Last 24 hours
Last 7 days
Last 30 days
Unique visitors (1h interval)
Unique visitors (30 min interval)
Hits per unique visitor
Pages per unique visitor
The Rise of the LeRoy Equipment Company
Brian Wayne Wells
(As Published in the July/August 2006 of the
Belt Pulley Magazine)
All farm machinery manufacturing companies depend heavily on their various franchisees and sales staff for the success of the company. The story of the sales component of any company consists of hundreds of small individual stories. The J.I. Case Threshing Machine Company is no exception to this rule. One thread in the continuing story of the sales component of the J.I. Case Company began on a farm in Carroll County, Iowa near the small town of Lanesboro on January 1, 1914. On that day, a second child, another son was born to Otto and Hazel (Coomes) Wetter. This son was named Duane E. Wetter. Duane joined the first born, Maurice, who had been born to the family in 1913. Later in 1916, a daughter, Winifred E., born to the family. The Wetter family operated the farm in Carroll County until 1917 when they purchased another farm in Redwood County, Minnesota. This farm was located in Woodbury, Township within Redwood County.
Just to the south of Woodbury Township lay Lamberton Township. Here on December 13, 1918, another thread in this same story, began with the birth of a fourth son, Merle to the family of John and Ella (Werner) Krinke. Both of Ella Krinke’s parents had immigrated to the United States from Prussia in Germany. While John’s father, Christian William Krinke, had also immigrated from Germany, his mother, Mary, had been born in Wisconsin. After living in Wisconsin, and near Rochester, Minnesota and near Blue Earth Minnesota, Christian and Mary (Adler) Krinke purchased a 320-acre farm three (3) miles northwest of the town of Lamberton, Minnesota in 1905. This was the farm where John Krinke grew up. In 1910, John and Ella had married. In 1912, a son, Darold was born to the couple. Then another son, Kenneth, was born in 1913. In 1914, upon the retirement of his parents, John and Ella took over total control of the farming operations. Meanwhile the family kept expanding. A third son, Donald was born in 1915. Following the birth of Merle in 1918, two daughters were born, Mildred in 1921 and Ruth in 1922. Finally, two more children, Robert born in 1925 and Betty born in 1929 rounded out the family of two parents and eight children.
On the 320-acre farm, John and Ella raised about 20 acres of rye, and 20 acres of wheat for cash crops. However, the family’s largest crop was about 100 acres of corn. Some of the corn was used as feed for the pigs and the beef cattle they also raised on the farm. However, 40-50 acres of the arable land on the farm had to be designated each year for the raising of oats to feed the many horses they used for power on the farm. As the older sons came of age, they helped their father with the field work. To effectively and efficiently operate this 320 acre farm took a lot of manpower and horsepower. As John’s sons grew up they helped their father with the work on the farm. The family had a five (5) horse hitch and a six (6) horse hitch which they employed when plowing in the fall and the spring. Including riding horses, the Krinke family at one point, owned and operated 22 horses on their farm. Additionally, the family milked 10 to 12 Milking Shorthorn cows twice a day as a part of their farming operations. Kenneth, who is currently living in Lamberton at the age of 93 years, remembers that he and his brothers each had to milk three (3) cows every morning before they headed off to school. The family also raised a substantial herd of Hereford beef cattle. Thus, another large portion of the arable land on the farm had to be set aside just for raising hay for pastures for the dairy cows, the beef herd and the horses.
Besides the substantial help provided by their boys, John and Ella still needed to hire on additional help during the busy threshing season. Sam Marburger, a bachelor farmer also living in Lamberton township had a 28” Altman-Taylor threshing machine and a steam engine that he used in the summer to perform custom threshing for other farmers in the neighborhood. By the time of the mid 1920s, farming had recovered to some degree from the post-World War I recession that had settled over the farming economy in 1921. At this time, John Krinke perceived that the work would progress much smoother during threshing season if the family had their own thresher. Accordingly, he paid a visit to Oscar Wiebold, the local J.I.Case Company dealer in Lamberton. Eventually he signed a purchase agreement for a 22” Case thresher and a crossmotor Case tractor to power the thresher. After a while they also purchased a tractor plow to be able to use the tractor in the fields as well as on the belt. Soon other neighbors were soliciting John and his sons to do the threshing on their farms also. So the family found that they could supplement their farm income with some income from custom threshing in the neighborhood. Later in the 1920s, the Krinke family obtained a Waterloo Boy tractor which was also used to power the thresher.
