Wood Brothers Company (Part II)

The Wood Bros. Company (Part II):

The Model WB-1-P Cornpicker

by

Brian Wayne Wells

with the assistance of

Gary Oechsner of Fond-du-Lac, Wisconsin

Clarence L. Goodburn of Madelia, Minnesota

Alan C. King of Radnor, Ohio

            Charles R. Durham of Brainerd, Minnesota

and

Hugh Hash of Sparta, North Carolina

By 1928, the Wood Bros. Thresher Company appeared to be at the top of its form, and its future looked even brighter.  Having successfully overcome a few challenges in its recent history (the disastrous fire of 1917, another fire–although somewhat less disastrous–in 1926, and a change of factory locations in 1926), production of threshing machines was at a new all-time high.  Franz L. Wood presided over a company that was the largest, single industrial project between the Mississippi River and the Rocky Mountains, with his brother Robert L. serving as treasurer.  The company produced enough threshers that year, such that 200 threshers were delivered aboard a single train to its branch house in Fargo, North Dakota.  Yet, just when everything appeared to be at its best, the greatest disasters befell.  Already in 1928, warning signs were out which too many people would ignore, pointing to a major economic cataclysm just ahead.  The effects of this period of economic stress would have a tremendous impact on the Wood Bros. Thresher Company.

Despite the debt that the company had accrued in its move in 1926 to the new location at 1700 E. Aurora Avenue, and despite objections from his brother and other people within the company, Franz was able to divert some of the resources from the sale of threshers into building combine harvesters.  Franz correctly foresaw that combine harvesters were the wave of the future that would eventually replace the stationary thresher/separator on all United States farms.  He wanted to position the company securely in the new combine market before thresher sales started to decline in favor of the new combines.  It was a bold plan that promised to assure the future prospects of the company.

In 1929, Wood Bros. marketed its first model combine harvester/thresher.  Three models of the new combine, with its unique overshot-type cylinder and fork-type impeller feeder, were offered to the public–a model with a 12-foot cutter bar, a model with a 16-foot cutter bar, and a model with a 20-foot cutter bar.  Furthermore, the company made plans to boost combine production to 1,000 machines in 1930.  The company, borrowing more money from the bank for the increase in production, suddenly found that the total debt on the bonds they still had left to pay together with the new loan they had just taken out added up to $950,000.00.

Suddenly, the price of wheat fell to 20 cents per bushel and farmers began defaulting on their payments for their threshers and combines.  The company became stressed under its load of debt and were unable to make payments on its bonds as they came due.  As a result of these defaults, the whole Wood Bros. debt became due immediately.  Franz, in an attempt to help the company, borrowed all that he could against his own $80,000.00 life insurance policy.  However, nothing helped for very long.  The company simply was not selling anything, and had to seek the protection of bankruptcy to allow time to restructure the debt load.

In January of 1931, Robert L. Wood, his son Franz W. Wood, and Mr. Worden from the bookkeeping department of the company traveled to Chicago to meet with the bankers who now owned the notes of the company’s debt.  They hoped to work out a debt restructuring agreement.  However, the bankers had strong demands.  First, they required that a bankruptcy trustee be established to run the company, rather than the Wood brothers.  While Robert L. Wood was retained by the company because he headed the sales department and was needed, Franz Wood was required to give up his position and salary while the company was being reorganized.  Secondly, plans for production of combines were scrapped and the company had to stick to making threshers.   While there were bitter feelings directed toward the bankers and the trustee who was placed in charge of the company, luckily, no permanent estrangement was created between the brothers or their families during this trying time.

Eventually, the brothers were able to get a banker from New York to take over the debt obligation of the company.  This new banker allowed the brothers to take charge of the company again, and Franz received a salary of $1,000.00 per year while the company got back on its feet.  Throughout 1932, 1933 and 1934, the company met its financial obligations under the new debt plan by selling the inventory stock it had on hand during these years.  By the spring of 1935, the company was ready to begin making threshers again, and planned to make 500 threshers with the help of a loan from the Reconstruction Finance Corporation (RFC).  (The RFC was part of an attempt by the Roosevelt Administration’s New Deal plan to spur the sagging economy.)  However, the RFC loan fell through, and Wood Bros. made only 300 threshers in 1935.  Nonetheless, the company substantially reduced its overall indebtedness in 1934 and 1935, and by the fall of 1935, the company owed only $86,000.00 on its overall debt.  Furthermore, the company was selling threshers again.  It seemed that the company had turned a corner in its struggle to survive.

