MAIL ORDER FARM MACHINERY:
THE DAVID BRADLEY COMPANY (PART III)
Brian Wayne Wells
As published in the January/February 2000 issue of
Belt Pulley Magazine
In the second article on David Bradley farm machinery, two of the most popular and recognizable products were discussed–the farm wagon and the garden tractor. However, the David Bradley line, as advertised in the Spring and Fall issues of the Sears and Roebuck catalogue every year, included tractor loaders, field tillage equipment, and even harvesting equipment such as its one-row, semi-mounted corn picker. This installment will feature two lesser known, but still popular, items–the tractor plow and the manure spreader.
As pointed out in the first article, the David Bradley Company began its plow production with the famous horse-drawn Clipper plow. With the dawn of the tractor era, however, David Bradley introduced tractor-drawn plows. In the Spring 1936 Sears catalogue, a 2-bottom plow with 12″ bottoms was advertised for $69.95, another 2-bottom plow with 14″ bottoms for $71.85, and a 3-bottom plow with 14″ bottoms for $105.00. These steel-wheeled plows were painted David Bradley red with lime-green wheels to match the rest of the David Bradley line of farm machinery.
During the 1930s, Ned Healy placed an order for a particular David Bradley 2-bottom plow; consequently, a steel-wheeled David Bradley 2-bottom plow with 14-inch bottoms was delivered to the Sears store in Mankato, Minnesota, the county seat of Blue Earth County. Ned Healy, who operated a farm south of Mapleton, Minnesota, farmed with a Graham-Bradley 32-hp tractor and, later, a Massey-Harris 101. Both of these tractors had very fast road speeds for their time (19.8 mph. and 17.85 mph., respectively). (C.H. Wendel, Nebraska Tractor Tests [Crestline Publishing Company: Sarasota, FL 1985] pp. 110 and 137.) Ned not only farmed his own farm, he also helped his brother, Horace Healy, on another farm just down the road. Both the Graham and the Massey Harris tractors, with their rubber tires and very fast road speeds, were well-suited for the Healy farming operation which involved frequent transfers of machinery from farm to farm. Consequently, when the new David-Bradley plow arrived on the Ned Healy farm, its distinctive green colored steel wheels were soon cut down to be fitted with rims for rubber tires.
In the same Mapleton, Minnesota, neighborhood lived the Howard Hanks family. As noted in a previous article, the Hanks family once rented the John T. Goff farm also just south of Mapleton, Minnesota. (“The Family’s First Tractor,” Antique Power, May/June 1994, Vol. 6, No. 4, pp. 22-24.) Now, in early 1944, the Hanks family began negotiations to purchase a farm of their own in Beaver township, Fillmore County, near LeRoy, Minnesota. This 400-acre farm was owned by Albert E. Rehwaldt of Good Thunder, Minnesota, but had always been known as the Bagan farm. Included in the terms of the purchase was a 1942 Farmall H accompanied by a 2-row cultivator. This would be the Hanks family’s first row crop tractor. (See “The Wartime Farmall H,” Belt Pulley, July/August 1994, Vol. 7, No. 4, pp. 13-17.) The family was finally to be settling on their own land! Thus, in order to get an early start on the 1945 growing season, they drove the 100 miles to the Bagan farm in the late summer of 1944 to do some fall plowing, bringing with them their 1931 John Deere D and their 3-bottom John Deere No. 82 plow to do this. They also borrowed Ned Healy’s David Bradley plow to pull behind the Farmall H which was already at the Bagan farm. Because the renter of the Bagan farm, Roy Green and his family, was still in the house, the Hanks family camped out in a small chicken brooder house. Nevertheless, during the ten days they were there, the family completed the fall plowing and did some work on the house before they had to return to the Goff farm for the soybean harvest. They left all of the machinery they had brought with them on the Bagan farm until the following spring, when they would return to plant the crop, and went back to the Goff farm with only Ned Healy’s plow aboard the truck. The little David Bradley had performed well during the short time on the Bagan farm and had helped the Hanks family get a jump on the 1945 crop season.
