J.I. Case Company Part V:
The Decline of the LeRoy Equipment Company
Brian Wayne Wells
(As Published in the September/October 2006 issue of Belt Pulley magazine.)
As noted previously (see the article called J.I. Case Company Part IV: the Rise of the Le Roy Equipment Company contained in the July/August 2006 issue of Belt Pulley Magazine), two newly discharged veterans of the Second World War formed a partnership to accept the business opportunity of starting a new Case Company dealership in the small town of LeRoy, Minnesota (1940 pop. 752). Before the war, LeRoy, Minnesota had been the home of a Case dealership called the “LeRoy Equipment Company.” However, during the Second World War, the dealership had disbanded. Now the J. I. Case Company wanted to re-establish the “LeRoy Equipment Company” in order to take advantage of the expected boom in post-war demand for modern farm machinery. Two veterans, Merle Krinke and Duane Wetter, both originally from the small town of Lamberton located in western Minnesota, had expressed interest in this business venture.
Duane and Merle had known each other at Lamberton High School. Furthermore, ever since April 8, 1944 when Merle Krinke married Duane’s sister, Zona Wetter, Duane and Merle had been brother-in laws.
Merle had been discharged from the Army Air Corp at the end of the war in the Pacific in September of 1945. Since that time, Merle had been employed at the Myhere and Nelson Implement dealership, a local Case franchise dealership in Montevideo, Minnesota. Montevideo was a small town located on the South Dakota border with Minnesota, northwest of Lamberton. It was at Myhere and Nelson that Merle had first heard about the opportunity of starting the dealership in Le Roy.
During the war, Duane Wetter had served as a decorated fighter pilot in U.S. Army Air Corp and had flown 75 combat missions in the European theater. Since the end of the war in Europe in May of 1945, he had been stationed in Stuttgart Germany as part of the U.S. occupation forces. He was discharged in November of 1945. Scarcely had he returned to his wife and young son in Minnesota, than he was asked to make the decision to join in a partnership with Merle and move off to LeRoy with his whole family. Le Roy was located in the southeastern corner of Mower County, just ½ mile from the Iowa border. This was a long way from Lamberton, Minnesota. Nonetheless, a decision about the starting the dealership in LeRoy, Minnesota needed to be made as soon as possible by the two veterans. They would re-establish the dealership under the name “LeRoy Equipment Company” to take advantage of the good will that had been formed by the pre-war dealership of the same name.
Part of the reason that the pre-war “LeRoy Equipment Company had folded up during the war was due to the lack of new farm machinery available during the war. Just like all other farm equipment manufacturing companies in the United States, the J.I Case Company had almost totally ceased making farm machinery during the war. All of American industry was being required to produce primarily for the war effort. Thus, the J. I. Case Company received contracts for hundreds of thousands 155mm artillery shells and 500-pound bomb casings, along with 40mm anti-aircraft gun carriages, B-26 bomber wings and after-coolers for Rolls-Royce aircraft engines. Case’s Main Works in Racine, Wisconsin was almost completely re-tooled for production of these military products. Very little, if any, farm machinery was produced by Case during the war. This shortage of new farm equipment to sell worked a real hardship on the pre-war management of the LeRoy Equipment Company and during the war they were forced to close the doors of the dealership.
With a 1940 population of 752 persons, LeRoy was the second largest city in Mower County. The largest city was the county seat of Austin, Minnesota, with a 1940 population of 18,307 persons. However, Austin was located in the extreme western part of Mower County, 35 miles away from the city LeRoy located in the southeast corner of Mower County. Thus, LeRoy tended to dominate the farm machinery market in eastern Mower County, and western Fillmore County in Minnesota and also northern Howard County, Iowa, during the pre-war era. Before the recent war, LeRoy was the home of three other farm tractor dealerships (a John Deere dealership, an International Harvester dealership and a Minneapolis-Moline dealership) besides the LeRoy Equipment Company (Case) dealership. The village of LeRoy occupied a strong economic position in eastern Mower County is revealed in the fact that between 1930 and 1940 the population of LeRoy grew by 13.8% and the new 1950 Census figures would show that between 1940 and 1950 the population of LeRoy, Minnesota would grow by another 27.5%. J. I. Case knew they could not ignore the robust demand that was expected to arise in the LeRoy area in the new post-war era. The company needed to get the LeRoy Equipment Company reorganized and quickly reopened.
Merle Krinke felt the business opportunity in LeRoy would offer Duane and himself, a real chance at becoming an independent owners of a thriving dealership in which he might take full advantage of the coming strong demand for new farm tractors and farm machinery. Merle proposed the business venture to Duane Wetter, almost as soon as Duane arrived home from the war.
Without any other employment opportunities on the immediate horizon, it did not take Duane long to decide to join his brother-in-law in the new enterprise. Subsequently, a partnership agreement, was signed between Merle and Duane. Next the partnership obtained a signed a dealership franchise from the Case Company for the reorganized LeRoy Equipment Company.
Following Thanksgiving of 1945, Merle headed off to LeRoy to make further arrangements for the new dealership. It was an exciting time. In the short span of four months following his discharge from the military Merle was in LeRoy purchasing land and the necessary renovations to the building on the site in preparation for opening the new business. The proposed opening day for the new dealership was set for January 29, 1946. Right from the day, he arrived in LeRoy, Merle Krinke started to get acquainted with as many of the farmers and business leaders in LeRoy as possible. Toward this end, Merle joined the LeRoy Commercial Club. Later he would serve as president of the Commercial Club.
Over the Christmas of 1945, a large 10” snow fell across southern Minnesota over the Christmas holidays, but the snow did not dampen the prospects for the future of the business enterprise. It was a glorious Christmas of 1945 filled with hope for the future of the new LeRoy Equipment Company.
As noted above, very little if any farm machinery had been manufactured by Case during the recent war. Now in the four months since the end of the war in the Pacific, the Company had been struggling to get re-tooled in order to once again produce farm machinery. Consequently, there continued to be a shortage of new Case farm machinery being produced at Case’s Main Works located on Bridge Street in Racine, Wisconsin, while this retooling was being done.
To make matters worse, the shortage of farm machinery was greatly exacerbated when on Wednesday, December 26, 1945, Local #180 of the United Automobile Workers walked off the job at the Case Company Main Works in Racine Wisconsin. All production came to a halt at the Main Works. Only, the small amounts of farm machinery held in inventory at the various district warehouse “block houses” located around the nation were available for the dealerships to sell. In the State of Minnesota, there were two Case Company “block houses” one block house was located at 202 North Front Street in Mankato Minnesota and served Case dealerships southern Minnesota, including the new prospective dealership in LeRoy, Minnesota. The other block house occupied an entire city block at 308-312 Third Avenue in Minneapolis which served the entire rest of the state. The small inventory of new Case tractors and farm machinery held in the Mankato block house was very quickly snatched up and sold by the eager Case dealerships.
One of the first tractors built by the Case Main Works during the limited period of time from the end of the War in the Pacific September 2, 1945 and the first day of the labor stoppage on December 26, 1945 was a particular Case Model SC bearing the Serial No. 4911952. No. 491152 was part of the inventory held at the block house in Mankato. Thus, No. 4911952 might have been sent to LeRoy, Minnesota to be part of the grand opening of the LeRoy Equipment Company. However, before the January 29, 1946 grand opening of the LeRoy Equipment Company, another local Mankato area Case dealership put in a request for a model SC tractor and this request was honored by the Mankato block house which then sent No. 4911952 to that local dealership.
Consequently, just as the new Le Roy Equipment Company was holding its grand opening, the dealership was unexpectedly handicapped by its inability to obtain tractors and other farm machinery. Indeed, the dealership had to scramble to get any tractors at all to display at its Opening Day celebrations. Luckily, at the last moment two new Case tractors were obtained and the advertisements of the grand opening assured the farming public that “two new tractors” would be “on display” for the celebration.