A front view of the Wood Bros. Company one row corn picker, which was introduce in 1937.

 

In 1936, Franz was able to incorporate some of the new ideas he had about threshing into a new model separator, and it was introduced that year.  In 1937, Wood Bros. introduced its first straight-through-type model combine with a 5-foot cutter bar.  In 1938 and 1939, the straight-through combine improved to handle both a 5-foot and a 7-foot cutter bar and header.  Also, in 1937, Wood Bros. introduced its first cornpicker–the Model WB-1-P.  It was a power-takeoff-driven, single-row, pull-type model cornpicker.  The Model WB-1-P corn picker immediately established itself as a very clean picker.  In other words it did a good job of husking the ears of corn before the ears made their way to the wagon.  The success of the husking ability of the Model WB-1-P lie in the husking bed of the picker which consisted of three rubber rollers interspersed with three steel rollers.  The addition the rubber rollers to the husking bed was the brainchild of one man–the Neal Curry, Wood Bros. engineer at the Des Moines plant.  (Neal Curry is the great uncle of Gray J. Jones of Owatonna Minnesota, member of the LeSueur County Pioneer Power Association.  We will be hearing more of Gary Jones in a series of articles on the Rosenthal Cornhusker Company which will be carried in Belt Pulley in the future.)

During these times, the private lives of the Wood families were also undergoing changes.  For one thing, Franz and Elizabeth’s daughter Helen graduated from Drake University in Des Moines in 1936.  First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt was the guest speaker at the graduation.  Following the ceremony, Franz Wood had a pleasant and productive talk with the First Lady.

The beautiful campus of Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa.

 

Even before entry of the United States into the Second World War, the Wood Bros. Company was feeling the pinch of the restricted supply of steel.  At the end of 1940, the company was unable to get a steel allotment, particularly, the galvanized steel which was used in its threshers.  Therefore, the company had to cease production of the thresher and the combine altogether.  In 1941, however, the company was allowed to produce 1,500 of its gray-painted cornpickers, and, in 1942, it produced 1,728 cornpickers.  However, due to the shortage of rubber during the war, Wood Bros. had to produce these cornpickers on steel wheels.  In place of the threshers and combines, the Company received government contracts for the production of ammunition boxes for the war effort.  (By 1945, the plant had a workforce of 600 employees, one-third of whom were women.)

On February 14, 1943, Wood Bros. announced the signing of a contract with Harry Ferguson Inc. of Dearborn, Michigan, under which the Ferguson Company agreed to market all combines, threshers and cornpickers made by the Wood Bros. Company.  Thus, the Wood Bros. Company closed its branch houses in Minneapolis, Minnesota; Fargo, North Dakota; Peoria, Illinois; Lincoln, Nebraska; and Wichita, Kansas.  The famous handshake agreement in October of 1938 between Henry Ford and Harry Ferguson had linked the Ford Tractor Division and Harry Ferguson, Inc. in the production of Ford/Ferguson 9N tractors.  (Even though in the eyes of the general public these companies were seen as the same company, they remained two distinct companies, a fact that would become all too obvious at a later date during the extended litigation following the dissolution of the handshake agreement.)  Now, this same dynamic was occurring in the close relationship developing between Ford and Wood Bros. Company.  Over the years, Wood Bros. had been advertising how ideally matched the small Wood Bros. thresher was to the Fordson tractor, and, later, how ideally matched the Model WB-1-P cornpicker was for the Ford/Ferguson 9N, later the 2N, and later still the 8N.  To further encourage this link, the gray paint of the Wood Bros. cornpicker was made to match the gray paint of the Ford/Ferguson 9N and 2N tractors.  As the public’s perception grew of Wood Bros. and Ford and Ferguson being one and the same, the fortunes of Wood Bros. became irretrievably linked to the fortunes of Ford and Ferguson.  This sales agreement between the Ferguson distribution network and the Wood Bros. Company was just another step down the path toward an official connection between Ford and Wood Bros.

