Tobacco Farming in West Virginia
with the Farmall Super C
Brian Wayne Wells
As Published in the September/October2005 issue of
Belt Pulley Magazine
Ever since the Surgeon General’s report of January 11, 1964, linking smoking of tobacco with lung cancer, smoking of cigarettes has been on the decline. Today, with only 22.8% of the public of the United State still engaging in the habit of smoking, it seems hard to imagine a time when the majority of the American public smoked. In 1949, 44-47% of the nation’s total population (50% of all men and 33% of all women) smoked. Cigarette manufacturing was a large and lucrative business. Supplying that large and lucrative business with at least some of the raw product—tobacco plants—were North American farmers, particularly the farmers of the southeastern part of the United States. West Virginia does not produce much tobacco. Currently West Virginia is 16th among all the states in the production of tobacco. In 1953, West Virginia ranked 15th out of the 21 tobacco growing states, ranking just ahead of Missouri in tobacco production.
Despite the drought in 1953, West Virginia produced only 4,542,000 pounds of the light burley type of tobacco out of the 2 billion pounds of tobacco produced in the United States that year. Lincoln County in West Virginia produced 31.4% of the State’s total production of tobacco with 1,426,000 pounds grown that year. Hamlin is the county seat of Lincoln County. State Road #3 runs through the center of Hamlin from west to east. About 1½ miles east of Hamlin, State Road #3 intersects with State Road #34. About a mile north of this intersection on S.R. #34 is Harvey’s Creek Road. Living on the first farm on the left down Harvey’s Creek Road in 1953 was Raymond and Edyth Marie (Byrd) Thompson. Raymond worked off the farm and was employed by the Tennessee Gas Company. However, ever since they purchased their 85 acre farm on Harvey’s Creek Road from J.A Pack in January of 1944, Raymond and Edyth had dreamed of making their living from their own land. Much of their farm could not be cultivated because of the rough terrain. Thus, they made the rough terrain profitable by making it a permanent pasture for the Hereford beef cattle they raised.
Given the terrain of the State, beef farming is a natural choice for most farming operations in West Virginia. Indeed beef farming does constitute a great deal of the farming conducted in the State of West Virginia. Within the West Virginia beef cattle industry, Hereford cattle are predominant. Additionally, a surprising number of Hereford farmers in West Virginia have become interested in improving blood lines of their Hereford cattle. Toward this end a significant portion of West Virginia beef farmers raised “purebred” Hereford beef cattle. These purebred Hereford farmers will generally register the best cows and bulls in their herds with the American Hereford Association in Kansas City, Missouri. Native West Virginian B.C. (Bud) Snidow, now retired and living in Mission, Kansas, worked for the American Hereford Association from 1951 until 1983. Born in Princeton, West Virginian, Bud Snidow, throughout his career, naturally kept track of the registered Hereford beef industry in his native state. He noted that following the Second World War there was an increase in the number of registered Hereford cattle in West Virginia. This increased pushed West Virginia to a position of 20th among all states in the number of registered Hereford cattle herds. Raymond did not follow the purebred blood lines of the Hereford breed like some beef farmers, but he did insist on raising only Hereford cattle on his farm. He liked his Hereford cattle.
Because most of their farm was taken up in the hillsides and bluffs which are common to Lincoln County, West Virginia, leaving only a very small quantity of flat bottom land that was arable, Raymond rented two other 15 acre fields from Eb Oxley. Eb Oxley was actually a distant relative of Raymond and Ethyl Thompson. These two 15 acre fields were located about one mile north of Raymond and Edyth’s farm on S.R. #34 just across the county line into Putnam County. On these two fields rented from Eb Oxley, Raymond raised hay and corn every year alternating the crops from one field to the other every other year. On the very small arable acreage of his own farm, located in the bottom of the Harvey’s Creek “hollow” where they lived, Raymond and Edyth raised oats that they needed for the horses and they also set aside 7/10s of an acre for their tobacco allotment, issued by the United States Department of Agriculture. Pursuant to this allotment Raymond and Edyth were permitted to raise up to 7/10s of an acre of tobacco. Like his neighbors, Raymond knew that, despite the small size of the acreage, tobacco could become a major crop on any farm. For this reason, tobacco allotments were highly prized by farmers.
Tobacco raising had been strictly controlled by means of acreage allotments since the 1933 Agricultural Adjustment Act. The original intent of the tobacco acreage allotments was to provide the tobacco farmer with the security of price supports. However, since the end of the Second World War, these price supports had hardly been necessary. The price of tobacco had led all other farm commodities in return for the time and labor invested. Indeed, it was said that the tobacco allotment “paid for many a farm.” As time went by, tobacco allotments added a great deal to the value of a farm. So much so, that some buyers insisted that a particular paragraph be added to the deed of sale of the land they were purchasing which would make specific mention of the transfer of the tobacco allotment with the purchase of the land. (Paragraphs, like these really provided no protection for the buyer of a farm. The Farm Service Agency (F.S.A.) of the United States Department of Agriculture issued acreage allotments, each year, only to the person owning a particular farm that particular year. Any attempted transfer of the acreage allotment not tied to the sale of the farm would not be recognized by the F.S.A. Instead the purchaser of a farm would have to file an application with the F.S.A. each year, to obtain a tobacco allotment for that year.)
For Raymond and Edyth Thompson the growing season of tobacco came in the middle of March every year with a trip to Stone’s Southern States, a feed and seed farm supply store on the west end of Hamlin. Raymond would drive off to Stone’s in his Chevrolet pickup and there he would buy the small packet of certified tobacco seed he needed for his tobacco crop. Returning home after picking up a few other things for of the farm, Raymond opened the seed packet and blended the contents together with some corn meal in a coffee can. The individual tobacco seed is so small that a single teaspoon full will contain a million tobacco seeds. Thus, the certified seed is mixed thoroughly with a small quantity of corn meal to allow the seed to be sown in a uniform manner.
