The Behlen Manufacturing Company (Part II)

            The Behlen Manufacturing Company: (Part II)

The Hi-Speed Gear Box 


Brian Wayne Wells

As published in the November/December 2002 issue of

Belt Pulley Magazine

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

Following the war, farmers across North America began to demand devices which would upgrade their old, pre-war farm tractors.  One way farmers upgraded their old tractors was by cutting off the steel bands on the rear wheels and welding on a rim for mounting of rubber tires on the rear.  Once the rubber tires were mounted in the rear, farmers began to notice how really slow these old, pre-war tractors were.  Thus, a market was established for some sort of supplemental transmission to provide a faster road gear for these tractors.  If only a means could be found to design and and easily install a supplemental transmission on these pre-war tractors–a company like Behlen could make a tidy profit.

The engineers working at Behlen knew that one of the pre-war tractors currently in widespread use on the farms of the United States was the McCormick Deering F-20 tractor.  In the years between 1932 and 1938 elt that One of the easiest tractors for which a supplemental transmission could be designed and installed was the McCormick-Deering Model F-series Farmall tractors.  All three models of International Hareqwsiest he Behlen Hi-Speed Gear Box was just such a supplemental transmission.  Behlen made its Hi-Speed Gear Box in three different styles:  one for installation on the John Deere Model A and/or Model B tractor; another for installation on McCormick-Deering’s Farmall F-30 tractor; and, the most popular of all, the Hi-Speed Gear Box made for installation on the Farmall “Regular” and/or the Farmall F-20.  The Farmall Regular and its successor, the F-20, had been pioneers in the tricycle style design of tractors.  The Hi-Speed Gear Box was intended to give these old pioneering tractors, a new lease on life in the post-World War II era.

The Behlen High-Speed Road Gear Supplemental Transmission installed on a Farmall F-20 tractor.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When No. 127631 rolled off the assembly line at the Farmall Works on Friday, May 13, 1938, it was also distinguished by a number of optional features.  First, it had the optional radiator shutter attachment rather than the standard radiator curtain, both meant to control the flow of air through the radiator.  Like all F-20s, No. 127631 was a kerosene tractor, equipped with two fuel tanks.  The tractor was designed to start on the more expensive gasoline from the smaller rear fuel tank.  Then, after the engine had sufficiently warmed up, the engine would be switched to the cheaper kerosene which was carried in the larger fuel tank.  While cheaper than gasoline, kerosene would not burn as clean or as efficiently as gasoline.  In order to allow for the most efficient burning of kerosene, the temperature of the engine needed to be kept consistently warm enough to keep the tractor engine functioning at its best while burning the cheaper fuel.

Thus, an important piece of standard equipment on all F-20s, as well as all other makes and models of kerosene or all-fuel tractors, was the water temperature gauge.  Ironically, while in modern days the water temperature of gasoline tractor engines is closely watched to avoid overheating, in prior times, with kerosene and/or distillate tractors, the water temperature was watched even more closely to keep the water temperature of the engine from becoming too low.

On the F-20, the water temperature gauge was attached to the bottom of the fuel tank in plain view of the operator at all times.  On an F-20 equipped with the standard equipment radiator curtain, if the operator noticed that the water temperature was starting to drop while he was working in the field, he would have to disengage the clutch and take the tractor out of gear, get down out of the operator’s seat, walk around to the front of the tractor and adjust the radiator curtain to cover a little more of the radiator in order to allow a little less air to pass through the radiator core, thus allowing the water to flow through the engine at a little higher temperature than before.  On an F-20, however, with the optional radiator shutter, like No. 127631, the flow of air through the radiator could be controlled from the operator’s seat by turning a small crank attached to the right side of the gas tank.  The control of air flowing through the radiator could be done without interrupting the field work by stopping and getting out of the operator’s seat.  When the lettered series Models M and H, etc., were introduced the next year in 1939, the radiator shutter would become standard equipment.

