road.   Louis and Hilda also had a large Holstein dairy operation and raised chickens and pigs.  However, not having a silo or a bunker on his farm, all of the corn on their farm was harvested as ripe corn.

            Bremer County, where the Oltrogge farms were located, had its own Rosenthal dealership in the form of Shumacher’s Blacksmith Shop which had expanded into a short-line machinery dealership.  William (Bill) Schumacher was the owner and operator of this blacksmith shop and shortline dealership located in Denver, Iowa (approximate 1930 population 500-600).  As noted previously, the Rosenthal Company did very little advertising itself, relying largely on “word of mouth” and the reputation of the company for building quality machines.  Thus, it was left to the individual shortline dealers carrying the Rosenthal line to do their own advertising.  Schumacher’s did just that by means of promotional ink pens with their name and the “Rosenthal” name emblazoned on the barrel of the pens.  (Keith Oltrogge still has examples of these promotional pens.)

            Because of his location in Bremer County, it seems likely that Bill Schumacher had something to do with arranging the tests of the Rosenthal corn picker prototype on the Oltrogge farm.  However, because Bremer County is adjacent to Chickasaw County and the Oltrogge farm is only 27 miles south of New Hampton, Iowa (the county seat of Chickasaw County), it is tempting to believe that the Mielke Manufacturing and Sales Co. of New Hampton, Iowa, was also involved in making the arrangements for the testing of the prototype corn picker in conjunction with Schumachers.  (As we know from Part IV of this series, it was William J. Mielke, who would later, in 1943, arrange for the testing of the prototype of the Cornbine on the John and Catherine Landreck farm in neighboring Fayette County.)

            Nevertheless, in the fall of 1931, a prototype of the Rosenthal corn picker was brought to Herman and Millie’s farm by Rosenthal engineers.  They wished to see how the picker would operate under actual field conditions.  Just as with the testing of the prototype of the Cornbine some 12 years later on the Landreck farm, the company also wished to have the corn picker powered by the tractor of the hosting farmer.  Consequently, Herman’s Wallis Model  OK tractor was used to pull the prototype of the corn picker in the corn field on his farm.  Accompanying the engineers and the prototype to Herman and Millie’s farm in the fall of 1931 was Henry Rosenthal himself.  (As noted in Part II of this series of articles, Henry was the son of August Rosenthal.  August was the oldest of the four Rosenthal brothers who had founded the Rosenthal Corn Husker Company.  Also as previously noted, Henry Rosenthal would succeed his father into the presidency of the Rosenthal Company in 1936.)  Henry was not pretentious, nor afraid to get his hands dirty in pursuit of the job at hand.  Herman’s camera caught Henry Rosenthal taking a turn at the controls of the Wallis tractor while it was pulling the prototype corn picker around the corn field.  From the tractor seat, Henry was able to see for himself the operation of the picker as the corn passed through the snapping rollers.

            At the end of the harvest, Henry and the Rosenthal engineers had learned a great deal about their prototype.  They packaged up the prototype corn picker and shipped it back to the Rosenthal factory at West Allis, Wisconsin for further modifications based on improvements suggested by Henry and the engineers.  Due to all the modifications on the prototype, however, the Company felt that more testing of the new modified two-row corn picker prototype was needed before the company went into production with the two-row corn picker.  Indeed, when the prototype reappeared on the Oltrogge farm in fall of 1932, it had changed a great deal in appearance.  The most apparent change was the addition of more streamlined sheet metal and more sheet metal covering the elevator carrying the ears of corn from the snapping rollers up to the husking roller bed.  Once again, Henry Rosenthal accompanied the Rosenthal engineers to the Oltrogge farm.  Continue reading Rosenthal Cornhusker Company (Part V)

Rosenthal Cornhusker Company (Part IV): The Cornbine (

The Rosenthal Cornhusker Company

of Milwaukee, Wisconsin (Part 4):