A piece of Ford Company literature which pictures the Wood Bros. Company pull-type combine. This shows the growing connection between Ford, the Dearborn Company and the Wood Bros. Company.  This literature also shows that the Wood Bros. manufactured machinery was now painted Ford “red” in color when sold under the Ford Company.

 

In the post-war period, Wood Bros. continued to manufacture its very popular Model WB-1-P one-row cornpicker and its pull-type, straight-through Wood Bros. combine with the 5-foot cutter bar.  With rubber again available, Wood Bros. could now offer these implements to the farming public mounted on new modern rubber tires.

LeRoy, Minnesota. This picture is looking west down Main Street. On the extreme right of the picture is the State Bank of LeRoy, located on the corner of Broadway and Main Streets. Across the Broadway and just out of sight and off the right side picture in the Regan Ford dealership.

 

One of these Model WB-1-P cornpickers on rubber tires was bought in 1946 from the Regan Ford Dealership in LeRoy, Minnesota, by Mel Anderson and his neighbor George Wells.  The Mel and Irene (Christianson) Anderson farm was located three miles east, northeast of LeRoy, Minnesota.  The George and Louise (Schwark) Wells farm was located one-fourth mile east of the Anderson farm, on the Mower County border with Fillmore County.

George and Louise Wells had purchased the 160-acre farm in 1936 from the Mose Crawford family, moving from a rented farm near Chester, Iowa.  Their family consisted of three boys and two girls.  Their third child and third son Wayne Alwin (born in 1923) graduated from high school in 1941 and enlisted in the Navy to serve in the Pacific as a Mechanic’s Mate 1st Class in the Seabees–a branch of the U.S. Navy.  He was stationed on the Pacific Island of Guam for the major part of his service.  With V-J Day on September 2, 1945, demobilization of the Armed Forces in the Pacific began, and Wayne returned to the United States just before Christmas.  Because he had not served out all of his tour of duty, the Navy stationed him at the Great Lakes Naval Base near Chicago.  Nonetheless, Wayne was able to obtain a 30-day leave from Great Lakes to journey to his parents’ farm for the holidays.  On New Year’s Eve 1945-46, he went to a party for the local young people at his family’s church–the 1st Presbyterian Church in LeRoy.  Also in attendance at the party that night was Marilyn Hanks and her brother Bruce Hanks.  Marilyn had graduated with a two-year teaching certificate from Mankato State Teacher’s College in the Spring of 1945 and was home with her parents at LeRoy for the Christmas holidays.  At the time, she was teaching a combination class of first grade, second grade and third grade students in the same room at Frost, Minnesota.  Wayne and Marilyn met and talked casually that night.

Building No. 1, the Administration building at the Great Lakes Naval Air Base.

 

At the end of the 30-day leave, Wayne returned to the Great Lakes Naval Base to serve out the rest of his tour of duty.  He was officially discharged from the military on March 17, 1946, and returned to his parents’ farm.  Like many returning veterans, Wayne was undecided as to what he wanted to do with his life.  At first, he helped his father and mother on the farm, but in April of 1946, he heard that the John Deere Company was hiring workers for their tractor factory in Waterloo, Iowa.  Thus, Wayne moved to Waterloo and obtained a job on the assembly line at the John Deere factory, installing bull gears in the rear-ends of John Deere A’s.

A post-war John Deere Model A tractor, like those that Wayne Wells installed the bull-gear on for a short-time in the spring of 1946.

 

That spring, Wayne frequently drove the short distance from Waterloo to his parents’ farm.  However, he soon came to realize that he really preferred working outdoors to working inside, “looking at a brick wall all day.”  So, in the early summer of 1946, Wayne returned to LeRoy on a permanent basis to help his parents run the farm.  With his return to LeRoy, he began to see Marilyn on a regular basis, until the fall, when she went off on her second year of teaching, this time with 43 second-grade students in one room at Mapleton, Minnesota.