Poster advertisement of the new Case dealership in LeRoy, Minnesota
Despite hopes for an early settlement of the labor stoppage, the strike continued through out the spring of 1946. Because they were unable to obtain tractors and new farm machinery wanted over the winter of 1945-46, the Le Roy Equipment Company aggressively advertised the repair parts and service shop part of their business in their advertisements in the weekly Le Roy Independent. An advertisement in the February 8, 1946 issue of the Independent noted that the dealership shop was ready to “overhaul your tractor.” “Bring it in or call us and we will get it, read the advertisement.” Still the shortage of new farm equipment being delivered to the dealership created a hardship for the two partners attempting to make a profit. Furthermore, there was no shortage of competing farm equipment dealerships in Le Roy. In this small town of only 752 people, the Le Roy Equipment Company dealership was only one of four different dealerships in town. On his walk to work each morning, Duane Wetter passed right by each of the other three farm equipment dealerships.
When they moved into Le Roy,Minnesota, Duane and Esther Wetter rented an apartment on the second floor of a house at the corner of Main and Everett Streets. The first floor of this house contained the local switchboard for the telephone service. Down Main Street on the same side of the street was the LeRoyal Theater. Leaving the apartment in the morning Duane walked down Main Street passed the LeRoyal Theater. Next to the theater was the local International Harvester dealership. Established well before the world war, the dealership had been owned by the McRoberts family. However, in 1944 the dealership was sold to the partnership of Oksenan and Seese. Two doors down from the Oksenan and Seese dealership was the Ford car dealership which was owned by the Regan family. Although the Regan dealership had been selling Ford cars for a number of years, the dealership had, since the end of the war, also been selling Ford farm tractors. As he crossed Broadway Street and continued on his walk down Main Street, Duane would notice, across the street in that second block, the local John Deere dealership which was owned by the Le Roy Co-operative Grain and Stock Company, a local farmer-owned cooperative.
Duane knew that these dealerships were established businesses in Le Roy. These dealerships had already established their regular clientele and may, he suspected, already have a established a foundation of financial reserves built up to see the business through any rough times. Not that it looked like those dealerships needed a financial reserve. To Duane on his way to work each morning during that winter of 1945-1946, it appeared that these other dealerships were busy selling tractors. These competing dealerships were not experiencing the same shortages of new farm equipment that plagued the Le Roy Equipment Company. The tractors seemed to be “flying out the doors” of those dealerships. From all appearances the dealerships could not keep up with the demand for new tractors. As the “new kid on the block,” the Le Roy Equipment Company was facing all the usual difficulties of setting up business in a small town against established competitors. However, this labor strike and the resultant shortage of farm machinery, Duane knew, put the LeRoy Equipment Company in a near impossible position. They were losing any good will and client base that had been built up by the pre-war “LeRoy Equipment Company” with every day that went by with no product to sell to the public. Additionally, Duane knew that the current strong demand for tractors created a unique opportunity at this time to sell tractors. This unique strong demand would not soon repeat itself. Therefore, Duane felt that the dealership was losing valuable time by not having equipment ready to sell during this crucial time when there was such a strong demand for tractors.
However, pent-up demand created by the recent war was not limited to the desire for farm machinery. It had created a desire for modern household goods as well. Spurrin this demand for modern household goods was the Rural Electrification Authority (R.E.A.) which had been established by the federal government in 1935 to extend the benefits of household electricity to the farms of rural America. The R.E.A. actually organized local “co-operatives” of neighborhood farmers, who would buy mass electricity as a group and share the electricity among the farms of the neighborhood. The local electric cooperative that served the LeRoy community was the “Tri-County Cooperative.”
Based in Rushford, Minnesota (1940 population 1,128), the Tri-County Cooperative, was so named because of its coverage of parts of three counties– Olmstead, Fillmore and Mower counties—in southern Minnesota. The Tri-County Cooperative was established in 1936. By 1944, the Tri-County Cooperative had already extended power lines out into the rural neighborhood northwest of the village of LeRoy. (One of the farms that was “electrified” in this 1944 extension of power lines was the farm of George C. and Louise [Schwark] Wells—grandfather of the current author.)
The process of extending electric power lines to the rural communities involved the raising of a great many power poles and the stringing of miles of electric power lines between the poles. Much of the labor of raising the poles and stringing the wires was performed by the farmer/members of the co-operative, themselves. Once electric power had become a reality for farms in the neighborhood, the already strong desire for new electric clothes washers and other appliances for the house and electric milking machines for the barn in order to modernize both farm and household chores grew.
Merle Krinke saw the pent-up demand for household consumer goods as a profit making opportunity for the dealership during the strike. Accordingly, Merle signed a franchise agreement with the Kelvinator Corporation to become the exclusive local dealer of Kelvinator electric ranges and refrigerators.
The Kelvinator Corporation was first organized in 1916. In 1914, refrigeration pioneer Nathaniel B. Wales pitched a proposal to a couple of former executives of the General Motors Corporation—Edmund J. Copeland and Arnold H. Goss. Nathaniel Wales promised to build a refrigeration unit for the Detroit, Michigan, homes of both Copeland and Goss. In exchange Wales invited the two men to become the financial backers of a new company that Wales wished to form to market the new refrigeration system. Within two years, Wales had completed his construction of the refrigeration units for the houses of Copeland and Goss and was able to form his new company—the Electro-Authomatic Refrigerating Corporation. However, after a couple of months, the name of the company was changed to the Kelvinator Corporation of Detroit Michigan. The company was named after Lord Kelvin, a British physicist who discovered absolute zero and developed the “Kelvin temperature scale.” With that, production of the Kelvinator refrigerator began in Detroit, Michigan.
The Kelvinator refrigerator was not a simple device. The Kelvinator refrigerator was really built at the site of the house rather than brought self-contained to the home. While the cooling cabinet, in which the food was cooled, was really an old ice box and was generally installed in the kitchen of the house, the bulky condenser unit was usually stored in a separate room or in the basement of the house. By 1918, Kelvinator was regularly buying ice boxes from the Grand Rapids Refrigeration Company from which Kelvinator built their refrigeration units.
In 1925, the Kelvinator Company brought out the worlds first self-contained refrigerator. Kelvinator marketed the first two-door refrigerator in 1934. In 1936, the Kelvinator Company was merged with the Nash Motor Company. The new Company was called the Nash-Kelvinator Company. During the Second World War when industrial raw materials were licensed only for war production, Nash-Kelvinator produced aircraft propellers at the old Kelvinator facility located on Plymouth Road (address of 14250 Plymouth Road) in Detroit, Michigan. Now that the war was over, all government contracts for the production of war materials were canceled. Like companies all across the United States, Nash-Kelvinator was struggling hard to gear up for peacetime production once again. This involved building up the sales network. One of the new franchisees that Kelvinator obtained was the LeRoy Equipment Company in LeRoy, Minnesota.
Merle Krinke hoped the franchise that he received from the Kelvinator Company would provide the necessary income the partnership needed to survive until the labor strike at J. I. Case ended and the tractors and farm machinery began flowing again. Sure enough, the Kelvinator franchise soon attracted a steady flow of customers into the dealership to look at the new electric kitchen ranges and refrigerators on display there.
In 1946, the Tri-County Cooperative was extending power lines to the farms located directly north of the village of LeRoy. One of these farms was owned by Herb and Kathleen (Myers) Soltau. One day in the summer of 1946, Herb and Kathleen stopped in at the LeRoy Equipment Company and purchased a new Kelvinator electric range and a Kelvinator refrigerator.
Although all families were glad that the war was at an end and most of the sons of the LeRoy community had returned home from the war, the winter of 1945-1946 proved to be a long, “closed” with a great deal of snow accumulations on the ground throughout the winter. Families around LeRoy, Minnesota, were looking forward to getting out of the house and going to town. An additional six inches of snow fell on the ground in LeRoy through out January and the temperatures remained cold enough that snow accumulations remained on the ground for most of February of 1946.
However, finally, in late February and early March 1946, the weather warmed just enough to reduce the accumulations of snow and allow the farmers of the neighborhood to shell out the corn that had been drying in storage in their corn cribs. Despite the heavy selling of corn in March, the price of corn still climbed to $1.21 per bushel for the month of March and rose, still more, to $1.24 per bushel as an average for the whole month of April. After saving back the shelled corn that they would need to feed the animals on their farm the farmers around LeRoy sold the rest as a cash crop.
