The Mankato Implement Dealership (Part 2 of 2 Parts):
Wilmar Thrun 1937 John Deere Model B (Short Frame) Tractor
Brian Wayne Wells
As published in the May/June 2002 issue of
Belt Pulley Magazine
In the spring of 1937, a farmer living in Rapidan Township in Blue Earth County, Minnesota, started working in the fields of his 80-acre farm with his newly purchased John Deere Model B tractor bearing the serial number 34081. Just the previous February he and his family had attended the annual open house at the Mankato Implement Company the local John Deere dealership located in Mankato, Minnesota. (See the March/April 2002 issue of Belt Pulley Vol. 15, No. 2, p. 16 for the history of the Mankato Implement Company dealership and story of the 1937 open house.) At the open house, our Rapidan Township farmer had acted on a dream that had occupied his thoughts for some time. He had purchased his first farm tractor.
Being a tractor that was manufactured prior to Serial No. 42200, No. 34081 was one of the “short frame” John Deere Model B tractors. Our Raidan Township farmer found that No. 34081 was a vast improvement for his farm in all seasons. However as time passed he found that some improvements were needed to the tractor. As noted in the earlier article in this series, our Rapidan Township farmer replaced the seat on No. 34081 with an after-market Easy-Ride seat. The Easy Ride seat was made by the Monroe Automobile Equipment Manufacturing Company of Monroe, Michigan and was composed of a large coil spring and a Monroe shock absorber. The Easy Ride seat was much more comfortable than the original John Deere seat—especially on a tractor with steel wheels and 3” high lugs. As noted in the earlier article in this series, International Harvester had begun installing the Easy Ride seat on its Farmall tractors in 1939. The seat was a factory-installed option and became such a commonly requested option on the Farmall “letter-series” tractors—the Model M and Model H etc.—that the Easy Ride seat might just as well been standard equipment.
Although no evidence exists that the Monroe Easy Ride seat was ever a factory-installed option for John Deere tractors. However as noted previously, a surprising number of un-styled and early styled Model B tractors were fitted with the Monroe seat. Accordingly, it is not surprising that our Rapidan Township farmer had No. 34081 fitted with the Easy Ride seat which he purchased from a third-party short-line farm tractor parts business in Mankato. When he purchased the Monroe seat, he found that the seat had already been painted green in color for John Deere buyers. The Monroe Easy Ride certainly made No. 34081 much smoother to ride.
When the United States became involved in the Second World War, our Rapidan Township farmer found that prices for his farm products rose higher than he had ever remembered. No. 34081 sped up his ability to complete the field work on his farm. Because of this increase in efficiency, he was able to take full advantage of all the arrable land on his farm planting from “hedgerow to hedgerow” for the war effort. He even was able to add a couple of cows to his milking herd of Holsteins. With a modern tractor-powered and, by now, electrified farm our Rapidan Township farmer was well positioned to take full advantage of the of the rise in prices which accompanied the nation’s attempt to feed the armies around the world. The John Deere Model B, now with rubber tires on the front wheels worked very well for him all through the Second World War. During this period, he found that the tractor allowed him to complete much more field work each day than in the past and he was still able to get the milking done at a decent hour in the evening.
By his figuring, in the new environment of higher farm prices, our Rapidan Township farmer figured that the tractor had paid for itself many times over by the time that the war ended. Now, with the return of peace in 1945, he, like the rest of his neighbors, now thought of trying to upgrade the tractor further by putting rubber tires on the rear of the tractor.
The most popular way of converting the rear wheels to rubber tires was to have a local blacksmith shop cutting the flat spokes of the steel wheels and removing the steel band on the outside of the wheel and then welding on a new rim designed for rubber tires. Local blacksmith shops all across the Midwest were doing a brisk business in the post-war era in cutting down steel wheels and welding on tire rims. Indeed, just seven miles south in Good Thunder, Minnesota, the welding shop owned by Dick Scheur was doing a good deal of this work. To our Rapidan Township farmer having the steel wheels cut down seemed the most prudent way to mount rubber tires on the rear of his tractor. Consequently, in the early spring of 1946, just as the last traces of snow left in the ditches and shady areas, our Rapidan Township farmer placed No. 34081 securely up on blocks and removed both rear wheels. He loaded the steel wheels into the back of his new 1946 Chevrolet pickup and headed out his driveway and down the township road toward County Road No. 9. It certainly wasn’t cold enough for the heater to be turned on. Indeed he reached up and turned the little crank o the center of the dash board that opened the bottom of the windshield. He opened the bottom of the windshield just a crack to let in some fresh air. His new pickup was one of the “Art Deco” Chevrolet pickups which had a great deal of chrome running up and down the front grill. It was a design that had appealed to him ever since these Art Deco trucks had been introduced in 1941.