Also during the 1930s, another David Bradley 2-bottom plow was delivered to the Sears store in Austin, Minnesota, the county seat of Mower County, for a customer by the name of Martin Hetletvedt. Martin farmed a 160-acre farm north of the “Old Town” area of LeRoy, Minnesota. (Most of his farm has now been merged into the Lake Louise State Park located in the Old Town area.)
LeRoy was originally settled at the site of a sawmill located next to a dam on the Upper Iowa River. The dam and sawmill were built in 1853. By 1855, a settlement had grown up around the sawmill, and by 1858, the town of LeRoy was platted there. However, as white pine from northern Minnesota became more readily available for building material, the sawing of local hardwoods became unprofitable and the sawmill was converted to a grist mill in 1858. In 1867, when the Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul Railroad (later the Milwaukee Road) came through the area, it by-passed the settlement of LeRoy, and the railroad station built by the railroad to serve the town was actually located about a mile southeast of LeRoy. Consequently, over the next several years, the people of whole town of LeRoy resettled to the area around the railroad station, and in 1874, LeRoy was incorporated at the new location. Gradually, the settlement around the grist mill declined and the area became known as “Old Town.” The grist mill itself also closed up, as better methods of flour milling were developed.
The David Bradley plow arrived on the Martin Hetletvedt farm during a time of change. Martin’s wife had died in 1934, and on March 17, 1935, he married Cora (Schwark) Utesch, a young widow in the LeRoy community whose husband, Paul Utesch, Sr., had died on December 15, 1931, after about two years of marriage. (Regular readers of Belt Pulley will recognize that Cora [Schwark] Utesch was the sister of Walter Schwark, mentioned in “The Family’s Ford Ferguson 2N” contained in the January/February 1999 issue of Belt Pulley, p. 18.) Cora had a son, Paul Charles (Paul C.) Utesch, Jr., who was only about 15 months old when his natural father died. Thus, Martin became the only father that young Paul C. ever knew. Paul C. remembers that while he did drive the family’s un-styled 1938 Allis Chalmers WC a great deal helping his father with the field work on the farm, he never did any plowing. Martin, himself, did all the plowing on the family farm with the David Bradley plow. Just as with the Ned Healy plow, Martin Hetletvedt had the original steel wheels of his plow cut down and fitted with rims for rubber tires, but the wheels remained distinctively David Bradley green.
Coinciding with development of the David Bradley plow was production of the David Bradley manure spreader. Manure spreader production by the David Bradley Company had begun even before the merger with Sears and Roebuck in 1910. As early as the 1890s, according to the advertisements in the Sears catalogue, David Bradley spreaders were made at and delivered from the David Bradley Works in Bradley, Illinois. Early advertisements show a very crude manure spreader, with a single ground-driven beater, which was offered to the farming public as a box, without wheels, which could be mounted on any horse-drawn wagon gear (truck) that the farmer may already own. As an option, Sears also offered the farmer a wagon gear or truck to be used with the spreader.
Even as David Bradley brought out its first manure spreader, improvements were being made in manure spreader design by many companies. As each new improvement was made, it was generally adopted into the design of manure spreaders made by all companies. One of the most important improvements was the development of the wide-spread beater which would distribute manure over a wide area behind the manure spreader, rather than allowing all the manure to fall into a single 3-foot wide strip. This improvement was the invention of Joseph Oppenheimer, who later marketed his invention through his company–the New Idea Company–of Coldwater, Ohio. (See the New Idea Company, Part I, on page 14 of the September/October issue of Belt Pulley, Vol. 11, No. 5.) By 1912, Sears was also offering a 90-pound “widespread pulverizing” attachment for its David Bradley spreaders. Not only could purchasers of new David Bradley spreaders obtain this option, but also owners of old David Bradley spreaders could purchase this attachment separately and mount it on their spreaders. Also, in about 1912, Sears introduced the light-draft, auto-steer version of its spreader. Auto-steer created a manure spreader which was much easier to handle and allowed the design of the spreader to be much lower to the ground. With this improvement, Sears was actually ahead of the innovator company–New Idea. (New Idea was still using the goose-neck design with the fifth-wheel style steering on its spreaders and would not introduce auto-steer until the advent of the Model 8 manure spreader in 1924.)
