Al Fulcher and the Cresco Implement Company, Cresco, Iowa

  Al Fulcher and the Cresco Implement Company


Brian Wayne Wells

with the assistance of

                                Mary Ann Townsend of Charles City, Iowa

As p[ublished in the May/June 2000 issue of

           Belt Pulley Magazine

The 1935 John Deere Model D purchased by Howard Hanks (seen standing by the rear tire of the tractor in the picture) in 1950, is seen here pulling the John Deere Model 7A combine.

Fredericksburg, Iowa (pop. 1,075), is a small town located in southeastern Chickasaw County, about six miles south and five miles east of New Hampton (pop. 3,940), the county seat of Chickasaw County. The mere name “Fredericksburg” in and of itself breaths the town’s German ancestry. Among the many German-American settlers in the rural Fredericksburg area were Fred and Mable (Johnson) Fulcher.   Fred and Mable had four daughters–Ada, Amy, Hazel and Mildred–and four sons–Vernon, Lester, Everett and Alfred Lee.

Alfred Lee Fulcher was born on November 12, 1891 and raised on the farm. Like most farm boys, he was very much interested in farming for himself when he came of age. As part of growing up, farm boys’ thoughts diverge only temporarily from farming–when they discover girls. So too did the thoughts of Alfred Fulcher when he met Julia C. Lensing and fell in love. At the age of 24, Alfred figured he had been a bachelor long enough, so he asked Julia to marry him. On August 15, 1915, they were married at St. Mary’s Church in New Hampton. Al and Julia immediately started farming in the New Hampton and Charles City area. On November 17, 1917, a daughter Delores was born. Delores was followed by three sons–Al J., Raymond and Donald.

During the United States involvement in the First World War, farming the basic staples was good. “Food will win the war!” was a popular slogan. Leland Sage in his book titled History of Iowa stated the following regarding those times: “Government spokesmen urged the farmers in Iowa and other states to produce to the limit, and bankers begged them to borrow money and buy more land for this purpose. Experts showed them how to increase yields and urged them to plow under pasture-lands and roadsides and put them into production. The government announced guaranteed minimum prices for wheat, corn, cotton, and other products needed for the war effort. No one could lose.” (Leland L. Sage, History of Iowa [Iowa State University Press: Ames, 1974], p. 253.) Nobody much cared that the price of land went up to $800 to $1,000 per acre. With wheat prices as high as $3.60 per bushel and corn at $3.00 per bushel, it certainly would not take long to pay off any debt that might be accumulated by buying more land. (Ibid.)

At the end of the war in 1918, Europe was devastated and faced with mass starvation of its citizens. Thus, President Woodrow Wilson appointed an Iowa native, Herbert Hoover from the town of West Branch in Cedar County, Iowa, to head the American Relief Administration (A.R.A.) in an attempt to avert a catastrophe. Under Hoover’s direction, the A.R.A. shipped 19 million tons of food and supplies worth $3.5 billion to Europe. (Joan Hoff Wilson, Herbert Hoover: Forgotten Progressive [Little Brown and Company: Boston, 1975], p. 46.) To support this post-war effort, the United States government left the war-time price supports on farm commodities in place during 1919 and into 1920. Wheat was particularly profitable for United States’ farmers. With government supports, the price of wheat ran well over $2.00 a bushel for all the wheat a farmer could produce. (John D. Hicks, Republican Ascendancy: 1921-1933 [Harper Bros. Publishers: New York, 1960], p. 18.) By this quick action, a disaster was averted and it looked by early 1920 that Europe would be able to stand on its own.  Consequently, on May 31, 1920, the United States Government announced that the price supports for wheat were being removed. The price of wheat fell immediately, and started dragging all other farm commodity prices downward also. By July of 1920, the index of farm prices was ten points below the June level. August brought another 15 point drop, and September meant yet another drop of 15 points. By the end of the year, wheat was selling for 67¢ a bushel. Bankruptcies and foreclosures exploded into an avalanche, as 435,000 farmers lost their farms in the economic collapse. (Ibid. p. 19).