John continued to plant his corn with the horses and the wire check two-row corn planter. Wire checking meant that a wire with curls or “buttons” placed every 40 inches along the wire was stretched across the entire length of the field. The wire was then attached to a mechanism on the side of the planter. As the horses pulled the planter across the field, the buttons on the wire would cause the mechanism to trip both rows of the planter at the same time. Thus, not only were the rows planted 40 inches apart, but the “hills” of corn were planted 40 inches apart within the rows. This formed a perfect grid of hills in the corn field which allowed the corn to be cultivated “cross-wise” as well as length-wise. Accordingly, not only were all the weeds between the rows dug up and eliminated by the cultivator, but even the weeds between the hills within the rows were removed by “cross cultivating” the corn. Every year, corn farmers tried to cultivate every corn field on their farm three times—the first cultivation was conducted lengthwise, then the corn was cross-cultivated and finally the corn was cultivated once again in a lengthwise fashion. Cultivation of the corn, thus, required a great number of hours (or days) of work during the summer. No wonder then when a mechanical way of speeding up this summertime task was developed, farmers jumped at the chance to employ this newer method of getting the task done.
Exactly for this reason, John Krinke obtained another tractor. This tractor was a tricycle-style Farmall Model F-12 tractor. Besides moving faster in the field and having more endurance than horses, the F-12 was designed to be fitted with a two row cultivator. Thus, tractor cultivation of the corn could proceed at a rate of two rows at a time or twenty (20) acres in a single day as opposed to a mere six (6) or eight (8) acres a day when cultivating with the horses one row at a time. John Krinke was made aware of his need to save all the time in the fields as he could. In 1934, his oldest son, Darold got married and moved onto a farm of his own. In 1936, his second son, Kenneth did the same. In 1934, Donald had graduated from high school in Lamberton and had entered Minneapolis Business School.
Meanwhile, his fourth son, Merle, was also growing up. After obtaining an eighth grade education in a country school, Merle had enrolled in Lamberton High School for the “short course.” The short course was only three (3) months long and took place in the middle of the winter. The short course was designed for farm students who needed to help their parents on the farm during the spring and the fall of the year. Also attending these short courses at Lamberton High School was Duane Wetter. Although living in separate townships, the Wetter family and the Krinke family had become acquainted with each other at the Methodist Church in Lamberton. Originally, the Wetter’s had been attending another church in the community, but when that church suddenly burned down, they began attending the Methodist Church. In their first year on their new farm in Woodbury Township Otto and Hazel Wetter had added to their family with the birth of another son, Milo in 1918. Later, two more daughters, Zona in 1920 and Donna in 1923, were added to the family. Now during the short courses at Lamberton High School, the children of both families became more closely acquainted. Furthermore, in the fall of 1932 a new teacher moved to Lamberton from Amboy, Minnesota. This new teacher was Robert W. (Bob) Olson.
Bob Olson had a fairly active life. Born in 1893 in Sterling Township in Blue Earth County near the small town of Amboy, Minnesota (1900 pop. 432), Bob had served as a United States Army pilot during World War I. Coming home from the war in late 1918, he enrolled in school at the University of Minnesota and became a teacher. While at the University he met Mabeth Starrett. They fell in love and were married in 1920. Unable to find a teaching job, Bob and Mabeth moved back to the home farm of Bob’s parents in Amboy. Rural living was a new experience for Mabeth, but she soon adapted to life on the farm where she and Bob lived for a number of years. Two children were born to the young couple—a son, Bob S. Olson in 1924 and a daughter, Helen in 1926. Bob helped his father on the large family farm. However, in 1932, Bob was hired to teach an industrial arts class at the High School in Lamberton. Accordingly, Bob and Mabeth and their children moved to Lamberton. Among the students in Bob Olson’s industrial arts class during the winter months of the 1932-1933 school year was Merle Krinke. Although Duane Wetter had graduated from Lamberton High School on the previous June 2, 1932, he may well have met Bob Olson, anyway and Bob Olson might well have had an impact on the life of Duane Wetter. At any rate the lives of Bob Olson and Duane Wetter have some surprising parallels.