When New Idea did come out with its new and revolutionary designed Model 8 manure spreader, other companies were quick to follow. Sears, for one, introduced in the mid-1930s its new David Bradley light-draft Model 70 manure spreader which incorporated many of the prior improvements in spreader designs which had become universalized. It had two beaters in addition to the widespread beater. The upper beater was smaller and mounted slightly ahead of the lower beater. This design reduced the load to the lower beater and was responsible for a great deal of the lighter draft of the Model 70. The Model 70 was made available to the public with steel wheels (24″ diameter and 5″ wide in the front and 36″ diameter and 7″ wide for the drive wheels in the rear) for a price of $109.00 with plain bearings. Options on the Model 70 included roller bearings on all the wheels for a price of $112.50, or roller bearings on all the wheels as well as on both beaters and the widespread for $119.50. A rubber-tired version of this spreader was also available for an additional $64.50. Just as with the steel-wheeled version, the rubber-tired Model 70 had large 6.00 x 22″ wheels in the rear and 6.00 x 16″ tires in the front. Later versions of the Model 70 had all four wheels fitted to 6.00 x 16″ tires. This gave the David Bradley manure spreader a unique, distinctive appearance as opposed to manure spreaders offered by other companies.
Advertisements in the Sears catalogue, however, indicate that this new spreader was not manufactured in Bradley, Illinois. Although orders for the new manure spreader were to be directed to Sears in Chicago, advertisements from the 1930s indicated that the new Model 70 would be shipped from a factory near Indianapolis, Indiana–evidence that Sears had turned to some other third company, perhaps the Peru Plow Company, to produce the Model 70 for David Bradley.
One particular Model 70 rubber-tire horse-drawn spreader arrived at the Austin, Minnesota, Sears store in 1939 for delivery to the Martin Hetletvedt farm. Martin had found that he needed a new manure spreader and because he had favored David Bradley machinery in the past, it was only natural that now he would again turn to his Sears catalogue.
This particular spreader was one to the later models with 16″ rims on all four wheels. Fitting its manure spreaders and other farm machinery with 16″ rims at this particular time was a master stroke of timing on the part of Sears. A short time later, the United States became involved in the Second World War and civilian production of nearly every industrial product was curtailed. Cars, tires and all farm machinery became very difficult to obtain. During the war, it was extremely helpful to have all rubber tires on the farm to be the same size. Old car tires which were unsafe for continued use on the car could be nursed through on re-caps and vulcanization to repair tears. The David Bradley manure spreader had an advantage over rivals during the Second World War because of this simple design feature.
Like so many farmers, Martin ordered this manure spreader without tires, intending to outfit the manure spreader with old car tires from the family’s 1937 Ford. Ford had made the switch to 16″ tires in 1932 when the Model B and the V-8 Model Fords replaced the venerable old Model A Ford. Martin and Cora later traded the family car in on a new 1940 Ford, once again with 16″ tires. Thus they were well supplied with proper sized tires for the duration of the Second World War. Additionally, Martin’s decision to purchase a new car and the David Bradley manure spreader when they did was most timely. They would not be able to purchase any farm machinery or get a new car for the duration of the war.
Martin’s manure spreader had originally been equipped with a long tongue for horses, and at first Martin used horses for the light duty task of hauling manure. However, soon he had the tongue cut down so he could pull the spreader behind his Allis Chalmers WC. In 1945, Martin and Cora retired from farming, sold the farm and all their farm machinery and to a house in the Old Town community with young Paul C. This was another fortunate decision on their part. Farm prices had been good during the war. Land prices were high at the end of the war. However, with the returning veterans there would soon be a surplus of farmers wanting to start farming. It seems that Martin and Cora picked a good time to retire. They recieved a good price for their land and for their used farm machinery.