For Alfred and Julia Fulcher, this time was an extremely bitter time. They had been farming well together and raising their family since 1915. They had managed to make some improvements to their farming operation and had even put aside some assets. However, they too finally had to quit farming, as the economic crash swamped the fruits of five years of hard work. Suddenly, with growing family, Alfred and Julia not only had to face the problem of an uncertain future, but the more immediate problem of finding housing for their family. Toward this end, the family moved back into New Hampton, Julia’s home town. After a long while of looking for a mere opportunity to work, Alfred found employment as a welder at the Hart-Parr/ Oliver factory in nearby Charles City, Iowa.

A 1910 picture of the Hart-Parr Tractor Works in Charles City, Iowa, where Alfred Fulcher was employed as a welder in 1920.

In late 1920, Alfred and Julia and their family moved to Charles City to be closer to work, and rented a house at 607 South Iowa Street. In 1925, they moved to a house at 708 Freeman. Later, in 1928, they moved to yet another rental house at 1808 Bailey; and still later, in 1931, they rented a house at 1203 Waller.

Many workers at the Hart Parr Tractor Works in Charles City, rode the Western Company commuter train to work from neighboring towns.  Alfred Fulcher, however,  moved to Charles City in late 1920 and probably drove to work.  In this 1915 photo, a car stops at the commuter train street crossing located adjacent to the Western Company depot in Charles City.  .

The Hart-Parr Company was an old and established company in the farm equipment industry–having been the first developer of the gasoline powered tractor. Alfred continued to work at the Hart-Parr/Oliver plant in Charles City throughout all the 1920s and 1930s as a welder. Because he was working in the farm equipment industry, Alfred was in an excellent position to notice the increasing demand for farm machinery. Consequently, Alfred became intrigued by the possibility of going into business for himself in the retail end of the farm equipment business.  A opportunity arose, in 1939,  for Alfred and Julia to start a business in Cresco, Iowa, (1930 pop. 3,890) selling John Deere farm equipment   He was given the chance to start the implement dealership in Cresco as a partnership with R.L. Atkinson of New Hampton, Iowa.

Cresco was the county seat of Howard County, located in northeastern Iowa, with Chickasaw County on its southern border and the Iowa-Minnesota state line on its northern border. After some investigation into the tractor market and the town of Cresco, Alfred and R.L. Atkinson had determined that Cresco and the Howard County area would be fertile ground for a new tractor dealership and welding business where Alfred could employ the welding skills he had learned at the Hart-Parr/Oliver plant in Charles City. Together the partners leased the DeNoyelles building in downtown Cresco which had formerly housed the Caward grubber factory.

One clue as to just how fertile the market was in Cresco for farm tractors was indicated by the anticipation with which the Cresco public watched the negotiations and the establishment of the new business. Every Wednesday the Howard County Times reported the local events of the Cresco area. The January 11, 1939 addition reported that during the week of January 2-6, 1939, A.L. Fulcher and R.L. Atkinson had been in Cresco making arrangements for the start up of their business. The article noted that the business would be selling Case tractors and would feature repair of farm implements with both electric and acetylene welding. Legal possession of the DeNoyelle building would take place on January 15 with the first shipment of tractors to take place on January 20, 1939. When asked about their housing arrangements, the article reported that both partners intended to move to Cresco as soon as they were able to secure suitable locations.

John Deere aided Alfred Fulcher in establishing his dealership in Cresco, Iowa, including signs for the dealership and promotional literature.

The partners decided to call their new business the Cresco Implement Company. Alfred and Julia moved their family to Cresco. The March 8, 1939, Howard County Times carried the announcement that the John Deere Plow Company had contracted with the Cresco Implement Company to sell the entire line of John Deere equipment, examples of which would be arriving soon according to the announcement.  Even before the announcement to the public, the John Deere Company had been aiding Alfred Fulcher in getting the new dealership off to a good start.  The annual dealership open house called “John Deere Day” was traditionally held at all John Deere dealerships across the nation in the early spring.  The John Deere Company walked Alfred through the process of organizing his first open house celebration by shipping an inventory of tractors, machinery and promotional literature to Alfred’s dealership even before the doors of the dealership were open for business.