Like Bob Olson, upon graduating from high school, Duane went to Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul to further his education. He attended Dunwoody Institute in Minneapolis and studied the new and growing technology of refrigeration. After finishing his studies at Dunwoody, Duane obtained employment at the Minnesota Department of Highways in 1939. That fall, war broke out in Europe. As the war stretched into its second year, United States’ involvement in the war seemed more likely all the time. Even before the United States became involved in the growing world war, Duane joined the war effort by journeying to Winnipeg, Canada, to join the Royal Canadian Air Force (R.A.F.) and became a pilot. He met and married Esther Else. Together they moved off to Sherbrook, Quebec, where Duane became a flight instructor of other prospective fighter pilots. While the couple was living in Sherbook, Esther became pregnant and gave birth to a son, Berwyn. In May of 1944, after the United States had become involved in the world war, Duane and many other American citizens serving as pilots in the Canadian R.A.F. took advantage of the agreement between Canada and the United States to transfer from the R.A.F. to the United States Army Air Corp. (Following the Second World War, the Army Air Corp would become an independent branch of the armed forces—the United States Air Force.) Thus, Duane was shipped out to Europe as a replacement pilot attached to the 316th U.S. Fighter Squadron of the 324th Fighter Group, stationed in Luneville, France. Thus just like Bob Olson a generation earlier, here was Duane Wetter serving as a pilot for the United States Army Air Corp in a war against the Germans and stationed in France.
Duane was assigned to a Republic Company-made P-47 (Thunderbolt) fighter and began flying combat missions on February 14, 1945. He would end the war as a survivor of seventy five (75) combat flight missions and also would win a number of decorations for valour during his service in Europe. Following the war, Duane stayed on in Europe to become part of the occupation forces stationed at Stuttgart, Germany. Duane was discharged from the military and was finally able to make his way back to Minnesota only in November of 1945.
In the meantime, Bob Olson had also impacted two other students in his short time at Lamberton High School. In the industrial arts class during that school year of 1932-1933 were Donald and Merle Krinke. During the fall and spring months, the Krinke boys were needed by their parents for help on the farm. However, during the “short course” held in during the winter months both Donald and Merle sought to further their education. During the short time that the boys knew Bob Olson in the winter of 1932-1933, Bob Olson made an impression on these boys that lasted far beyond their school days.
At the end of the school year, Bob Olson made a decision to leave teaching and take advantage of a business opportunity in Lamberton. He purchased a franchise from the J.I. Case Company to sell farm machinery in the rural area around Lamberton. This was 1933, starting a business at this time appeared to be a foolish decision. Business activity all across the nation was at a standstill because of the worst economic depression in the history of the United States. Bob’s outgoing personality and business sense were assets for his new business, but the biggest asset to his new business was the improvement in the economy. As 1933 gave way to 1934, the economy started to improve ever so slightly. Everybody breathed a sigh of relief and everybody began spending money again with more confidence in the future. Farmers, began once again to feel that there was a future in their occupation and began to purchase new farm equipment.
The dealership was housed together with a hardware store and a plumbing and heating business. However on the farm equipment side of his new business, Bob found that, more and more, that the row crop tractor was the single item of farm machinery that farmers wanted most. This made sense given the fact that corn was the primary crop grown in Redwood County. On average, 37.5% of all farm acreage in the county was growing corn. The second most produced crop in the county was oats—with 26.3% of all farm land in the county growing oats. However, oats and hay were grown on all farms largely as feed for the animals, in particular the horses that were used for power on the farms. If both hay (10.4% of all farm land) and oats were removed from consideration, corn then made up of 59.3% of all “cash crops” grown on the farms of Redwood County.