The Cornbine

by

Brian Wayne Wells

                                                             with the assistance of

Jim McFarlane of Waunakee, Wisconsin

Lyle Sundry of Byron, Minnesota

Gary J. Jones of Owatonna, Minnesota

Jim Esbenshade of Colbert, Oklahoma

John McNamara of Eagle Rock Missouri

and

Neal Holcomb of Eleva, Wisconsin

As published in the November/December 2001 issue of

Belt Pulley Magazine

By the end of the Second World War, the trend on North American farms was moving strongly in the direction of mechanical picking of ripe corn rather than husking and shredding the ripe corn.  This trend portended disaster for the Rosenthal Cornhusking Company of Milwaukee Wisconsin, as their only product–the corn husker/shredder–was rapidly becoming obsolete.  As noted earlier, the Rosenthal Company had attempted to combat this trend by making husking/shredding more attractive to the average farmer.  (See the article “The Rosenthal Cornhusking Company: Part III” in the September/October 2001 issue of Belt Pulley.)  As shown, the Company did this by introducing the new, lower-priced Model Steel 4-20 corn husker/shredder.  However, even the Steel 4-20 could not stem the trend toward the picking of corn in the field.

Much less hand-work was involved in mechanically picking corn in the field.  With a tractor and a power-take-off powered cornpicker, ripe corn could be harvested and elevated directly into a wagon.  The wagon full of corn would then be taken to the corn crib and unloaded.  There was no need for time consuming labor in the fields binding and shocking bundles of ripe corn, no need for time consuming labor in the fields loading the bundles onto a wagon for transport to the husker/shredder.  With mechanical picking of corn, all operations could be handled in the field in a single operation.

The Rosenthal Company simply could not introduce another corn picker into a market which was already overcrowded with corn picker manufacturers.  Thus the Company realized that its fortunes were tied to the husking/shredding of corn.  Consequently, if the Rosenthal Company were to survive, it needed to develop a machine that would take the corn husking/shredding process directly to the field, thereby, eliminating the need to bring the corn to the husker/shredder.  In other words, the process of husking/shredding of corn had to become as simple and mechanical as corn picking.  Thus during the Second World War, the engineering department at the Rosenthal Company began to design and build a machine that would do just that.  This machine was called the Cornbine.

The Cornbine was designed as a one-row, pull-type, ripe corn harvester which would husk and shred the ripe corn right in the field.  One model of Cornbine was powered by the power-take-off shaft from the tractor that towed it.  The second model depended on a Wisconsin VE-4, air-cooled, 30 horsepower engine for power.  (Regular readers of the Belt Pulley magazine will remember that the same Wisconsin VE-4 engine was used on the Case NCM baler, one of which was owned by the Hanks family and Wayne Wells of LeRoy, Minnesota [See the January/February 1995 issue of Belt Pulley, p. 31].  The problematic Wisconsin VE-4 flathead engine has been abused by many a user as being the engine that will not start when it is too hot, will not start when it is too cold, leading one to wonder when on God’s green earth the thing would ever start.  We will revisit the Wisconsin VE-4 air-cooled engine in a future article on a Wisconsin powered Massy Harris Clipper combine and in another article on the history of the Wisconsin Engine Company itself.)  Continue reading Rosenthal Cornhusker Company (Part IV): The Cornbine (

Rosenthal Cornhusker Company (Part III)

The Rosenthal Corn Husker Company

of Milwaukee, Wisconsin (Part III)

by

Brian Wayne Wells

 with the assistance of

Jim McFarlane of Waunakee, Wisconsin

Lyle Sundry of Byron, Minnesota

Gary J. Jones of Owatonna, Minnesota

Jim Esbenshade of Colbert, Oklahoma

and

John McNamara of Eagle Rock, Missouri

 

As published in the September/October issue of

Belt Pulley Magazine

 

Even though mechanical picking of corn in the fields had been available to the farming public since well before the Second World War, it was only in the post-war era that sales of corn pickers really took off.  The popularity of corn pickers after the war drastically changed harvesting of ripe corn across the nation.  Farmers flooded to dealerships to buy corn pickers in order to avoid the long hours of hand harvesting of corn in the fields.  Not only was the corn picker an improvement over hand picking of corn, but it was also an improvement over the previous method of husking and shredding corn.  The husker/shredder, as a stationary machine, depended upon the corn being brought to the machine.  Consequently, picking of corn in the field eliminated many steps of labor, including binding the ripe corn and the many hours involved in shocking the bundles of corn.