Tobacco seed which is packaged and sold every year is raised by some tobacco farmers. Indeed a little further up Harvey’s Creek Road where the road crosses the county line into Putnam County, was the 100 acre farm of Stanley and Garnet (Painter) Young and their sons. In addition to their own large tobacco allotment in the early 1950s, the Young family had an additional plot of tobacco that they were “letting go to seed.” The flowers on these tobacco plants would not be removed. Instead the flowers were allowed to bloom and the seed pods were allowed to form. In the fall of the year after these tobacco plants had fully ripened, the seed pods would be harvested and sold to the tobacco warehouse in Huntington, West Virginia.
There had been very little snow over the winter of 1952-1953. Although temperatures had been colder than usual in late February, it looked as though March was “coming in like a lamb” with higher than ordinary temperatures. Raymond Thompson burned off a small patch of ground on his farm. This patch was just big enough to be covered by a wooden frame with a large piece of cheesecloth stretched over the wooden frame. After working up this small patch of ground with a garden hoe to form a seed bed, he sowed the corn meal/tobacco seed mixture on the newly worked ground and covered the ground with his “hot house” frame. This frame, which was used every year was made of wooden boards placed edgewise and was nailed together at the corners. This frame was taken down out of storage in the barn. There were some small nails sticking upward out of the frame which would allow a large piece of cheese cloth to be stretched across the frame. The wooden frame and the cheese cloth formed a hot house over the small seed bed where the tobacco seed had been sown. The porous nature of the cheese cloth allowed the sun to shine through to the seed bed and allowed the rain to keep the seed bed moist. However, the heat from the sun was trapped under the cheese cloth and kept the little seed bed warm enough to allow the tobacco to germinate, despite the cold weather and occasional snows of the late winter and early spring . Indeed, Raymond and Ethyl also started a bed of leaf lettuce under the same cheese cloth “hot house” to get an early start on the family garden. Raymond would make daily inspections of the hot house under the cheese cloth. Gradually, he would begin to see the young tobacco sprouts poking up out of the ground under the cheese cloth. After the spouts leafed out and became small seedlings, Raymond would start removing the hot house frame from the seed bed during the daylight hours and cover the bed again at night. This procedure allowed the tobacco seedlings to absorb the direct sunlight during the day and to “harden,” or become accustomed to the warming weather outside the hot house.
Eventually, the weather would be warm enough to allow the hot house frame to be removed altogether. The tobacco seedlings would continue to grow as Raymond began his seasons work on the rest of his farm. He tilled the ground on his farm with his horses to form a proper seedbed. Then, he sowed the oats that he would need for the next year to feed the horses. Next, he planted his corn.
As in years past, he borrowed a wire-check corn planter from a neighbor to plant his corn. The wire-check planter came complete with a roll of wire that was long enough to stretch all the way across any field. This wire contained little wire buttons attached to the wire at intervals of 42 inches. This wire was stretched across the field along the side of the field where the farmer wanted to begin planting corn. The wire was attached to the checking mechanism the located on the side of the planter. As the horses pulled the planter across the field the buttons would slide through the checking mechanism and trip the planter releasing seed into the ground with each tripping action. The result would be that the corn would be planted uniformly in 42 inch spaces along the rows. When the horses and planter reached the end of the field, the wire was temporarily disconnected from the planter. The horses and planter were then turned around to line up for the next two rows of corn to be planted along side the first two rows just completed. The wire was then attached to the checking mechanism on the opposite side of the planter. As the planter moves across the field again, the wire passing through the checking mechanism, again, tripped the planter to release seed corn to the ground at 42 inch intervals and the seed placement in these next two rows exactly matched the seed placement in the first two rows just planted.Thus, the corn would be in a grid of 42 inch rows and with “hills” of corn located 42 inches apart along each row. This would allow the corn to be “cross-cultivated” as well as cultivated lengthwise. This way, the weeds within the rows between the hills of corn could also be controlled.
Next it was time to transplant his tobacco to the field. Because, tobacco plants remove a great deal of nutrients from the soil during the growing season, Raymond had to rotate the tobacco crop to a different field each year to prevent the soil from becoming “exhausted.” This year, as an additional guard against soil depletion, he started the practice of adding some artificial fertilizer to the tobacco ground. He “broadcast” the fertilizer on the ground with a horse-drawn fertilizer spreader after disking the soil and before he finalized the seed bed with a peg-tooth harrow or drag. Following suggestions of tobacco experts at the F.S.A., he spread the fertilizer at a rate of 200 pounds per acre. Tobacco allotments are issued by the F.S.A. in sizes ranging from as little as 1/10th an acre upwards in steps of 1/10th of an acre. Generally, in Lincoln County, tobacco allotments ranged from ½ (or 5/10s) of an acre to a full-acre. As noted above, Raymond’s allotment was 7/10s of an acre. The transplanting stage was one of the stages where he really “felt” the size of this large allotment.
To be sure the ground intended for the tobacco that year could be worked up into a seedbed with the horses, just as in the other fields. However, the transplanting of the tobacco was all handwork. The little tobacco transplants were carefully dug up and placed in a large tub and then taken to the field. Then a long string with a stake on either end was uncoiled and stretched across the entire field. The string was tightened into a straight line across the entire length of the field and the stakes were pounded into the ground on either end of the field. Transplanting was an affair for the whole Thompson family. One family member would walk along the string with a stick or a pole and make little holes in the ground along one side of the string—each hole was 18” apart along the string. Another member of the Thompson family could then follow with the tub full of tobacco transplants and place one plant in each hole and then close up the hole around the roots of the transplant with dirt. Packing the ground around the new transplant assured good contact of the root with the dirt of the seedbed and guaranteed the best start possible for the new transplants. When one row was completed over the entire length of the field, the stakes at the ends of the field would be moved over in the seedbed 42”. The string was again tightened out straight across the field and the second row of tobacco transplants was set out in the field. This process was repeated until the whole 7/10ths-of-an-acre field was planted in tobacco.
