Navy Bean Farming (Part III): The Innes Company



       Navy Bean Farming (Part III): The Innes Company of Bettendorf, Iowa


Brian Wayne Wells

As published in the May/June 2005 issue of

Belt Pulley Magazine

The Innes Company logo

As noted previously, a revolution in edible bean farming occurred in 1937. (See the article called Navy Bean Farming [Part II] in the March/April 2005 issue of Belt Pulley magazine.) The effect of that revolution can be seen in the harvest production figures for 1937. Also as noted previously, across the nation that spring, 1,911,000 acres of edible beans were planted. (From the National Agricultural Statistics Service page of the United Sates Department of Agriculture website.) In the fall of that year, 88.7% of this acreage was harvested. (Ibid.) The yield per acre was a record 934 pounds per acre. (Ibid.) This was a 23.7% increase in the average yield of 712 pounds per acre of 1936. After 1937, the average yield never again fell below 800 pounds per acre. (Ibid.) As noted previously, this dramatic and permanent increase in the average yield of navy beans was due in large part to the introduction of the small combine to navy bean harvesting in place of the stationary thresher.


Stationary threshing of navy beans resulted in a great deal of loss of the valuable beans.


The year 1948 was another revolutionary year in the per acre yield of edible beans. Nationwide, there was a nearly 11% increase in the average per acre yield of edible beans. For the first time the average per acre yield of edible beans rose above 1000 pounds per acre (1,074 pounds per acre). In 1949, the per acre yield rose another 6% to 1,134 pounds per acre. After 1949, despite some growing seasons with adverse weather conditions and mediocre harvests, the average annual yield of edible beans never again fell below 1,100 pounds per acre. If the drastic improvement in the per acre yield of 1937 was the result of the invasion of the combine into the edible bean threshing market, the further drastic improvement in yield in 1948 was the result of the small combine finishing the job of total domination of the edible bean market.


The introduction of the Allis-Chalmers Model 60 All-Crop Harvester small combine really spelt the end of the stationary style threshing.


In both cases, the improvement in yield was largely due to the reduction of loss of beans in the harvesting and threshing operation wrought by the combine as opposed to the losses incurred by the stationary thresher method of harvesting and threshing edible beans. The savings in losses were twofold in nature. First, savings in loss of beans were obtained by the fact that combining edible beans resulted in much less “handling” of the beans. Secondly, combining sped up the harvest. Thus, there was less chance of the navy beans being affected by mildew and the resultant discolorization.


A fine example of some “pearly white” navy beans without discolorization or mildew.  Even the single navy bean near the middle/top of this top picture shows a single navy bean with a yellow stain. However this stain is so minimal that even this bean passed inspection.


As noted earlier, navy beans grown in the state of Michigan composed the largest part of the United States edible bean harvest. In years past, upwards of 80% of the nation’s crop of navy beans were grown in Michigan. Within Michigan, Huron County, lead all other counties in production of navy beans.


A map of Michigan showing the location of the “thumb” in Michigan with Huron County at the tip of the thumb. .


The navy bean plant grows to only about 18 inches in height as compared to the 36“ height of a good crop of soybeans. Consequently, every pod of navy beans on the plants in the field becomes important. Thus, whereas the soybean farmer may cut soybeans off at a level 1½ inches above the ground and consider the loss of any pods attached to this 1½ inch stubble left in the field as a very negligible loss, the navy bean farmer, on the other hand, would suffer a considerable loss of yield by leaving 1-½ inch stubble in his navy bean field.


Navy bean plats are so short and the bean pods grow so low to ground that the sometimes touch the ground.


Furthermore, prior to the introduction of the first hybrid bush style navy bean variety (the Sanilac variety in 1956), all navy bean varieties were “vining” plants that grew along the ground. Thus, navy beans were harvested by “pulling” the plants. The process of “pulling” involved cutting off the navy bean plants below the ground. Traditionally, this was accomplished with a horse-drawn one-row cultivator fitted with “knives” that would pass under the ground and cut the row of navy bean plants off at the root below the ground. The navy beans vines would then be left lying on top of the ground. After the navy bean crop had been pulled, the farmer would return to the field with a pitch fork and stack, or “cock” the vines into conveniently located piles spaced throughout the field.

The vines would, then, await the day that the neighborhood thresher arrived on the farm before they were forked onto the wagon and hauled to the thresher and then forked into the thresher. Each handling of the vines would result in a further loss of beans as the pods either fell off or were cracked open letting the beans fall on the ground. Furthermore, additional handling of the beans occurred if a rain fell while the vines were cocked in the field, as the farmer would have to return to the navy bean field with his pitchfork and turn each pile of navy bean vines to allow the vines to dry thoroughly without mildewing.

Even the navy beans which successfully, made it through the harvesting process were not necessarily saleable. Once delivered to the grain elevator, the navy beans were inspected by hand. All discolored navy beans were removed. Only the pearly white beans that passed inspection were then marketed. Generally, the farmer would “buy back” the discolored, or “cull,” beans from the elevator. Usually, the cull beans were fed to the pigs or other livestock on the farm. The farmer’s purchase of the cull beans paid for the process of hand inspection of the total bean crop.

All over Huron County, Michigan, the inspection of the navy bean crop was done by workers hired by the grain elevator. These workers sat at specialized machines designed to allow navy beans to flow past the eyes of the worker. The cull beans would then be removed by worker one bean at a time. (These machines have since been discarded in favor of faster more efficient automatic machines. However, some of the old machines are kept as antiques of a by-gone era. One such machine is, currently, owned by Dave MacDonald of Bad Axe, Michigan. The machine is kept in his garage and is used to entertain visiting children and grandchildren. Today, instead of separating cull beans from good beans this old machine in the MacDonald garage is used to separate red marbles from white marbles.)