As the summer progressed, Wayne became more certain of what he wanted to do with his life.  Thus, as George and Louise began to consider retiring to the town of LeRoy, Wayne decided he would take over operation of the farm.  Wayne knew that there were many advantageous relationships which he would inherit from his father.  For one thing, he knew that Mel Anderson and the Wells family had cooperated over the years in a number of different farming operations.  Ever since moving to the neighborhood in 1936, George Wells had belonged to Mel’s threshing ring.  Wayne also knew of the arrangement between Mel Anderson and George Wells to cooperate in cornpicking with the new Woods Bros cornpicker.             Now, in 1946, in anticipation of his taking over the operation of the farm, Wayne began to look for ways to make a little money on his own.  Thus, when cornpicking season came, he helped his father and Mel Anderson get the corn picked on their two farms.  Then, he took the new one-row Wood Bros. cornpicker and his father’s 1942 Farmall H on the road, doing custom cornpicking for the neighbors for extra income.  The 1942 Farmall H had sufficient power to pull the Wood Bros. cornpicker and wagon loaded with the bright orange ears of field corn through the muddy conditions that existed in the corn fields in the fall of 1946.  (Regular readers of the Belt Pulley will remember that 1946 was a wet fall which led to an extremely wet spring and early summer of 1947.  [See “The Case NCM Baler and a Family’s Crucial Year” in the January/February 1995 issue of Belt Pulley, p. 31.])

The George Wells 1942 Farmall Model H can be seen hitched to the wagon in this picture during the 1947 soybean harvest–one year after Wayne Wells used the Model H to do some custom corn picking in the neighborhood.

 

Moving from farm to farm, Wayne drove the Farmall H, pulling the cornpicker and one of the Wells family’s steel-wheeled “double box” grain wagons with extensions on the sides of the box flared out at a 45-degree angle to catch all the ears that came spilling out of the elevator of the picker.  Driving into the yard of a customer, he would follow the farmer through the gates of his cowyard and down a lane leading to the field that was to be picked.  The farmer would then show Wayne the rows of corn that had already been hand-picked to “open the field” for the pull-type picker.  The picker had been greased up the night before, but Wayne would stop the tractor at the gate leading to the field to give the cornpicker one last “look-over.”  Then he would get back up into the seat of the Farmall H and turn to adjust the lifting lever of the cornpicker so that the snouts of the gatherer just cleared the ground.

Bros.
A Wood Bros. Co. one-row corn picker at work in the field.  This picture of a Farmall H pulling a Wood Bros. one-row corn picker could well have been a picture of Wayne A. Wells in the Autumn of 1946, except that Wood Bros. corn picker owned by Mel Anderson and Wayne A. Wells was a pre-1947 picker which was painted Ferguson gray rather Ford red.

 

With the frozen crust of dirt on the top of the ground breaking under the weight of the rear wheels of the Farmall H, Wayne pulled up to the end of the first row he was to pick.  Then he pushed in the foot clutch, reached down with his left hand to find the little loop of the power take-off control, and pulled the loop upwards to engage the power take-off.  Because of the wet conditions, he shifted into second gear and started across the field.  The Wood Bros. cornpicker sprang to life and began tackling the first stalks of corn in the row passing along the left side of the tractor.  Stripping the ears of corn off the stalks, the cornpicker passed the ears to a bin at the rear of the snapping rollers and the gathering unit of the picker.  Then an elevator took the ears at a right angle to the top of the husking bed.  As the ears glided around another right turn to slide down over the husking rollers, the corn was actually headed straight forward in the cornpicker, directly toward the operator sitting on the tractor.  The ears of corn then fell into a bin directly behind the tractor but near the front of the cornpicker, where the corn turned another 180 degrees and started up the wagon elevator.

The front view of a pre-war gray one-row Wood Bros. Company corn picker, which shows the complicated “S” pattern pathway followed by the ear corm making its way through the corn picker.