Small wonder then that Bob Olson found that the Case Model CC row crop tractor was in large demand by the farmers showing up at his new dealership. The row crop tractor was allowing farmers to mechanize all the farming operations on their farm especially the cultivation of corn. This meant that slow animal power could be done away with on the farm altogether. The decline in the number of horses in Redwood County, is shown in the decline in the amount of acreage devoted to oats in the county. In 1925, 123,000 acres of oats were harvested in Redwood County. On average, between 1925 and 1935 108.6 acres of oats were harvested each year in the county as a whole. However, starting in 1936, oats started to decline in importance—from 100,100 acres harvested in 1936; to 87,000 in 1938; to 84,100 acres in 1942 and finally to 79,500 acres in 1944. (To be sure, oat production made a recovery back up to an average of 103,800 acres for the period of time from 1945 to 1955. However this is due to the sudden rise of the egg production in Redwood County during the Second World War. In the immediate, post war period Redwood County became the home for 500,000 chickens who were laying upwards of 100 million eggs each year.)
Bob Olson sold a great number of Model CC tractors in the first years of his dealership. In 1936, he sold a Model CC to John Krinke. This particular Model CC was fitted with rubber tires front and rear on the tractor. Donald Krinke had graduated from Lamberton High School in 1933. In 1936, Merle Krinke also graduated from Lamberton High School. Like Duane Wetter, both of the Krinke boys also headed off to college in Minneapolis. Merle entered Augsburg College and later attended the University of Minnesota just as Bob Olson had done a generation earlier. Following his higher education in Minneapolis and no doubt under the influence, to some degree, of Bob Olson, Donald Krinke sought and obtained a job as the district manager for the J.I. Case Company in the area including Redwood and neighboring counties.
However, in 1940, with war clouds looming, and with the United States involvement in the Second World War looking increasingly likely, the U.S. Congress re-instated the Selective Service draft. Merle Krinke’s number was drawn in the draft lottery and it was a very low number, suggesting that he was soon to be drafted into the military. Not waiting for the draft, Merle quit school and enlisted. Perhaps, the influence of Bob Olson caused him to enlist in the Army Air Corps. The Army Air Corps unit to which Merle was attached was guarding the Panama Canal. Thus, in 1940, well before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Both Duane Wetter and Merle Krinke were involved in the spreading world war.
On December 7, 1941, the United States suddenly became involved in the world war. Merle re-enlisted and continued his service until 1945. In April of 1944, Merle was, however, permitted a 30 day leave from his military service. During this leave he returned to Lamberton, Minnesota. He had a good reason for wanting to return home at this time. He wished to get married. In the years, that he had known the Wetter family, he was attracted by Duane’s sister, Zona. They had begun seeing each other and writing each other while Merle was away in the service. Now, in 1944, while on his 30 day leave from the Air Corp, Merle and Zona had decided to marry. Thus, on April 8, 1944, they were married. All too soon, however, Merle had to return to Panama. Only at the end of the war in September of 1945 was he allowed to come home for good and resume married life. Upon his return from the military, Merle obtained a job at the the Myhere and Nelson Implement dealership in Montevideo, Minnesota. The Myhere and Nelson dealership owned the J.I. Case Company franchise for the area around Montevideo and surrounding Chippewa County. Montevideo was located on the Minnesota River about 60 miles to the northwest of Lamberton. Merle commuted to his new job while continuing to live in Lamberton. After only a very short time at his new job, in Montevideo, Merle became aware of an opportunity to open a new Case dealership in another town.
With the lifting of the wartime restrictions on the economy of the United States a huge pent-up demand for new farm machinery was unleashed. Having been unable to purchase new farm machinery all during the Second World War, farmers now poured into local dealerships to buy up the machinery that was now becoming available. Furthermore, the prices of farm commodities had reached new highs as the North American farmer attempted to feed the armed forces which were spread around the world. Since the war, the farm machinery manufacturing companies were busy not only making the new machinery as fast as they could get re-tooled from their wartime production for the armed forces, but they were also in a rush to open as many outlets from which to sell the new machinery. Record numbers of new franchises were being sold by all the farm equipment manufacturers. At the Myhere and Nelson dealership in Montevideo, Merle Krinke heard about yet another Case franchise that was being offered to anyone that was willing to start a dealership in the small town of LeRoy, Minnesota (1940 pop. 752). LeRoy, Minnesota is located in the extreme southeastern corner of Mower County, Minnesota. Mower County is situated in the Southeastern part of the state on the Minnesota/Iowa border in fact, the town of LeRoy is located only about ½ a mile from the Iowa border.