Almost as soon as the whole field had been completely transplanted, the cultivation of the tobacco was begun. Under the hot summer sun the tobacco transplants grew very fast. Generally, within three weeks after the transplanting of the tobacco, the young plants had grown to the point where the horses and the one row cultivator could not move easily between the rows without damaging the plants. Thus, all cultivation of the tobacco to eliminate weeds had to be completed within the three week period of time following the transplanting of the tobacco crop. Because of the rapid growing nature of the tobacco plants, there was no need to worry about cross cultivating the tobacco. The plants would soon be big enough to cover the space between the plants and shade out any weeds attempting to grow there. In the crush of the summer time field work, Raymond felt himself lucky to cultivate the tobacco three times in the three week period of time that he had to complete the cultivation of the tobacco. Especially since he needed to begin cutting and putting up his hay crop at the same time as he was attempting to cultivate the tobacco three times. Then there was the need to continue the cultivation and cross-cultivation of his corn crop. It was always a busy time. There just were not enough hours in the day. Raymond also knew that he would have to cultivate his corn at least once prior to hay season.
Haying was started at about the first of June. He needed to get the hay down and raked into windrows quickly. Cecil Lewis, who provided custom baling of the hay for the farmers in Harvey’s Creek, would be scheduling his New Holland Model 77 baler and Ford Model 8N tractor to visit the farms in the area rather soon. Raymond wanted to have his hay ready for any convenient time that Cecil might have to come to the Thompson farm. However, as he mowed and raked his hay, Raymond had to keep an eye on the tobacco to notice when plants began to grow buds in preparation for flowering. June was the time that the tobacco plants would begin to flower. Some times as soon as one week following the end of cultivation the tobacco plants would begin to flower. To keep the energy of the growing tobacco plants directed toward the growing leaves rather than into the production of flowers, the emerging buds had to be removed from the plants as soon as they started to develop. The operation of removing the flowering buds was another task that had to be completed by hand. The entire tobacco field had to be walked and the buds removed from each individual plant.
Even this was not the end of the hand work in the tobacco field, however. Once the flower buds had been removed, some of the tobacco plants would develop “suckers” or additional shoots which would spring up out of the same stem and root system. If allowed to grow these suckers would also sap away energy from the leaves of the plant. So, within a week after the deflowering of the tobacco plants, the field had to be walked again by the family to remove these suckers which may be attempting to grow. These tasks had to be fitted in to the summers work whenever time could be found during their busy summer schedule—whenever the family was not involved in putting up hay and/or cultivating the corn. There was no time to rest and scarcely enough time to get all the field work done. Then, there were usually rainy days in which no work was accomplished at all. This year in 1953, however, Raymond fervently wished for a few more rainy days. He could see that the leaves of corn were starting to roll up, indicating the lack of water. August was incredibly dry. The radio reported that over in Kentucky the rainfall for the growing season was 12 full inches less than normal. In late August.
As Labor day approached in 1953, the leaves on the tobacco plants began to turn from the dark green color of summer to the light green or yellow-green color that indicated that the tobacco plants were beginning to mature. All plants that mature or ripen in the fall, go through a process, whereby, the vital fluids of the plant are returning from the leaves to the roots in the ground for the winter. As the fluids flow out of the leaves, the leaves begin to loose their green color and start to yellow. The more yellow the leaves are, the more fluids have departed the leaves. In tobacco, these fluids in the leaves, and the ingredients that are contained in the fluids, are the very elements thing that make the tobacco leaves marketable. Thus, the proper time to cut the tobacco plants is just when the maturation of the leaves has begun. In this way all the fluids will be retained in the leaves. Accordingly, the tobacco plants are cut off at the stem.
Harvesting the tobacco is hand work which requires the work of the whole family. Cutting and handling is performed carefully so as to not damage the outside leaves. These outside or lower leaves are called flynes and are the most valuable leaves. The tobacco plants are then “speared” or placed on a thin 4 foot long stick. The stick full of tobacco plants is then hung upside down on a rack in the barn. Hanging upside down allows any fluids in the stem to flow back into the leaves. The barns in tobacco growing areas of the country are not like barns in other areas of the United States. Usually barns are built tight to prevent cold weather from infiltrating the inside of the barn. However, a tobacco barn is purposely constructed with the boards on the sides of the barn spaced so as to allow cracks between the vertically-placed boards in the walls of the barn. Observing a tobacco barn, a person will see daylight showing through the walls. These cracks allow air to pass through the walls of the barn and air-dry the tobacco hanging inside the barn. The process of air drying tobacco in the barn takes six to eight weeks.
During this time Raymond harvested his corn. The yield on the corn was disappointing because of the dry weather. Across Lincoln County in 1953, the yield of corn was down by 9%, from the year before—from 31.8 bushels per acre to 28.9 bushels per acre. (From the National Agricultural Statistics Service page on the website of the United States Department of Agriculture.) Yet because the drought was limited to the eastern Kentucky and West Virginia areas there was no dramatic rise in price of corn. (Ibid.) Indeed, of the 81,574,000 acres of corn planted across the nation 98.6% (or 80,459,000 acres) was harvested in the fall of 1953, resulting in a nationwide bumper crop of corn that actually depressed corn prices. Additionally, the nationwide “per acre yield” from the 1953 corn harvest averaged 40.7 bushels per acre—fourth highest yield in the history of United States corn farming. On the Thompson farm, this condition meant that not as much corn was actually harvested and the price obtained for the small amount of corn that was harvested was low.
Thus, Raymond Thompson would feed a great deal of his corn to his beef cattle. Feeding more corn to the young calves would cause them to gain weight faster and be ready for market at an earlier date. This was one means of diversification of the corn crop that Raymond could employ on his own farm. If corn was not getting a good price then using it for cattle feed could possibly be a way of getting a more money for the corn. However, although surpluses were not as big a problem in the beef market, beef prices had been on a slow, but steady, decline since the December in 1952. After reaching a high of 35 to 36 cents a pound caused by the demands of the Korean War, beef prices had dipped to 20 cents per pound and even now was only was hovering around 25 cents per pound. (Omaha Choice Historic Beef Steer Prices from 1950-2005 page at the United States Department of Agriculture website on the Internet.) So, in 1953, even the beef market was a disappointment for Raymond.