 

This complex “S” shaped pattern of corn passing through the cornpicker was unique to the model WB-1-P.  The pattern involved many right turns which might ordinarily have served as bottlenecks where corn could have piled up and plugged the picker.  Nonetheless, the “S” shaped design of the flow pattern was helpful in that it allowed the driver of the tractor to have a clear view of the action on the husking bed and of the corn as it started up the elevator.  The location of these two potential trouble spots was near the front of the cornpicker, immediately behind the tractor driver.  (Daryl Dempsey, current owner and user of a model WB-1-P cornpicker [mentioned below] notes that he has experienced incidents of clogging at the last 180-degree turn at the base of the wagon elevator when especially long ears of corn are passing through the cornpicker.  He has also heard reports of the same type of clogging from other former owners of the model WB-1-P cornpicker.)

Upon getting to the end of the first row, Wayne would reach around behind him to turn off the drive to the wagon elevator before he started into his turn.  The cornpicker would then finish picking the last few stalks of corn in the row and would allow the ears to pile up in the bin at the base of the wagon elevator.  In that way, no ears would be lost on the ground as the wagon elevator swung out and around, away from the narrow box of the wagon during the turn.  Once the picker and the wagon straightened out and started up another row for the return trip across the field, Wayne would once again engage the wagon elevator control and the wagon elevator would quickly clean out all the built up ears in the bin at the base of the elevator and transport them safely up into the wagon.  In an average year, a narrow double-box grain wagon with extensions would be full of corn after three rounds of an average 30-acre field.

This restored Wood Bros. cornpicker is painted gray indicating that it is a pre-1947 corn picker.

 

 

The little gray Wood Bros model WB-1-P cornpicker was regarded as a very good picker for husking ears of corn, thus aiding farmers toward their goal of 1% or less of husks going into the crib.  Our farmer, for whom Wayne was performing this custom picking,  would have been well pleased as he looked over the wagon load of clean ears with very little husks left on them.  Clearly, the little gray Wood Bros. cornpicker was not only getting low enough to get all the downed corn, it was even getting the “nubbins” (the small under-developed ears) that were found periodically, even in good harvest years.  Because the picker’s steel and rubber rollers on the husking bed were removing a great deal of the husks, our farmer knew this would aid in the drying of the corn in the crib and that no mold would form in the middle of his crib, causing spoilage or waste of his hard-earned crop.  Thus, our farmer was smiling as he drove his tractor up into his yard, pulling the wagon full of corn–not so much because of these advantages, but because of the real advantage of mechanical picking of corn–speed.  Within two or three days, our farmer would have all of his corn in the crib.  This represented weeks of time saved over the slow laborious task of hand-picking corn.  (Just how much time is saved by mechanical picking over hand picking is shown in the 1938 movie “Party Line,” available on Tape #4 of the International Harvester Promotional Movie Collection.  In “Party Line” it is pointed out that the farmer who hand picked his corn would spend nearly nine times as many man/hours in the field as the total combined time he spent plowing, preparing seed bed, and planting and cultivating the same crop of corn.)

As our farmer pulled the wagon load of corn up to his corncrib where an elevator and his two teenage children awaited to help him get the wagon load of corn safely under cover in the crib, our farmer realized another advantage of mechanical picking of corn–he and his family could do the work without the need to hire on extra help.  Yes, hiring custom picking that fall was enlightening.  That winter, our farmer would feed very little of the corn to his animals, and would end up shelling out nearly the entire crib in the spring.  With the money he made on the corn, he would buy a cornpicker of his own for the next harvest season.  Indeed, cornpicker owners were the best salesmen of cornpickers.

Wayne Wells soon found that many people in his neighborhood and around the nation would become owners of cornpickers.  Wayne had earned some extra money with the cornpicker that fall; however, he would never again do any custom picking beyond that brief season of 1946.  There would not be enough demand for custom cornpicking beyond the fall of 1946.

By the spring of 1947, Wayne finalized arrangements with his parents so that after he and Marilyn were married that summer, they would take over the farming operations on the Wells farm.  They would purchase the tractor and some of the equipment and rent the farm for a few years until they could get established.  They would purchase the farm at a later date.  Although he never again did any custom picking, Wayne and Mel Anderson used the little gray Wood Bros. cornpicker on their own farms through the fall harvest of 1949.  In 1950, Mel and George Wells (who still owned half-interest in the one-row Wood Bros. picker) traded the Model WB-1-P in to the Millenaker Implement dealership of Adams, Minnesota, on the purchase of a two-row New Idea Model 6A cornpicker.