The inspection of navy beans at the elevator had serious consequences for the navy bean farmer . A navy bean farmer could find that 50% of his crop was lost through discolorization. Discolorization was caused by mildew. It was bad enough that the navy bean vines grew so close to the ground, but the hand cocking of the navy beans in the field left the vines lying on the ground and susceptible to mildew. A rain falling on the cocked beans would add even more exposure to mildew.


The elevator at Bad Axe Michigan which, as the sign on the building reflects, is a buyer of navy beans in Huron County.


No wonder then that the combine became so popular in the navy bean fields. The harvesting process was reduced to “pulling” the beans two rows at a time with a tractor. The tractor mounted bean puller would fold the two rows into a single windrow lying on top of the ground. After pulling the entire field of navy beans the farmer would then return the next day, or maybe even the same day to combine the navy beans. As a result there was very little “handling” of the beans. Additionally, after the navy bean vines were “pulled,” the vines spent very little time on the ground in a windrow, exposed to rain and weather, before being threshed by the combine. Thus, mildew and discolorization would have less chance to form on the navy beans.


A two-row bean puller mounted on a Model “M” tractor. The long “knives” of the puler can be seen just ahead of the rear wheels of the tractor.


As noted earlier, the Allis Chalmers All-Crop harvester was the pioneer small combine that led the way in crowding the stationary thresher out of the navy bean field. (See the article called “Navy Bean Farming in Huron County [Part II]: The All Crop Harvester” contained in the March/April 2005 issue of Belt Pulley magazine.) The All Crop Harvester was introduced in 1935. Although by 1947, the suggested retail price of an All Crop Harvester had risen to $885.00 farmers continued to flock to their Allis Chalmers dealers to purchase the little orange combine. The Allis Chalmers Company was turning out 150 All Crop Harvesters per day at the LaPorte, Indiana plant, just to keep up with the huge demand. This was the peak year of production for the All-Crop Harvester. Allis Chalmers had a 40% share of the small combine market. (From the 1954 Allis Chalmers promotional movie called “The All-Crop Story” available on VHS video tape from Keith Oltrogge, Post Office Box 529, Denver, Iowa 52622-0529. Telephone: [319] 984-5292.)


A tractor mounted bean puller at work in a navy bean field, leavin the bean vines lying on o. The tractor moun top ot the ground in a “windrow” to be picked up by a combine.


Just one indicator of the role the All Crop Harvester played in this revolutionary change in farming in Huron County, Michigan, was the number of Allis Chalmers dealerships that sprang up all across Huron County. First was the H.A. Henne & Son of Bay Port, Michigan. As noted earlier, although addressed 8982 Henne Road, Bay Port; the Henne dealership was actually located in McKinley Township, 1½ miles east of the city limits of Bay Port. (See the article, cited above, called “Navy Bean Farming in Huron County [Part II]) Henry A. Henne and his son, Floyd, organized this Allis Chalmers dealership business in 1932.

Meanwhile, the privately owned grain elevator in the small town of Ruth, Michigan, had re-organized itself as a farmer owned co-operative elevator in 1933. In 1938, the Ruth Cooperative Elevator also obtained a franchise to sell Allis Chalmers farm equipment and Roman Booms began his long tenure as the chairman of the board of the cooperative. (Roman Booms is mentioned in this capacity in the book called Plow Peddler written by Walter M. Buescher [Glenbridge Pub. Ltd.: MaComb, Illinois, 1992] p. 100.) Over the years, the machinery dealership side of Ruth Co-operative employed a number of local citizens including LaVern Hanselman as service manager and Earl Edwards as parts manager. Also in 1938 Harold Leese obtained an AllisChalmers dealership franchise. Harold established the dealership on the 60 acre farm that he and his wife, Gertrude (Champagne) Leese owned in Gore Township. Located on Kaufman Road, near the village of Port Hope, the Leese farm was just one mile north of the country school/Gore Township Hall on route #25. In 1940, Al Bowron and his son, Harold, started the Al Bowron and Son dealership in the county seat of Huron County—Bad Axe, Michigan. These new dealerships and, indeed, all the Allis Chalmers dealerships in Michigan were served by the AllisChalmers warehouse and branch office at Toledo Ohio. Personnel from the Toledo Branch Office including Ed Howe, Branch Service Manager, often traveled to the individual dealerships to provide any assistance required by the new dealerships.

The post-World War II era, brought forth a new generation of farmers who had new ideas about farming. One of the young farmers walking into the Henne dealership to inquire about the an All-Crop Harvester in 1947 was John Prich. John was the second son of George Prich, of rural Bach, Michigan. As noted earlier, the 80 acre Prich farm was located in Brookfield Township in Huron County. (See the article, cited above, called “Navy Bean Farming in Huron County [Part II].) John’s older brother, George Jr., took over the farming operations from their father, George Sr., on the home farm. Although he continued to live at home, John Prich struck out on his own and started renting and farming what land he could find in the neighborhood. He raised wheat, oats, sugar beets and of course, navy beans. In addition to the horses, John and his brother George Jr. shared ownership of an unstyled model A John Deere tractor as a source of power in their respective farming operations. The tractor had rubber tires and, thus, the Model A could be driven down the public roads to the fields that John rented in the neighborhood. For planting his wheat and oats John and his brother used a 9-foot grain drill made by the Ontario Drill Company of Despatch, New York. This grain drill contained fifteen planting units. By closing off some of the holes in the bottom of the grain box of the drill, John could also use the Ontario grain drill to plant his navy beans in 30-inch rows.

Just like their father, both John Prich and his brother, George Jr., employed the Kuhl family for threshing their crops. Bill Kuhl Sr. lived on a farm north of Bath, Michigan in Huron County. Along with his sons, Bill Jr., Floyd, Don and Robert, Bill Kuhl owned a 36” x 62” Keck and Gonnerman thresher which they used to do custom threshing in the neighborhood. To power the large Kay-Gee thresher, the Kuhls owned a 30-60 Model S two-cylinder Oil Pull tractor manufactured by the Advance-Rumley Thresher Company of La Porte, Indiana. (The Kuhl family has continued to maintain an interest in Oil Pull tractors to this day. Carol Kuhl, daughter of Floyd Kuhl, later married Duane J. Deering, now of Unionville, Michigan in Huron County. Duane purchased, restored and currently owns a 1929 Model X 25-40 Oil Pull tractor.)