The second piece of optional equipment that had been installed on No. 127631 as it rolled out the Farmall Works in Moline was the Monroe E-Z Ride seat.  Frequent readers of the Belt Pulley will remember that the Monroe E-Z Ride seat, with its large coil spring and Monroeshock absorber, was a frequent after-market addition made to many John Deere tractors.  The 1940 Model B Serial No. 83894 which was sold through the Grams and Krautkremer Hardware store in Jordan, Minnesota, as well as Serial No. 83170 which was sold through a dealership in Swanton, Ohio (a tractor, currently, owned by Edward Atkins and which is regularly displayed at the annual Pumpkin Festival in Milton, West Virginia), were both fitted with a Monroe seat.  (See “The Grams and Krautkremer Hardware: John Deere Dealer for Jordan, Minnesota,” in the July/August 2000 issue of Belt Pulley, Vol 13, No. 4, p. 22.)  Additionally, the 1937 John Deere Model B, bearing serial number 34081 and sold through the Mankato Implement Company, was also fitted with a Monroe E-Z Ride seat.  (See “The Wilmar Thrun John Deere Model B [Part II] in the May/June 2002 issue of Belt Pulley, Vol 15, No. 3.)  As noted in those earlier articles, the Monroe Auto Equipment Company of Monroe, Michigan, manufactured the E-Z Ride seat and marketed it directly to the farming public.

The E-Z Ride seat was available in a wide variety of colors matching the different makes of tractors for which the seat was intended.  The seat was a vast improvement over the standard equipment seats offered on many tractors during the late 1930s – especially as many of these tractors had steel wheels in the rear.  The steel wheels, usually fitted with three-inch spades, made for a pretty rough ride for the operator.  The E-Z Ride seat made for a much smoother ride on tractors sold in the late 1930s, and thus became a very poplar sales item.  The E-Z Ride seat was available in hardware stores and from short line dealers all across rural North America.  The Massey-Harris Company was the leader in installing the E-Z Ride seat on its tractors in the 1930s.  (C.H. Wendel, Massey Tractors [Motorbooks International Pub.: Oseola, Wisc. 1992], pp 62-63.)  By the late 1940s, the Monroe seat would become standard equipment on all Massey-Harris tractors.  Sometime in the late 1930s, the International Harvester Company followed suit and signed a contract with the Monroe Auto Equipment Company for a number of E-Z Ride seats which would be installed on International Harvester tractors as a factory-installed option.  International Harvester called this seat the “hydraulic seat.”  To be sure, the old standard International Harvester seat was still available as International Harvester moved from production of the F-series tractors to the lettered series tractors (Models M and H, etc.).  By 1939, when the letter-series tractors were introduced, the Monroe seat was such a popular factory-installed item that the E-Z Ride seat might as well have been designated “standard equipment.”

The third factory-installed option which was fitted onto No. 127631 was the optional foot brakes.  The brakes were first appreciated by the IHC warehouse worker in Rock Island, as he drove No. 127631 out onto the loading dock and onto a flatbed railroad car of the Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific Railroad (called the Rock Island Line) in the late fall of 1938.  For the full production run of Model F-20 tractors, the standard equipment braking system had remained the hand brake located on operator’s left side.  This was, positively, the wrong side of the tractor on which to have the brake, because the belt pulley was located on the right side of the tractor.  Thus, while the left rear wheel would be held firm as the operator backed the tractor into the belt on a thresher or a feed grinder, the right rear wheel would be allowed to ease forward ever so slightly.  This would allow the belt to loosen.  To fix this deficiency, farmers could order the optional right-hand brake.  However, as rubber tires became more popular and farmers began to install third party, after-market “step up” transmissions into their old F-20s, control of the tractor at higher speeds became important.  Consequently, foot brakes, closely akin to what the operator would find in his or her own car, became more important.  When faced with an emergency, the operator of a tractor is more likely to instinctively reach out with his or her right foot to brake the tractor rather than reach out with either hand to apply hand brakes.  Once again, with the introduction of the lettered series tractors, foot brakes would become standard equipment.  Therefore, we should not be surprised that No. 127631, manufactured in late 1938, so close to the introduction of the new series of tractors, was fitted with foot brakes.

Now, as No. 127631 was lashed down on the flatbed railroad car with a number of other F-20s, it also carried the optional factory-installed large 17-5/8″ steel belt pulley with a 6½” face.  The standard pulley for the F-20 tractor was the 15¼” belt pulley with a 6½” face.  (See the McCormick Deering Farmall Tractor Model F-20 Instruction Book, p. 16.)  There were six different sizes of belt pulleys available for the F-20 (See the F-20 Parts Catalogue, p. 134.)  The 17-5/8” belt pulley was the largest pulley offered.  Large pulleys suggested that the tractor was destined for powering grain thresher/separators which required a rather fast speed. (Belt speed is measured in feet per second.  A large pulley on the power source and/or a small pulley on the belt driven machine would result in more feet per second [faster speed], while a smaller pulley on the power source and/or a larger pulley on the belt driven machine would result in less feet per second [a slower speed].)