Although his new pickup looked like the 1941 Chevrolets, our Rapidan Township farmer had been assured that there were improvements to the 1946 trucks. Chevrolet had improved its pickup by replacing the four-ply tires that originally came on the pickup with six-ply tires. Also the Company had improved the seals on the water pump and the transmission which would cure the truck’s reputation as an oil and anti-freeze “leaker.” At county Road No. 9 our Rapidan Township farmer turned his truck east and proceeded through the un-incorporated settlement of Rapidan Dam. About a mile east of Rapidan Dam, he turned south on State Road #66 of the six mile drive to Good Thunder. The smooth running 216 ½ cubic inch 90 hp. “stovebolt” six-cylinder engine was another feature about the pickup that he enjoyed.
He looked out at the fields that he passed on the highway. The fields were still too wet to start field work, but he worried that his tractors would not be ready when the fields were dry. To reduce the “down time” of his tractor, he had called ahead last week to Dick Scheur’s shop located on the west end of Main Street (County Road #10) in Good Thunder. Dick had assured him that the whole operation could be handled quickly because all the resources required were located right here in Good Thunder. The 38” rims that Dick would use could be obtained from Petrowske Implement. Petrowske Implement was the International Harvester dealership in Good Thunder. Since 1936, this dealership had been owned and operated by Arthur (A.H.) Petrowske. Dick Scheur told our Rapidan Township farmer that the centers of the cut down steel wheels would be welded to the inside of these 38” rims. The rims would be wide enough so that 10.00 x 38” rubber tires could be mounted on the tractor. These 10.00 x 38” rubber tires could also be obtained locally from the J. W. Kruger Garage located on the north Front Street in Good Thunder, just around the corner from Petrowske’s. Once the centers were welded to the new rims, the wheels could be deliverwed to the garage where John Kruger could mount the new rubber tires on the wheels.
Prior to contacting Dick Scheur to cut down his steel wheels, our Rapidan Township farmer had explored other means of putting rubber tires on the rear of No. 34081. In the post-war years, many farmers were attempting to have their steel wheeled tractors similarly fitted with rubber tires by working together with their local blacksmith shops. Recognizing this ever-widening market, Deere & Company began to manufacture 9″ x 36″ flat-spoke rims on which rubber tires could be mounted. The Mankato Implement Company had a number of these new rims which they were attempting to sell to the farming public. Indeed, the last time that our Rapidan Township farmer had been in to the dealership purchasing some shovels for the teeth of his Model CC field cultivator, he had been told by the parts man about some these new wheel rims.
Had No. 34081 come from the factory with rubber tires, it could have been fitted with either the 7.50 x 36″ or 9.00 x 36″ round-spoke French and Hecht rims or the same two sizes in the solid cast-iron version which John Deere began making themselves in mid-1936. (Ibid.) At times, our Rapidan Township farmer almost wished that he had purchased No. 34081 complete with the optional cast-iron drop center rims and rubber tires back in 1937. When thinking about rubber tires for the rear of No. 34081, our Rapidan Township farmer really preferred the cast-iron center demountable-style rims. Cast iron centers would have added more weigh to the rear end of the tractor. Also, being demountable, the cast iron wheels were handier if ever he had to take the tire off for repair. Furthermore, John Deere made wheel weights that would simply bolt onto the cast iron centers without any need for special hooks which were required for mounting weights on the French and Hecht round spoke wheel rims or these flat-spoke replacement wheel rims. However, at the time of the purchase of 34081 in 1937, our Rapidan Township farmer had been worried about the additional cost that would have been added to the total price of the tractor by the optional rubber tires.