However, in the late fall of 1947, John Prich was able to withdraw from the hand labor and responsibilities involved in stationary threshing when he contracted with Heene Implement in Bay Port, Michigan, for the purchase of an Allis Chalmers All-Crop Harvester. Thus, John Prich became one of the 20,825 purchasers of an Allis Chalmers Model 60 All Crop Harvester combine in 1947. The combine purchased by John Prich was not fitted with any windrow pickup at all. It was too late in the season to use the All-Crop Harvester for the harvest of 1947. Consequently, John returned to Heene Implement in the summer of 1948 to purchase a windrow pickup for the new combine. From their experience the Heene Implement dealership knew that the Innes pickup made by the Innes Company of Bettendorf, Iowa , was superios to any of the Allis Chalmers windrow pickups. Therefore, John purchased a new Innes stiff finger windrow pickup from Heene Impliment in the summer of 1948 for the price of $95.00. (John Prich still has the receipt from this purchase made more than 55 years ago.

By 1947, the Innes name was becoming quite well known in the navy bean farming areas of Michigan. The Innes Company of Bettendorf, Iowa, actually began in 1914 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania as the brainchild of George Innes. George and his wife, Edith, were happily living in Philadelphia which at that time was a bustling city of 1,549,008 (1910 census). Thus, Philadelphia was, at the time, the third largest city in the United States. George Innes was of Scottish ancestry and had an inquisitive mind. He could not stop thinking about how to improve things. Toward this end he used his ability to think in mechanical terms to try many new inventions. On December 12, 1914 a son, Donald, was born to George and Edith. The Innes family would eventually have three boys with the addition of Robert and Brainard Innes to the family.

Perhaps it was the restlessness of George’s inventive mind or the social changes that were being wrought on the United States economy in the post-World War I era, but in 1923, George and Edith moved out of Philadelphia to settle in the town of Bettendorf, Iowa (1920 pop. 2,178). Bettendorf is the smallest of four cities which all border each other at the confluence of the Rock River and the Mississippi River. These four cities, Rock Island and Moline, Illinois, and Davenport and Bettendorf, Iowa are commonly referred to as the “Quad Cities” because of their close proximity to each other. Adapting himself rather quickly to the rural Midwestern community to which he had decided to settle, George was soon at work on a new invention.

As noted earlier, combines, especially small combines, were just making there appearance in the Midwestern part of the United States. (See the article called “Navy Bean Farming (Part II) in the March/April 2005 issue of Belt Pulley magazine.) The “combine” had originally developed in California. A big bulky apparatus, the combine was profitable for use only in the “horizon to horizon” farming of the western states. Use of combines in the diversified farming areas of the Midwest, had to await development of the small combine, starting with the Allis-Chalmers All-Crop Harvester. (Ibid.)

Unlike the western states, combining of oats and other small grains in the Midwest could not easily be accomplished by harvesting the grain as it stood in the field. Generally the grain needed to be cut and laid into windrows to allow the grain to “sweat” as it would in the shock and to allow any extraneous “green” material to wither and dry up and pass through the small combine in an easier manner. (Jeff Creighton, Combines and Harvesters [Motorbooks International: Osceola, Wisc, 1996] pp. 69 and 113.)

To allow the grain to sweat and dry properly, it was generally suggested that grains be cut into wind rows, leaving stubble 6” to 8” tall. (From the “Operating Manual for the John Deere 12A Combine,” p. 80.) “A stubble of this height will allow free circulation of air under the windrow.” (Id.) With stubble of this height and with the windrow resting on top of the stubble, the feeder unit of the combine containing the cutter bar, could easily be slid under the windrow and the harvesting of the grain could be accomplished without the need of any special pickup attachment. However, in reality the stubble would not always be of this height and, in reality, the windrow might well be resting on or near the ground and on top of the stubble. Thus, need required the invention of a windrow pickup attachment. (J.R. Hobbs, writer for the Green Magazine has written a nice history of the development of windrow type of grain harvesting and the development and patenting of the “traveling combine” and the pickup by the Hovland brothers of Ortley, South Dakota in 1907, and the in the article called “Amber Waves of Grain Laid Down by John Deere Windrowers.” J.R. Hobbs also reflects on the improvements that were made to the technology of the windrow style of combining in 1926 and 1927 by Helmer Hanson and his brother. This article is contained in the July, 2003 issue of Green Magazine.)

Typically, before mounting the windrow pickup to the feeder unit of the combine, both the reel used in standing crops and the sickle in the cutter bar were removed. The most common pickup attachment that evolved and became universalized throughout the industry generally consisted of rows of wire teeth set on an axle. The teeth protruded through slots in a stationary piece of sheet metal. The teeth would pick up the windrow and raise it up into the feeder unit. The stationary piece of metal would “comb” the windrow off the pickup attachment and allow the windrow to proceed into the feeding unit of the combine. The combing action of the stationary portion of the pickup was intended to prevent the teeth from hanging on to the straw in the windrow and causing the windrow to wrap around the axle of the pickup attachment. Despite the partial success of the combing action of the typical windrow pickup, “wrapping” of the windrow around the pickup attachment remained a problem. This is problem that caught George Innes’ attention.