C. H. Wendel argues that the decline of corn husking/shredding was already occurring in the 1930s.  (C.H.Wendel, Encyclopedia of American Farm Implements and Antiques [Krause Publications: Iola Wisconsin, 1997] p. 52.)  However, it wasn’t until the period of time following the Second World War that this trend became pronounced, and it was this trend that presented a real threat to the existence of the Rosenthal Company as a valid profit-making enterprize.   Continue reading Rosenthal Cornhusker Company (Part III)

The Rosenthau Corn Husker Company (Part II)

    The Rosenthal Corn Husker Company of

Milwaukee, Wisconsin (Part II)

                                                                        by

Brian Wayne Wells

                                                             with the assistance of

Jim McFarlane of Waunakee, Wisconsin

Lyle Sundry of Byron, Minnesota

Gary Jones of Owatonna, Minnesota

Jim Esbenshade of Colbert, Oklahoma

and

John McNamara of Eagle Rock Missouri

As published in the July/August 2001 issue of

 Belt Pulley Magazine

            The Rosenthal Corn Husker Company of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, was a pioneer in the corn husker/shredder market.  As the reader may recall, August Rosenthal had developed the idea of a corn husker/shredder on his parents’ farm in Reedsburg, Wisconsin, and had built the first successful prototype there.  In 1889, August, with the help of three of his brothers–William H, Gustav H., and Carl F.–patented the corn husker and incorporated the Rosenthal Corn Husking Machine Company to mass produce and sell their corn husker/shredder.  (See Part I of the “Rosenthal Corn Husker Company,” May/June 2001 issue of Belt Pulley magazine.)

Within the management of the new company, August served as Superintending Engineer and General Manager, William H. served as Manufacturing Superintendent, Gustav H. served as Corporate Secretary and Sales Manager, and Carl served as General Mechanician.  In addition, the Corporation hired on an attorney, James F. Trottman, who served as General Counsel. With the end of the First World War, the corn husking market was in a state of change.

Corn husker/shredders were dangerous machines and production of these machines could be fraught with liability.  For this reason, many producers of corn husker/shredders fell by the wayside and others merely withdrew from production.  J.I. Case withdrew from production of corn husker-shredders in 1920.  (C.H. Wendel, 150 Years of J.I. Case [Crestline Publishers: Sarasota, Fla., 1991], p. 125.)  Likewise, Advance-Rumley ceased production of its corn husker/shredders in 1928.  (C.H. Wendel, The Allis Chalmers Story [Crestline Publishing: Sarasota, Fla., 1988], p. 43.)

Despite the fact that some competitors left the corn husker/shredder market, some serious competitors of the Rosenthal corn husker/shredder continued to spring up.  One of the most significant competitors was the New Idea Company which introduced its own six-roll model corn husker/shredder in 1927.  (C.H. Wendel, American Farm Implements and Antiques, [Krause Publications: Iola, Wisc., 1997], p. 55.)  In 1935, New Idea introduced a four-roll husker/shredder.  (See the article called the “New Idea Spreader Company of Coldwater, Ohio” in the September/October 1998 issue of Belt Pulley, Vol. 11, No. 5, p. 37.)  Soon New Idea had its own line of husker/shredders, including a two-roll model, a four-roll model and a six-roll model.  When all these events settled out, there were three “big names” left in the corn husker/shredder market, e.g., International Harvester, New Idea and Rosenthal.