As the Rock Island Line steam engine struggled to gain speed as it pulled out of the “quad-cities” (Davenport and Bettendorf, Iowa, and Rock Island and Moline, Illinois), No. 127631 also bore the optional power-take-off extension.  While International Harvester had pioneered this new source of power from tractors – the “power-take-off shaft” (p.t.o.)– other tractor manufacturers soon copied it, attaching it to their own tractors.  However, as with any new technology, the exact specifications were not uniform across the industry.  Thus, while the dimensions of the power-take off shaft produced by International Harvester was 1-1/4”, John Deere designed its power take-off shaft as a 1-3/4” shaft.  The final arbitrator over the standards in this new technology was the American Standards Association, which settled on a 1-3/8” design.  Thus, by 1938, International Harvester was attempting to meet this standard.  At the same time International Harvester attempted to fix another shortcoming of their p.t.o.  Modern power-take-off driven machinery now required that the power take-off shaft on a tractor be located near the drawbar.  The Regular and the Model F-20 had their 1-1/4 diameter power take-off shaft located far forward from the drawbar, under the “belly” of the tractor protruding from the transmission of the tractor.  To meet the new requirements of the ASAP standards, Thus International Harvester offered an optional power take-off extension which moved the coupling shaft of the power take-off back to the drawbar, as required by the new power take-off driven equipment, and enlarged the shaft to the 1-3/8” ASAP standard diameter.  This was not a popular option, and suggested that the farmer who had ordered No. 127631 wanted a tractor to operate modern PTO equipment.

Heading out across northeast Iowa with No. 127631 aboard, the Rock Island Line train passed through Cedar Rapids (pop. 72,296), and moved on to Oelwein, Iowa (pop. 7,858).  At Oelwein, the flatbed car bearing No. 127,631 was shifted to a Great Western Railroad train headed north toward Minneapolis, Minnesota, where the International Harvester branch house was located.  Passing over the state line into Minnesota, the Great Western train passed through stops at LeRoy (1930 pop. 661), Ostrander (1930 pop. 151), Spring Valley (1930 pop. 1,712), the unincorporated village of Racine, and finally the town of Stewartville (1930 pop. 793).

Although it is not known for certain what dealership ordered No. 127631, it may well have been the International Harvester dealership in Stewartville.  What is known is that No. 127631 came from the Stewartville area, as shall be noted later.  Consequently, it is assumed that once in Stewartville, No. 127631 was unloaded with a couple of other F-20s to be delivered to the local International Harvester dealership of A.G. Wilson & Sons.  Located on Main Street of Stewartville, Minnesota, A.G. Wilson & Sons had been in business since 1918.

One particular farmer in the Stewartville area had ordered an F-20 with all the particular options that had been installed on No. 127631.  We are uncertain exactly who this was, but it could have been Lloyd Rhoton.  Lloyd operated a 240-acre farm about two miles north of Stewartville on U.S. Highway No 63.   In 1938, a 240-acre farm was regarded as a big farm.

As Lloyd was a farmer who believed in modern methods of farming, he was looking toward eliminating all horses from his farm.  Thus, he had ordered No. 127631 with all the optional equipment and with a new two-bottom McCormick-Deering Little Genius plow with 16” bottoms.  He also ordered a new two-row Model 210-G cultivator for the tractor.  The Model 210-G cultivator had been introduced by International Harvester just the previous year – 1937 – as a cultivator tailor made for F-20 and F-30 tractors.  (See McCormick-Deering Cultivator Parts Catalogue No. CU-1A, p. 31.)  This particular Model 210-G came with an optional pair of “Quick-Attachable” plates in an attempt to bring the Quick Attachable system to the F-20 tractor.  The Quick-Attachable system had been developed and designed into the Model F-12 tractor.  The Quick Attachable plates each contained a pair of eyebolts that swung up or down.  When removing the rear section of the cultivator, the nuts on the eyebolts would not be removed, but merely loosened and swung up or down out of the way.  (This procedure for the F-12 is shown in detail on the 1936 promotional movie “Quickest On and Quickest Off” which is a part of Tape #1.)  On the F-12, these Quick-Attachable plates were a permanent part of the tractor rear axle.  The F-20, however, had not been designed specifically for the Quick-Attachable system, and so the plates that Lloyd purchased with No. 127631 were bolted to the rear axle on both sides of the tractor.  After the cultivating season of the first year, Lloyd decided to leave the plates on the tractor as the best way to keep track of them.