Sometime after moving to Bettendorf, Iowa, George began working on a new type of pickup attachment. The Innes designed pickup consisted of a metal cylinder which contained a number of holes. Inside the cylinder was a shaft to which stiff metal teeth were attached. Because the shaft was not located in the very center of the cylinder, but rather was located “off-center” to the front inside the cylinder, the stiff teeth attached to the off-center shaft emerged and withdrew from the slots in the cylinder as the cylinder turned. Both the axle to which the teeth were attached and the metal cylinder in the Innes designed windrow pickup would revolve at the same speed. With each revolution of the cylinder the teeth would protrude out of holes of the cylinder to full extension to pickup the windrow and then withdraw back into the cylinder as the cylinder continued to revolve bringing the windrow up to the feeding unit. Combing action in the Innes designed windrow pickup was eliminated by this extension and withdrawal of the teeth into the cylinder as the cylinder revolved. Thus, the Innes design greatly reduced “wrapping” of the grain around the pickup. The design of this cylinder style of windrow pickup was and would remain George Innes’ greatest invention.

George Innes, determined to mass produce and market his new pickup for the farming public. In this endeavor, George received some help from his son, Donald. Donald Innes graduated from Augustana College located in neighboring Rock Island, Illinois and in 1937 joined with his father in an attempt to manufacture and market the new pickup in mass numbers. Toward this end George and Donald Innes, incorporated the Innes Company in 1938 to manufacture his new pickup attachment. Although located in the state of Iowa, the Innes Company was incorporated as a Delaware Corporation to take advantage of the tax benefits and other benefits traditionally accorded Delaware corporations. (Harry G. Henn and John R., Alexander, Laws of Corporations (West Pub.: St. Paul, Minn., 1983) pp. 187-189.) Incorporation under the laws of Delaware was a common practice for many corporations. However, since the corporation’s manufacturing facilities were to be located in Bettendorf, George filed Articles of Business Activity with the Iowa Secretary of State’s Office on February 7. 1938. On this original document the Company reported $10,000 as initial “startup” capital. About a year and a half later, on September 7, 1940 the company was reporting capital of $84,000. The Company obtained a manufacturing site located in rural Bettendorf. The new company was thus able to take advantage of the excellent railroad connections that the Quad Cities enjoyed—especially the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railway which served the Quads to the east and to the west. The new Innes factory site came alive with activity. The Company chose dark blue as their trademark color. Soon the dark blue Innes pickups were pouring out of the factory. Each pickup was carefully packaged up and loaded onto waiting boxcars for shipment to all parts of the nation.

In 1941 Donald Innes married Betsy Schroeder. Although she was a local Rock Island girl, they chose to go to Nugales, Arizona for the wedding. Together they would have one daughter, Randi. Even as Donald and Betsy were being married, the United States government was already instituting wartime restrictions on all raw materials which were even then being diverted to military production to aid China, Great Britain, and the Soviet Union in their war against Japan and Germany. The Innes Company like many other companies in the United States suffered from these government imposed restrictions. Still the Innes Company did register some growth. In their report to the Iowa Secretary of State office dated August 1, 1941, the Company reported assets of $91,000.00. In the report dated August 6, 1942 the Company reported $108,000 in assets and on August 23, 1943, the Innes Company reported assets of $167,000.00. Corporations were required to file an annual report to the Secretary of States Office so that the state officials might have a record of all corporations doing business in the state. Thus, the size of capital reported to the Secretary of State was only of secondary importance. Because all corporations tended to have a fear that any report of capital they made to the Secretary of State might be used by the state government to adjust taxes on the corporation, all corporations tended to report very low amounts of capital on these reports to the Secretary of State. Thus, although these figures may not accurately reflect the real amount of capital held by the Innes Company, the trend of the figures upwards does reflect that the Innes Company was a growing concern.

George decided to retire from active management of the Innes Company and leave the management of the company in the hands of Donald. Thus in 1944, George and Edith left Bettendorf for California. Settling in Altadena, California, George and Edith purchased a home located at 1704 Meadowbrook in Altadena, California. George continued to pursue his interest in innovations by opening an office at 19 North Catalina in neighboring Pasadena, California. He continued to identify himself as “an inventor.” Although George continued to explore new innovations of all sorts, he never again was as successful with any of these innovations as he had been with the windrow pickup that he had designed.

Meanwhile, back in Bettendorf, Iowa, Donald continued to manage the company. He was an active ambassador for the Company. Locally, Don Innes worked with the YMCA and served as president for a time. He was also a member of the local group called Freedom, Opportunity, Responsibility and Enlightenment (F.O.R.E.). Additionally he was an active member of the Town Club and the Outing Club. He served as a local Republican committeeman and was a member and president of the Associated Industries of the Quad Cities. Nationally he belonged to Farm Equipment Manufacturers Association and sat on their board of directors.

Donald Innes had the same sort of fertile, restless, inquisitive mind that his father had. Donald was constantly seeking to expand the Innes Company’s manufacturing base by adding new products to the line of agricultural machines made by the company. A straw shredder or “chopper” was added to the range of new Innes products. This straw chopper was mounted on the rear of a combine and shredded the straw, before spreading it over a wide area on the ground in back of the combine.

Growth continued to be slow but steady during the Second World War. The reported asset base of the Innes Company rose in 1944 to $213,000.00 according to the report of July 19, 1944. As the end of the war came into sight, the expectation arose that the wartime economic restrictions would soon be lifted. According to the report of August 2, 1945, the Innes Company reported $250,000.00 in assets. In anticipation of the expected increase in demand for farm equipment at the end of the war, Donald Innes sought, in 1945, additional financing to enlarge the Innes Company. The banks he approached with this plan approved of the plan, but had one condition. That condition was that G. Don Shawver be appointed the Vice President and financial advisor of the Innes Company. Whereas, George Innes was the founder and, thus, the first person of importance associated with the Innes Company and his son Donald was the second person of importance to the Company, G.Don Shawver was destined to become the third person of major importance to the Company.