Meanwhile, the announcement extended to the public extending a free invitation to all farmers for John Deere Day in Cresco to be held on Tuesday March 14, 1939, just five days after the official opening of the dealership.  Activities would begin at 10:00 AM on the 14th of March, with an educational program and “Hollywood Comedy” movie to be shown at the Cresco Theatre. A free lunch was to be served at the Cresco Implement building one block south of Highway No. 9 in Cresco.

The recently restored Cresco Theater located

The Hollywood comedy feature movie shown at “John Deere Day” in 1939 was the “The Tuttle Tugger” (This movie is currently available on VHS video tape No. 89-3 from Two-Cylinder Magazine, P.O. Box 10, Grundy Center, Iowa 50638-0010, Tel. [319] 345-6060.) Additionally, the educational program would have included the fourth annual film of the line of Sheppard family films called “The Sheppards Take a Vacation” This movie featured the John Deere Model No. 11A pull-type combine which was purchased by the fictional Sheppard family which allowed them to get their small grain harvested quickly thus freeing the family to take their first summer vacation they had taken in years. (This movie is also currently available on VHS tape No. 89-7 from Two Cylinder.) Also shown as part of the educational program in 1939 was the movie “In the Field with the Model L” which advertised the smallest of the John Deere line of tractors–the newly styled 8 horsepower Model L tractor. (This film also is available on VHS video tape No. 90-2 from Two Cylinder.)

The annual open house called “John Deere Day” was traditionally held at local John Deere dealerships, nationwide. Usually held in the late winter and early spring each year. the  Deere Day open house was scheduled for a period of time before the local farmers could work in the fields and were free to attend the open house.  Additionally, farm families were  usually suffering from “cabin fever” after spending the winter in doors. Thus, the entire family would  look forward to getting to town and visiting with the neighbors, eating a free meal and seeing a free promotional movie.

The really big news in 1939, of course, was the fact that the Model A and B tractors were improved with more horsepower and were available as “styled” tractors complete with a sheet metal hood and grill. Regular readers of the Belt Pulley will remember that sales of the popular John Deere Model D tractor had saved many a John Deere dealership in the 1920s, e.g., the Beske Implement Dealership of Minnesota Lake, Minnesota. (See Part I in this series: “Beske Implement of Minnesota Lake” in the March/April 2000 Belt Pulley.)   However, by 1939, not only had the tractor market grown much larger, but it had moved away from the standard designed four-wheeled tractor toward the tri-cycle designed tractor with capabilities of handling row-crop work on the average farm as well as heavy plowing and other field work. The tricycle John Deere Model A and B tractors did not disappoint the company or their dealerships. The Cresco Implement Company sold many of these new improved tractors.

The new “styled” John Deere tractors were introduced in 1939. The styled tractors had a streamlined look because of the sheet metal hood and grill.

The dealership did relatively well in the short period of time prior to the United States’ entry into the Second World War. However, once the United States government began buying large amounts of food products for the armed forces overseas, farm commodity prices sky-rocketed. Suddenly farmers were creating a heavy demand for tractors which made for brisk sales volume at the Cresco Implement Company. Generally, the John Deere Company of Waterloo, Iowa, served as the blockhouse (distributing warehouse) for all the dealoships across the entire state of Iowa. However, because the Cresco Implement Company was so close to Minnesota it was served by Deere and Webber at 800-828 Washington Avenue North in Minneapolis. Deere and Webber was the distributor of John Deere farm equipment for the entire state of Minnesota. To be sure, Al Fulcher became well acquainted with the personnel at Deere and Webber as he attempted to obtain the farm equipment which was now so much in demand by the farmers of Howard County.

When the Fulcher family had first moved to Cresco they had rented housing as they had in Charles City. By 1943, they were secure enough to purchase a home. After years of renting the family was finally able on to move into their own home and invest the former rental payments into their own property. On May 13, 1943, they purchased a house in the Baldwin Addition in Cresco from R.J. and Maude Fiske. Some time during the war Alfred Fulcher bought out R.J. Atkinson and became the sole proprietor of the Cresco Implement Company.