No. 127631 worked out well on Lloyd’s farm.  However, he soon found that farming the full 240 acres required more work than one man could perform.  Thus, Lloyd found that hiring an additional man was well worth the expense.  As time went by, Lloyd’s son grew up and was able to help on the farm, but Lloyd still kept a hired hand.  With his son and the hired hand, Lloyd found that additional tractors were necessary.  Consequently, he returned to A.G. Wilson & Sons many times over the next several years to purchase all of his farm equipment.  The Rhoton farm became a visibly all International Harvester farm.  (Starting in the mid-1950s, when this author was a very small child and his family would drive through Stewartville, past the Rhoton farm on U.S. No. 63 on their way to Rochester or the Twin Cities, the author’s father, the late Wayne A. Wells, would point out the farm.  Not knowing the name of the farmer, the author came to look forward to passing the “Farmall farm” on every trip.  Each time, at different seasons of the year, revealed new International Harvester equipment on the Rhoton farm.)

Lloyd L. Rhoton continued farming through the Second World War with No. 127631, He periodically upgrading his farm with new tractors and equipment.  He always purchased his tractors and farm equipment new, as he felt that the “down time” spent repairing “someone else’s problems” was part of the hidden cost of purchasing used equipment.  Thus, following 1939, this meant he was buying the new “letter-series” tractors (the Models M, H, etc.) from A.G. Wilson & Sons.  The new letter-series tractors, with their electric starters, wider variety of speeds and hydraulics were much more convenient to use.  As time went by, old No. 127631 was passed over on the Rhoton farm in favor of the newer tractors.

However, Lloyd could not part with the old F-20.  Instead, he attempted to bring the tractor up to date.  With the end of the war, he, like so many other F-20 owners, sought to upgrade his F-20 tractor by having rubber tires mounted on the rear.  Indeed, he was visited by a Goodyear Company tire salesman in the spring of 1946, who told him that Goodyear was currently offering a reduced price on their tractor tires as an incentive for farmers with steel wheeled tractors to convert to rubber tires for their tractor.  (John P. [Jack] Metzger of South Charleston, West Virginia, was a traveling salesman for the Firestone Tire and Rubber Company in 1955.  His sales district included the area of upper New York State around the city of Jamestown, New York (1950 pop. 42,565), located in Chautauqua County.  Driving around his district in a company-owned 1953 Studebaker Starlight two-door coupe emblazoned with “Firestone” on both sides of the car, Jack would occasionally see a farmer working his fields on a tractor with steel wheels.  To be sure, by the mid-1950s, a great number of steel wheeled tractors had already been converted to rubber tires.  However, upon seeing one of the few tractors in his district that was still operating on steel wheels, Jack would park his car on the side of the road and would wait at the end of the field for the farmer.  He would then introduce himself and ride with the farmer on the tractor the entire next round while explaining the benefits of Firestone rubber tires.  Jack remembers that Firestone always had some promotional deal to offer farmers to encourage them to upgrade to rubber tires.)

Lloyd Rhoton was aware that the least expensive way to upgrade to rubber tires on No. 127631 was to have the Lecy Blacksmith Shop in Stewartville cut the steel “tire” off the outside of the rear wheels and a 38” rim welded onto the flat-spoke wheel center, and then having 10.00 x 38” rubber tires mounted on new rims.  Thus, in the spring of 1946, this is what Lloyd did, allowing the tractor to run much smoother with rubber tires on both the front and rear.  However, the smoother ride only pointed out another shortcoming of the F-20 – the tractor was “painfully slow.”  With a top speed of 3-3/4 mile per hour, the tractor was hardly faster than a horse.

For F-20s equipped at the factory with rubber tires, the International Harvester Company made a high speed transmission which would raise the fourth gear speed from 3-3/4 mph to about 7.07 mph.  (See the F-20 Parts Catalogue, p. 124.)  For steel-wheeled tractors modified to become rubber tired tractors, International Harvester also made a high speed kit to retrofit into the low speed transmission.  This high speed kit consisted of a transmission gear shift ball socket, a faster speed pinion, a 32-tooth gear and a reverse shaft.  (See the F-20 Parts Catalogue, p. 131.)  However, installation of this kit into the transmission of No. 127631 required a complete overhaul of the transmission and was not easily accomplished.  An inexpensive and easier alternative for increasing the top speed of the tractor was installation of one of the supplemental transmissions that were available from after-market third party vendors.  One such supplemental transmission was made by the Behlen Manufacturing Company of Columbus, Nebraska.