Deere & Company had begun manufacturing these flat-spoke rims as a way to compete with the many local blacksmith shops, like the Scheur’s Blacksmith shop in Good Thunder, which were doing a vigorous business in the post-war era cutting down steel wheels and welding the cut-down centers to rubber tire rims. Mankato Implement felt these flat spoke rims would be cheap enough to convince farmers that they should buy new rims rather than try to cut down their old steel wheels. The staff at the Mankato Implement Company tried to point out the advantages of new rims for rubber tires as opposed to “cut down” steel wheels. As the parts man pointed out to our Rapidan Township farmer, cutting down steel wheels was not always as easy as it appeared. Often times, cutting down existing steel wheels might result in an imperfect circle. This meant that the hub and the axle would no longer be in the exact middle of the wheel. The result was that at the road speeds, there would be a slight lurging to one side to the other as the tractor went down the road. Our Rapidan Township farmer smiled at this suggestion. He knew that his John Deere Model B had a top speed of only 6-3/4 mph. At this speed, such imperfections in the wheel were not going to be noticed at all.
In the end, however, although our Rapidan Township farmer might have preferred the idea of having a factory-made rim on the tractor, it was price that again drove him to seek out Dick Scheur. The price of the flat spoke rims themselves was only part of the expense. He would also need to purchase the appropriate hubs which would fit the new flat spoke wheel rims. These hubs were not the same as the hubs used for steel wheels. The cost of a pair of new hubs was more than he wanted to spend. It was cheaper to have the steel wheels cut down and retain the same hubs. Accordingly, he had resisted the attempts of the Mankato Implement Company to sell him a pair of the new flat spoke rims and had called Dick Scheur instead.
Before leaving Good Thunder, our Rapidan Township farmer, turned left at Front Street to swing by Kruger’s garage just to have a look at the new Good Year tires that would be mounted on his rims. After delivering the tractor wheels to Good Thunder, our Rapidan Township farmer could return home with the assurance that that his tractor would be “down” for only two days rather than the expected week or longer of “down time” he had expected. Thus he decided that he would not switch tongue of his manure spreader for use with the horses. Rather he would pile the manure for tow days and then spread it in the field once he got his tractor back in working order.
Once his tractor was back in operating condition on his farm , he found that the rubber tires made for a much easier ride on hard or frozen ground. Whereas, he had been worried that the rubber tires would not “dig down” and pull the way that his steel wheels had, he was pleasantly surprised to find that there appeared to be no problem with the rubber lugs on the tires doing their share of pulling. Additionally, there was no problem of mud buildup except in the wettest of conditions.
Eventually though, our Rapidan Township farmer found that farming conditions were changing, requiring newer and bigger machinery. Upgrads of No. 34081 were no longer possible. Thus, in the 1950s, our Rapidan Township farmer purchased a new John Deere Model 60. Hover, he found that he could not trade No. 34081 on the purchase of the new Model 60. The tractor would not bring enough money to be worth trading on the new tractor. Besides he had grown fond of the old tractor. He kept the tractor figuring that there would always be some small task around the farm for the tractor to perform while the Model 60 was at work in the fields. However, the electric start, hydraulics and power steering of the Model 60 made the 60 the first choice of convenience when he went out to do some task on the farm. No 34081 remained unused in the shed more and more frequently.
Meanwhile in a neighboring township in Blue Earth County–Decoria Township, another family’s life was unfolding. If one were drive out of Good Thunder on County Road #10 to the intersection with U.S, #22 and then turn north and drive to the intersection with County Road #178 in Decoria Township and then turn west on #178, one arrives at the 80-acre farm of Ernest and Bertha (Kruggel) Thrun in Decoria Township. Decoria Township abutted Rapidan Township on Rapidan Township’s eastern border. The Thrun family raised dairy cattle. The non-arable land on the farm was use3d as a permanent pasureland for the milking herd. They diversified their farming operation by raising dome chickens and a few pigs. The arable land on the farm was put into a crop rotaion of corn, oats and hay.