Upon the conclusion of the Second World War, the restrictions on production and sale of farm machinery were lifted and this released a flurry of purchasing by the farming community. Not only were the veterans returning home from the war and adding to the farm public, but the world after the war was a different world than it had been prior to the war. Horses were uniformly replaced tractors on the farms all across the nation. Whereas, before the war the farmer had fed himself and ten others, after the war he was producing enough to feed himself and 17 others. Therefore, it was not the small tractors in the John Deere line that sold, rather it was the larger row crop tractors. Symbolic of the demand for more horsepower was the fact that in 1946, sales of the Model A tractor surpassed sales of the popular Model B tractor for the first time in the history of the two tractors. (J.R. Hobbs, “Taking a Look at the Late Styled Model ‘A’ 1947-1952,” Green Magazine [Vol. 12, No. 7, July, 1996], p. 23.) Recognizing this trend for more powerful tractors, John Deere again improved both the Model A and B tractors by giving them even more horsepower. The Model A tractor now allowed many farmers to move into full four-row capability on their farms. (One such farmer who purchased a new Model A in 1947 will be the subject of a later story in this series.)

Indeed, nationwide, all tractors were selling faster than the Waterloo works could make them. Many of the new John Deere Model A and B tractors were sold by the Cresco Implement Company. Many of these sales involved a “trade-in” of a used tractor. One such trade-in was a three-speed 1935 John Deere Model D with 7.50 x 18″ factory rubber tires in the front and cut-down steel wheels in the rear which had been fitted with 28″ rims and 13.5 x 28″ rubber tires. This particular tractor was sitting on the used tractor lot at the Cresco Implement Company one Sunday in August of 1950 when it was spotted by Howard Hanks and his son Fred.

Regular readers of the Belt Pulley will remember that John T. Goff had rented his farm in Mapleton, Minnesota to the Howard and Ethel (Buck) Hanks family from 1935 until 1945 and that John T. Goff had sold the Hanks family some of his farm machinery–including a 1931 John Deere Model D and a 3-bottom John Deere No. 5 plow with 14″ bottoms. (The story of the 1931 Model D tractor was carried in the previous article in this series.)

The 1931 two-speed John Deere Model D tractor plowing withthe3-bottom John Deere plow on the Goff farm in the autumn of 1936. Howard Hanks is at the steering wheel of the tractor and his second son–the 12-year old Bruce Hanks–standing in front of the tractor.

Even after the Hanks family moved off the Goff farm, the Hanks family had kept in touch with their old landlord–John T. Goff. Thus, one Sunday afternoon in August 1950, John T., John’s new wife, Blanche, and Maud Hamp, John T.’s widowed cousin who now lived with John T. and Blanche in Mapleton, drove down to the Hanks farm for a visit. To show the Goff’s and Maud Hamp some of the surrounding countryside, Howard and Ethel invited everybody along on a road trip in the Hanks family’s new 1949 Chrysler. Howard’s oldest son, Fred Hanks, drove so that Howard could talk with John T. In the rear seat of the spacious Chrysler sat Ethel, Blanche and Maud Hamp. The trip took the group through Cresco, Iowa. While driving along, Fred happened to notice the 1935 rubber-tired John Deere Model D at the Cresco Implement Company dealership. He hesitated to interrupt the conversation that was going on in the car, but he finally mentioned the tractor to John T. and his father. It being Sunday, a day of leisure, they all agreed to stop and look at the tractor.

Recognizing the limitations of the two-speed Model D, the John Deere Company had, in 1935, introduced a new three-speed John Deere Model D. The new Model D had speeds of 2½ mph in first gear, 3½ mph in second gear, and 5 mph in third gear. (C.H. Wendel, Nebraska Tractor Tests [Crestline International: Osceola, Wisc., 1993], p. 90.) Although 5 mph was still too slow for the average farm in the post-war world, it was nonetheless an improvement over the two-speed Model D. When introduced, the 1935 three-speed Model D was available only on steel and really could not have a faster speed for safety reasons. Then, early in the production year of 1935, the Model D was made available to the public with 7.50″ x 18″ rubber tires in the front. Later that same year, beginning with serial No. 123,099, the Model D was available with 12.75″ x 28″ rubber tires in the back. (“The John Deere Model D Tractor [1931-1938]” Two Cylinder Magazine November/December 1997, pp. 28 and 32.) A great number of 1935 Model Ds were sold with factory-installed rubber tires in the front and steel wheels in the rear. As time went by, however, many of these Model Ds were altered by having the rear wheels cut down and fitted with rims for rubber tires. The 1935 Model D that Howard and Fred saw at Cresco Implement in August of 1950 was one of these altered tractors.