As noted previously, the Behlen Manufacturing Company was founded in 1936 by Walter Behlen.  The company was family owned by Walter, his father Fred, and Walter’s two brothers Gilbert and Mike.  The family also formed the management of the company, with Walter serving as president, Fred as personnel manager, Gilbert as treasurer, and Mike as secretary.  By 1947, the Behlen Company had 1,805 employees with a payroll of $339,000.00.  However, as also noted previously, the startup, development and growth of the Behlen Company had not been without disappointments and hardships.  (See the article “The Behlen Company, Part I” in the September/October 2002 issue of Belt Pulley Vol. 15, No. 5.)  Even now, in 1946, with the Company becoming quite successful, there were personal tragedies.  Mike Behlen’s wife Ethel (Russel) Behlen died, leaving Mike alone to raise their daughter Donna Lee.  However, when life closes one door, it seems as though there is always another door that opens.  Mike met another person who had suffered the same type of loss – Lois (Hickey) Strombom, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. A.G. Hickey of Columbus, Nebraska.  These two lonely people found comfort and happiness with each other and were married on January 24, 1947.

With his remarriage, Mike was able to get a new lease on life.  He, became enthusiastic about his work with the company again, just as the growing company truly needed his help.  With the return of peace in 1945, the Behlen Company found its niche in the farm manufacturing economy, producing corn cribs, grain bins, grain dryers and complete grain systems.  The grain drying and storage systems which the Company sold were flagship products of the Company, with the name “Behlen” most closely associated with this product.  However, the Company was also manufacturing a number of other products, including its new “Hi-Speed Gear Box” for installation on older pre-war tractors.

To be sure, the Company sold its grain systems through a sales network of builders and lumber yards, but the Hi-Speed Gear Box would need to be marketed through the various tractor dealerships across North America.  Not only were the tractor dealerships the more natural place for a farmer to go for tractor parts – as opposed to a lumber yard or a builder – but the tractor dealerships most often had their own repair and maintenance shops which could perform the installation of the Hi-Speed Gear Box.

One of the tractor dealerships which the Behlen Company successfully obtained for distribution of its Hi-Speed Gear Box was the A.G. Wilson dealership == the International Harvester retail outlet in Stewartville, Minnesota.  The A.G. Wilson dealership felt there was a market for a “step-up supplemental transmission like the Hi-Speed Gear Box in its sales area around Stewartville.  Many of the dealership’s F-20 customers, including Lloyd Rhoton, were already expressing interest in anything that would help keep their tractors up to date.

The Behlen Hi-Speed Gear Box was designed to fit in the open space on the F-20 between the clutch and the transmission/differential.  Occupying that open space on the F-20 as it left the factory was the clutch and transmission coupling.  This coupling was long enough that when modified (shortened), there was sufficient room to insert the Behlen transmission.  The price of the Behlen Hi-Speed Gear Box for the Farmall F-20 tractor was $56.80; however, A.G. Wilson offered a special package deal that included the price of installation.  Consequently, Lloyd made arrangements to take advantage of this special deal.  Thus, in the early spring of 1946, he drove his 1938 F-20, bearing Serial No. 127631, to Stewartville himself.  At 3 ¾ mph, the two-mile trip took the better part of an hour to complete.  As he drove along the shoulder of U.S. #63, he observed the soggy fields along either side of the road.  Still too wet to get into the field, this was a good time to complete this time-consuming task of driving to town to have the tractor upgraded.  Before he had left the farm, Lloyd had instructed his hired man to drive the truck into town so he would have a ride back home after he left No. 127631 at the Wilson dealership.  To make sure the trip was not wasted, Lloyd had arranged to pick up the seed corn from the elevator.  He wanted to avoid the rush that would come later in the planting season by getting his seed corn now.

A few days later, Lloyd received a telephone call from A.G. Wilson, stating that his F-20 was now ready for him to pick up.  This time, he rode in the car with his wife, who had some shopping to do in Stewartville.  Starting back home with No. 127631, he was pleasantly surprised with 15 mph speed that the F-20 could now obtain.  The trip home took no more than five minutes.  With the improvements that had been made to No. 127631, the F-20 was now nearly as convenient as the Farmall M and the Farmall H which Lloyd had purchased during the late war.

Only the lack of an electric starter and hydraulics separated No. 127631 from the more modern models M and H which were now being employed on the Rhoton farm.    However, as time went by, these shortcomings became so noticeable on his farm that Lloyd decided to sell No. 127631.  Thus, in 1950, the old pre-war tractor was sold and began another life with a new owner.

4 thoughts on “The Behlen Manufacturing Company (Part II)”

    1. Nice article, but time sadly ended the life story, as it always does.
      The sun is also sitting for me, and I have lots of tractors, sitting in the barn, that all have stories. I gave away yesterday, a F-12 that has a hydraulic lift on it. J. Driver, 251)979-0198

Leave a Reply

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