Thus, farmers had the money in hand from this cash crop when they came to town to buy new machinery that spring of 1946. With the strike still not settled Duane and Merle were frustrated by the lack of new machinery they had on hand. Advertisements of the dealership in that spring of 1946, reflected that continuing frustration. The May 3, 1946 advertisement promised that “more Case tractors will be coming.” However, defying all predictions, the labor strike at Case continued all summer and stretched into the fall of 1946. Luckily, they had the Kelvinator kitchen appliances which would help them through the uncertainties of the immediate future.
The weather turned wet in 1946. Heavy rains fell late in the year 1946, just as the crops near fully developed. Harvest was approaching and just when the crops should have been drying out, these late season rains presented a large difficulty in getting the crops harvested and out of the fields. Nevertheless, the county-wide yield for corn reached 40 bushels per acre, which was better than the 1945 corn harvest. Indeed, the 1946 was better than the average yield of 37.4 bushels per acre which was the average of all corn harvests in Mower County since 1921. However, in modern times this old standard yield of 37.4 bushels tended to be abandoned in favor of a newer standard of 45.4 bushels per acre as a normal harvest yield. This “new standard” yield considered only the average yields from 1938 through the present. The reason for the new standard was that, in 1935, the high producing hybrid seed corn had been introduced. Gradually over the years, more farmers had been purchasing their seed corn from hybrid seed corn dealers rather than planting some of their own shelled corn. Since 1938, the use of hybrid seed corn had caused a dramatic 21.4% increase in the standard corn yield in Mower County. Now farmers had higher expectations of a “normal” corn yield in the harvest of each year. Measured against this new standard of 45.4 bushels per acre the corn yield of 40 bushels per acre in 1946 was below average.
In light of the diminished harvest and the continuing worldwide demand for food at the end of the war, the price of corn rose to $1.97 per bushel in August—higher than corn prices had been since May of 1920. Indeed, all farm crop prices were up by 14.3% in 1946. However, the lifting of wartime price controls at the end of the Second World War had set off an inflation spiral. This inflation cut into the average farm income. Nonetheless, the farmer’s income tended to be increasing at a rate of 3.4% ahead of the rest of the economy. Thus, Merle Krinke expected that a great number of farmers coming to town to buy new farm machinery in the coming spring of 1946. If only the strike would end, the Le Roy Equipment Company might yet be able to take advantage of this strong post-war demand for farm machinery.
However, in the winter of 1946-1947, there was still no sign that the labor strike in Racine, Wisconsin was coming to an end. The strike was now a year long in duration. Once again, however, the LeRoy Equipment Company dealership was still without a steady source of new farm machinery and began the new year with aggressive advertising which again featured only the service and repair department of the dealership. An advertisement in the weekly newspaper–the LeRoy Independent of February 21, 1947, emphasized that “a small investment…in repairs will draw big dividends in work accomplished and trouble saved.” A week later on February 28, 1947, the dealership reminded farmers to “check over your equipment now—and let us make the needed repairs to lighten your planting and plowing jobs.” Next week on March 7, 1947, the dealership advertisement pictured a tractor that was universal in appearance and, definitely, did not bear a resemblance to a Case tractor. The advertisement urged farmers to “have your farm machinery repaired before the spring rush” and appealed to them to “call today.” The partners felt helpless against the financial problems that were mounting for their dealership.
However, just when it looked as though the Le Roy Equipment Company dealership would miss another spring sales season, the dark cloud suddenly and unexpectedly lifted. On Monday March 10, 1947, the strike was suddenly over and the labor force at the Main Works went back to work. The contract that the membership voted overwhelming to accept allowed the average U.A.W. employee a 15¢ per hour increase in salary. Salaries at the Main Works would now range from a minimum of $1.15 per hour up to a maximum of $1.71 per hour. The workers voted, overwhelmingly, to accept the contract. It may well have appeared that the Case Company lost the strike merely by having to agree to the contract. However, for a complete accounting of the full losses sustained by the Case Company because of the labor strike, a person may have to look beyond the “four corners” of its collective bargaining contract with its own workers. Indeed, one may have to look beyond the city limits of Racine, Wisconsin. One may have to look at the effect of the 14-month strike on all the hundreds and thousands of small Case franchise dealerships all across the nation like the Le Roy Equipment Company of Le Roy, Minnesota.
The Le Roy Equipment Company had lost valuable time. However, now with the strike over Merle and Duane intended to make up for the lost time. One of the first opportunities to sell a new tractor came from an unexpected quarter. The city government of the Village of Le Roy needed to purchase a utility tractor for their own use within the municipality. The city council solicited bids from all the tractor equipments dealerships within the village. The city government wanted a “standard style” four-wheel tractor with a loader. Merle and Duane knew this particular sale would be highly visible advertising for their dealership. The advertising value of this sale would be worth far more than the profit that the dealership might receive from this particular sale. Accordingly, Merle and Duane put together their bid for the city government with a great deal of care. The tractor the dealership offered to the city council was a Case Model DI tractor which was outfitted with 11.25 x 36” rubber tires in the rear. Because the tractor that was the subject of the bid from the Le Roy Equipment Company was a Model DI, it was fitted with 10.00 by 20” rubber tires in the front rather than the 7.50 x 16” tires that would ordinarily be mounted on the front of a regular DC-4 intended for farm use. Like most Model DI tractors, the tractor was also fitted with a foot clutch rather than the hand clutch which was familiar on so many Case Model DC and SC tractors made for farm use.
The bid also included a fully hydraulic Case loader mounted on the Model DI which included an articulating hydraulic-controlled bucket. As usual with Model DI tractors with mounted loaders, there was a large box-shaped counter-weight mounted on the rear of the tractor over the drawbar. It may well have been the loader that made the difference. Being fully hydraulic with a hydraulically controlled bucket was a feature not found on most loaders of the day. At any rate, the Le Roy Equipment Company won the bid and the Village of Le Roy chose the Case Model DI as their city utility tractor. The tractor turned out to be a long term advertisement for the dealership. The tractor would be used by the village for 20 years or more as a city maintenance tractor.
The winter of 1946-1947 had been was another cold and snowy winter, the third in a row. The snows melted early spring of 1947, but the rains took over where the snows had left off. The growing season started off as a very wet season and, the rains showed no signs of subsiding. A local boy, 25-year old Fred Hanks (uncle of the present author) was discharged from the United States Army in mid-June of 1947 after serving in the European theater of operations. Arriving on his parents’ (Howard and Ethel [Buck] Hanks) farm, located five miles east of Le Roy, Fred was surprised to find that the soybeans were still not entirely planted even at this late date in the planting season. The rains and wet weather continued to delay the spring planting even after Fred’s arrival on the home farm, and not until July 6, were all the soybeans finally in the ground.
As long time readers of the Belt Pulley magazine will know, 1947 continued to be a dismally wet year until July 12, 1947. (See the article called “1947 A Family’s Crucial Year and the Case NCM Baler” in the January/February 1995 issue of Belt Pulley, p. 31 and the article is also published on this website.) Just when it looked like the crops were going to be a total failure, the rains suddenly stopped at noon on July 12. From that time until the end of the year, the growing season mellowed out to into a beautiful harvesting season. The constant rains ceased and the rest of the year through the harvest season the weather was perfect for the crops. Unlike 1946, the harvest season in 1947 was a good, dry harvesting season that allowed the tractors and farm machinery to get the whole crop out of the field in a timely manner. The Hanks family was able to get all the corn and late-planted beans harvested and into storage. They also completed the custom combining of soybeans on their neighbors’/customers’ farms and were able to put the combine away for the year on November 14, 1947. That evening it began to snow.
The miraculous recovery of the crops from the late planting and the miserably wet weather of the spring and early summer is shown in the average yield figures for the crops of Mower County. The county-wide average corn crop yield in 1947 in Mower County was 41 bushels per acre. Although this figure was still below the “new standard” expected for normal year yield of 45.4 bushels per acre, the yield was slightly better than the 40 bushel average of the year before. Soybeans fared worse in 1947 because of the wet weather in the spring and early summer. The average Mower County soybean yield in 1947 was only 13 bushels per acre—down from the 15 bushels per acre average of the year before. However, despite the lower yield, for the seventh year in a row, the total production of soybeans in Mower County set another new record as 848,900 bushels of soybeans were harvested that fall. This represented a 9.7% increase in total production in one short year despite the decline in yield. In terms of acreage, 26.3% more acres of soybeans had been harvested in Mower County in 1947 than in the previous year. Clearly, Mower County farmers were turning to soybeans in a big way as a cash crop on their farms.