Following the successful introduction of the Big 4 four-roll corn husker/shredder in 1903, the Rosenthal Company completely redesigned its two-roll Big Cyclone model corn husker/shredder and called it the No. 1.  The No. 1 was a 1,685 pound machine which the Rosenthal Company alleged could be adequately powered with a 6 to 8 horsepower gasoline engine.  The No. 1 was the smallest corn husker in the Rosenthal line and, although it was clearly designed for single farm usage, it would now have a wheeled carriage for easy transport.  After having lost much market share to competitors because of its adherence to the outdated concept of single farm usage, the company now knew that the corn husker was more akin to the grain thresher that would be used on many different farms throughout a “season” rather than being used on a single farm intermittently throughout the entire winter.  Thus, all corn huskers/shredders in the entire Rosenthal line would now be mounted on wheel carriages for easy transport. Continue reading The Rosenthau Corn Husker Company (Part II)

The Rosenthal Corn Husker Company (Part I)

The Rosenthal Corn Husker Company of

Milwaukee, Wisconsin

                                                                       by

Brian Wayne Wells

                                                       with the assistance of

Jim McFarlane of Waunakee, Wisconsin

Gary Jones of Owatonna, Minnesota

and

John McNamara of Eagle Rock, Missouri

 

 

Picture a field bare of all plant-life except for the four-inch corn stubble carpeting the entire field, interrupted only by corn shocks (each shock composed of four or five bundles standing upright leaning against each other to permit the corn to dry in the field), with two or three pumpkins gathered at the feet of the first one or two shocks as one enters the field.  This memory conjures up some of the most romantic ideas of 19th century farmlife.  It is the time of season when the dry, cool air suggests that there may be “frost on the pumpkin” as the shocks sit through the night of the “harvest moon” (first full moon after the fall equinox).  By the time of the “hunter’s moon” (the second full moon after the fall equinox, occurring 28 days after the harvest moon), the pumpkins would have been gathered for fear of a “hard freeze.”  However, the corn would still be left in the field to be gathered by the farmer as he needed it throughout the wintertime, at which time he would “process” the corn (shuck and shell and/or grind) for feeding or for selling or, as he found the time in the winter, process the corn for storage.

Corn stored in the field in shocks for the winter.

 

Many devices (which are now museum pieces) were used in the early 19th century for processing corn, in particular, drying racks which were made of metal and designed to be hung from rafters to protect the corn from mice.  Each rack contained six to eight sharp spikes on which were impaled husked ears of corn.  The corn would hang from the rafters until needed by the farmer.

Corn drying on an individual drying rack.

 

Well into the winter, after snow blanketed the ground, the farmer would hitch up a team of horses to his “bundle wagon.”  For more convenient use during the winter, the wagon wheels of the bundle wagon would have been removed and replaced with runners.  The farmer would then head to the fields after his morning chores were complete to load up the wagon (sleigh) with corn shocks.  The shocks were then brought back to the barn where the farmer would remove each ear of corn by hand from its stalk and store the ears on a drying rack.  The by-product of this process (the corn stalk) would then be fed whole to the cows.  Cows are not finicky eaters, but in this case they would usually eat the leaves and the husks, and not the whole stalk.  Thus, the area around the feed bunk and the feed buck itself would become full of old corn stalks.  Farmers knew this was a waste of an important by-product.  However, at that time, there was little he could do about it; that is, until a new and unique machine came along to help the farmer speed the process of husking corn and to help refine the by-product into a more palatable product for the cows.  This new machine would be the corn husker-shredder.

Cornhuskers allowed the farmer to save the corn stalks and the corn husks–the by-product of a usual ripe corn harvest. Once chopped, the stalks and husks are called “stover” and can be fed to the cattle. Here this farmer has gone to the corn field with his bundle wagon and picked up a load of corn bundles from the shocks. Now his is operating the cornhusker/shredder with his tractor and ears of corn are coming out of the elevator of the corn husker into a waiting grain wagon. This ear corn will be taken to a small corn crib on the farm or may be stored on corn drying racks in the granary if there is no corn crib. Meanwhile the freshly chopped stover is being blown through the light-colored blower pipe, seen in this picture sticking upwards through the barn door leading to the mow of the barn. This stover is being piled up in the hay loft next to the hay. The stover will be fed to the milking cows throughout the winter. This is such a large barn that there may be a separate “room” to isolate and contain the pile of stower being blown into the hay loft, from being spread around in the hay loft. At milking time throughout the winter, the farmer will throw some of the stover down the hay chute into a waiting feed cart which will then be rolled around the barn to feed the entire dairy herd. Every couple of weeks throughout the winter, this farmer will be going to the field to pickup more corn shocks and repeat the process of corn husking/shredding just to keep a supply of stover on hand in the mow of the barn.   Invention of the corn husker/shredder allowed all farmers the possibility using a major by-product of the farm to be processed into a valuable feed for the farm.

