The Farmall F-12 (Part III):
The 1938 Rasmus Thronson Farmall F-12 Tractor
Brian Wayne Wells
with the assistance of
Elvin Papenhausen of Princeton, Minnesota
As published in the September/October 2003 issue of
Belt Pulley Magazine
As noted earlier the “waist” of Minnesota is the narrow part of the state, as it appears on a map. (See the article called “The Possible Story of One” Part I of the Loren Helmbrecht Tractor contained in the May/June 2003 issue of Belt Pulley magazine at page 28.) The waist is located roughly half way between the northern and southern parts of the state. Located in the waist, bordering Sherburne County on the north side is Mille Lacs County. (See the above-cited article for a description of Sherburne County.)
This area of the State of Minnesota is where the deciduous hardwood forests of the southeastern portion of the State end and the northern coniferous forests begin. (Theodore C. Blegen, Minnesota: A History of the State [University of Minnesota Press: Minneapolis, 1963] p. 11.) The pine and fir trees of the northern coniferous forests spring from the same sandy soil that covers Mille Lacs County.
As described in an earlier article, the sandy soil of the area had made the area of Sherburne and Mille Lacs County a good place to raise potatoes. Potato farming had thrived in the area of Mille Lacs and Sherburne Counties since 1890. (See “The Possible Story of One F-12” cited above.) In 1908, potato marketing cooperative associations began making their appearance in the State of Minnesota. (Blegen at p. 399.) In 1920, the Minnesota Potato Exchange was formed.
Princeton Minnesota (1920 pop. 1,685) served as a marketing outlet for the area potato crop. Indeed, in 1901 and 1902 Princeton became the largest primary potato market in the Northwest. One of the major potato buyers in Princeton was O.J. Odegard Farms Inc. Although, the Odegard family operated their own potato and onion growing operations on their own farm called “the bog,” Odegard’s served as a major buyer of potatoes for the entire Princeton area.
During the potato harvest in the fall of the year, the Odegard warehouse, located on 2nd South Street became a major employer in town. Potatoes were received washed and packed into 100 lbs. sacks and loaded onto freight cars of the Great Northern Railroad. The Great Northern tracks ran through town, north towards the county seat of Milaca and south to the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul. The loading of the freight cars took place at the Great Northern Railroad Depot which is located at 10th Avenue and 1st Street in Princeton. (This depot is now the home of the exhibits and library materials of the Mille Lacs County Historical Society.) The potatoes were sold to wholesalers in Minneapolis.
Not only did Odegards hire on employees to work the harvest and processing of potatoes in the fall of the year, but they also hired on teenagers all summer to work on their hands and knees weeding the fields of their own farm in the bog. This made Odegards the largest employer in the Princeton area. (Taken from the manuscript called Memories of Princeton, Minnesota by Elvin Papenhausen.)
Princeton even developed into a market for the “culls” or unsatisfactory potatoes that potato growers could not sell on the edible potato market. These cull potatoes were used in the manufacture of commercial starch. On March 26, 1890 the Princeton Potato Starch Company was incorporated and a factory was built. The factory was so busy processing cull potatoes that the factory operated both day and night. Later a second starch factory was built in Princeton. (From an internet document called “History of Princeton, Minnesota.”)
In 1919, following, the First World War, the International Harvester Company made their first major corporate acquisition since 1904, when they purchased the Parlin & Orendorff (P. & O.) Company of Canton, Illinois. (C.H. Wendel, 150 Years of International Harvester [Crestline Pub.: Sarasota, Fla., 1981], p. 31.) Along with their famous line of plow, the P. & O. Company also had introduced a mechanical potato digger several years prior to the merger with International Harvester. The International Harvester Company inherited this horse-drawn mechanical potato digger. (Ibid. p. 237.) In 1920, International Harvester continued production of this potato digger, with some substantial improvements. The potato digger was called the McCormick-Deering Model No. 6 potato digger. (Ibid.) One of the improvements of the Model No. 6 over the prior P.&O. Company potato digger was the rod-link chain apron. The potatoes would travel over the moving apron which would shake off all the dirt. The potatoes would then be deposited on top of the ground in plain view for the field hands to collect. (Ibid.)
In 1920 the local International Harvester dealership franchise in Princeton, Minnesota may have been held by the owner and operator of the local hardware store. Starting in 1920, the International Harvester dealership in Princeton was able to compete in the potato growing market by supplying the area potato farms with mechanical potato diggers. In 1921, International Harvester introduced the new McCormick-Deering potato planter. Together the Model No. 6 potato digger and the new McCormick-Deering potato planter allowed the dealership in Princeton to prosper all through the early part of the 1920s. Sales of farm equipment allowed the hardware store to advertise employment for a position of farm equipment sales person.
In answer to the newspaper advertisement of the position of sales person at the hardware store an ambitious 24-year-old man by the name of Floyd Hall arrived in Princeton. Born in Henry, South Dakota, on January 30, 1896 to W. K. and Grace (Henry) Hall, Floyd had married Eva Leathers on October 11, 1916. Eva was also from the town of Henry. In 1918, while still living in Henry, Eva had given birth to their son, Willard F. Hall. Now in 1920, she was pregnant again with a daughter. Marjorie Hall was born to the couple in December of 1920.
Floyd was accepted for the position and was employed at the hardware store. It was common in that day that a hardware store owned the dealership franchises for many different companies. So Floyd had to become familiar with the products, contact persons and sales programs of many different companies. However, from the start, it was recognized that Floyd had a way with the public and with sales. This skill was not missed by the International Harvester Company and in 1926; he had a chance to buy the franchise for the International Harvester dealership. It is probable that the local branch house of the International Harvester Company located in St. Cloud, Minnesota (1920 pop. 15,873), had determined that the dealership in Princeton should be spun-off from the hardware store into an exclusive dealership with a building of its own. Thus, Floyd established the dealership, the Hall Implement Company in an old warehouse building on the corner of 6th Avenue and 2nd Street.
However, just as Floyd was getting started in his new business, the bottom dropped out of potato farming in southern Mille Lacs County. The soil in the area had become too “exhausted” for potato growing and farmers were also having difficulty with diseases because they were not using certified seed. (From the Internet article called “History of Princeton, Minnesota,” cited above.) Additionally, the potato farmers were plagued by insects, particularly leaf hoppers. (Ibid.)
Thus, farmers around the Princeton area abandoned the production of the potato and turned more toward the production of corn and oats and other crops. Unlike potatoes, corn and oats could be either sold directly on the market or used as feed for the livestock on the farm and sold in the form of livestock products—mainly milk and/or meat. Consequently, the market for mechanical potato planters and diggers dried up just as Floyd was commencing his new business. Floyd had to scramble to build his business from the very start. Then, the great economic depression descended on the country. This made matters even worse. The dealership required all the attention and wits that Floyd could muster. Finally, in 1933, with the help of government spending under the New Deal, the economy began to improve. Coincident with this improvement in the economy, was the introduction by International Harvester of its little Farmall tractor—the Model F-12.
As noted previously, the International Harvester Company had been researching and had developed a new power source that would replace horses in all farm operations including the cultivation of row crops. (See the article called “Behlen Manufacturing Company [Part II] in the November/December 2002 issue of Belt Pulley p. 8 for a discussion of the development of the Farmall [tricycle designed] tractor.) The result of this research and development was the Farmall tractor.
The Farmall Regular had been available to the farming public since 1924. However, farming in Mille Lacs County did not allow a large enough margin of profit to allow farmers to easily purchase farm tractors. This was not the good rich soil of southern Minnesota, “below the waist,” the land was flat as a table top and invited intensive cultivation. The land in Mille Lacs County, however, was hilly and loaded with rocks. The purchase of a farm tractor was a purchase that needed careful consideration.
Floyd Hall knew that the price of the Farmall Regular and its replacement, the Model F-20 tractor ($895.00), tended to put off potential tractor buyers in the Princeton area. However, the introduction of the smaller, less expensive Farmall Model F-12 in 1932 created a real sensation among farmers on small farms across North America. The low suggested retail price of $607.00 for the F-12 was very tempting to farmers. Sales of the F-12 grew every year. In 1933, 4,355 Model F-12s had been built. In 1934 production was 12,530. Production rose again to 31,249 in 1935; and to 33,177 in 1936.
At the Hall Implement Company sales of F-12s tractors had become the mainstay of the business throughout the 1930s. Indeed, Floyd Hall’s salesmanship was already gaining him some of the awards and free trips that he would continue to receive in recognition of his high volume of sales for the entire time he operated the dealership. In 1937, it certainly seemed as though the great economic depression was a memory. Farmers in the Princeton area and across the nation had begun to feel confident in the future. By the spring of 1937, the economy had finally reached the level it had attained in 1929 before the Great Depression. (William L. Leuchtenburg, Franklin Roosevelt and the New Deal [Harper & Row: New York, 1963] p. 243.) Nationwide production of the F-12 had reached 35,681 in 1937.
However, in 1937, some economic advisers to President Roosevelt, predominately Secretary of Treasury Henry Morganthau, had begun to worry that the government spending on the New Deal, that had pulled the nation’s economy out of the depression, was now going to touch off a period of high inflation. Thus, over the objections of several of his other economic advisors, including Harry Hopkins, Harold Ickes, Marriner Eccles, William O. Douglas, Jerome Frank and Robert Jackson, the President was persuaded to drastically slash Works Progress Administration (W.P.A.) funds and to cut off all “pump priming” spending by the Public Works Administration of the Department of the Interior. (Ibid., p. 244-245.) The effect of this action was immediate. In August of 1937, the economy fell into another severe recession. By December, the New York Times Business Index plunged from 110 to 85, wiping out all gains made since 1935. In just three months steel production fell from 80% of capacity to just 19%. Between Labor Day and the end of the year more than two million people were thrown out of work. (Ibid., pp. 243-244.) The economy, clearly, was not ready to stand on its own without support from government spending. This recession was to become known as the “Roosevelt Recession.” Realizing its mistake, the Roosevelt Administration reversed policies and began relief spending in March of 1938. The road back to recovery was painfully slow but steady progress was evident in the economy by the summer of 1938. Once again, the public began to have confidence enough to spend money.
The recession of 1937-1938 was felt at the Hall Implement Company in the form of a severe dip in sales. However, by the spring of 1938 the economy was starting to pull out of the recent recession. Although it is not certain, many factors indicate that one of the F-12 tractors, Floyd Hall had in his inventory at his dealership that spring of 1938, was the tractor bearing the serial number 121778. No. 121778 was part of the last 6,390 F-12s that were made by International Harvester. Production of the F-12 was ceased on January 27, 1938 in favor of the new Model F-14 tractor. (A particular Farmall F-14 tractor bearing the serial number 132603 will be the subject of an article in the next issue of Belt Pulley.)
Fitted with steel wheels in the rear and with the optional 5.00 by 15” rubber tires on the front, No. 121778 rolled off the assembly line the at the International Harvester’s “Tractor Works” factory in Chicago at about noon on Friday, December 9, 1937. Within a couple of days, No. 121778 arrived at the International Harvester Branch House in St. Cloud. Later, in the winter, No. 121778 was shipped to the Floyd Hall dealership in Princeton, Minnesota where in the early spring No. 121778 and three (3) other 1938 Farmall tractors were lined up on the street in front of the Floyd Hall Dealership. These were the first red Farmalls that many citizens in Princeton had ever seen. The dealership wished to introduce the new red Farmalls to as many potential buyers as possible. Accordingly, a picture of the line of red Farmalls was taken.
As noted earlier, ever since the F-12 bearing the serial number 89685 had left the assembly line at the Tractor Works, International Harvester had begun offering their own demountable cast-iron front wheels for those tractors fitted with 5.00 by 15” rubber tires on the front. (See the second article in the two-part series on the F-12 bearing the serial number 65999 in the July/August 2003 issue of Belt Pulley.) Floyd Hall had noticed over the last year that rubber tires on the front was becoming a popular option with tractor buyers. Additionally, since September of 1936 all tractors made by International Harvester had been painted red in color. (This red paint is available under PPG-Ditzler No. 71310 or available at N.A.P.A. stores under Martin Senior No. 99-4115.) This red color distinguished all post-September 1936 F-12s from the earlier models which were painted charcoal gray. (This charcoal gray color is available under DuPont No. 98620 and available at N.A.P.A. stores under Martin Senior No. 10391.) Thus, No. 121778, a tricycle designed F-12 with optional rubber tires on the front and its red coat of paint awaited a buyer in Princeton, Minnesota. The tractor would not have long to wait.
The town of Princeton is located in Princeton Township. Immediately to the west of Princeton Township is Greenbush Township. Among the farm families in eastern Greenbush Township was the family of Henry and Minnie (Norby) Papenhausen. The Papenhausen’s farmed a 20 acre farm which was located directly on the boundary between Greenbush and Princeton Townships. The Papenhausens were of German ancestry. Their family consisted of twin girls Bertha and Bessie, an adopted son Charles and a natural son, Elvin Papenhausen born in 1928. On their farm they raised corn, rye, oats and hay which was largely used as feed for the four dairy cows (two Guernseys, a Jerseys and a Holstein) and two sows that they had. Besides milking the cows, Henry raised the two litters of baby pigs that were produced twice each year from the sows. When the baby pigs were about 8 to 12 weeks of age and weighed 40 to 70 pounds, Henry would sell them as feeder pigs. (Kelly Klober, Storey’s Guide to Raising Pigs [(Storey Books: North Adams, Massachusetts, 1997], p 22.)
The Papenhausen family also had a black and white dog, named Toby, to watch things around the building site. Sometimes it was surprising how well Toby did his job. At one time, the neighborhood was plagued by persons sneaking around farm building sites with a gas can and hose to siphon gasoline from cars and trucks. During this period of time, the Papenhausens awoke one morning to find Toby sitting at the end of the driveway. When the family went to investigate this unusual behavior, they found that Toby was sitting patiently next to a gas can and a hose which had been dropped in haste by culprits intent on stealing some gas from the family’s 1931 Dodge car or the 1919 Dodge car which had been converted into a pickup truck. Apparently, Toby’s threatening approach to the culprits had scared them so much that they dropped everything in their haste to depart. Toby, then apparently, had stood watch over the booty all night preventing any return by the culprits even to retrieve the lost items.
The Papenhausen farm was on the northwest corner of a crossroads along the township line road. Located across the road on the southwest corner of the same crossroads lived the Rasmus and Matilda (Troland) Thronson family. The Thronson’s were of Norweigan background. Indeed Matilda had been born in Troland, Norway. Prior to moving to Greenbush Township, the Thronson’s had lived in North Dakota. Their North Dakota background revealed itself when they referred to the cow yard that surrounded the barn as “the corral.” Although their house was located on the southwest corner of the crossroads, the Thronson’s barn and corral was located across the township road to the east—actually in Princeton Township. The Thronson family consisted of four children, a daughter Celia born in 1910, then three sons, Monrad born in 1912, Karol born in 1914 and Howard born in 1918 and finally another daughter, Agnes in 1920. The Thronson’s raised crops of tobacco, corn, oats and barley. Much of the oats and corn were used as feed for the animals that they had on the farm. They had a dairy operation on their farm consisting of a Guernsey dairy herd and one Holstein cow. (The neighborhood joke was that farmers would keep one Holstein cow which was to be milked last. The joke related that Holstein milk was so low in butterfat that it would have the effect of washing the butterfat of richer milk from their Guernsey cows out of the milking equipment.) The Thronson’s also had a pig operation on their farm which consumed much of the corn that was raised on the farm.
To young Elvin Papenhausen, the Thronson family farm was always a place where new and exciting things were occurring. He and his brother Charles admired the older Thronson boys and tried to imitate the Thronson boys in everything. This extended to the use of profanity by Elvin and Charles, which met with the consternation of their own parents. However, in 1938, other exciting things were occurring on the Thronson farm. The family traded their 1931 Dodge car into Fisher Motor Sales on the purchase of a new 1938 Plymouth.
Owned by Jack Fisher, Fisher Motor Sales was actually a Mobil gas and oil service station and a repair garage which also had a franchise to sell Chrysler, Dodge and Plymouth cars and Dodge trucks. Jack Fisher had a way with people that made him a very good sales person. This combined with the fact that both the Plymouth and Dodge cars were reasonably priced cars ($815 for the most popular 1938 Plymouth), meant that there were a great number of Plymouths and Dodges around the Princeton area.
However, it was the arrival of another new mechanical machine at the Thronson farm that created much excitement in the neighborhood on one particular day in the spring of 1938. On that day, Elvin Papenhausen was intrigued by the sight of the first farm tractor in the neighborhood. The Thronson’s were using an F-12 Farmall tractor in their field to do some spring plowing. With rubber tires on front, mounted on International Harvester’s own demountable cast-iron rims and steel wheels in the rear, this tractor could well have been No. 121778.
The little red tractor presented quite an attraction for the young 10-year old Elvin as it pulled a new McCormick-Deering two-bottom plow with 12” bottoms across the field. The new plow, also was colorfully, painted with its red frame, blue moldboards and white wheels. Charles and Elvin crawled over the fence to the Thronson farm and ran to where the little red tractor was hard at work. They playfully followed the new tractor by walking down the furrow created by the plow. It was quite a sight and a sign of the times that horses would soon be replaced as the main power source on the Thronson farm and on farms across the nation.
No. 121778 was used on the Thronson farm for many years and throughout the Second World War. Some time during the tractor’s later life, probably after the Second World War, the steel rear wheels were removed from the tractor and cut down and 38” rims for rubber tires were welded to the flat spokes. In this way, No. 121778 was fitted with rubber tires on rear for the first time. However, even with rubber tires on the front and the rear, in the post-World War II era, No. 121778 was becoming outdated and was eventually replaced as a power source on the farm.
Meanwhile at the Hall Implement Company, Floyd continued to win trips and awards for his high volume of sales of Farmall tractors and McCormick-Deering (International Harvester)farm machinery including a free trip to Hawaii in the 1950s. Floyd continued, actively, in the business until he suddenly died on February 8, 1961. His widow, Eva, continued to operate the dealership following Floyd’s death. However, the business was eventually closed down entirely in 1967. Eva, herself, passed away on August 19, 1986.
Years later, however, No. 121778 was purchased by Erv Gustafson of Millaca, Minnesota. In 1992, Erv Gustafson sold the tractor to Greg Thune of Monticello, Minnesota. Later, in 1994, Greg Thune sold the tractor to Loren Helmbrecht, who then sold the tractor to Bill Radil of Howard Lake, Minnesota. (As the careful reader might see, the article on another F-12 tractor bearing the serial number No. 65999 was also owned by Loren Helmbrecht. Indeed that tractor is called the “Loren Helbrecht tractor”and a separate article has been written about that tractor which is also part of this website. Thus, both tractors came into Bill Radil’s possession at about the same time. )
As related earlier, No. 121778 was under restoration by the Radil family in the garage of their home until restoration work was halted when the Radil family had to move to Dodge Center, Minnesota in the fall of 1997. (See the article on the 1936 F-12 bearing serial number 65999 in the July/August 2003 issue of Belt Pulley.) Bill had to sell No. 121778 together with a 1936 F-12, serial number 65999 in order to accomplish the move to Dodge Center. Both tractors were sold to Wells Family Farmalls in the summer of 1997. As originally intended by Bill Radil, No. 121778 was put together largely from parts from both tractors. However, in order to make No. 121778 look as though it came form the factory with rubber tires, a pair of the International Harvester star-shaped cast-iron wheels complete with 40” rims was purchased from Duane Hansford of Lebanon, Indiana at the Spring of 2002 Winter Convention of the International Harvester Collectors held in Indianapolis, Indiana. These star-shaped cast-iron wheels and 40” rims became available as an option on the F-12 in 1937 as the F-12 tractor bearing the serial number 89685 rolled off the assembly line at the Tractor Works in Chicago.
Because it is planned that No. 121778 would become a part of the permanent exhibits at the LeSueur County Pioneer Power Association located near LeSueur, Minnesota and because the annual show held on August 22-24, 2003, the LeSueur County Pioneer Power will host the state convention of the Minnesota State Chapter #15 of the International Harvester Collectors, it was determined that the tractor should be matched with an appropriate implement. Accordingly at the annual swap meet of 1999 held at the LeSueur Pioneer Power grounds, Mark Wells, brother of the present author, obtained a McCormick Deering Little Genius 2-bottom plow with 12” bottoms from a vendor from Iowa. Painting of the plow began a year later at the Swap Meet on the LeSueur Pioneer Power Grounds in April of 2000. The plow could properly be matched to the 1946 Farmall B bearing the serial number 130161 (this Farmall Model B is mentioned in the article “The Famall B: Second Tractor on the Farm but First in the Heart” in the November/December 1993 issue of Belt Pulley), or to the 1936 F-12 bearing the serial number 65999, mentioned above, or the 1938 F-14 bearing the serial number 132605, which, as mentioned above, will be the subject of an article in an upcoming issue of Belt Pulley. However, each time the plow is pulled behind No. 121778 and is used to plow a round in the fields on the LeSueur grounds, it will recreate the day in early 1938 when Elvin Papenhausen saw the F-12 at work on his neighbor’s farm in Greenbush Township—the first tractor in the neighborhood. It will recreate the day when a ten year-old farm boy realized that mechanical farming had arrived on the family-farming scene in the United States.