The increase in acres planted to cash crops indicated that many more tractors and many fewer horses were being employed on the farms of the county than in the past. With fewer horses on the farms of Mower County, farmers in able to raise less hay and oats to feed those horses. Accordingly, they had more acreage on their farms to convert to the raising of more corn which was raised as feed for the animals on the farm and as a cash crop. Additionally, farmers in the LeRoy, Minnesota area were slowly turning to a new cash crop—soybeans.
Although soybeans were growing in importance, corn was still the most popular farm crop on the farm—accounting for ⅓ more of the arable land area in Mower County than did soybeans. After reaching the high prices in the summer of 1946, corn prices “dropped” in their annual cycle. However, the prices “bottomed” at $1.35 per bushel as an average for the whole month of January 1947. Even in the new post-war world of higher prices, this corn price was a fairly high price. Heavy rains of the spring and early summer of 1947 made speculators start to predict a disastrous year for corn. Accordingly corn prices climbed to new record levels of $2.38 per bushel in July of 1947 and $2.64 per bushel in September of 1947. Prices would not fall below 2.00 per bushel again for a whole year in 1947. These high prices for corn were well ahead of the inflation rate which was 12.7% for 1947.
Once the labor strike against the J.I. Case Company ended on March 10, 1947, and the new Case tractors began to arrive at the LeRoy Equipment Company dealership on March 10, 1947, the farmers of the LeRoy community began to take notice and just as Merle Krinke had anticipated, farmers in the Le Roy community began buying Case tractors to replace work horses as a source of power on their farms. However, Merle and Duane were totally surprised by one farmer that showed up at the door of their dealership. This was Walter Hanson. Walter Hanson and his brother, Clarence, farmed their father’s farm which was located just three miles east of LeRoy Minnesota on U.S. Highway #56. Walter was an irascible hide-bound traditionalist. He was also obsessive in farming.
Some of this obsession had been inherited from Walter’s parents—Jens and Marie Hanson. Jens had been born in 1861 in Denmark. Jens had married Hanna Marie Neilson in Denmark in 1888 and then had immigrated to the United States in 1890. He and Marie settled on this 115-acre farm located in Beaver Township in Fillmore County, Minnesota. There Jens and Marie had their three sons—Walter born in 1891, William born in 1893 and Clarence born in 1907. On June 3, 1931, Clarence married Iola Thelma Eng, who moved into the house on the Hanson farm. Later in the 1930s, William moved off the farm to start a new life on his own. In 1945, Clarence and Iola had a son—Wayne LeRay Hanson. However, in March of 1944, Wayne and Clarence’s mother, Marie, had died and just this last winter—in January of 1947—Jens had died at the age of 85 years. Thus, in the post-World War II period of time, Walter and Clarence, alone, were left to operate the Hanson farm together with Iola and young Wayne.
Like most farmers in the Corn-Belt of the Midwestern United States, Walter and Clarence Hanson planted their corn by the “wire-check” method. In the days before the use of herbicides, corn was planted in hills on a 40-inch by 40-inch “grid” across the field. In this grid, the rows of corn were planted in rows which were 40-inches apart—wide enough to allow work horses to pull the cultivator “lengthwise” over the corn field and destroy the weeds growing between the rows. However, the “grid” in the cornfield was achieved at corn planting time by stretching a wire across the entire length of the field. The wire was held tight by means of a stake and wire tightener at both ends of the field. The wire had “buttons” worked into the wire every 40 inches along its length. Placing this wire into a tripping mechanism on the side of the 2-row corn planter would allow the buttons to slide through the mechanism and trip the planter mechanism for both rows at the same time every 40 inches as the horses pulled the planter across the field. At the end of every crossing of the field the planter would be turned around to plant the next two rows and the stake holding the wire would be re-positioned behind the planter and re-tightened. Then the planter would proceed to plant the next two rows. When the whole field was planted, the corn should be planted in hills within the rows which would be 40-inches apart within the rows. Additionally, the check wire should assure that all the hills in the rows of the corn field should line up in a “cross-check” which would allow the farmer drive the horses between the hills corn within the rows of corn “crosswise” across the field to destroy the weeds growing within the individual rows of the field.
However, the farmer did not know immediately how straight his cross-check would be or even if all the corn seeds germinated. He would have wait about a week or so until the corn started to sprout up out of the ground to see how straight his rows were and how accurate his “check” of the corn was and to see if there were any “missed hills.”
Any missed or “vacant hills” would become apparent. These vacant hills were generally caused by the failure of some seeds to germinate or by the planter to fail in placing seeds in the ground at that particular hill. These missed hills were usually rare and in the crush of planting/cultivation in the springtime most farmers tended to forget about the missed hills.
However, Walter Hanson’s obsessiveness would not let him rest until he had walked the entire corn field on the Hanson farm just as the little plants of corn were sprouting up above ground, to re-seed every one of these missed hills. Walter would make sure that every hill in the 40 inch by 40 inch grid laid out in the corn had at least one corn plant sprouting out of the hill. If not, he would re-seed that hill with an hand-held planter that he was carrying with him. The old wooden hand-held corn planter would punch a hole in the soft dirt of the corn field hill and deposit three new corn seeds in the hill.
One of the main entertainments for people across the “corn belt” of the United States was to drive along country roads of the neighborhood and check on how the corn crop looked. They would compare the straightness of their rows. Driving slowly down the road observing the corn crop, a person might turn the car off onto a side road adjacent to the same field in order to observe the straightness of the cross-check of the corn. Of course, they would also look for any vacant hills. There was always an unofficial competition to see who had the “straightest rows and the best check” of their corn and the least number of missed hills in their corn field.
In the LeRoy community, this unofficial competition always resulted in the corn fields on the Hanson farm winning hands down. Year after year, the rows of corn on the Hanson farm were always unbelievably straight and the check always looked perfect and there appeared to be no missed hills in the entire field. This was due to the obsessive nature of Walter and Clarence Hanson.
As the corn plants continued to grow, the “contest” in the neighborhood changed to which farm had the “cleanest” corn field—meaning the corn field with the least amount of weeds. Although the corn fields had been had been cultivated with the horses and the horse-drawn cultivator both lengthwise and “crosswise” and then longwise again, there were still weeds which had grown up so close to the corn plants that the cultivator had missed them. These were the weeds that Walter and Clarence set out to remove as they walked the entire field with their garden hoes. The unofficial contest as to who had the cleanest corn in the neighborhood was nearly always won every year by the cornfields on the Hanson farm. This was due to the work of Walter and Clarence walking the entire field with their hoes. The corn fields on the Hanson farm were always so clear of weeds that they practically dared anyone to find a weed in the whole field.
Thus, given their heavily traditional approach to farming by hand, it was indeed surprising news that the Hanson brothers were now interested in modernizing their farm with the purchase of a new farm tractor. Largely, the decision to purchase a tractor and to get rid of the work horses on the Hanson farm was a decision to which the older brother, Walter, may have been pushed into making. Walter may have been pushed because of a recent experience he had was the decision to in the purchase of a team of Belgian work team of horses. In 1946, he had purchased the team from Elwyn Morse, the brother of the Hansen’s neighbor immediately to the west—Billy Morse. Walter Hanson had been led to believe that the horses were a young team with many good years ahead of them.
However, as they were having their oats windrowed for custom harvesting, he learned something new. The Hanson brothers had made arrangements with the Howard Hanks family to perform the custom combining of their oats. The Hanks family had moved to the LeRoy community in 1944 from Mapleton, Minnesota. One piece of farm machinery that they brought with them was an old John Deere No. 7A combine. This was a large combine which, as noted above, the Hanks family used for custom combining among the neighbors in their new LeRoy neighborhood. Combining oats and soybeans for the neighbors helped raise extra money for the Hanks family. The Hanson brothers became one of the regular customers that hired the Hanks family to combine their oat crop.