 

The corn husker-shredder was the brainchild of a young boy, August Rosenthal, who developed the corn husker while living on his parents’ farm south of Reedsburg, Wisconsin, in Sauk County.  August Rosenthal’s parents, Carl Ludwig and Dora Rosenthal, were German Lutheran immigrants from the area around Hamburg, Germany.  Carl was a carpenter by trade, who, along with many other German immigrants of the time, settled in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  In 1880, as their family grew in size (seven children–all boys) and grew in maturity, Carl and Dora moved the family to a small farm south of Reedsburg.  Reedsburg was located near two great rivers–the Fox River and the Wisconsin River–which area would, in years to come, become the heartland of dairying in Wisconsin and would make Wisconsin the nation’s leading dairy state.  The Rosenthal boys all became enterprising young men as they grew up.  John Rosenthal, the oldest son, went into business in the Big Store in Reedsburg.  Friedrich, the next oldest, would go into business with the Meyer Harness Company in Reedsburg.  August, the middle son, was born in 1867.  Three other boys followed in succession:   William H., born in 1871; Gustav H., born in 1874; and Carl, born in 1878.  August and his three younger brothers would remain on the farm as typical farm boys, so it is not surprising that they were ingeniously inclined toward making farm work more mechanical and less labor-intensive.  August, however, showed more than just the usual amount of talent for practical farm mechanics.

In 1882, at the tender age of 15 years, August Rosenthal began experimenting with the idea of husking corn by machine.  His first machine, however, was crude and unsuccessful, but he continued to experiment.  In 1888, Carl Ludwig died, leaving Dora and her sons to fend for themselves on the farm.  It was a discouraging time, but August refused to give up on his idea despite the increased responsibilities he and his brothers now faced running the farm.  In 1889, after seven years of work, August was able to test a new, large machine that was operated by a horse walking in a circle around the machine pulling a sweep.  By this time, the entire Rosenthal family was actively involved in August’s new invention–particularly, his younger brothers Gustav H., William H. and Carl.  Using “Prince,” one of the family’s work horses, the family hitched Prince to the pole on the sweep and said “giddap.”  Prince then began moving in a circular path around the machine, pulling the pole which turned the gears of the drive mechanism located above the machine, thus powering the machine via a chain that connected the drive mechanism with the new husking machine.  With the machine running, August began feeding corn stalks into the machine.  Before long, a steady stream of ears of corn began sliding down the hopper of the machine into a waiting bushel basket.  Meanwhile, the corn stalk was discarded intact on the ground behind the machine.  The machine was a success.  Next, August set to work designing and building a second husking machine which incorporated chopping or shredding of the corn stalk into little pieces.  This new machine, however, turned to the internal combustion engine for its power, rather than the horse, and the shredded stalk material (called “stover”) was elevated to a nearby wagon where it could be taken to storage.  Over the next few years, several more improvements were made to the husking machine, and, in 1894, the Cyclone Model No. 1 corn husker shredder was introduced which incorporated all of these improvements.  The Cyclone Model No. 1 was constructed with a combination of two snapping and husking rollers which removed the ears from the stalk.  They also removed a great deal of the husks from the ears before dropping the ears into a bushel basket. In addition, the Cyclone Model No. 1 was outfitted with a blower which would gather the shredded stalks and blow them through a large pipe into a nearby barn or shed.  Thus, the modern corn husker-shredder was born.  On March 5, 1895, the Cyclone Model No. 1 was patented by the Rosenthal family.  Continue reading The Rosenthal Corn Husker Company (Part I)