G. Don Shawver was born in 1898, in Grimes, Iowa, where his father owned a bank. Young G. Don worked in his father’s bank. However, in 1917 when he became of age he started to work for a local canning factory. Employing his own inquisitive mind to meet the needs of the canning factory company, G. Don invented an automatic sealing machine for which he obtained a patent. Seeking to further his own education he entered Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa. At Drake he was an all-star athlete, lettering in four different sports during his college career. Upon graduation from Drake in 1922, he was associated with a bank in Des Moines for two years before obtaining employment in the state banking department for the State of Iowa. During the 1920’s the State of Iowa had only two bank examiners. When a vacancy occurred in one of these two positions G. Don Shawver was appointed as one of the two state bank examiners. In 1925, G. Don married Edna E. Baer. Together they would eventually have four sons, Francis B. Shawver, J.Ward Shawver , Bruce A.Shawver and Donald Shawver.

G. Don Shawver continued to serve as bank examiner for the State of Iowa throughout the great depression and up to 1942, when he went back into private banking. As noted above, he was asked to join the Innes Company in 1945 as part of the financing plan intended to allow the Innes Company to grow and meet the new demand for farm machinery that was expected when the Second World War officially ended. Thus, G. Don and Edna Shawver moved their family to the Quad Cities where they purchased a home located at 432 W. Columbia Avenue in Davenport, Iowa. Once they were settled in, G. Don began work as Vice President of the Innes Company.

Like Donald Innes, G. Don became a local evangelist for the Company in the Quad Cities. Most important for the Company, G. Don was given a seat on the Board of Directors of the First National Bank of Davenport. He also took a seat on the Board of Directors for the YMCA/YWCA. He served as president of the Kiwanis Club and the Knife and Fork Club. He and Edna were also active members of the Presbyterian Church of Davenport. His membership in the First Presbyterian Church became a networking asset. Through the Presbyterian Church he met many of the current and future employees of the Innes Company including Roy McLain and R. Harry Peck.

With the new capital brought into the Innes Company by the new financing plan, the company expanded into the manufacture of new products. In this expansion into the design and sale of new products, the Company was aided by talented employees. Roy McLain had been an employee of the engineering department for some time in the post-war era. One day a friend, R. Harry Peck, who was employed as a civilian employee at the Rock Island Arsenal, dropped by to see Roy.   While Harry was at the Innes Company facilities, he met G. Don Shawver. G. Don was so impressed with Harry as a potential employee, that he offered Harry a job at Innes on the spot. Harry Peck accepted and became a long term employee at the Company. Although he was not an engineer by education, Harry became the main troubleshooter for the Company. When a problem arose in the production of any product in the Innes line of equipment, Harry was the person that the company turned to solve the problem. Additionally, Harry worked “in the field” with dealerships whenever customers complained about problems with any of the Innes products. In this field work, Harry became familiar with a great number of dealers and individual customers. Harry was the “face” of the Company in the field.

With the talented employees both within and without the engineering department, the Innes Company, met the post –war world era with enthusiasm, Recognizing that many of the small combines being offered on the market had cylinders nearly as wide as the cutter bar, the company saw the need for another product which would work with their windrow pickup. The wide cylinders on the John Deere Model 12A, the Massey-Harris Clipper, the Allis-Chalmers All Crop Harvester and other similar pull-type combines were designed to accept the full swath of crop across the entire width of the cylinder. This worked well when the standing crop was cut by the cutterbar and fed to the cylinder in the same wide swath. However, as pointed out above, the small combine was made for use in the Midwest and growing conditions in the Midwest required that the grain crop be cut and windrowed before being combined. The windrow would be picked up by the combine and fed only into the middle area of the cylinder. Continued use of the combine in windrowed crops would result in excessive wear to the center portion of the cylinder and little to no wear to either end of the cylinder.

Allis-Chalmers had recognized this problem and had introduced its own optional “windrow spreader.” The windrow spreader was nothing more than a swinging finger which was placed in the middle of the feeding platform just ahead of the cylinder. This finger would swing from side to side at a very rapid rate to tear apart any windrow and spread the windrowed crop over the entire width of the cylinder. (This optional windrow spreader attachment can be seen in use on the 1945 Allis-Chalmers promotional movie called “The Inside Story:” which is available to the public on VHS video tape No. 10 of the tapes offered by Keith Oltrogge, Post Office Box 529, Denver, Iowa 52622-0529. Telephone: [319] 984-5292.)

However, designers at the Innes Company felt that a more effective windrow spreader could be developed. Accordingly during the post-war years, designers at the Innes Company developed the Innes windrow feeder which was advertised as the proper attachment which would “separate and smooth out even the toughest windrows.” (From a 1952 Innes Company advertisement.) The Innes Company published comments from their customers in their advertisements which praised the windrow feeders ability to allow any combine to more efficiently harvest any crop. Some users of the Innes windrow feeder alleged that the feeder saved up to “50% more seed per acre” with their combines. (Ibid.) In addition to evening out the wear on the whole cylinder and allowing for more efficient threshing of the crop, the Innes Company advertised that their new windrow feeder would reduce the amount of power needed to power the cylinder. Thus, Innes claimed that the tractor and combine could travel 1/3 faster in the field because of their new windrow feeder. The Innes advertisement alleged that the farmer/combine operator could “travel in third gear instead of second.” (Ibid.) Thus, the windrow feeder joined the famous windrow pickup and the straw spreader in the Innes line of products offered to the farming public.

In the post World War II period of time, there was a tremendous increase in the amount of farm machinery which required a power take-off system on the tractor intended for use with the farm machine. Indeed, starting with the introduction in 1948 of their Model 88 Oliver Farm Equipment Company brought “live” power take off power to the farm machinery market. “Live power” meant that PTO powered machinery did not stop running merely because the clutch on the tractor was disengaged. Many times while picking corn or baling or combining with power take off driven equipment, farmers found that they desired to stop all forward motion, thus, in heavy crop conditions allowing the the machine to clear itself of crop before moving on. Live Power allowed the farmer to do just that. Soon live power became a very popular item on nearly all new farm tractors. Many companies were developing add-on live power attachments for fitting on older tractors. Specifically, the Heisler Company of Hudson, Iowa, and the M.& W. Company of Gibson City, Illinois were building after market live power “add-on” systems for the Farmall Models M, & H. (A history of the M.& W. Company is contained in the article called “The M.& W. Company (Part I) in the November/December 1997 issue of Belt Pulley magazine on page 14.) However, nobody seemed to be doing the same thing for older John Deere tractors. Thus, the Innes Company saw another niche in the farm machinery market that they could fill and set their design engineers to work on the problem. Soon the Innes Company was offering its own after-market “constant power” attachment which would retrofit the live power feature on to John Deere Models A, B and G tractors.