Thus, Raymond’s hope for a successful crop year lay with his tobacco crop. Tobacco plants can withstand dry conditions better than corn. Proof of this was shown when the tobacco was harvested. Over all of Lincoln County a new record level tobacco harvest was reached with 1,426,000 lbs, over the entire county—up 2% from 1952. Considering that only 920 acres of tobacco were planted in 1953 as compared with 950 acres in 1952, this was a staggering result considering the extreme dryness of the growing season. The 1953 average yield in Lincoln County was 1,550 lbs. per acre—up almost 5½ % from 1952. The only explanation, that Raymond could find for the higher yield in a dry year was the fact that he had joined many of his neighbors in adding artificial fertilizer to the tobacco ground. Before the tobacco leaves could be sold, however, the Thompson family had to strip the leaves off the stem of each plant. Starting, generally, in November, the process of stripping was also a long process which involved the most hand labor of all the tobacco growing procedures. The sticks full of dried plants were taken down from the drying racks in the barn. The plants were removed from the sticks and the leaves were then stripped from the stem. In order that the leaves would not be too brittle to be destroyed by handling, Raymond usually waited for one of the uncommonly humid days in the fall to get the racks down from the barn and begin the process of stripping. Handling the leaves in a relatively humid environment would not damage the leaves especially the outer or lower leaves which were the most valuable leaves. Handling the leaves at this stage was somewhat messy work. While stripping the leaves by hand a dark residue would settle on the hands.
Still it was with some anticipation that the family performed the tasks. At the end of the process, Raymond knew that, in an ordinary year, the 7/10 of an acre allotment would allow his family to load the Chevy pickup up with a thousand pounds of leaves for delivery to the Huntington Tobacco Warehouse at 20 Twenty-Sixth Street in Huntington, West Virginia. Once at the tobacco warehouse, the tobacco would be auctioned off to the highest bidder. Auctions were held at the warehouse from November through January each year. Buyers from the R.J. Reynolds, American Tobacco, Phillip Morris and all the other tobacco companies would be present at these auctions to bid on the tobacco. Coming this late in the year and being the major cash crop on the farm, Raymond would use a portion of the money he would receive for the tobacco to pay off the debts. Then they would get the new shoes and clothes that the children would need.
(Carol [Young] Mullins, granddaughter of Stanley and Garnet Young, remembers that she and her family too anticipated Christmas as they worked to strip the tobacco leaves. The Young children looked forward to a happy Christmas which would be financed in part by the money the fetched at market. Anticipating Christmas led the children to work diligently at stripping the tobacco leaves.)
This year, in the late fall of 1953 Raymond looked over at his children as they worked together stripping the tobacco. They were becoming adults. Eleanor Gay (“Gay”) and Patricia Fay (“Fay”) were already teenagers and would soon be setting out on their own. Soon he would be more shorthanded that he already was in doing his farm work. He became aware that he would soon have to think about doing something to save time in his farming operation. Toward this end he had been considering the purchase of a farm tractor. He felt this was the year that he would have to make his move to purchase a farm tractor and replace the horses on his farm. Accordingly, over the winter of 1953-54 he visited Henderson Implement Company in downtown Hurricane, West Virginia. Hurricane, West Virginia is located across the county line into Putnam County about 14 miles north of the Thompson farm. Bernie Henderson had started selling horse drawn McCormick-Deering equipment from his dealership located on Main Street in downtown Hurricane. However, since the end of the Second World War, he had found that the market for small tractors was really growing by leaps and bounds. In addition to the Farmall C and Super C, he found that the Farmall Cub was becoming a mainstay of the sales from his dealership. The Farmall Super C and the Famall Cub were the newest members of the Farmall line of tractors. Whereas, the Farmall Cub was a totally new designed tractor, the smallest in the Farmall line, the Super C was an upgrade of the Model C tractor. The Model C was not introduced in with the rest of the “letter series” Farmalls in 1939. Instead, the International Harvester Company introduced the Model B and the Model A in 1939 as replacements for the un-styled Model F12/F-14 in the 1 plow category of farm tractor. (The 1939 introductory film of the Farmall Model B, called The Model B and Equipment can be seen on Tape #2or DVD #2 of the International Harvester Promotional Movies.)
Whereas the Model F-12 and F-14 tractor has been significant for its large 36” or 40” rear wheels which were made adjustable to any width on the rear axle from a narrow 44 ½” up to a maximum width of 79”, the Models A and B were a step backward in technology in this regard. The Models A and B were fitted with final drives at each rear wheel which meant that the rear wheels could be widened only by unbolting the wheels and turning one or both of them inside out or vice versa. Thus only four different widths were available for the rear tires of the Farmall Models A and B. Furthermore, both the Model A and the Model B were fitted with small 24” wheels. With regard to the tricycle two-row Model B, International Harvester Company realized its mistake in this regard when they replaced the Model B by introducing the new Model C tractor in 1948. The rear wheel design of the new Model C returned to the configuration of the earlier Models F-12 and F-14 with large 36” rear wheels, once again, mounted on rear axles protruding straight out from the differential and were unencumbered by final drives. Thus, the rear wheels on the new Model C were adjustable to any width from 56” up to a maximum of 80”. The International Harvester Company opened a new factory for production of the Farmall Model C (and for production of the Farmall Cub as well). In 1947, the Company obtained an old factory in Louisville, Kentucky which had been used for production of aircraft during the war. The Company undertook extensive renovations on the old factory site and the Louisville factory became the sole site for production of the Farmall C and Farmall Super C and eventually the Farmall Cub. (Later, in 1953, the Louisville factory would be expanded to supplement the “Farmall Works” of the Rock Island, Wisconsin in production of the Farmall Super M.)
The Model C had been introduced in 1948 with much hoopla. In 1950, the International Harvester Company commenced a new sales campaign called the “Mid Century” sales promotion. In connection with this sales campaign, some Farmall C’s were delivered to local dealership painted entirely white rather than the usual red color. These white tractors became “demonstrator” Model Cs for the local dealership to use. In late 1951, the International Harvester Company introduced its “Super” letter series tractors. The new Super series included a Farmall Super C. With a drawbar pull of 16.29 and delivering 20.83 hp. at the belt pulley, the Super C was advertised as having 12% more horsepower than the older Model C which it replaced. This increase in horsepower was obtained by increasing the bore of the pistons by 1/8th of an inch. This increase brought the displacement of the engine up to 122.7 cubic inches as opposed to 113 cubic inches for the Model C. (C.H. Wendel, Nebraska Tractor Tests [Crestline Pub.: Osceola, Wisc., 1993] pp. 143 & 164.) This increase in horsepower also necessitated a larger sized radiator for the Super C.