Ernest and Bertha eventually had a family of three boys—Lloyd, Earl and Wilmar. As the boys grew up they became a real help around the farm. Born on January 16, 1912, the youngest son, Wilmar Thrun was helping his father with farm chores from a very early age. Wilmar was interested in farming as a life’s work. However, as he grew to adulthood, Wilmar realized that, his oldest brother, Lloyd, was destined to operate his father’s farm located on the north side of County Road #178. Thus, Wilmar would have to find his own farm. Directly, across #178 was another 80 acre farm. Being on the south side of #178, this farm was flat and almost entirely arable. Wilmar had been pondering his future for some time, when this farm was, suddenly, offered for sale. Wilmar realized that he had better act quickly and purchase the farm before it was sold to someone else. Being so close to his parent’s farm, meant that he could share help with his brother, Lloyd, who was, by now, handling nearly all the farming operations on the “home” farm. So Wilmar purchased the farm across the road from the home farm.
When Wilmar moved into the house on his new farm he did so alone. Indeed, even as the Second Wotld War ended, Wilmar was still a bachelor. However, at the age of 36 year, Wilmar met and married Dorothy Weber on October 23, 1948. Dorothy was the fourth child and third daughter of Emil and Anna (Lortz) Weber. The family included the first-born Esther, then Archie, Earl and then Dorothy. After Dorothy, there was little Raymond who completed the family. Like Wilmar, Dorothy had remained asingle until well into adulthood.
Following their marriage Wilmar and Dorothy Thrun worked together on their farm. At about this time, Wilmar purchased a new 1948, Chevrolet Model EP ½ ton pickup. It was one of the new “Advanced Design” series pickups that Chevrolet introduced in June of 1947.
Wilmar and Dorothy tended to the milking, the raising of pigs, and chickens and to the crops on their 80 acre farm. On May 9, 1949, they were blessed by the birth of their first child, a son, Larry Thrun. Despite her age, Dorothy gave birth to two more children, Audrey on November 12, 1954 at the age of 38 years, and David on February 16, 1960 when Dorothy was 44 years of age. The children grew up on the farm and attended country schools in the area.
Larry, like so many farm boys learned to drive a tractor and to help his father on the farm from an early age. They were milking about 20 cows now, besides raising pigs and chickens. Of course, during the summer work was compounded by the need to get the crops planted cultivated and then harvested. So Wilmar appreciated the increasing amount of help that Larry could shoulder as he matured. Wilmar used an unstyled Allis Chalmers Model WC tractor to supply the mechanical power to his farm. However, he soon realized thaty in the summer time, there were things that Larry and he could do together if only they had a second tractor. Furthermore, at haying time the WC was always handicapped because the cultivator was mounted on the tractor. To be used effectively, for mowing, raking and baling the hay, the cultivator would generally have to be removed from the WC. Cultivation of the corn and the soybeans always interfered with the haying season in this way. Consequently, while attending an estate auction in Rapidan Township, in the early 1960s, Wilmar saw an un-styled John Deere Model B short-frame tractor which was going rather cheaply. This was No. 34081. Wilmar noted that the little short frame tractor was just about the right size for a growing boy to handle. He began bidding on the little tractor and in the end, he was the owner of No. 34081. Also at the auction Wilmar decided to bid on the John Deere Model 52 two bottom plw with 12 inch bottoms which had apparently been used together with the Model B tractor. Wilmar knew this because the Model 52 plow was fitted with the coupler hitch that was made to work with the “tear drop” hitch that was still installed on No. 34081.
Back on the farm, Wilmar found that No. 34081 fit in rather well. Both he and Larry could work in the fields in the summer performing different operations. During hay season, Wilmar found the second tractor especially handy. The cultivator could be left on the WC all through hay season. The little John Deere could do all the mowing raking and pulling the baler in the fields. Then when time allowed during the busy season, Wilmar could quickly get back into the corn fields with the WC to get some more cultivating done without having to remount the cultivator.
Because Wilmar continued to use No. 34081 hitched to the Model 52 plow for fall plowing, he did not replace the tear drop swinging drawbar. Nor did he buy a regular drawbar to switch for use during the rest of the season. He just hitched his other implements to tear drop shaped hole on the swinging drawbar. This allowed quite a bit more forward and backward “slop” in the hitch when pulling wagons from the field during harvest season and other drawbar operations—slop that would not have been as prevalent if a regularswinging drawbar with a smaller hole would have been used. Still the tractor performed well enough with the tear drop drawbar that to purchase a regular drawbar and then switching drawbars during the different seasons of the year, would not have been worth the money time and effort. In the winter time, a buzz saw was mounted on No. 34081 and the little tractor was used to cut firewood for the family’s wood stove.