A 1947-1950 New Idea Company two-row corn picker with the exposed gears at the top of the header.

 

So as to allow Wayne to upgrade to 3-plow and four-row farming–by purchasing a new 1950 Farmall M, a McCormick Deering Model 435 four-row cultivator, and a new four-row McCormick-Deering corn planter–George continued his half-interest in the new picker.       Already in the early 1950s, farmers were beginning to feel the necessity of “getting big or getting out.”  The little Wood Bros. Model WB-1-P had offered farmers a chance to get into mechanical picking of corn, but only for the very limited period of time from the end of the Second World War until the 1950s. (For the story of the New Idea Model 6A cornpicker , see “The New Idea Company [Part II] in the November/December 1998 Belt Pulley, Vol. 11, No. 6, p. 26.)

A Ford Model 8N tractor pulling a one-row Wood Bros. corn picker.

 

Another of the little gray Model WB-1-P pickers was purchased new by Fred Langley of Hillsboro, Ohio, in 1948.  Fred powered the picker with his Ford 8N and used the picker for harvesting corn on his farm and the farms of his neighbors from 1948 until 1952.  (The original owner/operators manual for this particular Model WB-1-P picker is still in existence and contains notes by Fred Langley of all the corn harvests the picker completed.)  This particular little Woods Bros. picker is unique on two scores:  First, the picker is still in use on the farm of Daryl Dempsey of Oak Hill, Ohio, where Daryl lovingly stores the picker in a machine shed when the picker is not in use; and, secondly, this picker has a decal which states, “Made exclusively for Harry Ferguson Co. Detroit Michigan.”  This is significant, because in 1946, Henry Ford II, grandson of the company’s founder, upon the death of his grandfather, assumed control of the Ford Motor Company and decided to end the “handshake agreement” between Ford and the Harry Ferguson Company.  To this end, Ford created the Dearborn Motor Company which would now have a monopoly on production and distribution of the new Ford Model 8N tractor.  (Robert Lacey, Ford: The Men and the Machine [Little Brown & Company: Boston, 1986], pp. 428-429.)

Consequently, Harry Ferguson Inc. sued Ford Motor Company for “breach of the handshake agreement.”  This famous lawsuit came to occupy the legal resources of both companies until the 1953 court settlement.  Following the dissolution of the handshake agreement, Harry Ferguson Inc. was forced to start producing tractors of its own and to develop its own sales network.  As noted in an earlier article, Harry Ferguson Inc., during this time, had formed a joint venture with the Belle City Company to have Ferguson Model TO-20 and Model TO-30 farm tractors sold through the same network of dealerships as Belle City farm machinery.  However, the Langley/Dempsey picker is clear evidence that for at least a short while after the breakup of Ford and Ferguson, Ferguson had been able to obtain some Wood Bros. cornpickers and to market them under the Ferguson name alone.  (See “The Belle City Manufacturing Company” [Part II] in the July/August 1999 Belt Pulley Vol. 12, No. 4. p. 20.)

The breakup of Ford and Ferguson also had an important impact on Wood Bros.  Because Wood Bros. had for so long been advertising their small threshers as ideally suited to Ford tractors, then later advertising their Model WB-1-P cornpicker as also ideally suited for Ford tractors, the public had perceived Wood Bros. as part and parcel of Ford.  The Wood Bros Company would not be able to escape the embrace of FordWood Bros. had become, over the years, inexorably linked to the destinies of the Ford Tractor Division.  There were, perhaps, good reasons to break free of Ford, as the split between Ford and Ferguson would cost Wood Bros. customers and dealership outlets.  Consequently, Wood Bros. would need to establish its own independent sales network to make up the difference, and this would be no easy task.  Their only other alternative would be to attach to either Ferguson or Ford in order to obtain a ready-made sales and distribution network.  Since Ferguson was already associated with Belle City, the only choice left for Wood Bros. was to remain associated with Ford, and Ford had ended up with a larger share of the Ford/Ferguson dealership outlets following the breakup.

A 1953 Ford Golden Jubilee Tractor with its 100 horsepower (hp.) engine.