However, the new Super C initiated other significant changes for the whole Farmall line of farm tractors. In late 1953, the International Harvester Company introduced a new hitching system for the Super C. This was the Fast Hitch system. The system consisted of two receptacles mounted on the rear of the tractor. With two prongs on each Fast Hitch piece of equipment, the tractor operator had only to back the tractor to the implement so that the prongs were inserted into the receptacles and became latched. Then the operator would engage the hydraulics to lift the receptacles and the attached implement and head for the field. As a means of introducing the Super C Fast Hitch system, the International Harvester Company developed a square dance show that proved to be unique. Super Cs each attached to a different Fast Hitch implement (a “partner”) would enter a show ring at a State fair or some other IHC demonstration show for the public. Square dancing music was played while Super Cs circled the show ring. On the announcer stand a square dance caller would call out commands for the tractors to circle and escort their “partners.” Commands were announced by the caller to “swing your partner” and “doe-si-doe.” The tractors sped around in circles and various patterns in the arena all in time to the music. This showed off the agility of the little tractor. Many commands were announced to “leave your partner” and circle right or left to the next partner and “swing that partner” and then to return home again to the original partner. The hitching and unhitching of the various “partner” implements was done very rapidly and smoothly without the various drivers of the square dancing tractors even leaving the operator seats. The square dance of the tractors was a unique method of advertising which clearly showcased the ease with which the Fast Hitch implements could be speedily hitched and unhitched again. (The Fast Hitch square dance was quite memorable for those persons who witnessed the dance as a youngster—like the current author did at the Minnesota State Fair. Luckily, the Fast Hitch square dance has been preserved on film. Copies of this 1954 film called Super C Square Dance are available from Daryl Darst 1857 West Outer Hwy, Moscow Mills, Missouri 63362-1706, Telephone:  356-4764.)
By use of the square dancing Super Cs and other sales promotions of 1954, the International Harvester Company popularized the Fast Hitch and a great number of Fast Hitch Super Cs and the companion equipment were sold to farm customers hoping to save time and labor on their small farming operations. So popular was the Fast Hitch, that in late 1954, International Harvester made it available as an option on the Farmall Super MTA. Then, in 1955, with the introduction of the “hundred” series tractors, the Fast Hitch system was not only made available on the Model 200 tractor, which replaced the Super C, and the Model 400 tractor which replaced the Super MTA, but the Fast Hitch system was made available for nearly all the tractors produced by the International Harvester Company. The International Harvester Company felt that Models C and Super C were the answer for those small farming operations, in the post World War II era, that wanted to become totally mechanized and do away with horses as a means of power on the farm.
The “Mid Century” white demonstrator tractors and the Super C square dance were all sales promotions campaigns meant to boost the sales of the Model C and Super C tractors and attract that small farmer. One of those small farmers fitting this demographic was Raymond Thompson of Lincoln County, West Virginia, who was just now, in December of 1953, walking into the Henderson Implement dealership in Hurricane, West Virginia. The Famall Super C, especially in the tricycle (narrow front end) format, is not an ideal tractor for the hills and slopes of West Virginia. The operator/driver of the Super C sits on a seat on a platform on top of the drive train. Indeed, the seat of the Super C in on a level with hood of the tractor over the top of the engine. Such a location offers great visibility for cultivating on level ground. However, it creates a dangerously top-heavy condition for the Super C when the tractor is operated on hillsides. Any hole on the down hill side or rock on the uphill side stuck by the rear wheels of the tractor, could send the tractor rolling down the hill. Much better suited to work on hillsides are tractors like the Ford Model 8N where the operator sits directly on the drive train and straddles the train with his legs. The center of gravity is much lower on the Model 8N and with the wide front end on the 8N, the danger of a roll over on hillsides would be greatly reduced as compared with the Super C. Still a great many Super C tractors (and many Model 200 tractors, the model which replaced the Super C in 1955) were sold to West Virginia farmers. Henderson Implement was one of those dealerships in West Virginia that was to profit a great deal from sales of the Farmall Super C.
One explanation for the popularity of the Super C in West Virginia may lie in the close proximity of West Virginia to Louisville, Kentucky. When first introduced in 1951, the suggested retail price of the basic Farmall Super C without any optional equipment was $1,469.75 (Charles Cook, Farmall C and Super C 1948-1954: An Advertising History [Charles Cook Collection Pub., 2003] pp. 41-43.) As with all suggested retail prices, the manufacturer’s suggested a price that would be high enough to incorporate a good profit for the local dealer. Thus, many basic tractors could be sold under the “suggested retail price” with the expectation that the profit would be more than made up in the sale of optional equipment and additional farm machinery. Additionally, the district block house or warehouse which served the local IHC dealerships in West Virginia was also located in Louisville, Kentucky. Although the suggested retail price for the Farmall Super was said to include freight and handling, the fact that Henderson Implement in Hurricane, West Virginia was located only 211 miles away from the Louisville plant, would have given the branch house much more latitude in the delivery of tractors to Henderson Implement than it would have in arranging the delivery of tractors to other more distant dealerships. Henderson Implement was, therefore, blessed by its close proximity to Louisville, Kentucky. Henderson Implement must have taken full advantage of this advantage to sell a great number of Super C (and later Model 200) tractors to local farmers at prices the farmers could not refuse. Whatever the reason, today there remains a great number of Super C (and Model 200) tractors, can be found in the farming counties of western West Virginia.
Thus, when Raymond Thompson sat down with Bernie Henderson to negotiate the purchase of a Super C, he was pleasantly surprised at the price that Bernie quoted to him. Even when all the appropriate Fast Hitch farm equipment was added to the package, the price remained within the reach of his farming operation, especially when one considered that he would be able to totally replace the horses as the power source for the farm. Consequently, he agreed to sales contract that included a Super C equipped with wheel weights for the front wheels as well as the rear and equipped with Fast Hitch and including appropriate Fast Hitch implements comprising of a Model C-11 one-bottom two-way plow which would allow him to plow a field with all the furrows laid out in one direction. Thus, he would be able to avoid having any dead furrows in his fields. Although Raymond raised crops on only the flat part of his farm, leaving the hilly ground on his farm to remain as a permanent pasture land for his beef herd, the Model C-11 two-way plow would allow him to reduce soil erosion by plowing around hills and turning all furrows up hill. The sales agreement also included a Fast Hitch Model C-36 seven-foot tandem disc, a Fast Hitch Model C-21-P seven-foot mower and a Model C-254 mounted two-row cultivator with a Fast Hitch rear portion.
Additionally, there was included in the sales agreement another piece of equipment that would allow him to substantially update his tobacco raising operations. This was a “Hydra-Creeper” hydraulic drive attachment for the Super C tractor. Attaching to the Power take off shaft at the rear end of the tractor, the Hydra-Creeper attachment took advantage of the Super C’s unique arrangement of a “live hydraulic system and a regular or “non-live” power take off system to add extra slow speeds (from ¼ mph to 1-1/8 mph) to the tractor. The Hydra Creeper attachment contained a device that would keep the tractor clutch depressed so that it was disengaged while the Hydra Creeper was operating. Because the live hydraulic system operated even when the clutch was disengaged, the hydraulic system was used to power a hydraulic motor which was attached to the PTO shaft. With the clutch disengaged nothing in the transmission was moving. Since the non-live PTO system was dependent on the transmission for its power, the hydraulic motor powering the PTO shaft could be used to turn the rear wheels of the tractor through the transmission so long as the clutch remained disengaged. The extra slow speeds provided by the Hydra Creeper attachment would allow Raymond to pull a trans-planter behind the Super C when transplanting his tobacco. The transplanter had two seats on either side of a planting wheel. Two workers would sit on the trans-planter and place the small transplants of tobacco in notches on the planting wheel as the tractor moved along. The planting wheel would rotate and automatically place the small transplants in the ground. This would be a much faster method of transplanting than the hand transplanting that the Thompson family had previously used to transplant the tobacco.
Just a couple weeks prior to the time that Raymond Thompson signed his sales agreement a Super C with Fast Hitch was rolling off the assembly line at the IHC Louisville Works in Louisville, Kentucky. This Super C was fitted front wheels on an adjustable wide front end. The little tractor bore the serial number 184901. Almost as soon as it came off the assembly line, just before Thanksgiving in 1953, No. 184901 was assigned to the Louisville District IHC Branch House. When the order for a Fast Hitch Super C came in to the Branch House from Hurricane, West Virginia, No. 184901 was loaded up on a flatbed railroad car and hitched to a Chesapeake and Ohio (C. & O. or Chessie) freight train headed east. Although the Chessie System had started using diesel engines on its trains in 1951, the clean burning diesels were still used only on passenger trains. Merchandise freight trains such as this train were still being powered by K-4 type “Kanawha” steam engines which had been built for the Chessie system by the Lima Locomotive Works in Lima, Ohio.
With a couple of toots on the whistle and some slow grinding chugs the steam engine jolted the train into action. The train headed east out of Louisville. Out across the gently rolling lands of Kentucky rolled the train with the flatcar bearing No. 184901, leaving a trail of black smoke from the coal burning steam boiler, which extended back over the entire length of the train. After a stop in Frankfort, the state capitol of Kentucky, the train progressed east through the Kentucky Blue Grass country around Lexington, Kentucky. Huge pastures, surrounded with miles of elaborate painted board fencing, each containing a small group of sleek race horse stock, passed along side the Chessie tracks. On the train rolled. The topography of the land began to change as the train moved into eastern Kentucky. The rolling hills of pasture were replaced with steep bluffs covered with trees. All the leaves were off the trees now, so that the bluffs appeared gray in color. The train passed over the bridge spanning the Big Sandy River, the train stopped at Huntington, West Virginia. Located at the confluence of the Big Sandy and the Ohio River, Huntington, with a population of 86,353 according to the 1950 census, was West Virginia’s largest city. Under the high span of the bridge, stern wheel paddle tow boats were pushing barges loaded with coal. The bituminous coal was headed out of the mouth of the Big Sandy and up the Ohio River to various steel producing plants in Ravenswood (1950 pop. 1,175) and Wheeling (1950 pop. 58,891), West Virginia and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (1950 pop. 2,071,605). After dropping off some of its railroad cars at Huntington, the freight train started up again. Passing through Barboursville (1950 pop. 1,943) and Milton (1950 pop. 1,552), the freight finally arrived at Hurricane where the flatcar holding No. 184901 was unhitched from the train and left on a side track at the depot as the train headed off again to the east.
Later No. 184901 was unloaded from the flatcar and driven the short distance to the Henderson Implement dealership where the tractor was “prepped” by the service staff at the dealership prior to delivery to the Raymond Thompson farm. Raymond Thompson had not finished his plowing the previous fall, so when in the spring of 1954 as soon as the ground was dry enough to allow for plowing, he headed to the field with the new Super C and the Model C-11 two-way plow. He was pleasantly surprised that even in the toughest of ground, the little tractor which could plow along in 2nd gear at 3 ¾ mph. This was much faster than his horses. The Fast-Hitch was not only connected to the hydraulic cylinder at the rear of the No. 184901, but two supporting shafts extended from the Fast Hitch at the rear of the tractor to the Touch Control hydraulic rocker arms on either side of the gas tank. These hydraulic rocker arms were independently controlled by two hydraulic control levers located directly ahead of the driver behind the steering wheel. The right side supporting shaft was really one pipe fitted into another slightly larger pipe. These two pipes were held in a fixed position by a pin and a cotter key. Before heading to the field with the plow Raymond removed this pin and cotter key. This allowed the right side supporting shaft to expand and contract and allowed the plow to “float” and compensate for the minor changes in the terrain of the field without gouging the ground as the tractor headed up a slight rise in the field or coming out of the ground entirely when the tractor headed down a slight decline in the field.
The hydraulic control for the left side rocker arm was attached to the Fast Hitch in such a way so as to raise or lower the front support of the Fast Hitch. Thus, Raymond was able to adjust this control and level the plow along its front to rear axis. He could make this adjustment “on the go” as he was plowing across the field. Generally, this control did not need readjusting once the proper position was obtained. It was pretty easy to tell whether the plow was level from front to rear. Because the plow was “floating,” a minor error in either direction would have the plow come clear out of the ground when the front of the plow was too high or the plow would “bury itself in the ground” when the front of the plow was too low. The right side rocker arm attached to the right side of Fast-Hitch and allowed the driver to raise or lower only the right side of the Fast Hitch. When Raymond started out across the field with the plow the right rear wheel of the Super C was in the same furrow that he had plowed the previous fall with the horses and the sulky plow. Thus, the tractor was tilted to the right side.
Accordingly, Raymond reached around the steering wheel and adjusted hydraulic control lever for the right side rocker arm. This leveled the plow along its side to side axis. Unlike the front to rear leveling, this control was readjusted at least at the end of every trip across the field. At the end of the first trip across the field, Raymond touched the main hydraulic control lever located to the right of the steering wheel and raised the two-way plow out of the ground. As the plow was raised a ground a cable connected between the tractor and the plow tightened and automatically turned the plow over 180º so that the left hand bottom was locked in place and ready to plow. Raymond swung the tractor around and headed right back down the same furrow. This time the left rear wheel of the tractor was rolling along in the new furrow he had just made. Another touch on the hydraulic lever to lower the plow and he was off again across the field. However, now the tractor was tilted to the left and the plow needed to be adjusted accordingly. Both of the levers controlling the two rocker arms had quadrants and adjustable stops on the quadrants which could be set to allow the hydraulic control lever to move only so far in one direction or the other. Raymond began to appreciate these adjustable stops on the quadrant of the hydraulic control lever which regulated the side to side levelness of the plow. He merely had to position the two adjustable stops on the quadrant of that lever to the correct locations that allowed the two-way plow to function on the level whichever direction he has headed. Then he merely needed to alternate the lever between the two positions—from one adjustable stop to the other as he turned around at the end of the field.
After finishing all the plowing, Raymond used the 7’ tandem disc to make the seed bed in his fields. Unhitching the plow and hitching up to the disc was as easy as pie. If it were not for having to lower the stand jacks on the plow to support the plow while in storage, he would not have had to dismount the tractor driver’s seat during the whole unhitching and hitching process. He merely backed the plow up to the place where it was to be stored until used again in the fall. Lowering the plow to the ground, then he removed the hook from its location just over the battery box and reached down with the hook to unlock the latches on the hitch receptacles on both sides of the Fast Hitch drawbar to allow the hitch prongs of the plow to slide out of the receptacles. Once this was done and after he had set the stand jacks, he pulled the tractor ahead and free of the plow. He merely backed into the disc carefully aligning the hitching prongs of the disc with the receptacles of the Fast Hitch on the tractor. When the prongs had slid completely into the receptacles and he heard the latches on both side of the Fast Hitch click. He knew the disc was secure. He, then, raised the disc with the hydraulic lever again and started for the fields.
As easy as this was, he really did not notice the time being saved until hay season—the busiest time of the year. All the field tasks seem to fall on him all at once during haying season. Haying season always merged with cultivating season. He had the cultivator mounted on the tractor. When it came time to mow his hay, he merely unhooked the rear Fast Hitch portion of the cultivator and backed into the mower, hooked up the power take off (PTO) shaft, attached the side support of the mower hitch to the right rear axle housing and headed for the hay fields. With the front portions of the cultivator lifted up out of the way, he concentrated on operating the mower at the rear of the tractor. The little mounted mower worked well, cutting a seven foot swath with each pass across the field. The mower swung neatly around behind the tractor at the corners of the hay cutting to make nice sharp corners with no hay left standing at the corners. Mowing could be accomplished in the morning and Raymond could then unhook the mower and place the white painted drawbar back into the receptacles of the Fast Hitch and hitch up his horse drawn side rake. He had shortened the hitch and converted the horse-drawn rake for use behind a tractor. He would then be able to rake the hay into wind rows for the baler. Buzzing along in 3rd gear at 5 mph he soon had this task accomplished and with daylight left he could then go back up to the yard and reattach the rear portion of the cultivator and go back to cultivating his corn.
Just like in the advertisements of the Fast Hitch system that he had seen, he was able to use the tractor in diverse field tasks all in the same day. It was this particular day that impressed Raymond the most about the advantages of a tractor on the farm and in particular, a tractor with Fast Hitch. The first portion of the summer of 1954 remained dry—just like last year. The rains only returned in late July after much of the important growing season was gone. In Lincoln County, only 5,100 acres of corn were harvested that fall as opposed to 5,200 acres in 1953. However the yield that year was back up to 35.5 bushels per acre despite the dry conditions of the early summer. The explanation for this was that many more farmers were now using artificial fertilizers with their corn than in past years. Nationally, there was another big crop of corn coming into the market that fall which again held the price down to $1.43 per bushel as a yearly average. The spreading use of fertilizers nationwide was creating huge surpluses in farm commodity markets. This condition threatened to result in permanently lower prices that the farmer would receive for his product. Indeed the United States Department of Agriculture was already estimating that, if current market conditions persisted, farmers across the nation would receive 20% less for their crop in 1955 than they normally would receive. This threatened to have a catastrophic effect on future of small farmers. In the teeth of this economic condition, the Eisenhower Administration and their Secretary of Agriculture, Ezra Taft Benson, had been attempting to do away with all farm price support programs, ever since coming into office in January of 1953,. It was a hallmark policy of the Republican Eisenhower Administration to return to a strict supply and demand economy, free of any governmental interference.
Indeed the Agricultural Act of 1954 which had been passed only this year, had severely restricted the farm subsidy payment programs. However this Act was coming into effect at just the time when small farmers needed price supports the worst. It was a serious political error on the part of the Eisenhower Administration and 1954 was an election year. Farm families went to the polls in November of 1954 and voted Democratic. As a result, the Republicans lost control of both houses of Congress in that mid-term election. Such was the influence of the farm vote in the United States in the early 1950s. Again in 1954, beef prices continued to sag—still down around 25 cents per pound just like the previous year. (Omaha Choice Historic Beef Steer Prices from 1950-2005 page at the United States Department of Agriculture website on the Internet.)
For Raymond Thompson it looked as though his family would, once again, have to rely on tobacco as their main cash crop and main source of income. There no problem of surpluses in the tobacco markets. As noted above, in 1949 44-47% of adults in the United States smoked—50% of all men and 33% of all women smoked. Every year since 1949, these percentages had continued to grow. This meant that the farm tobacco market was a market of perpetually increasing prices. At the end of the year, when he figured up the income derived from his various crops for the season, he was pleased to note that the new tractor had significantly improved the efficiency of his farming operation. The only criticism he had of the tractor was the adjustable wide front end. He really preferred the narrow front end (tricycle style) configuration which allowed him to make tighter turns at the end of the rows when cultivating corn or tobacco. Thus, on a trip to Hurricane at the end of the harvest season, he stopped in at Henderson Implement. On this particular visit he talked with Aubrey Henderson, Bernie’s son, who was becoming more and more involved in the family dealership business.
Aubrey assured Raymond that the dealership could replace the adjustable wide front currently on No. 184901 with a two-wheel narrow (tricycle) front end over the winter so that Raymond would have the tractor ready for the new growing season in 1955. Aubrey said they could arrange for the dealership truck to come out and pickup No. 184901 and bring it to town for the modification. They could have No. 184901 back on Raymond’s farm in just a couple of days. So it was that No. 184901 took on its present tricycle configuration. As the years went by Raymond and Edyth’s children married and left the farm to start lives of there own. Their youngest daughter Brenda married and in 1964 had a daughter named Diana Cooper. Growing up Diana would visit her grandfather and remember helping him with the farm work. In doing so she learned to drive No. 184901 and did so on many occasions. .
Raymond continued farming with No. 184901 until he suffered a heart attack in 1969 which caused him to have to retire from active farming in the early 1970’s. At that point, although Raymond and Ethyl continued to live on the farm, they rented the land to Junior Bays a neighboring farmer also living on Harvey’s Creek Road. Junior Bays was a returning veteran from the Second World War in 1946, when he took up farming on his farm Harvey’s Creek Road in 1946. He still lives on the same farm. After renting the land from Raymond Thompson, Junior Bays spent many an hour operating No.184901. He found the two-way hydraulics on the as the Super C much to his liking and preferable to the hydraulics on his own Ford Model 8N tractor. The Super C’s Fast Hitch two-way hydraulic system allowed the operator to “push” the Fast Hitch implement into the ground if needed. In very hard soil this feature would allow the operator to transfer more of the weight of the tractor onto the implement if necessary. Also Junior Bays noted that, although the front sections of the mounted Model C-254 cultivator remained on the tractor throughout most of the summer, the Fast Hitch system allowed the tractor to move from task to task with ease.
In the 1980’s Raymond’s granddaughter Diana married and built a brick home on Harvey’s Creek Road across the road from the home where that Raymond and Ethyl lived. Diana’s brick house still stands on part of the land that had occasionally been tobacco land on the Thompson farm. In 1989, Raymond Thompson, died leaving all his property to his wife and children and granddaughter Diana. In the year, following his death No. 184901 was sold to a local farmer, Dimmley Lively. Dimmley did not use the tractor in his farming operation, rather he kept the tractor as a collectable item.
In about 1991, Diana was able to purchase the tractor back from Dimmely Lively. So the tractor was brought back to Harvey’s Creek. In the mid 1990s, Diana (Cooper) Harmon moved from Harvey’s Creek to another farm on a hill in Jackson County near Leon, West Virginia. She moved No. 184901 and all the Fast Hitch equipment that originally came with the tractor to her new home in Jackson County. In the summer of 2000, while working at Winfield Lawn and Tractor in Winfield, West Virginia, Diana decided to sell the Super C.
Accordingly, No. 184901 was transported to the used tractor lot at Winfield Lawn and Tractor where it was seen and purchased by the current author in the fall of 2000. No. 184901 was transported to the West Virginia Pumpkin Festival grounds at Milton, West Virginia, in the fall of 2001 and was exhibited there for the first time in October of 2001. A year later, the current author, purchased the remaining Fast Hitch equipment and the front sections of the No. C-254 cultivator from Diana Harmon. No. 184901 was again exhibited at the October 2002 Pumpkin Festival along with the Model C-11 Two-Way Plow which was operated in the filed as part of a field plowing demonstration at the Pumpkin Festival. Later the same month in October of 2002, No. 184901 was repainted and decaled at Kevin’s Auto Body Shop in Hurricane, West Virginia. Over the winter of 2003-2004, No.184901 was given a complete engine overhaul and provided with a new clutch and radiator by Xtreme Performance located in Frazier’s Bottom, West Virginia. In September 2004, No. 184901 was used for the first time towing a parade float in the Putnam County Homecoming parade held in Winfield, West Virginia. During this time the little Super C was a regular attendee in local parades held in the towns of Eleanor, Buffalo and Poca, West Virginia, as well as the parade in Winfield for the Punam County Homecoming.
During this period of time No. 184901beban a pampered life, being stored in the garage at the current author’s Winfield, West Virginia home of the current author while the more expensive car and pickup truck were stored outside the garage. The tractorwas moved to LeSueur, Minnesota in March of 2009, where it became par of the exhibits on the grounds of the LeSueur County Pioneer Power Association. Later, in 2014, the Wells family obtained a building located at 764 Elmwood Street on the south edge of LeSueur, Minnesota. Since that time No. 184901 has split its time between this building where it acts as a “utility tractor,” hauling and towing machinery around the vicinity of the building and performing other chores and spending the balance of the time on the Pioneer Power grounds, where it regularly pulls one of the “people mover” wagons at the annual August show on the grounds and the annual Swap Meet held in April each year on the grounds. The tractor also participates in the annual “tractor ride” which starts on the grounds of the Pioneer Power Association and ends at the Sauerkraut Festival held in the small town of Henderson, Minnesota on the last full weekend of June of each year. Nonetheless, No. 184901 remains a visible part of the history of West Virginia agriculture, especially tobacco farming in Lincoln County, West Virginia.