Not only were Howard and Fred impressed by the tractor’s rubber tires, they were also impressed with the three-speed transmission. Furthermore, the tractor appealed to Howard because this 1935 Model D was merely an improved version of the 1931 Model D. Consequently, they made a deal with Al Fulcher to purchase the 1935 Model D, and the dealership agreed to take the 1931 Model D in on trade. Thus, the Cresco Implement Company truck delivered the 1935 Model D to the Hanks farm located 25 miles away to the northwest, across the state line in Minnesota. Once the 1935 John Deere Model D was unloaded at the Hanks farm, the old 1931 John Deere two-speed was then loaded up and hauled back to Cresco.

Following the harvest that year, Howard put the 1935 Model D to work in the fields doing the fall plowing. Pulling the John Deere No. 5 three-bottom plow with 14″ bottoms in the soil on the Bagan farm, Howard found that the 1935 Model D was just like the 1931 Model, except the rubber tires offered a much smoother ride and the third gear allowed the tractor to drive out of the yard and down the road to the field considerably faster.  The only fault with the whole fall plowing was that, as the cold weather moved in, plowing became an uncomfortable task. Thus, Howard, who had, as previously noted, inherited a skill in woodworking from his grandfather, set about making a cab for the Model D. The high, square, wheel fenders on either side of the driver invited the building of a cab for the tractor. The cab that Howard built was a three-sided affair made from plywood, with Plexiglass plastic windows on the front and both sides. Not only did the cab on the Model D make fall plowing more comfortable and pleasurable, but Howard found that by removing the windows in the summertime, the cab would also provide relief for the hot sun. This benefit would soon be very much appreciated, as the family would find an unexpected summertime use for the Model D in the years immediately ahead. Cabs were popular homemade additions that were added to many John Deere Model D tractors. (A picture taken in July of 1936, showing a Model D tractor with a homemade cab performing road work, can be seen in the article “The Model DI tractor” by J.R. Hobbs on page 25 of the December 1997 Green Magazine. Additionally, two Model Ds, complete with cabs, can be seen performing seed bed preparation work in the horizon-to-horizon wheat fields of Montana in the 1949 movie Big Operations in Wheat Country, available on tape No. 91-4 from the Two Cylinder Magazine.)

Ordinarily, the Hanks family patronized the John Deere dealership in LeRoy, Minnesota–the dealership owned by the LeRoy Farmers Cooperative which also owned the lumberyard and the grain elevator. (This dealership was only one of two dealerships in the State of Minnesota owned by a cooperative.) Therefore, it was the LeRoy Cooperative dealership rather than the Cresco Implement Company that the Hanks and Wayne Wells families turned to when, as previously noted, in the summer of 1956 they traded in their old 1948 Case NCM baler on a new John Deere 14T baler. (See “The Family’s First New Tractor” in the March/April 1999 issue of Belt Pulley Magazine, p. 47.)

The 1935 Hanks family John Deere Model D powers the new John Deere 14T baler during haying season.

The John Deere 14T baler purchased by Howard and Fred Hanks and Wayne Wells was a PTO driven baler. John Deere had introduced this new baler in 1954 as the new “in-line” self-tying twine baler for the average farm. (See the article by Ralph Hughes called “Four New Balers Ended the Era of Two-Cylinder Tractors” in the February 2000 issue of Green Magazine, p. 13.) The only problem with the new baler was to find an effective power source. Although in 1951 the Hanks family had purchased a new Massey-Harris 44 which, of course, had a PTO, the 44 usually spent haying season carrying the mounted 4-row cultivator and was thus unavailable to power the new 14T baler. The same was true of Wayne Wells’ new 1950 Farmall M. The Hanks family had also acquired a Massey Harris 22. However, this tractor was just a little undersized to power and pull the baler complete with a wagon load of hay bales over the sometimes gently rolling hills of eastern Mower and western Fillmore Counties in Minnesota. The 1948 Ford 8N was seen as too small a tractor to power the new baler and, anyway, it had been traded off with the Case baler on the purchase of this new John Deere 14T baler. Therefore, the only tractor left with power enough to pull the baler was the 1935 John Deere three-speed Model D tractor.

Originally, the 1935 John Deere D did not have a PTO “quill” installed. However, it did have a “cover plate” over the hole to the transmission where the quill was to be installed. Here the cover plate is seen on the left side and below the operator’s seat.

Unlike the 1931 two-speed Model D tractor which the family had previously owned, the 1935 Model D came with no factory equipped PTO. However, John Deere offered an attachable optional PTO shaft kit which could be installed as an after-market item. This attachment was an attempt to bring the pre-war configuration of a John Deere Model D into the modern post-World War II era. In the case of the Hanks’ 1935 Model D, the addition of the “quill” housing and the PTO shaft kit brought new value to the tractor.

The PTO “quill” offered by John Deere as an after market “add-on” for the John Deere Model D tractor, even came with its own control lever as pictured here.

During the crush of field work during haying season, use of the Model D on the new 14T baler would free up the other tractors owned by the Hanks family for cultivating the row crops and allow for simultaneous mowing, raking and hauling of hay bales to the barn during the hay harvest. This attachment extended the useful life of the 1935 John Deere Model D well into the 1950s and 1960s. Indeed, the Hanks family felt secure enough about the continued usefulness of the John Deere Model D that on April 9, 1957, they bought a used Model 55 three-bottom plow with 14″ bottoms from a neighbor Earl Jacobson to replace the old No. 5 three-bottom plow which the family had brought with them from the Goff farm.

Thus, the 1935 Model D, an anachronism from an earlier time, continued to be used on the Hanks farm and continued to create memories in a whole new generation of children–the grandchildren of Howard Hanks. Indeed, the earliest memory of Neil Hanks (son of Fred Hanks born on July 31, 1956) was of riding on the 1935 John Deere Model D in the spring of 1959. Not yet three years of age, Neil went for a ride on the tractor with his grandfather, Howard Hanks, out to the field to do some seed bed preparation work with the John Deere No. 10 field cultivator. Once in the field, with the tractor and digger put to work, Howard started singing to himself as he habitually did while working. The rhythmic sound of the two-cylinder tractor and the singing of his grandfather soon lulled young Neil to sleep. To accommodate the sleeping toddler, Howard arranged a collection of old coats and blankets on the spacious transmission cover, ahead of the driver’s seat and behind the gas tank. In this ready-made “bed”, toddler Neil slept, apparently oblivious to the loud howl of the transmission gears. The words and melody of the song sung by his grandfather were deeply imprinted on Neil, and years later, when he was in grade school at Ostrander, Neil would discover the song in his song book–a Scottish folk song called __ The Darby Ram _.  However, on this particular spring day, however, a sudden rain ended the field work, and Howard and the now awake Neil beat a hasty retreat for the machine shed and the farm building site.

Whereas, the children of Howard Hanks, including Marilyn Hanks Wells, mother of the current author, have strong memories as school age children of the 1931 two-speed, steel-wheeled John Deere model D tractor, it is the 1935, three-speed John Deere Model D with rubber tires mounted on cutdown steel wheels that became the source of loving memories of the grandchildren of Howard Hanks.  and was being revived to a new life on the Hanks farm,

Changes were also occurring at the Cresco Implement Company. In the post-war farm equipment market, Alfred Fulcher found that he was selling a lot of farm equipment. He and Julia watched with pride as their children grew up and struck out on their own. Their daughter Delores had graduated from Immaculate Conception High School in Charles City in 1935 and had gone on to nursing school at Mercy Hospital in Mason City, Iowa. There she met and married James E. Johnson of Mason City on April 21, 1944. By the 1950s, they had a beloved daughter Patricia, who remembers with relish all of her visits to Cresco where Grandpa Fulcher would take his grandchildren for a ride in his Packard car. Events, however, intruded into this beautiful domestic scene when Al Fulcher was diagnosed with cancer and was persuaded that he should retire. Casting around for a buyer of the Cresco Implement Co., Al and Julia found an interested party–George Hansen.