In the summer of 1947, during his first summer home from the military, Fred worked with his family on the farm and in custom combining in the neighborhood. On the Hanson brother’s farm it was a pleasant surprise for Fred to see that his old strawberry roan team of work horses had returned to the neighborhood. Fred mentioned to Walter that the strawberry roan team had had originally been his team in Mapleton, Minnesota before the recent war. This was surprising to Walter, who had been under the impression that the horse was much younger than it really was. Walter knew this was the trouble with buying work horses. Indeed, the term ‘horse-trading’ implies a certain amount of “sales puffery. This was just another, but often overlooked, disadvantage of working with horses on your farm.
Thus, it was with the idea of leaving all these disadvantages behind, that Walter Hanson came into the LeRoy Equipment Company to negotiate a deal on his first tractor. Walter had already settled on the Case Model SC tractor. Indeed, had the LeRoy Equipment Company obtained the Case model SC tractor bearing the Serial No. 4911952. Walter Hanson might have purchased this particular tractor.
Walter was most persuaded by the low rice of the model SC tractor. The suggested retail price for tractors in the Model S series in 1944 was $990.00. For that low price, the purchaser obtained a tractor with a 154 cubic inch Case-built gasoline-powered engine, which produced 19 horsepower (hp.) at the drawbar and 22 hp. at the belt pulley. The J.I. Case Co. advertised the “flambeau red” colored Model SC as a full two (2) plow tractor. However, inflation had driven this suggested retail price up to more that $1,500.00. By 1952, the J.I. Case Company’s suggested retail price would be $1,990.00. However, the agreement that Walter Hanson signed a purchase agreement with the Le Roy Equipment Company which included a two-bottom plow and a two-row mounted cultivator. Thus, the price of this particular Model SC, contained in the package deal signed by Walter Hanson was substantially less than suggested retail price for these three pieces of farm equipment.
J.I. Case had first introduced a “row crop” tractor in 1929. This tractor was the Model CC tractor. In 1935 Case introduced a second, smaller, row crop tractor—the Model RC. Before 1939, these two little gray colored composed the entirety of the Case line of row crop tractors. However, in 1939, Case introduced its modern Model DC row crop tractor to replace the old Model CC. Production of the smaller Model RC was continued into the “flambeau red era.” Both the DC and the RC were now painted the glorious “Flambeau Red” color that came to distinguish Case tractors until 1955. In 1940, a new small Model VC tractor was added to the line of Case row crop tractors. The VC was now the smallest tractor in the Case lineup. The RC now was the intermediate sized tractor of the Flambeau lineup. The next year, 1941, the Model RC was upgraded and became the Model SC. After the large curtailment of tractor production imposed by the wartime economic restrictions and the post war labor strike in 1946, production of these three models of row crop tractors was resumed again. As a result of its limited time in production, an impression was formed in the public that not many Model SC tractors were actually manufactured.
All of the new tractors of the Flambeau Red line retained the hand clutch with which owners and users of the Model CC were familiar. However, the new model were all fitted with “key and groove” style rear axles which allowed for infinite rear wheel adjustments, ranging from 44 inches to 80 inches. Gone were the various sized rear axle extension spools that were used to make rear wheel adjustments on the Model CC. (For a description of the process involved in attaching these spools, see the article called “J. I. Case: (Part III) The Model CC Tractor” contained in the May/June 2006 issue of Belt Pulley magazine, page and also contained at this website..
With some success in the dealership in 1947, Merle Krinke was already looking forward to the coming spring of 1948. However, Duane Wetter was not confident about the dealership at all in the fall of 1947. It was clear that the farmers of the area would have more money than usual again. However, the question was whether, or not, supply really catching up with the demand in the farm equipment field. In the two years since the end of the war the pent up demand had had time to satiate itself in the market of peace-time goods that was coming back onto the market in growing numbers. There were suggesting and market indicators that suggested that the economy was headed back to a fully normal peacetime standing as of about September of 1947. Strongest of all the economic indicators was that although the inflation rate for the entire year of 1947 was 12.7%. Most of the inflation had occurred early in the year. In the latter part of the year inflation had slowed to the point that the total inflation rate for 1948 would be 6.8% or about half of the yearly rate of 1947.
The lower inflation rate was a strong indication that supply had caught up with demand in the economy as a whole. In Duane’s mind this indicated that the Le Roy Equipment Company had missed its opportunity. Accordingly, he began looking for other work and he found employment as a construction foreman and a bulldozer operator for a road construction company located near Tracy, Minnesota. Accordingly, he and Esther and young, five-year-old Berwin moved back to Tracy, Minnesota. In the fall of 1948, Berwyn began kindergarten in the Tracy Public School system. At about the same time, Esther gave birth to a daughter, which Duane and Esther named Sheryl. In 1950, Duane returned to his vocation as a mechanic when he started a 30-year career as shop foreman for the Art Ruthenbeck Implement Dealership in Tracy. Later in the 1950’s the Ruthenbeck Dealership was sold and became known as Peterson and Baache Implement. In later years, Berwin grew up and became a doctor of medicine. Married he now lives in South Paris, Maine. Sheryl also became a doctor of medicine and lives in Amherst, Massachusetts. Duane lived on until his death on March 14, 1981 in Tracy.
Reflecting the changes at the dealership, the traditional Christmas greeting from the various businesses in the village of Le Roy to all the citizens of the community, the Le Roy Equipment Company’s greeting carried in the December 19, 1947 Le Roy Independent reflected only the name of Merle Krinke as the sole proprietor of the dealership. It may have been his outgoing personality and his optimism as a salesman, that made Merle want to overcome the present difficulties and have his business become an established part of the Le Roy community despite all the difficulties that had already beset the dealership. Still he looked forward to the coming sales season in the winter and early spring of 1948 with optimism relying on the fact that the harvest season of 1947 had ended up much better than anyone had at first thought possible back in the early summer of 1947. Merle had always been outgoing. Since starting his business in Le Roy, he employed his outgoing nature as a means to promote the business. He became friends with Arnett Moe, who was employed as a mechanic at the McRobert’s Plymouth/Chrysler dealership which was located on the corner of Mather and Main Street in Le Roy, just a block and a half from his Case dealership. Additionally, he joined the local Meighen-Thompson Post 163 of the American Legion in LeRoy. Now that he was the sole proprietor of the Case dealership, he sought to become even more involve ed in the community to promote the business. The departure of Duane Wetter left the dealership without a mechanic. Thus the first thing that Merle needed to do was to hire a mechanic to replace Duane. This problem was solved when he hired a local young man, Everett Bucknell, for the position of mechanic at the dealership.
In the spring of 1948, Fred Hanks walked into the LeRoy Equipment Company dealership with the intent of negotiating the purchase of a new Case Model NCM baler. In the summer of 1947, Fred, his father, Howard B. Hanks and his brother-in-law, Wayne A.Wells (late father of the current author) had combined their resources to purchase a used Model NCM baler from a seller in Emmettsburg, Iowa. They had put this old Case NCM baler to work all summer long in 1947, baling the hay and oat straw on the Hanks farm and the Wayne A. Wells farm. They also employed the baler to perform a little custom baling in the neighborhood to raise some extra cash income that summer. (Indeed, the Hanson brothers also hired the Hanks family and Wayne A. Wells to bale the hay and straw on their farm.)
However, over the winter it was determined that the old Case baler should be replaced with a new baler before the growing season of 1948 started. Accordingly, they turned to the LeRoy Equipment Company dealership to determine how much a new baler would cost. After some discussion, a deal was concluded and a sales agreement was signed. The old NCM baler was not traded in on the purchase of the new baler. Rather, the old NCM baler was sold to Stanley and Harlan Hanks of Winnebago, Minnesota. Stanley and Harlan were brothers of Howard Hanks and uncles of Fred Hanks. As discussed earlier (see the above cited Belt Pulley article called “1947 A Family’s Crucial Year and the Case NCM Baler”) the Hanks family and Wayne A. Wells continued to use their new Case baler until 1956.