Still windrow pickups remained the most popular sales item for the Innes Company. Just as the Henne dealership recognized that the Innes windrow pickup was better than the original equipment Allis Chalmers pickups for use on the All Crop Harvester, so too were some of the major combine manufacturers coming to this same realization. As noted earlier, when Wayne Wells of LeRoy, Minnesota, purchased his Massey-Harris pull-type Clipper combine in 1950, it came equipped with a “stiff finger” style Innes pickup. Indeed, it appeared that, at least in the period following the Second World War, the Massey-Harris Company became so convinced of the advantages of the Innes windrow pickup, that they arrived at some sort of agreement that would make Innes pickupsavailable on Massey-Harris combines and other harvesting equipment as they left the factory. A piece of Massey-Harrris advertising literature from 1951, clearly shows an Innes Company stiff finger windrow pickup fitted on a Massey-Harris “forage clipper.” All of the products in the Innes line of farm equipment were painted the same dark blue color. The advertising used by Innes Company was also trimmed in the same dark blue color.

Based on the increased number of farm equipment products, the corporate agreements with companies like Massey-Harris and the favorable inclination of individual dealerships like the Henne dealership of Bay Port, Michigan, the Innes Company continued to grow. On July 25, 1946, the Company reported assets of $273,000 in assets to the Iowa Secretary of State’s Office. A year later on July 21, 1947 they reported assets of $308,000. On July 30, 1948 the company reported $422,000 in assets and on July 11, 1949 they reported $517,000. On July 29, 1953 they reported $595,000 in assets.

Windrow pickups were important in navy bean harvesting. Perhaps more important in navy bean harvesting than in other types of “combinable crops.” Thus, a strong affinity developed between the Innes Company and farmers in the State of Michigan. Because of the need for navy bean farmers to have a pickup that would resist “wrapping” of the bean vines around the pickup, the Innes Company found its best sales market to be the navy bean growing areas of the State of Michigan. In the post-World War II era, the Innes Company sought to build on this connection with the navy bean farmers of the State of Michigan by offering another product especially for use in edible bean harvesting. This new product was the Innes two-row bean windrower. This windower was intended to be mounted on the back of any row crop tractor with an operating power take-off shaft capability. The Innes bean windrower was towed behind the tractor. The knives of the windrower cut the roots of the bean vines beneath the ground. The Innes bean windrower “pulled” two rows of beans at a time as the tractor moved across the field. The tines on either side of the windrower would fold the vines from the rows of beans into a single windrow.

John Prich and his brother George Prich Jr. put their All-Crop Harvester fitted with an Innes windrow pickup, to work on the land that they farmed in Brookfield Township and in neighboring Elmwood Township located across the county line in Tuscola County. Because of their wide spread farming operations John and his brother needed to speed the process of combining as much as possible. Thus, after pulling all the navy beans, they would use their side rake to roll four of the rows of navy beans into one large windrow. Although this was an additional “handling” of the navy beans after the had been pulled, John and his brother would perform this operation soon after the vines had been pulled before the vines had ripened totally and they would do the raking in the morning before the dew had lifted. In this way they “worked with the dew” in order to minimize loss of beans from the raking operation.   John continued to rent parcels of land until 1950 when an opportunity arose for John to purchase an 80 acre farm from Gordon Finkbiner, who was retiring from farming and moving to town. This farm was located 2 miles to the southeast of the “home” farm in Brookfield Township. The Finkbiner farm happened to be adjacent to a forty (40) acre piece of land that was owned by John’s father and was now operated by John’s brother–George Jr. John moved into the old Finkbiner building site and set up housekeeping. On this farm located in Brookfield Township of Huron County, John raised hay, oats and corn. Additionally he raised about ten (10) acres of sugar beets and about ten (10) to fifteen (15) acres of navy beans. He also milked five or six cows and raised some pigs. In 1954, John added to his farm by purchasing the 40 acres adjacent to his farm that had been part of his father’s farm. In 1955, John met and married Helen Herman. Together they would have three children–a son, Gerry, born in 1958; another son, Harold, born in 1960 and a daughter, Karen, born in 1964.

Not only were big changes afoot on the John Prich farm in Brookfield Township, Huron County, Michigan, but changes were happening in Bettendorf, Iowa and throughout the rest of the United States. In Bettendorf, the Innes Company struggled to maintain market share. One small sign of the Company’s attempt to remake itself and its image occurred in 1955, when the Company changed the trademark color of all its products from dark blue to a bright red color. This change was reflected all across the Company as all the sales literature and even the letterhead used by the business office of the Company was trimmed in red to reflect the new trademark color change. However, the Company continued to have financial problems. Sales of Innes products were down. On April 25, 1958, the Innes Company reported assets of only $485,000, down substantially from prior years.

Nationally, over the decade of the 1950’s farming in the United States underwent tremendous changes. Farming operations became much more mechanized and the United States farmer became much more efficient in producing food. Whereas, in 1950, a single farmer could feed 27.2 persons, by 1960 that same farmer was feeding 46.2 persons. (Farm & Food Facts from the Illinois State Farm Bureau [2003] on the internet .) This tremendous increase in efficiency in farming in the United States had the effect of drastically reducing the number of farm operations in the United States and in the rest of North America. This, in turn, resulted in a greatly reduced number of actual buyers in the farm equipment market. Thus, Innes along with all farm equipment manufacturers were battling against each other for a share of this smaller pie.