George Hansen had experience as an operator of a dealership, as since 1945 he had been a partner with Lester Lund in the John Deere dealership located in Walcott, Iowa. Now he recognized that this was an opportunity to become a sole proprietor of his own dealership. Thus, after some negotiations, George and his wife Violet (Hoffmann) Hansen purchased the Cresco Implement Company in 1954 and moved with their family–Norma, Helen (nicknamed Bootie), and Harold–to the Cresco community to establish their new home.

Alfred and Julia Fulcher lived on in retirement in Cresco. Alfred was, medically speaking, a “cancer survivor,” as he continued to live more than five years after his first diagnosis of cancer. Indeed, he lived an additional eleven years–until May 22, 1965–when he died from a heart condition. Selling the dealership when he did in 1954 was a good move that yielded Julia and Al a secure and comfortable retirement. Having purchased the dealership before the Second World War when the farm tractor market was still in its relative infancy, Alfred had seen the dealership grow in value, as (1) the end of the depression brought recovery to American agriculture and (2) the demand for food in the Second World War really gave farming a boost. Furthermore, Alfred had seen the dealership grow even more in the post-war period when tractors sold faster than they could be obtained. By 1954, this market had about reached its peak, and this was the exact time that Alfred and Julia sold their business. Farm consolidation would follow the end of the Korean War boom, as would consolidation of farm equipment dealerships. Small town dealerships would give way to dealerships in bigger towns servicing a broader area. Also, tractors and combines became bigger and more expensive, thereby creating difficulty for the small dealerships to carry a good inventory of machines.

George and Violet Hansen guided the Cresco Implement through these years of consolidation. In 1965, the same year that Alfred Fulcher died, Violet Hansen also died. In 1966, George closed the dealership, sold the building and moved to Bolan, Iowa. George lived on until August of 1999, just as the present author was beginning to research this article.   His daughter Bootie (Hansen) Kapler still lives in Cresco and works at the Union Savings Bank.

Delores (Fulcher) Johnson’s daughter Patricia followed her mother into nursing. Currently, Patricia (Johnson) Sheldon is the director of nursing in Rockwell, Iowa. This is the same nursing home where Delores spent her last few years and where she died on November 19, 1999, just days before the present author called to talk to her about this article.  Thus, the current author narrowly missed the opportunity to include the memories of Delores (Fulcher) Johnson, the daughter of George and Violet into this article.

Consequently, it is an ever-present fear of this author that information will not be gathered and written down before the passing of the main players. As can be seen above, this particular article is a case in point. Not just one, but two of the major players with very sharp memories died just before they could be questioned with regard to this article. This is a regrettable loss and requires the researcher to turn to publicly-held records to resurrect the history of a particular tractor and all of the people associated with that tractor.

As noted above, the children of Howard Hanks have fond memories of the 1931 John Deere Model D that was used and later owned by the Hanks family from 1935 until 1950 and the grandchildren of Howard Hanks have similar fond memories of the 1935 John Deere Model D.  As a result of these fond memories, a desire to obtain and/or restore a John Deere Model D tractor was instilled in the surviving children and grandchildren of Howard Hanks.  Accordingly, in July of 2015, Marilyn (Hanks) Wells acted on this desire by purchasing a John Deere Model D from Chris Wyman of rural Chaska, Minnesota.   This Model D bears the Serial Number–123360.  The serial number certificate ordered from the Two-Cylinder Club reveals that this particular John Deere Model D was shipped out of the Waterloo, Iowa tractor plant on June 17, 1935.

The serial number certificate for the John Deere Model D sold through the Tatge Implement dealership of Ramona, Kansas, reveals that the tractor was shipped out to Ramona on June 17, 1935.

No. 123360 had  been placed on a Great Western Railroad flatcar and attached to a Great Western train.  The freight train with no. 123360 headed southwest, through DesMoines, out across southern Iowa and into Missouri.  The Great Western train reached the end of the Great Western line at St. Joseph, Missouri.  In St. Joseph, the flat car carrying the John Deere D bearing the serial number 123360 was transferred to a Chicago, Rock Isand and Pacific Railroad (the “Rock Island” Railroad) freight train headed for end of its line in San Diego and Los Angeles, California.