Expectations of a high price for corn in the spring of 1948 did not disappoint. After reaching the record high price of $2.64 per bushel in September of 1947, corn prices did not follow the traditional cycle falling in the winter and rising again in the spring. Instead, the prices for October and November merely tapered off to the typical average of $2.53 per bushel for both months and then started up again in December (for a typical average of $2.63 per bushel). However, in January 1948 corn prices set another new record high price of $2.74 per bushel. There was a warm spell in the last half of the month of February 1948 that melted every bit of accumulated snow for about a two week period of time. Local farmers of the LeRoy area took advantage of this opportunity to shell out their corn cribs and get the shelled corn to the Farmers Cooperative Elevator uptown in LeRoy. Nationwide, there was a great deal of corn sold in February which had the effect of bringing the price of corn down slightly to $2.36 per bushel as an average for the full month of February and down to $2.34 per bushel for the month of March, 1948. The snows returned in March covering the ground with up to 10 inches of accumulated snow. However, some very warm days in late-March, with temperatures up to 70ºF, melted all the accumulations of snow. April of 1948 remained warmer than normal and allowed the farmers to get into the fields sooner than usual. Thus, the period of time that farmers had to spend up town away from their farms was reduced. This reduced the amount of time available for the traditional “sales season” for the implement dealerships.
July of 1948 was very hot with temperatures reaching 100ºF some days. With sufficient (but not too much) rain, the corn grew by leaps and bounds. It looked like a bumper crop would be harvested in the fall. From the middle of July until the middle of August temperatures moderated from the extremes to fall back into the regular 70ºF to 80ºF highs that were typical of July.
In response to his increasing community involvement, the local Post 163 of the American Legion elected Merle Krinke commander of the Post at the annual elections held on July 26, 1948. Also a member of Post 163 was Grant Hawkins from the local Le Roy State Bank. In this same election Grant Hawkins was elected “Finance Officer.” Long time member of the American Legion was George C. Wells, a World War I veteran and paternal grandfather of the current author. George Wells had just retired from farming in 1947, moved to town, purchasing and moving into a house on Mather Street one block north of the Krinke dealership on Mather Street in Le Roy. George Wells also served on the board of directors at the Le Roy National Bank. Clearly, Merle hoped that the election would further help him consolidate and promote his own business by “networking” with the both banks in LeRoy.
While still in the planning stage of his business, Merle Krinke had presumed that his most likely customers in the post-war period would be those farmers that were seeking to buy tractors to replace the horses in their farming operations. This was true in the case of the Hansen brothers. However, Merle Krinke had also anticipated that another group of potential customers would be those farmers that had pre-war tractors in their farming operations, but now wished to upgrade to the more modern post-war tractors. Given the “brand loyalty,” which heavily influenced farmers in their choice of farm tractors, Merle knew that his best chance to sell a Case tractor was to a farmer that already had an older Case tractor. Now in the post-war era, farmers wanted modern tractors with more horsepower and which were equipped with hydraulic power, electric start and electric lights, rubber tires and a wider selection of speeds in the transmissions and fitted with hydraulic power.
Among the farmers of the Le Roy community that currently owned a Case tractor was Elmer Schutz. Elmer kept in touch with the new tractors that were available at the Le Roy Equipment Company over the winter of 1948-1949. Elmer was the only child of Ralph and Gertrude (Huber) Schutz. Elmer had been born in 1913. He and his sister, Delores (born in 1916), were the only children of the couple. The family owned and operated a 120 acre farm about one mile north northeast of Le Roy. However, in the late 1920’s Ralph became ill with tuberculosis. His condition deteriorated over time and he became less and less able to do the farm work. Young Elmer was required to assume more and more of the chores on the farm. On April 15, 1930, when the United States Census taker arrived on the Schutz farm, he found that Forrest M. Fischer, a 19-year old man, was residing on the farm with the family. He had been hired by the Schutz family to help the family with the chores and field work on the farm. Ralph’s condition continued to worsen and he died later that same year–1930. This tragedy left young 17-year old Elmer as the head of his family.
Immediately adjacent to the Schutz farm to the west was the farm of Frank Simmons. Frank Simmons had cooperated closely with the Schutz for threshing of oats, filling silo with chopped green corn and picking ripe ear corn in the fall. As Ralph became sick and then died, the 32-year old Frank had reason to sympathize with young Elmer as he struggled on with the farming operation alone after his father’s death. was a 21.4% increase over the old standard yield figure. Frank Simmons, himself, had been required to take over the farming operation on his family’s farm when he was a child at about 12-years of age. His parents, John and Jane (Gill) Simmons had divorced in about 1910 and his father had moved off the farm and moved to Forestville, Minnesota in Fillmore County. Frank’s 14-year old brother, Fred, had moved with his father, John, back to Forestville, leaving only Frank and his mother Jane to carry on the farming operation on their farm in LeRoy Township. With his natural sympathy for young Elmer, Frank Simmons kept a careful eye on young Elmer and sought to help him whenever he could. Indeed, Frank cooperated with the Elmer Schutz so often through out the year, that they connected their two farms by building a lane across the fields. This meant that during threshing season, Frank would not have to drive his horses pulling the Case 22-inch thresher all the way around the two farms on county and township roads merely to get the thresher from one farm to the other. In recent years, the county and township officials were getting quite strict about restricting farmers from driving steel-wheeled tractors with lugs on the rear wheels or heavy threshers down the “improved” public roads. The lugs on the rear wheels of steel-wheeled tractors could badly tear up the road bed of a new improved gravel road. However with the lane between the farms, Frank Simmons could merely drive the tractor and thresher down the lane for the short trip on the pathway across the fields between the farms.
In the 1920s before he became sick, Ralph had purchased a Fordson tractor to help with the heavy field work on the farm. This tractor worked well in all field work except the cultivation of the row crops. Because of this shortcoming, a few years after he took over the farming operation, Elmer traded the Fordson into the pre-war LeRoy Equipment Company on the purchase of a new Case Model CC tractor and a two-row cultivator. This tractor was used on the Schutz farm all through the war and the immediate post-war era. During threshing season each year, the Model CC was used to power Frank Simmons’ Case thresher both on the Simmons farm and on the Schutz farm. However, now during the post-war era the old Model CC was becoming more and more outdated. Ever since the Le Roy Equipment Company had re-opened, Elmer had enjoyed having a Case dealership close at hand. Like so many farmers across the nation Elmer had developed a “brand loyalty” regarding makes of tractors. Thus, when considering a new post-war tractor he was first inclined toward tractors made by the J.I Case Company. Consequently, it was not surprising that in the winter of 1948-1949, Elmer purchased a Model DC Case tractor. He purchased the Model DC from the Le Roy Equipment Company and traded the old Model CC in to the dealership as part of the sales agreement.
Another farmer in the LeRoy community that already owned a Case tractor was Frank Klassey. Frank Klassey had been considering the purchase of another Case tractor for his farm. Frank and Esther (Lamon) Klassy farmed a 320 acre farm in LeRoy Township, 2 miles northeast of the village of LeRoy. This farm had first belonged to Frank’s parents, Mathias (Matt) and Ada (Loveland) Klassy. Matt and Ida Klassy had been married in Wisconsin and moved the Le Roy area in 1899. Living first in Oakdale Township just across the state line into Iowa from LeRoy Township, the young family moved to the 400-acre Bagan farm in Beaver Township, Minnesota, just five miles east of the village of Le Roy. (As longtime readers of the Belt Pulley magazine will remember, the Bagan farm, is currently owned by the Fred Hanks family. Fred Hanks is a maternal uncle of the current author.) While Frank Klassy’s older sister, Irene, had been born in 1900 while Matt and Ida lived in Iowa, Frank himself was born in 1902 on the Bagan farm. Additionally, Frank’s brothers, Wilbur, born in 1910, Frederick, born in 1912; and younger sister, Pauline born in 1916 were all born on the Bagan farm. While living on the Bagan farm, Mathais (or Matt) Klassy formed a custom threshing partnership with his next door neighbors—the Volkart Brothers. The partnership bought a huge Case thresher with a 42 inch cylinder and 64 inch separating tables. To power this huge thresher and to transport the large thresher around the neighborhood, the Klassy-Volkart partnership purchased a huge gas-powered tractor—the Model 35-70 tractor—made by the Minneapolis Threshing Machine Company. Even after March 1, 1909, when the young family purchased a 240 acre farm from Hans Rudolph, located three miles to the west of the Bagan farm, Matt continued to partner with the Volkart brothers in what became the largest threshing ring in the community. After Matt retired from active farming in 1941 and moved into the village of Le Roy and after Frank had assumed all responsibility for the farming operation, Frank continued to participate in the partnership with the Volkart Brothers.