Within the Innes Company a debate arose over the future course that the Company should follow to overcome this difficult situation. Since the Second World War, a great deal of the inventiveness within the Innes Company either sprang from or received the active support of Donald Innes. Donald Innes had the same type of creative mind that his father had. Accordingly, it was not surprising that Donald Innes felt that the way to get the Innes Company back on track was through expansion of the Innes line of farm equipment. Thus, Donald Innes was always encouraging the introduction of new farm products. Specifically, in the late 1950’s Donald Innes wanted the Company to begin manufacture of a new self propelled windrower made for pulling navy beans. The knives on this windrower would be mounted on the front of the machine. The new self-propelled windrower was designed to save even more navy beans during the pulling process. There would be no tractor wheels running over some vines as the windrower made its way across the field as there was in cultivator mounted or rear mounted tractor windrowers. All the drive wheels of the self propelled windrower would be located behind the knives.

This proposal shocked the shareholders and investors of the Innes Company. Even in the best of years in the post-World War era, profitability had always been a problem with the Innes Company. Their investments in the Innes Company had long lagged behind other areas of the national economy. In the immediate past, any earnings that had been obtained by the Company often times were not distributed to the investors. Rather the Company “retained” these earnings to finance research into yet another “new product.” Now it appeared that the retention of the profits would become a permanent condition for the Innes Company. G. Don Shawver knew of the dissatisfaction of the investors. Indeed, he owned a good piece of the Company himself. G. Don understood that the continued dissatisfaction of the investors could only result in severe repercussions on the future financial health of the Company. G. Don knew that as the investors began to lose confidence in the Company, the Company’s value would fall and the Company would lose financial viability. Indeed, while recognizing that the reports of assets to the Iowa Secretary of State’s Office were drastic under-valuations of the actual assets held by the Company, the fact that the 1958 report contained a reduced figure from the previous reports indicated that the value of the Company’s stock was already reduced. This reduction in stock value would in turn cause even more loss of investor confidence which would be followed by even more reduction in the value of the company stock. It threatened to become a continuing downward spiral of events. G. Don Shawver knew this. Thus, he urged the company to a concentrate on the existing line of farm equipment rather than continuing to divert the company’s energy and resources into developing new products. G. Don’s recommendation for the future course of the Company was to stick to business fundamentals–concentrating on the Company’s traditional customer base and selling the products the Company already had on the market. This strategy involved recognizing who the Company’s real customers were.

With the total elimination of horses from farms across North America, there was a great deal less oats grown on the average farm. Thus, the only windrowed crops remaining on the average farm was wheat. Indeed, wheat farming over broad areas of the Midwest wheat tended to be abandoned, altogether, in favor of corn and soybeans. Wheat farming became more concentrated in the Great Plains states where the crop did not need windrowing prior to combining. Furthermore, the soybeans which tended to replace wheat in the Midwestern Corn Belt did not need any windrowing prior to combining. Thus, it became clear, that the only natural demographic market left open for the Innes Company was the edible bean farming areas of the United States, particularly the state of Michigan. Edible beans still need to be pulled and windrowed prior to combining. Additionally, navy beans still tended to be grown on small farms as a means of diversifying the small farming operation. There tended to be less consolidation of farms in the edible bean areas of the country. Thus, the number of farming operations decreased at a slower rate than in other areas of the Midwest. Therefore, the pool of farmers that still needed windrow pickups tended to remain the same size in the edible bean farming areas of the country.   Consequently, the farming operations in the edible bean growing areas of the country and particularly the State of Michigan remained the natural customers for the products of the Innes Company. Retrenchment and concentration on this natural market became the only path the Company could follow.

Thus, under the prodding of G. Don Shawver, the Innes Company became even more closely associated with edible bean farming than previously. What advertising the Company purchased tended to be more localized to these edible bean growing areas. Relationships with dealers in other areas of the Midwest were neglected in favor of the dealerships in the edible bean farming areas, particularly Michigan. Accordingly, in the summer of 1960, when Wayne Wells of LeRoy, Minnesota, located in south eastern Mower County, needed to replace the cylinder sleeve on the Innes pickup mounted on his Massey Harris Clipper combine, he was required to travel 30 miles to the county seat of Mower County, Austin, Minnesota (1950 pop. 23,100) just to order the replacement part. Of course, when the new replacement sleeve arrived, it was painted in the new Innes red trademark color. Thus the sleeve stood in marked contrast to the rest of the pickup which was still dark blue in color.

In legal and contractual matters G. Don received some aid from his son, Bruce. Like his father, Bruce Shawver graduated from Drake University and after two years in the military from 1956-1958, Bruce returned to the law school at Drake and graduated with a law degee in 1960. Bruce then established himself in private practice in the Quad Cities. At first, it was only occasionally, that he served as “outside counsel” for the Innes Company. However, as financial problems arose for the Company in the 1960s the Bruce Shawver Law Practice was called on more frequently to resolve legal problems or draft new financial arrangements.

Tragedy struck the Innes Company on January 10, 1968 when Don Innes suddenly and unexpectedly died. He was only 53 years of age. The man that had served not only as the president of the Company but as the true inventive force behind the Company for nearly 25 years was gone. Upon the death of Donald Innes, the current vice-president—G. Don Shawver stepped up to become the new company president and general manager. As president, G. Don continued the policy of a close association with edible bean harvesting.   In 1968, the Michigan Bean Council recognized the contributions made by the Innes Company to the edible bean industry over the years with the products that the Company manufactured by an award presented to G. Don Shawver.

Over the years the consumption of edible beans by the public has changed. During the peak years of the Second World War, an average of 11 pounds of edible beans were consumed by each citizen of the United States each year. Following the war there was a steady decline in the consumption of edible beans in the United States until the 1980’s. According to the Economic Research Service of the United States Department of Agriculture, from 1980 until 1984, the average annual consumption of edible beans fell to an all time low of 5.8 pounds per person. However, in the late 1980’s, edible beans started to make a comeback. Annual consumption in the period of time from 1985-1989 reached 6.3 pounds per person, for the period from 1990-1994 it reached 7.6 pounds per person, for the period of time from 1995-1999 consumption reached 7.8 pounds per person. Based on the rising popularity Mexican and oriental fast food restaurants with cuisines heavy in refried beans and rice/bean dishes, the pattern of this consumption in the United States also changed. Whereas in the past, navy beans dominated the market of edible beans, currently, 46% of all edible beans consumed in the United States are pinto beans. Only 16% of all beans consumed are navy beans, with 7% of all consumption being black beans and only 6% being great northern beans. Probably fueled by the desire of the buying public for more natural foods, this revived consumption took the form of increased purchases of dry-bagged edible beans rather than canned beans.

With the changing pattern of consumption also came changes in the pattern of farming edible beans. In the 1960s edible bean farming began in earnest in North Dakota. As the demand for pinto beans grew and the demand for navy beans fell by comparison, production of edible beans in North Dakota continued to expand until in 1991 when North Dakota passed Michigan and became the number one state in the production of all edible beans. North Dakota has maintained this position through the present time. In 2001, 27% of all edible beans were raised in North Dakota, 18% in Michigan, 12% in Nebraska, 8% in Colorado, 8% in Minnesota and 7% in California. Of the edible beans raised in North Dakota, 59% of those beans are pinto beans.. Although, production of navy beans has gradually become more disperse throughout the United States, still 40% of all navy beans production is centered in Michigan.

These changes in the pattern of consumption of edible beans created additional marketing difficulty for the Innes Company. Despite the best efforts of the new management team under G. Don Shawver, the Innes Company continued to struggle just to remain profitable. Finally, it was decided that the Innes Company would close its doors and sell the Company. On November 28, 1969, a Certificate of Withdrawal was submitted to the Iowa Secretary of State’s Office on behalf of the Innes Company. The Innes Company was sold to the Lockwood Company. Origninally, the Lockwood Company was an Indiana Company. However by the time the actual transfer of the Innes Company took place, Lockwood had relocated its facilities to an 80 acre factory site located on Highway 92 east of Gering, Nebraska near Nebraska’s border with Wyoming. This was an excellent location for Lockwood who was involved in the manufacture of galvanized irrigation equipment and potato harvesting equipment. Additionally it was a good location for the manufacture of windrow pickups, given the rising importance of edible bean farming in the states of Nebraska, Colorado and Wyoming. Accordingly, Lockwood closed the Innes facilities in Bettendorf, Iowa and moved everything to Gering. It took 38 semi-trucks loaded with factory machinery to accomplish the move to Gering in 1970. Lockwood continued the advertising, manufacturing and sale of “Innes” windrow pickups from its facilities located in Gering, Nebraska. In 1976, when faced with financial problems itself, Lockwood Corporation sold its 80 acre site to Agromac International Inc. of nearby Scottsbluff, Nebraska and merged with the Powerhorse Corporation of Beechwood, Ohio. Powerhorse was another company involved in the production of irrigation equipment. The newly merged corporate entity called itself Powerhorse Lockwood Irrigation, Inc. Powerhorse Lockwood now leased the factory site in Gering from Agromac and continued manufacturing as before. In 1989, it was discovered that some hazardous waste had been dumped in an acid evaporation pond the “Block B Parcel” portion of the Gering factory site. The United States Environmental Protection Agency (E.P.A.) declared the site a hazardous waste site and ordered a cleanup under the “Superfund” provisions of the United States Code. (Litigation and negotiation over this Superfund cleanup, and the resultant bankrupcy of Powerhorse Lockwood, would end only in May of 2004 with a settlement agreement between the E.P.A., the bankrupcy estate of Powerhorse Lockwood and Agromac [as owners of the land].)

Following the start of the Superfund cleanup in 1989, some of the assets of Powerhorse Lockwood Irrigation, Inc. were sold off. Part of these assets included the inventory of windrow pickups and spare parts that had been manufactured under the “Innes” name by Lockwood. The purchaser of this entire inventory was Pickett Equipment of Burley, Idaho. Pickett started as a dealership of bean harvesting equipment. Among the other products sold by Pickett was Innes windrow pickups. Accordingly, Pickett was greatly interested in obtaining the inventory of spare parts to provide continuing repair service to their Innes customers. Gradually, Pickett evolved into the manufacture, as well as sales, of bean harvesting equipment. As their website points out, today Pickett Equipment has developed the new “Pickett One Step Rod Cutter Windrower” which is advertised as a “cost effective alternative” to “the old conventional knife method” of harvesting beans. The knife method is the harvesting process described above as “pulling” the bean vines.

Pickett sells a variety of windrow pickups for mounting on modern combines. Among the pickups offered for sale to the modern farming customer is an “eight-finger tube pickup” which is the direct descendent of the fixed finger cylinder pickup first invented by George Innes. The struggles of Donald Innes and G. Don Shawver, Roy McClain, R. Hrry Peck and all the other employees of the Innes Company were not in vain. The invention of George Innes still helps feed the world today.

2 thoughts on “Navy Bean Farming (Part III): The Innes Company”

    1. I would love to talk with you in order to get more stories about Don Innes. I am a member of and have family trees on every person that I have mentioned in my articles. I usually go back and attach the articles to the appropriate family trees. As you know, the articles are now on-line. Many more people read the articles than ever read then when they were published in the 1990s in “Belt Pulley” magazine. Because, they are now on-line, I am able to add material to the articles at any time. Accordingly, I would love to add any further information on Don Innes that you might have.

      My telephone numbers are (571) 502-1994 and (703) 671-6241.

      Sincerely yours,

      Brian Wayne Wells

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