At St. Joseph, the train crossed the Missouri river and proceeded west  into Kansas and then turned south toward Topeka, Kansas.  More cars were added to the freight for the trip to California and the Rock Island train pushed on southwest through the small towns of Kansas.  Eventually, the train stopped in Ramona, Kansas (1930 pop. 240) located on the northern border of Marion County, Kansas.  Here in Ramona, No. 123360 was unloaded at the depot and some of the staff of Tatge Implement picked up the tractor and took it back to the dealership.

Although, Ramona, Kansas was served by the “branch house” located in Kansas City, Missouri, No. 123360, was being shipped straight to the small town of Ramona, pursuant to a request for a John Deere model D tractor which had been submitted by the Tatge Implement John Deere dealership.  Tatge Implement was owned by two local farmers and brothers, Edwin J. and Harlan H. Tatge.  They had purchased this dealership located on Main Street of Ramona in 1927 as a way of diversifying their income.  They both recognized the great future that tractors and mechanized farming held for the American agriculture.

In the years between 1927 and 1935, Tatge Implement sold a great number of John Deere Model D tractors.  Indeed, despite, the introduction of John Deere model C tractor with its three row-cropping system in 1925, and the introduction of the first tricycle style GP (General Purpose) model tractor with its two-row  cultivator, following the more conventional two-row  cropping system that was currently being used by horses, the Tatge brothers found that the standard-type  four-wheel John Deere model D continued to be their most popular selling tractor.

Tatje Implement (2)
By 1927, brothers Edwin and Harlan Tatge, local farmers in the Ramona area, had purchased the H. L. Brubaker building in Ramona Kansas and had established a John Deere dealership in Ramona.

The Production Log of the Waterloo Tractor Works states that 5,980 individual John Deere Model Ds built in 1935.  In June of 1935 the Production Log indicates that 631 tractors were produced.   Over the course of 1935 many significant changes were made to the John Deere Model D.  There is no way of knowing the serial number of the 1935 Model D tractor purchased by Howard Hanks in 1950.  However, many of the features of No. 123360 indicate that the Howard Hanks Model D was very close serial number production to the Ramona, Kansas Model D bearing the serial number 123360.  Most significantly, all John Deere Model D tractors after serial number 124193 were made with a 12-spline rear axle.  All Model D tractors prior to that time were made with 10-spline rear axles.  No. 123360 has a 10-spline axle and so too did the Howard Hanks 1935 John Deere Model D.

The John Deere Model D bearing the Serial No. 123360 which was shipped from the Waterloo Tractor Works on June 17, 1935 and shipped to Tatge Implement in Ramona, Kansas.
The John Deere Model D bearing the Serial No. 123360 at the beginning of its restoration.

Proof of this fact in contained in the fact that when the 10-spline axle was discontinued, so too was the decorative nut that was screwed onto the hub at end of the 10-spline axle.  Use of the decorative nut at the end of the axle was discontinued at serial number 124193.  The decorative nut had a “J-D” script on the front.  In the picture of the Howard Hanks’ Model D pulling the John Deere Model 7A combine located at the top of this article clearly shows the decorative nuts on the center of the rear wheels.  The Ramona John Deere Model D also has the decorative nut at the end 10-spline axle on both rear wheels.  Thus the Howard Hanks Model D could not have had a Serial number larger than 124193.

The decorative nut on the hub of the rear axle at the middle of both rear wheels on all John Deere Model D before serial number
The decorative nut on the hub of the rear axle at the middle of both rear wheels on all John Deere Model D before serial number 124193.

The Parts Book for the John Deere Model D indicates that the clutch control lever at the right side of the steering wheel  was changed at serial number 114692.  It was made heavier and was fitted with a bushing in the pivot hole.  Obviously, No. 123360–the Ramona Model D–was fitted with this heavier clutch lever.  However, so too was the Howard Hanks 1935 John Deere Model D.  Clearly, then, the Howard Hanks Model D  John Deere D had a serial number among the 9,501  between No. 114692 and No. 124193 and thus was close to the Ramona Kansas John Deere D bearing the serial number 123360–proof that both tractors were made at about the same time in the summer of 1935 .

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