Merle felt that, given the recent boom in purchases of farm machinery, it was an opportune time to start a new franchise dealership. Merle was enthusiastic and wanted to take advantage of the opportunity, however, as with most small businesses, obtaining the initial outlay of funds presented the most difficult part of the startup of the new business. However, Merle was aware that Zona’s brother, Duane Wetter was returning home and vowed to talk with him as soon as possible about becoming partners in this venture. Thus, upon his discharge from the Army Air Corp in November of 1945, Duane Wetter barely had time to become reacquainted with his wife and his son which he had not seen for two years, when his new brother-in-law, approached him to become his partner in this new dealership in Le Roy, Minnesota. As a returning veteran and not sure of where to begin his peace time career, Duane was grateful for the opportunity presented to him. Furthermore, as they talked about the business venture, Duane warmed to the idea of being a partner in his own business and serving as the mechanic for the new farm equipment dealership. Since returning to Minnesota, Duane joined Esther and young Berwyn, who had been living in Tracy, Minnesota (1940 pop. 3,085). Thus, the two brother-in-laws agreed to purchase the new Case Company dealership franchise that was being offered for Le Roy, Minnesota. After Thanksgiving in November of 1945, Merle made a journey to LeRoy to obtain some property in town from which to conduct their new farm machinery business.
Driving the 150 miles to Le Roy, he could see that, in large part, the corn crop had already been harvested. This signaled the end of the harvest season. Much like his home in Redwood County, Mower County, where Le Roy was located, was filled with diversified farming operations and about 1/3 of all farm land was traditionally planted in corn. During the recent war, a market for soybeans had been created by the development of clear plastic shatter-proof canopies to cover the cockpits and gun turrets of the combat aircraft used in the war. With the need for thousands of these plastic canopies for the thousands of aircraft that were needed for the war effort, the market for soybeans had grown spectacularly during war. Since the war, plastic had become one of the most promising new peacetime products for use in industry and consumer goods. Soybeans was a new cash crop for farmers. Thus, whereas corn had been the predominate cash crop in Mower County prior to the war, now, soybeans were becoming an important second cash crop. In 1941, only 17,800 acres or only 6.6% of all arable land in Mower County had been devoted to growing soybeans. By 1944, 38,000 acres of soybeans were harvested in Mower County—representing an increase of 133.5% in acreage devoted to soybeans in just four short years. Now in 1945, 14.7% of all land in the county was planted to soybeans. The average farm in the county now had two significant cash drops rather than just one.
However, in Mower County, there had been no real decline in the amount of acreage devoted to corn. Soybeans had not encroached in any real way on the acreage, traditionally, devoted to corn. Significantly, the acreage devoted to other crops had been reduced. There had, for instance, been a 20.5% decrease in the amount of acreage devoted to hay from 1941 through 1944 in Mower County. Even more dramatic was the 32.8% decline in the acreage devoted to oats in Mower County during the same period of time. Replacing these two crops on farms in Mower County were corn (there had been a 37.3% increase in the acreage devoted to corn in Mower County from 1941 through 1944) and soybeans.
Merle Krinke knew that these figures had importance for all farm machinery and tractor dealerships. Neither hay nor oats had ever served as a real cash crop on the average farm. Traditionally, both hay and oats had been used on the farm itself as feed for the animals on the farm, particularly the horses that were used as a source of power during the summer field work. As farmers began to employ more farm tractors for all the power tasks on the farm, the work horses had become obsolete and were gradually disappearing from working farms. The fact that there were already less horses on the farms of Mower County, was reflected directly in the declining amount of oats and hay that were being grown on the farms of the county. Merle knew that the lifting of the wartime economic restrictions would cause a surge of farmers desiring to purchase tractors and replace the horses on their farms. The future looked bright, indeed, for ractor and farm equipment dealerships.
With less need to grow oats and hay on their farms, the farmers of Mower County began growing more cash crops. In Mower County, farmers chose to increase the acres they devoted to corn as a replacement for hay and oats that they no longer needed to grow. Now, for the first time, farmers could diversify their cash crops. Thus, in a poor corn year, it was anticipated that soybeans would help the average farm make a profit.
Merle was aware that the steady high prices of around $1.15 per bushel for corn had become commonplace during the war. No real change in this price had occurred since the end of the war. Indeed, last May, following the end of the European War, the price of corn had risen to $1.22 per bushel. Then, in August, the price had risen still more to $1.25 per bushel as a monthly average. The growing season of 1945 had been wetter than normal especially early in the summer. Early reports on the size of the 1945 harvest seemed to indicate a reduced harvest because of the wet growing season. The average yield of corn for the 1945 harvest season was down to only 32 bushels per acre—a drop of 14.4% from a normal harvest. Soybeans, the second cash crop, had also suffered as a result of the wet growing season. During the four previous years soybeans had averaged 13.25 bushels per acre. In 1945 that yield dropped to 12 bushels per acre—a 9.4% reduction in yield.
As a consequence of the reduced harvest, the price of corn remained high. Even now, in November when one would expect the annual cycle of prices to sink to the yearly low, prices were still at $1.20 per bushel. Merle knew that the full story on the corn harvest and the prices would not be known until February or March when the corn that was drying in the corn cribs on the various farms round the community was shelled and was sold at the local elevators of the area. Only then would the full extent of the harvest become “visible” by the corn market and the economy. However, given the reduced harvest Merle knew that the price would probably go higher in the new year. To be sure the farmers would have less corn to sell but the price for what they did sell would be high. Thus, Merle suspected that there would be a wave of farmers coming to town in the spring to buy tractors. Most of them would be seeking to replace the horses that they still used in the fields on their farms during the summer. Additionally, there would be a tendency by some farmers who already had tractors to purchase newer tractors. Most of the tractors that were in use on farms currently were “pre-war” models which did not have the electric lights, electric starting and hydraulics that the modern tractor buyer wanted. Furthermore, it looked as though when those farmers came to town the next spring after shelling the corn they had in storage on their farm, they would have money in hand. All this bode well for the future of the Case franchise he was hoping to open up in Le Roy, Minnesota. Arriving in Le Roy, Merle was eventually directed to Holger E. Larson.
Holger E. Larson owned the Le Roy Dairy, meaning that he was the local milk truck delivery man for Le Roy. He delivered bottled milk, butter and other dairy products processed by the Rochester Dairy Company plant based in Rochester, Minnesota. However, he also owned a piece of property in town at the corner of Luella and Mather Streets. On the property there was a small building that had been used as a livery stable and an office for a variety of different businesses over the years. Around the old livery stable were some pens for livestock. The property had been owned by Dr. Becker, a local veterinarian. Later the land had been sold to Walter Hall who was a grain and cattle buyer. Then, Holger Larson became the owner of the sales yard and used the property as a cattle sales yard to supplement his income from delivering milk in LeRoy. It was known that he was looking for a buyer of the property when Merle Krinke approached him in November of 1945.
The December 7, 1945 weekly issue of the LeRoy Independent reported that on Tuesday of the previous week (November 27, 1945) Holger Larson had sold the “former W. H. Hall property” to Merle Krinke. Terms of the sale allowed that Merle would be taking over the property on January 2, 1946. The newspaper reported that Merle Krinke was establishing a Case dealership on the property to handle the “complete line of Case machinery.” On a personal note, the newspaper reported that Merle Krinke had “recently been discharged from army service” and made note of the fact that he was married. The January 4, 1946 Independent provided more detail, noting the new business was in reality owned as a partnership by Merle and his brother-in-law Duane E. Wetter. As the newspaper went to press on January 3, 1946, it was reported that Merle and Zona were already in Le Roy having arrived on January 2, 1946 and that Duane and Esther, were expected “today.” The newspaper happily reported that both families were expected “to buy or build homes” in town as soon as arrangements could be made. The new business was to be called the “Le Roy Equipment Company.” In addition to selling Case farm equipment, the new business was also going to sell “Firestone tractor and implement tires.” They expected to open the doors of the business to the public on January 20, 1946.
First, however, some renovations were needed to the lot at the corner of Luella and Mather Streets which was to house the dealership. The old livestock pens that were still on the lot were removed to make room for the new and used machinery that would be exhibited at the dealership. Additionally, the building on the site was repaired and renovated to use as a dealership office and service area. These renovations of the site and the building took longer to accomplish than first thought. Thus, the formal opening of the business had to be set back to January 29, 1946. The prospects for the future seemed bright. (TO BE CONTINUED IN “CASE FARMING PART V” ON THIS BLOG.)