 

Secondly, Ford, being so preoccupied with the lawsuit during this time, was unable to introduce a full 3-plow tractor until 1953, when it introduced the Model NAA “Golden Jubilee” tractor.  To be sure, Ford had, in 1949, offering a “flat head” 6-cylinder engine as a “conversion kit for its Model 8N tractor, enabling it to develop 95 horsepower, and also a Funk Bros. V-8 engine conversion for the Model 8N, which could then develop 100 horsepower.  However, these tractor conversions were problematic.  (As Palmer Fossum remembers, the prevailing wisdom with either of these conversions was: “Remember that you have a 100 horsepower engine and a 30 horsepower transmission and rear end, and you won’t get into any trouble.”  [Robert N. Phipps and Andrew Morland, Ford Tractors (Motorbooks International Press: Osceola, Wisc. 1990) p. 118.])  Therefore, during the critical time at the end of the 1940s, when farmers were demanding 2-row cornpickers and 3-plow tractors, Ford was unable to direct its energies toward designing and producing the dependable 3-plow tractor necessary to power any 2-row cornpicker Wood Bros. might have been able to produce.

Furthermore, to design its own two-row cornpicker would create a myriad of problems.  The existing Model WB-1-P picker’s unique “S” path was, to say the least, burdensome.  Each of the four 90-degree right angles that the ears of corn followed through the cornpicker on their way to the wagon created a potential for a clog.  Yet, the Wood Bros. cornpicker was regarded as a very good one-row picker, despite these right angles.  Needless to say, one must assume that the reason the picker worked so well was that it had only the ears from one-row of corn passing through the cornpicker at any one time.  Now, adding a second row to the process would more than double that problem, and the design would most likely fail.  Consequently, a two-row cornpicker would have to be completely redesigned, requiring a great deal of research money and corporate energy by the Wood Bros. Company.  Moreover, in the late 1940s, just when this great expenditure of energy was needed, the main driving force of Wood Bros. was missing–Robert L. had died on April 6, 1943, at the age of 81 years.  While Franz J. Wood would continue a vigorous life until his death on April 14, 1956, at the age of 92 years, he had gradually retired from active management of the company during the war, and management was now in the hands of Franz’s son, Robert E. Wood.

With their choices limited, Wood Bros. Threshing Company entered into an option agreement with Harold Brenton and Associates, in which Wood Bros. gave Brenton an option to purchase the Wood Bros. Company.  However, as of 1950, Brenton and Associates had not yet pursued that option.  Thus, in 1950, when Dearborn Motors Company bought out Harold Brenton and Associates, Dearborn Motors also obtained the option to buy the Wood Bros. Thresher CompanyDearborn immediately exercised that option and purchased Wood BrosDearborn also bought up all the shares of stock held by the various Wood Bros. stockholders, including the stock held by the Wood family, thus ending family management of Wood Bros.  With the settlement of the case of Ferguson v. Ford in 1953, the transfer of Woods Bros. Company to Ford Motor Company and its offspring–the Dearborn Motors Company–was complete.

An instruction manual for the Dearborn/Ford (formerly Wood Bros. Company) combine.

 

As of the fall of 1947, all Wood Bros. cornpickers sold by Ford were painted “Ford red” to match the 8N “red belly” tractors introduced for the “model year” 1948.  It appears that they were painted red as they rolled off the assembly line.  Not only were all the Model WB-1-P cornpickers painted Ford red in color, so too were the Dearborn/Wood Bros. 5-foot pull-type combines which continued in production.  (See Robert N. Phipps and Andrew Morland, Ford Tractors [Motorbooks International Press: Osceola, Wisc. 1990], p. 76.)  Daryl Dempsey reports that some unexposed surfaces of his “gray” 1948 picker reveal hints that it too had originally been painted Ford red.  This indicates the picker was obtained by Ferguson in its Ford red color and then repainted Ferguson gray color to match the new Ferguson Model TO-20 and Model TO-30 tractors.