Even now in 1948, despite the growing numbers of farmers that were purchasing their own combines, custom threshing with the large Case thresher and the huge Minneapolis Model 35-70 took up a major portion of Frank Klassy’s summer. Indeed, pictures of the Model 35-70 and the large Case thresher at work in that very summer of 1948 are contained in the article called “Threshing with the Volkart Bros.” which is contained in the September/October 1997 issue of Belt Pulley magazine and on this website.
While his father, Matt Klassy, was still operating the farm, the family had invested in a Case “crossmotor” tractor. The crossmotor tractor was so called because the engine of the tractor was positioned across the frame of the tractor such that the crankshaft of the engine was parallel to the rear axle similar to the way that the engine is positioned in most modern front-wheel drive automobiles. The J.I. Case Company made these famous crossmotor tractors in three different sizes between the years of 1916 through 1928. Matt and, later, Frank used the crossmotor tractor for the heavy field work of plowing and seedbed preparation. However, the crossmotor had shortcomings. Because of its “standard” four-wheel design, the crossmotor could not be used for cultivating row crops like corn and/or soybeans. During the recent war, however, Frank was able to trade the old crossmotor off on a tricycle Model DC Case tractor. The Model DC was accompanied by a mounted two-row cultivator. As his own two sons, Donald F. and Robert E. (nicknamed “Buzz”), came of an age where they could actively help their father with the field work on the farm, Frank had also purchased a John Deere Model B tractor and a two-row cultivator. In this way he could put two tractors into the corn fields at the same time to reduce the days of time required to cultivate the corn on the large 320 acre farm. Now in 1949, Frank Klassey was toying with the idea of purchasing a third tractor, which he could use on the other tasks around the farm while the Case and the John Deere were both employed in the corn fields.
Ever since the post-war Le Roy Equipment Company had opened in Le Roy, a mere two-and-a-half miles away, Frank had been visiting the dealership to purchase repair parts. Frank remembered the old Case crossmotor that he and his father had used on the farm while Frank was still a young man and which they had bought from the old LeRoy Equipment Company while the dealership was under the old pre-war management. Like many farmers, Frank had a “brand-loyalty” feeling toward the brand of tractors with which he had first became familiar. Consequently, he was inclined toward the purchase of another Case tractor and this idea was back of his mind, on those occasions when he dropped into the dealership to see Merle Krinke.
However, in the spring of 1949, other problems weighed on Frank’s mind and on the minds of the farmers of the Le Roy community. The perfect weather during the growing season in the year 1948 had resulted in a nationwide bumper crop of corn. In Mower County, the average yield of corn per acre was 49 bushels per acre. This was a bumper crop resulting in a. county-wide production of 5,272,400 bushels of corn in 1948. This was production figure was second only to the record year of 1943. Soybeans recorded another record year in 1948 for soybeans in Mower County, as the county produced 880,500 bushels of soybeans county-wide. Predictably, this glut of crop coming on the market in the fall of 1948 and winter of 1948-1949, had sent prices spiraling downward.
After remaining steady at $2.36 to $2.46 per bushel, the corn market had anticipated the coming bumper crop. In July of 1948 the price per bushel had fallen to $2.05 and the price kept on falling, reaching $1.47 per bushel in December, 1948. As the corn crop began to be shelled out on the farms cross the nation and the true size of the corn crop actually became known, corn prices fell to $1.27 per bushel in the month of February, 1949. The decline in prices for cash crops had a chilling effect on Frank Klassy’s plan to purchase a new farm tractor. The same was true for many other farmers in the Le Roy community and across the nation. The mere postponement of planned purchases caused a hardship for the farm machinery dealerships all across the country. For the Le Roy Equipment Company, already injured by having missed the first part of the post-war boom in farm machinery purchasing, the effect of this postponement of purchasing was even more troublesome.
Soybean production in Mower County peaked in 1947 when 65,000 acres of land in the county had been planted to soybeans. However, by 1949 there had been a 31.1% decline in the amount acreage devoted to soybeans—down to 47,000 acres. Low crop prices, especially for soybeans, had drawn the attention of the farmers to the fact that the price for animals especially hogs had remained fairly constant. Thus, farmers began to increase the number of hogs they raised in their diversified farming operations. From 1946 to 1949 there had been an 11.25% increase in the number of hogs on the farms of Mower County. Since corn could serve as an animal feed on the farm as well as a cash crop, farmers in Mower County began to cut back on the number of acres planted to soybeans and plant more corn to feed the hogs they were raising. In the spring of 1949, 121,500 acres of land in Mower County were planted to corn had been planted to corn. This was a new record for the county.
The growing season of 1949 was slightly wetter than the previous year. One storm in late July, 1949 yielded over four (4) inches of rain in a single night. The average corn crop yield for Mower County as a whole fell from the 49 bushel figure in 1948 to 48 bushels per acre in 1949. Despite this decline in yield, the increase in the acreage devoted to corn in Mower County helped the county establish a new all-time record, in 1949, for the total production of corn—5,832,000 bushes for the county as a whole. However, the Le Roy Equipment Company did not make enough sales of tractors or other farm machinery to get the business out of the dire financial straits into which the dealership had become embroiled.
As the summer of 1950 wore on the economic viability of the company became impossible. Finally, in the August 18, 1950 Le Roy Independent, an announcement was made that effective August 3, 1950, Merle Krinke had sold the implement dealership to Ed Millenacker, owner of Millenacker Implement Company, the Case dealership in Adams, Minnesota, (1950 pop. 674). The newspaper article announced that the dealership in Le Roy would remain a Case dealership at the same location on the corner of Luella and Mather Streets. The dealership would become a branch dealership of the Millenacker Implement Company. It was announced that Eugene Stern would become the new local manager of the Le Roy branch of the Millenacker Implement Company. However, other faces at the dealership would remain the same as Everett Bucknell would continue as mechanic at the dealership.
Then on Sunday, June 25, 1950, like a bolt out of the blue, North Korean troops suddenly invaded South Korea with the aim of taking control of the whole of the Korean peninsula and establishing the North Korean government as the only government of the whole of the Korean peninsula. The Truman Adminstration was determined that the South Korean nation should not be overcome by military aggression and swallowed up by North Korea. Accordingly, the United States began reinforcing the small South Korean armed forces by sending parts of the United States 8th Army from Japan to South Korea. Even though the 8th Army was fighting in South Korea along side the South Korean Army, the 150,000 troops of North Korea succeeded in pushing the 8th Army and 22,000 South Korean troops back into a tiny perimeter at the southern tip of the peninsula around the Korean town of Pusan.
Sending the 8th Army from its occupational role in Japan into South Korea was merely a stop gap measure. For the real task of fighting the North Korean aggression, the United States sought to build a coalition of nations that would fight in Korea under the flag of the new United Nations. Eventually, the coalition was formed. Although the The United States supplied about 203,000 troops for the Korean War. Officially, the coalition included smaller military contingents from twenty (20) other nations around the world fighting in Korea. There were 14,200 British troops, 6,150 Canadian troops, 5,460 Turkish troops, 1,390 New Zealand troops, 1,270 Ethiopian troops, 1,260 Greek troops, 1,120 French troops, 1,070 Columbian troops, 900 Belgian troops, 820 Dutch troops, 300 south African troops, 170 Swedish troops, 105 Norwegian troops, 100 Danish troops, 72 Italian troops, 70 Indian troops and 44 troops from Luxembourg.
Most of the public of the United States did not know immediately that the task of supplying food to all the troop contingents in Korea had been centralized and assigned to the United States Army Quartermaster Corps. Accordingly, the Quartermaster Corps purchased food products on the United States market. This buying created a strong demand for farm products and created an almost immediate and dramatic rise in farm prices in the United States. Despite the glutted markets from two straight years of bumper crops in 1948 and in 1949, soybean prices rose to $2.80 per bushel as an average for the month of June and then rose again to $2.94 per bushel as an average for the month of July, 1950. After a very cold and snowy “closed” winter in 1949-1950 with accumulations of snow reached 14 inches of snow on the ground in January, 10 inches in February and 6 inches in March of 1950, the weather suddenly turned unseasonably mild in early March of 1950 The heavy snow accumulations prevented farmers from moving any heavy machinery around their yards and, thus, the usual practice of farmers shelling out their ear corn crop from the previous autumn during the months of February or March was delayed. The corn market reflected this delay in getting the crop to market. After bottomed out at $1.33 per bushel in February of 1950 rose to $1.38 per bushel in March of 1950 reflecting the beginnings of a shortage of corn in the nationwide market. To be sure the warm weather of late March of 1950 had melted all the snow accumulations but this had resulted in turning the farmers’ yards into a wet and muddy mess. The farmers still could not move heavy machinery around their farm yards. Thus, shelling out of the 1949 ear corn crop which was further delayed. April corn prices of averaged $1.49 per bushel reflecting the continued inability of the farmers to get their ear corn shelled and sold at the elevator. However, a cold spell returned in mid-April with temperatures below 20°F. The ground refroze in the yards of the farms of Mower County, and this finally allowed the farmers to move the heavy shellers, trucks and wagons around in their yard to shell out the ear corn from the 1949 autumn harvest that had been drying all winter in their corn cribs.
However, the effects of the U.S. Government buying of foodstuffs for the troops in Korea had an electric effect on corn prices as the price of corn shot up to $1.72 per bushel in June of 1950 following new of the invasion of South Korea and kept on climbing. Most farmers were not expecting that prices would return to World War II prices of the more than $2.00 per bushel for corn. Thus, they tended to sell their corn to their grain elevator as soon as it was shelled in the early spring of 1950. However, if any farmers had held back their corn in the promise of higher prices, they were rewarded as the price of corn rose to $1.93 in August of 1950 and in September of 1950 the price reached $1.96 per bushel as an average for the full month on the Chicago Board of Trade. With the selling of the 1949 ripe corn crop to the local grain elevators around the nation in the early spring of 1950 the harvest of 1949 became a part of history.
The 1950 growing season began late because of the delay in getting into the fields because of the wet ground conditions. Overall, 1950 was a slightly drier year than normal. There was a slight drought in June 1950 with a lack of timely rains. This lack of adequate rain at a crucial time in plant development caused a slight drop off in yield from a “normal year” Mower County. In 1938, farmers in Mower County had begun the widespread using “high bred” corn seeds rather than saving a portion of their corn from the previous year to be used as seed corn. Since 1938, the yield of an “average year” in Mower County had been established as being 44.5 bushels per acre. Thus, the yield in Mower County in 1950 of 44.0 bushels per acre represented a slight (1.1%) reduction of yield from the yield of an “average year.”
Although corn remained the primary cash crop on the farms of Mower County, soybeans were gaining ground as a cash crop. Soybeans also had responded to the invasion of South Korea by rising in price. Soybeans are traditionally brought to market right out of the field at harvest time in the autumn of the year. This usually results in a annual cyclical low price for soybeans in the autumn as the harvest is being brought to market. The cyclical low price for the 1949 soybean harvest occurred in November of 1949 when the average monthly price was $2.04 per bushel.
During the 1950 growing season of 108,000 acres of corn had been harvested in Mower County, while 56,500 acres of soybeans were harvested in Mower County in 1950. Because of the slightly dry year, the average yield of soybeans was reduced to 13 bushels per acre in 1950. Against an average yield of 14.6 bushels per acre, this reflected a substantial (11%) reduction in the yield of soybeans.
The crop yield in 1950 and the fact that the U.S. government was buying great quantities of food for the armed forces fighting in Korea, gave hope to the farmers and encouraged them to purchase new farm machinery. In the spring of 1951, Frank Klassy returned to his local Case dealership in Le Roy, now known as Millenacker Implement. At the dealership he signed a sales contract to purchase a new Case Model DC-4 tractor. The new DC was identical, in most respects to the older DC Frank already owned. The new tractor bore the Serial No. 607405 DC. However, rather than being fitted with the narrow front-end, like his current Model DC-3 tractor, No. 607405 DC was fitted with the optional standard-style front-end. Thus, the new tractor was designated the Model DC-4 to indicate that the tractor was fitted with the optional standard-style front-end. No. 607405 DC was used by Frank Klassey in his farming operation and was sold in 1998 to John Grass Jr. of LeRoy, Minnesota. John Grass Jr. also purchased the Frank Klassey farm.
Meanwhile, the Krinke family, Merle and Zona and their children Douglas, born in 1946; Barbara born in 1948, moved to Minneapolis where Merle Krinke became district manager for the J.I. Case Company. Another son, Jay was born to the family while they resided in Minneapolis. In 1952, the Krinke family moved to Fairmont, Minnesota to be closer to the district that Merle was managing for the company. While the family was in Fairmont the family was completed with the birth of two more daughters, Rebecca born in 1957 and Jennifer born in 1961. Merle continued his membership in the American Legion by joining American Legion Post 36 in Fairmont. He also took up golf in Fairmont and joined the Interlaken Golf Club. Merle found that golfing became his great hobby. It was a good way to mix business with pleasure. He entertained and communicated with Case officials and with local businessmen in the Fairmont dealers while on the golf course. Indeed, when he retired in 1980, Merle assumed that he might have a good deal of time to play as much golf as he wanted. However, only a short time after his retirement, he found that he was bored and needed something to do in addition to golf. As a consequence, he left retirement to return to the work force, accepting employment as a salesman for a local automobile dealership. However, November 20, 1984, Merle suffered a sudden and unexpected heart attack while at the golf course and suddenly died.
Meanwhile, the Millenacker Implement Company continued to operate the Case dealership in Le Roy as a branch office of their main dealership in Adams, Minnesota, until 1955. By 1955, the agriculture industry was in the middle of a period of massive change. Farmers had become much more efficient in raising crops and livestock. In 1950, the average farmer in the United States fed fifteen (15) people. By 1960 the average farmer would be feeding 23 people. Farms had become larger and there were less and less farming operations every year since the end of the Second World War. In 1950 the farming public made up 15.3% of the population of the United States. By 1960, this figure would be 8.7%. The reduced number of farming operation meant of course that there was less need for a large number of farm equipment dealerships. Thus, in 1955, the Millenacker Implement Company decided to consolidate their operations. Thus, the Le Roy branch dealership was closed and all operations were moved to Adams. The lot at the corner of Luella and Mather Streets was sold to Oscar Bergan. Oscar Bergan had purchased the intent of donating the land to his own church—the Le Roy Lutheran Church. The Lutheran Church had been looking for a new lot n which to build a larger for their growing congregation. The congregation accepted to donation of property from Oscar Bergan and built the present church on the corner of Luella and Mather Streets. The new Lutheran Church was decdicated on June 15, 1956 and has continued to serve Lutherans of the Le Roy community to this day.
The closure of the Millenacker dealership in 1955 left Everett Bucknell at loose ends. Accepting a business opportunity when offered, Everett started a Cockshutt dealership in Le Roy. However by 1960, the Cockshutt dealership had closed its doors. It was not alone. In 1950, there was, within the small town of Le Roy, five individual farm equipment dealerships—the Case dealership; a Ford (tractor and car) dealership; an International Harvester dealership; a Massey-Harris dealership and a John Deere dealership. By 1960, only the John Deere dealership was left. Accordingly, while it is inviting to suggest that had the J.I. Case Company settled the 1945-1947 strike sooner and allowed its local dealerships to function more normally and compete on a fairer standing with other local dealerships, that the Le Roy Equipment Company and many other small Case dealerships across the nation would have survived, the truth may be somewhat more complex. Had the strike not occurred, the Krinke and Wetter partnership might have survived for a while longer beyond 1950, but the dealership would have still faced the same problems in the mid-1950s that required the Millenaker dealership to close the Le Roy branch dealership.
While inevitably sharing the same fate as so many other farm equipment dealerships, the story of the Le Roy Equipment Company adds a unique thread to the overall fabric that is the history of the J.I. Case Company and, indeed, the history of agriculture itself.