The house in old town which Martin and Cora bought was more like a small horse farm, rather than a house in a urban, or even suburban, setting. The house sat near the front of a large lot. In the back was a horse barn–a hold-over from the days of horse-drawn transportation. The immediate area around the barn was fenced in to provide a small pasture. It was like living on a farm with out the actually farming. Young Paul C. continued to attend LeRoy High School until he graduated in the class of 1948. After Paul C. graduated and moved to Rochester to work, Martin and Cora were able to live comfortably in retirement on the fruits of their labor. They lived the life of “snow birds” in retirement, with frequent winter trips to Florida.
The success of the four-wheeled Model 70 gave encouragement to Sears. Thus, when the wartime manufacturing controls were lifted, they introduced a new manure spreader–the Model 75. In the Spring of 1947, the Sears catalogue introduced the new rubber-tired, two-wheeled, wooden-sided, tractor-drawn Model 75 manure spreader. Without rubber tires on 16″ steel rims, the price was $265.00. A four-wheeled, rubber-tired version of the Model 75 was also introduced (in reality, it was a Model 70 under a new name). Advertisements for the new Model 75 manure spreader noted that the new spreader could carry 75 bushels of manure per load, with an apron speed that could be adjusted to spread from 4½ loads to 27 loads per acre and the manure could be spread in 7-foot wide swaths behind the spreader.
The two-wheeled, tractor-drawn version was really nothing more than a four-wheeled, horse-drawn Model 75 with the front wheels removed. This was a simple shortcut in design which would allow the manufacturer to offer a modern tractor manure spreader to the public with a minimum of changes. However, this shortcut created at least one major problem with the Model 75. Having the wheels so far toward the rear created terrific down pressure on the tongue of the spreader. Consequently, a person hitching the Model 75 to the drawbar of a tractor even when the Model 75 was empty would have difficulty. If the Model 75 had been positioned near the window of a barn or hog house for a few days unhitched from the tractor in order to accumulate a load of manure, then the farmer may find it impossible to hitch the spreader to his tractor, especially in the soft ground of the cow yard or hog yard. David Bradley attempted to alleviate this problem by providing a simple stand-jack attached to the tongue of the two-wheeled Model 75. Still, the stand-jack would never hold the manure spreader exactly at the correct height for all tractor drawbars. (Incidentally, David Bradley was not the only manure spreader manufacturer to follow this design shortcut and, no doubt, to suffer the same problems. In 1940, John Deere replaced its four-wheeled Model E manure spreader with its Model HH manure spreader. That same year, John Deere offered the tractor-drawn Model H to the public. Once again, the Model H was nothing more than a Model HH with the front wheels removed.) However, even with its faults, the new David Bradley two-wheeled Model 75 proved to be a successful product for Sears–especially among the farmers that had traditionally ordered farm machines from the Sears catalogue.
Until 1950, advertisements in the Sears catalogue revealed that the “knobby tire” was favored by Sears as the optional tire for the Model 75 manure spreader. Although Sears then referred to these tires as studded tires, they are now referred to as “knobby tires” to avoid confusion with the tires that were fitted with metal studs which became popular in the late 1960s. Following 1950, Sears offered as its optional tire the claw-type lug tire, with 45 degree lugs. (Both the knobby tire and the 45 degree lug claw tire are available in the 6.00 x 16″ size from M.E. Miller Tire Company, 17386 State Hwy #2, Wauseon, Ohio 43567-9486, Tel.  335-7010.)
Since 16″ tires continued to be used universally on cars in the immediate post-World War II period, the manure spreader was advertised with 16″ rims. However, just as with the David Bradley wagon gear described in Part II of this series, Sears recognized that, by the early 1950s, the 15″ tire was gradually replacing the 16″ tire on most new cars. Therefore, the David Bradley manure spreader was offered to the public with the option of 15″ rims. By 1955, the 15″ rim was offered as the standard rim on all David Bradley equipment, with the 16″ rim as the optional sized rim. By 1957, only the 15″ rim was available. (This progression from 16″ to 15″ tires is helpful to modern-day restorers of David Bradley equipment. Although each manure spreader had a serial number, records of these numbers have not been found. Therefore, knowing the size of tires will help the restorer determine the approximate age of his particular David Bradley implement.)
Also in that immediate post-war period, another particular Model 75 David Bradley two-wheeled, tractor-drawn manure spreader was sent out by railroad from the factory location near Indianapolis, Indiana, destined for a Sears store located in eastern Kentucky–perhaps in the Lexington, Kentucky, area, in the middle of horse racing country. Very little of the actual history of this Model 75 is known, but the spreader itself provides some tips. One tip is its very good condition, given its age. It must have been used on a farm that was large enough to have room to store it under cover, out of the rain and sun, in a shed, rather than a barn where the humidity would have been very high. This Model 75 must have been used on a farm where manure was carried to the field on a frequent basis and where the manure contained a large proportion of dry straw. As a result, the beaters retained patches of its original lime green paint throughout the years. Sometime in the mid-1970s, the tires of the manure spreader were replaced with 7.50 x 16″ light truck tires. We know this probably occurred in the late 1970s, because one of the tires was a “studded tire.” This tire was probably consigned to the manure spreader after studded tires became illegal for highway use in the early 1970s. The tires fitted onto the 16″ rims had the effect of making the wheels appear larger than the original 6.00 x 16″ tires recommended by Sears. As a result, this manure spreader lost some of its distinctive appearance as compared to other modern manure spreaders which were generally fitted with 19″ tires.
When the Model 75 was purchased at an auction in Kentucky by Jimmy Jenkins of Milton, West Virginia, in 1996, the “David Bradley” name and “75” logo were still clearly visible on both sides of the manure spreader. Although it looked as if the wooden floor of the manure spreader had been replaced, there were still flecks of lime-green paint on the beaters and the widespread. However, Jimmy Jenkins, who farmed north of Milton, West Virginia, decided not to use the Model 75 on his own farm; rather, he traded the David Bradley to Stratton Tractor Sales in Milton for a more modern manure spreader better suited to his farming operation. Shortly after the Model 75 manure spreader was placed on the lot at Stratton Tractor Sales, it was seen by the author, who, in the summer of 1997, purchased it together with a 1949 New Idea hay rack. (For the history of the hay rack, see “The New Idea Company” Part II, in the November/December 1998 issue of Belt Pulley, Vol. 11, No. 6, p. 26.) The author had previously seen one other David Bradley Model 75 manure spreader at the Stratton Tractor Sales lot in October, 1995, during a visit to the West Virginia Pumpkin Festival. At that time, he had thought of purchasing that manure spreader for restoration; however, it had been sold before the author could make arrangements. It was probably just as well, as that Model 75 would have needed quite a bit of restoration work. For instance, the entire widespread was missing as was the metal strapping around the top of the sides. Nonetheless, the author felt a loss at having not purchased that manure spreader and felt that he might never see another one. Consequently, when the Jimmy Jenkins Model 75 appeared, the author did not waste any time in concluding a deal with Mike Stratton for the manure spreader. Restoration of this manure spreader involved only replacement of one of the side boards and replacement of the wooden boards in the front panel. The author also spread a great deal of waste oil on the floor of the spreader as a preservative. The over-sized 7.50 x 16″ light truck tires were replaced with new 6.00 x 16″ claw tread lug tires which were obtained from Miller Tire Company. Then the spreader was ready for painting and decaling. However, just before painting, the author took pictures and made careful measurements of the “David Bradley” name and the “75” logo on the sides of the spreader. He then took copies of the developed pictures to FAST SIGNS, at 5308 MacCorkle Avenue, SW in South Charleston, West Virginia 25309-1012, Tel. (304) 766-9280, to have them make decals.
The decals are of a darker shade of green than the lime green of the wheels, beaters, and widespread. FAST SIGNS identified the color as “bright green” but not as dark as their “forest green.” The David Bradley “red” color of the manure spreader is indistinguishable from Massey-Ferguson red. The identifying numbers for this color are DuPont No. N1488, PPG 72155, and Martin-Senour No. 4763. Numbers of the “Signal Green” for the wheels, both beaters, and the widespread of the manure spreader are Dupont No. #43073, Martin-Senour No. 21944, and Ditzler No. 41780. Some collectors have found that the David Bradley lime green can be obtained from a mixture of 50% John Deere green and 50% John Deere yellow. (C.H. Wendel’s booklet called Wendel’s Notebook is of great assistance to restorers of farm machinery by identifying many different paint colors and their respective paint numbers. Wendel’s Notebook is available for $8.50 from C.H. Wendel in Atkins, IA, Tel:  446-7156.)
The Jimmy Jenkins David Bradley Model 75 manure spreader was displayed for the first time in its unrestored condition at the 1997 West Virginia Pumpkin Festival. One year later, at the 1998 Pumpkin Festival, the manure spreader was displayed in its restored condition. Furthermore, at the end of the Pumpkin Festival, the manure spreader was put to work hauling chaff from the threshing straw pile to the field, where the spreader worked just as it should in spreading the chaff.
By the early 1950s, the David Bradley line of farm equipment had become quite large, and included wagons, wagon boxes, grain elevators, hammermills, hay mowers, hay rakes, and even loaders for farm tractors. In 1951, the Sears Spring/Summer catalogue even advertised a David Bradley 1-row, semi-mounted cornpicker. Generally, however, David Bradley did not make all of these implements; rather, Sears bought the implements from other manufacturers and put the David Bradley name on them.
Eventually, the David Bradley line was merged into the Roper Corporation and Sears was reduced to a minority owner. Currently, information can be obtained about David Bradley equipment from American Yard Products at P.O. Box 1687, Orangeburg, SC 29116-1687, Tel. (803) 533-4851. The author found Barbara Kuck and John Coffman, both employed in the Customer Relations Department of American Yard Products, to be extremely helpful in obtaining information on David Bradley implements.
Parts books for the David Bradley garden tractor are available from this source and from Surplus Tractor Parts, 3215 W. Main Avenue, P.O. Box 2125, Fargo, ND 58107-2125, Tel. 1-800-859-2045. Operator’s manuals, set-up manuals and parts manuals for any number of the farm equipment products in the David Bradley line are now available through the David Bradley Newsletter (See address below). Parts numbers in these parts books can still be found in the Sears and Roebuck parts database. Parts availability, however, is another question. Just as with most antique machines, new parts are currently not being made for the David Bradley garden tractor.
The growing enthusiasm for collecting David Bradley tractors and equipment has led to the proposed establishment of a David Bradley museum in Bradley, Illinois. The main support for this plan comes from Robert Simpson, who lives within view of the old David Bradley Works plant at 442 Michigan Avenue, Bradley, Illinois 60915-1655, Tel. (815) 932-7531, and from George Bingley of Kankakee, Illinois, Tel. (815) 937-4257. Another collector of David Bradley walk-behind tractors is William G. Humphrey, of Vine Grove, Kentucky, who has a large collection of these tractors . He also has a large supply of research materials on the David Bradley Company. William Humphrey started the David Bradley Newsletter in 1992 and served as its editor for a number of years. Gary Treible, 206 Knob Creek Lane, York, Pennsylvania 17402-9527, is another collector of David Bradley equipment. He also served as editor of the Newsletter for a time. Currently, the editor of the newsletter, which has grown into a 20-page affair, is Terry Strasser of Hedgesville, West Virginia. Subscriptions to the newsletter are $16.00 per year and the address is:
David Bradley Newsletter
Terry Strasser, Editor
R.R. 1, Box 280
Hedgesville, WV 25427-9754
Telephone: (304) 274-1725
Any of these sources will supply abundant information to the restorer of any David Bradley equipment.
Through the proposed museum and the active newsletter, it is certain that the name David Bradley–the mail order equipment company–will continue to excite great memories for many people who remember using the wagons, plows, and garden tractors that proudly bore the characteristic red and lime green colors.