The Wood Bros. plant located at East 17th and Aurora Avenue in Des Moines, Iowa, continued to employ hundreds of employees.  They manufactured not only the Model WB-1-P cornpicker and the 5-foot combine, but they also expanded to include production of the Dearborn (later Ford) hay balers, side-delivery rakes, forage harvesters, corn planters, grain drills, and cotton harvesters.  Production at this factory continued until about 1965, when the plant was closed.

Over the years, Franz reaped many rewards for his years of service to modern farming.  In August of 1949, the Ford Motor Company honored Franz on the occasion of his 85th birthday by presenting him with a new Ford 8N tractor.  In September of 1951, Franz was honored at the Second Annual Midwest Old Settlers and Threshers Association Convention with the Old Threshers Award.

Franz J. Wood in old age addresses a crowd at the 2nd annual Old Settlers Show in Mount Pleasant, Iowa.

 

In July of 1952, Franz was invited to ride as a guest of honor in the Boone County Fair parade in Boone, Iowa.

A corn planter exhibit (complete with the Gandy Company herbicide spreading attachment) at the Boone County Fair in Boone, Iowa.

 

After Franz J. Wood’s retirement from the management of the company following the Second World War, he maintained his interests in threshing and steam engines and the restoration of old farm machinery.  Franz and his wife, Elizabeth, traveled to many threshing shows which were springing up in the early 1950s.  After Elizabeth’s death in 1951, Franz continued to travel to shows accompanied by his daughter, Helen C. Wood.  In October of 1952, Franz and Helen attended Steam Engine Joe Rynda’s Threshing Bee in Montgomery, Minnesota.  (It is noteworthy that young Dave Preuhs may have attended this same show.  Indeed, this show was one of the main sources of inspiration for Dave Preuhs’ later organization of the LeSueur County Pioneer Power Association of LeSueur, Minnesota.  [See “Build It and They Will Come: Dave Preuhs and the LeSueur County Pioneer Power Association,” in the Summer 1996 issue of the Hart-Parr/Oliver Collectors Magazine, Vol. VII, No. II, p. 33.])

As noted above, the first generation Wood brothers era came to an end with the death of Franz on April 14, 1956.  After the sale of the company to Dearborn, Robert E. Wood, the only son of Franz and Elizabeth, who had served as managing partner of the Wood Bros. Company in its last years, went on to found Wood Tractor Company of Cedar Rapids, Iowa.  Never “straying far from the tree,” the Wood Tractor Company sold farm implements, including Dearborn/Wood Bros. farm implements, to the farming public throughout the 1950s.

The legacy of the later years of the Wood Bros. Thresher Company was inextricably bound up with the Model WB-1-P cornpicker.  In the late 1940s, the cornpicker’s success was the company’s success.  However, the circumstances that would not allow the picker to change became a trap that limited the prospects of the company’s future.  The Model WB-1-P picker, as experienced by Fred Langley in Ohio and Mel Anderson and Wayne Wells in Minnesota, was to be remembered as a very fine picker that “filled the gap” for many farmers from the end of World War II until about 1950 when the economy of the United States allowed farmers to upgrade to 2-row pickers and the 3-plow tractors that would power these new pickers.

4 thoughts on “Wood Brothers Company (Part II)”

  1. Hello Brian,
    Thank you for your fine work on the Wood Bros. Thresher Co.
    Our company is currently working on an early Wood Bros. thresher for Naper Settlements new Agricultural Museum. Are you able to provide any information on the methods used for painting threshers. Evidence on this unit shows that it was originally painted. We know from a 1924 Des Moines that the company bought paint from a Chicago co. We need to know how it was applied. Your help would be very much appreciated.

    1. Dear Ralph:

      I am quite unsure about the methods of painting threshers by the Wood Bros. Company. I hope that someone on the blog might have the information that you want.

      Sincerely yours,

      Brian Wayne Wells

  2. Thanks for posting this! I have a 1940s photo of my grandfather standing next to his Wood Brothers WB-1-P one-row corn picker, and could barely make out the logo on the machine (I could make out “W—Bros. Inc.” I was only able to positively identify the picker when I came across your blog. I’m publishing a book about my grandparents and my mother’s memories of growing up on their farm. If you’d like to see my photo, I’d be happy to send it to you. Thanks for preserving this history.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *