The 1936 International Harvester “Quickest On-Quickest Off” Contest
Brian Wayne Wells
As published in the November/December 1994 issue of
Belt Pulley Magazine
Ever since the invention of farm machinery, all farm equipment manufacturers have sought new and more effective ways to sell their product. Jere Wissler of Mountville, Pennsylvania has a piece of International Harvester literature which dates from about 1940 and recounts that the company began making silent movies to promote their farm equipment in 1912. In 1934 they changed to sound movies exclusively. Many of these movies were intended to be shown at the annual Power Farming Shows and Entertainment to be held in February of each year at their dealerships as a way of advertising the new farm equipment the company had introduced that year. International Harvester encouraged their local dealerships to hold these family-oriented events with a free meal and free entertainment as a means of attracting potential buyers in the middle of the Great Depression.
The dealerships usually offered free beans and hot dogs to the families in attendance and the entertainment usually consisted of farm equipment movies. Of course, the salesmen of the dealership were always on hand to show off the new machinery in hopes of making a sale during the show. Early February was recognized as the best time to hold these events because it was well in advance of March 1, traditionally the day on which all rental agreements for farms invariably ended and a new agreement would begin. Additionally, purchase contracts for farms invariably were made effective on March 1.
John Deere also began having similar annual February events in 1936. They called their events John Deere Days. The John Deere Company began making movies for their shows in 1936. Copies of these movies on VHS videotape are available from Two Cylinder Club, Post Office Box 10, Grundy Center, Iowa 50638-0010, Telephone: 1-800-831-5176.
At first all movies made by International Harvester were of the hard-sell variety. Hard-sell movies dealt exclusively with machinery; there was no attempt to make a story out of the movie. Precisely because they provide direct information about the machinery, these movies stimulate great interest among collectors today. In 1936, however, International Harvester produced a different type of movie for the February dealership shows. This 11-minute movie was called My Model Farm. The movie contained no scenes of machinery at all; it was strictly an entertainment movie. However, My Model Farm created a sensation when it was shown for the first time in 1936. It was (and still is) a very funny and popular film with audiences. International Harvester had created a movie hit! The movie was re-shown in succeeding years because of popular demand. The movie was intended to be included in the middle of a series of hard-sell movies to provide comic relief.
One of the hard-sell movies shown together with My Model Farm in 1936 was Quickest On, Quickest Off. This movie relates yet another promotional campaign which International Harvester launched to promote the Quick-Attachable line of farm equipment for the Farmall F-12. This movie showed the International Harvester exhibition tents at the 1935 Illinois and Indiana State Fairs. One of the main events in the International Harvester tent at both state fairs that year was the “Quickest On, Quickest Off” contest. This was a contest of 13- and 14-year-old boys from various communities of each state competing to see who was the fastest at attaching and detaching the various “Quick-Attachable” implements available for the Farmall F-12.
The contest was part of the International Harvester effort to demonstrate to farmers just how easy it was for anybody to attach and detach the Quick-Attachable equipment. There is mention in the movie of a one-armed man attaching and detaching equipment each day of the Illinois State Fair. The 13- and 14-year-old contestants were drawn from the local communities in the respective states.
Although there is no detailed explanation in the movie of how the contestants were selected at the local level, a person with whom many Belt Pulley readers are familiar was a participant in the 1935 Quickest On, Quickest Off contest at the local level. Although circumstances prevented him from participating in the contest at the Illinois State Fair, he is familiar with the contest as it was carried out at the local level.
Many readers will remember Bill Rees who was the son of Milford Rees, founder of Rees Plowing Match in 1923. A story of the Rees plowing contests held from 1923 through 1941 was carried in the May/June 1991 issue of The Belt Pulley magazine. (“A Time Gone By: The Rees Plow Match”). In that article, readers will note that young Bill Rees won a trophy at one of the plowing matches in 1933. There is a picture of 10-year-old Bill Rees standing behind an Allis-Chalmers No. 2 plow (with very shiny mirror-like bottoms) holding his newly won plowing trophy.
The Milford Rees family was located at Rees Station in Morgan County, Illinois, about three miles northwest of Franklin, Illinois. Like most farm families, the Rees family looked forward to the Power Farm Shows held each spring. Indeed, Bill remembers attending the show at Wilson Implement, the International Harvester dealership in Waverly, Illinois. A few days after the show at Wilson Implement, the family would drive to Jacksonville, Illinois, the county seat of Morgan County, to attend the Power Farming Show at the Wise and Dowland dealership.
In the early spring of 1935, following the Power Farming Show, the Wise and Dowland dealership contacted young Bill Rees about becoming one of the local boys involved in the Quickest On and Quickest Off contest. He relates that the contest really had no connection with the county fairs; indeed, there was no contest at the local level at all. Actually, the International Harvester Company encouraged local dealerships to sponsor boys from their sales areas to come to the various state fairs to compete in the Quickest On, Quickest Off contest. The local dealerships were asked to help the boys with practice sessions using the new equipment at each dealership.
The Wise and Dowland dealership occupied a two-story building in the center of Jacksonville, Illinois, about 35 miles west of Springfield, Illinois. When Bill began going to the practice sessions held on Saturdays in the early spring of 1935, he found that Wise and Dowland had made contact with two or three other boys from the area around Jacksonville and Morgan County to participate in the “Quickest On, Quickest Off” contest. All through the spring of 1935, the boys would gather on the second floor of the Wise and Dowland dealership. The second floor of the building was the warehouse area of the dealership, where shipping boxes of farm implements were being unpacked and the implements assembled by the staff at Wise and Dowland. In this area, the boys practiced attaching and detaching the drawbars of the Farmall F-12’s. They also practiced attaching and detaching the rear section of a cultivator, the mower, and some of the other Quick-Attachable equipment using the long speed-wrench which was standard equipment with all the Quick-Attachable equipment.
While learning the advantages of the Quick-Attachable equipment, they also learned some of the disadvantages. For instance, the boys learned that the support stand for the Quick-Attachable No. 12 mower was badly designed. It was more of a hinderance than a help.
All through the spring of 1935, the boys practiced and aimed their sights on the Illinois State Fair to be held in August. As the summer progressed, however, Bill learned that he would be unable to attend the State Fair due to his family’s schedule. Reluctantly, he had to withdraw from the contest. Today, it is not known exactly what family event conflicted with the State Fair, but Bill stopped going to the practice sessions at Wise and Dowland in early summer. If he had participated at the State Fair, he may have been captured on film by the camera crew who was filming the event for the movie Quickest On, Quickest Off that would be shown at the dealership shows in February of 1936.
Although Bill did not have a chance to attend the Illinois State Fair, viewers of the film Quickest On, Quickest Off do get a chance to look around at the young boys who were participating in the contest at the Fair as well as the people in the audience. It offers the viewer a chance to sit in the stands of the International Harvester tent at the 1935 Fair. Talking with Bill Rees and the people involved in the preparation for the contest is like sitting next to an IH employee and having the employee tell you about the work that went into preparing for the contest. It increases our enjoyment and understanding of the promotional activities of the past.