After he was out of school, Larry met Judy Ellen Volk of Mankato, Minnesota through a mutual friend. Judy was the second child and oldest daughter of Lawrence Peter and Bulah (Larson) Volk. Lawrence Volk was an electrician and owner of Central Electric, Inc., and hired crews of electricians to do electrical wiring around the Mankato area. He also owned Central Excavating, Inc. a company which cleared land for new houses and di other excavation duties for customers in the Mankato area. If running two businesses did not keep him busy enough, Lawrence Volk kept his family moving into unfinished houses. He would finish out the house, sell it and move on to another house in the midst of construction and do the same there. Thus, the family lived at 728 Thompson Ravine Road, 600 Thompson Ravine Road in Mankato and 917 Nicollet Avenue in North Mankato among other houses through out their life together. One would think that Lawrence Volk’s life was busy enough. However, he felt the need for a hobby. As a result he became involved in local stock car racing. He purchased a blue 1957 Chevrolet stock car fitted with the small block V-8 engine. Every weekend he would collect the whole family and head off to the races. Number 32 was always Lawrence Volk’s number. He did not drive the stock car himself. Rather he hired drivers for his car. Two of his favorite drivers were Bill Benning and Gary Randall. Although he did not drive his own car, he did insist on doing all his own mechanical work on his stock car and, particularly, the engine. As he worked on his newest upgrade to the 265 c.i. (cubic inch) engine (later replaced by the famous 283 c.i. engine) of his stock car, he became aware that his oldest daughter Judy would frequently be watching him. As long as she was there, he decided, she might aas well help him work on the engine.
By helping her father, Judy grew up with a strong exposure to the inner workings of internal combustion engines—especially the 283 c.i. engine. By the time that Larry Thrun met Judy Volk, she already was quite knowledgeable about cars and engines. This was an interest they shared. She was a sophomore at Mankato High School. They continued to date while she was in high school and after her graduation in June of 1969. Larry and Judy were married on August 23, 1969. Living for a short time in an apartment at 728½ Thompson Ravine in Mankato, they also lived in a trailer home at Lloyd’s Eastwood trailer home park behind the Blue Earth County Highway Dept. Larry the couple’s brand-new blue 1969 Chevrolet Chevelle Malibu out to his parent’s farm each day. Taking U.S. #22out of Mankato to the intersection of County Road #178, he would take the familiar 1½ mile drive down #178 to his parents farm. Along the way, he would pass the Hansen farm which was only about a ½ mile down #178 and was situated on the north side of the road. Now in 1970, the Hansen farm was no longer an active family farm. Since her husband had died, Ida Hansen had rented out the farm land. She herself moved off the farm and had rented the building site on County Road #178 to a group of college students. Because of their long hair which was the style of the day, the students were referred to as “hippies” and the Hansen farm became known in the neighborhood as “the hippie place.”
By coincidence during this same period of time in the fall of 1969 and the spring of 1970, the current author was living in Mankato and was friends with the students living on the Hansen farm. The current author drove a bulk milk truck fro the St. Peter Creamery and would pickup milk at various farm across southern Minnesota and even northern Iowa. These were dairy farms of the National Farm Organization (NFO) members. The St. Peter Creamery had signed a contracts with the NFO to guarantee a set price for the milk of those farms. While on his milk route the current author would stop by and visit with his friends that lived their.
During the summer of 1970, Larry and Judy moved out of Mankato and settled into a second house that Wilmar had built on his farm. Like most farm wives, Judy was often outside helping with the farm work, especially during the busy harvest season. Judy usually drove a tractor and the tractor she drove was the John Deere Model B (Serial No. 34081). It was an easy tractoerto drive with the hand clutch and because of its small size No. 34081 was not intimidating. Judy helped with the farm workduring harvest season as most farm wives are required to do. Indeed, she came to enjoy driving No. 34081. It was a happy time. The couple was blessed by the birth of a daughter—Stacy Ann Thrun on November 14, 1972. On June 14, 1974, a second child—a son—was born to the couple. His name was Peter Edward Thrun.
Despite the happy times on the farm. Larry and Judy found that they were growing apart and as often happens they were divorced in 1982 and Judy left the farm. Later, Larry too, left the farm and obtained employment in the chicken factory in St. James, Minnesota. In 1986, Wilmar and Dorothy retired from farming and sold the farm on County Road #178. They purchased a building site on another farm near Elysian, Minnesota. Wilmar was unable to part with some of his old farm machinery and so brought some of it, including both the Allis-Chalmers unstyled Model WC and No. 34081 to their new home in Elysian and later to another retirement home near Madison Lake. Although he would do no farming at the new home in Madison Lake, he would have some familiar things around him. Indeed, No. 34081 could still be used to cut fire wood for he and Dorothy. The couple continued to live on for another twelve years until Wilmar died on June 9, 1998 at the age of 86 years. Dorothy lived on alone until she too died on September 26, 2000 at the age of 84.
In late 2000, Judy was involved with the forming of a new limited partnership—Representative Offices, L.P. She was to be the general partner in this partnership which was in the middle of the purchase of the tax preparation business from Larry Breunder of LeSueur, Minnesota. The purchase of this tax preparation business would take effect on January 1, 2001. In the meantime the partnership, had to be officially registered with State of Minnesota and the lease on the office space located at 106 North Main Street had to be re-negotiated in the name of the new partnership.
Included with all the requirements of establishing the new business, Judy also had to change the telephone, electricity and all city services over into the name fo the new partnership. Furthermore, the new tax clients were beginning to come to the office and deliver their tax papers. It was a busy time and not the best of time to acquire a old farm tractor which was still tied up in probate.
Nonetheless, Judy had fond memories of the old tractor and in December of 2000, she contacted David Thrun, who was the executor of the estate of his parents. July learned from David that the building site at Madison Lake and all the property on the site had been sold to Derrick Sexton. It was after the first of the year (2001) before Judy was ale to get in touch with Derrick. At that time, she learned that No. 34081 had been taken to the farm o9f Jerry and Bev Froehlich near Janesville, Minnesota. Although the deal had not been consummated, Jerry Froehlich had an option to purchase the tractor. It appeared that he would be exercising the option to purchase the tractor. It appeared that the tractor had been lost. However, Judy remained in contact with Derrick and Jerry Froehlich through out the spring of 2001. She cajoled them and finally persuaded them that the tractor should remain “in the family.”
The option to purchase No. 34081 was rescinded and Judy now had the option to buy the tractor. However, the convoluted deal to purchase the tractor was going to cost Judy more than she originally planned. With all the start up costs and limited income associated with starting a new business, this was not the best time to try and finance the purchased of the little John Deere tractor. Still this was a special tractor and Judy again urged all parties to have patience as she attempted to come up with the money needed to purchase the tractor. Finally in June of 2001, Judy was able to deliver the last payment on the tractor. No. 34081 was finally hers—finally saved for the family.
Almost the same day as she delivered the last payment, Judy arranged to have Wayne Schwartz go to the Jerry Froehlich farm and pick up the tractor and take No. 34081 back to Wayne’s own farm near LeSueur, Minnesota. (Upon seeing No. 34081 for the first time, Wayne Schwartz comment on how “complete” the tractor was–right down to the tear drop drawbar. He made note of the fact that the 10.00 x 38 inch tires on the rear wheels of Nol 34081 had actually been mounted on rims made by the International Harvester Co. These IHC rims had actually been welded to the flat-spoke centers of the John Deere steel wheels that had originally adorned No. 34081. Judy hopes to have the little John Deere short-frame Model B restored in time for the August 23-25, 2002 LeSueur Pioneer Power Show. The 2002 Show will be hosting the summer convention of the Minnesota chapter of the Two-Cylinder Club. With No. 34081 completely overhauled, repainted and properly decaled, Judy hopes to drive the tractor in the parade each day of the show and to “break in” the newly overhauled engine by signing up to use the tractor on the “people movers” in the parking lot during the Show. Additionally, she would like to do some plowing and participate in other field demonstrations with the tractor. Of course, she also wants to test the tractor on Steven Kovich’s dynamometer which Steven always operates during the Show. She hopes that in additions to preserving some of her own family memories, No. 34081 will help advertise Representative Offices. To this end she hopes to drive the tractor in other parades in nearby towns.