Allis-Chalmers Farming (Part IV): A 1938 A-C Model WC Tractor No. 63306 at Work

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A 1938 Allis-Chalmers Model WC Tractor Bearing the Serial No. 63306 at Work

by Brian Wayne Wells

As published in the July/August 2007 issue of

Belt Pulley Magazine)

            Ever since it’s introduction in 1933, the row-crop, tricycle design-style Model WC tractor had been a very successful sales item for the Allis-Chalmers Manufacturing Company.  As noted, previously, the sales of the Model WC tractor created a real opportunity for various businesses, like the H.B. Seitzer and Company dealership of St. Peter, Minnesota.  (See the article called the “Allis-Chalmers Two-Row Corn Picker at Work” for the story of the H.B. Seitzer and company dealership, contained in the May/June 2007 issue of Belt Pulley magazine.)   An even more dramatic example of the Model WC tractor creating business opportunities for local franchise owners, is the story of Albert E. Anderson.  It is a story of an immigrant to the United States from Sweden.

Prior to 1880, Sweden had been the leading exporter of oats to the England.  Oats were important, primarily, as feed for horses.  Secondarily, were oats were rolled as oat meal for human consumption.  As England industrialized, the country needed more oats to feed the growing non-agricultural, urban sector of the population and to feed the increasing number of horses employed off the farm.  For decades, Sweden had filled England’s growing demand for oats.  Growing oats for this market had kept money flowing into the provinces of southeastern Sweden best-known for agricultural products.  Indeed, oats were in such demand that even the marginal lands of the southwestern provinces of Sweden—like the province of Smalund—were  plowed and planted to oats.

The province of Smalund is located in the southeastern part of Sweden. In the nineteenth century Smalund became impoverished and a great number of residents of Smalund emigrated out of Sweden and settled in great numbers in Minnesota in the 1880s.

 

However, by 1880 England had begun importing cheaper oats from the United States.  The opening of the upper midwest of the United States after the War Between the States greatly expanded the capacity of the United States to become an inexpensive supplier of oats.  The price of oats from the United States severely undercut the cost of production of oats in Sweden.  Thus, by 1880, Sweden had lost a huge part of its foreign export market in oats to the United States.  This created a long term economic recession in rural Sweden.  Predictably, the young people of rural Sweden began to look for new economic opportunities outside of Sweden.  Emmigration from Sweden, during this time, came largely from southern Sweden and, largely, from those southwestern provinces with more marginal agricultural land.  Large numbers of the immigrants from Smalund in Sweden in the 1880s, settled in the State of Minnesota in the United States.  Certain parts of southern Minnesota  bear a strong resemblance to Smalund in Sweden in terms of climate and soil conditions.

The young Albert E. Anderson.

 

One of those young persons was Albert E. Anderson.  Albert had been born in Sweden on November 15, 1884.  One of the most consistent and pervasive facts of his early life in Sweden had been the steady flow of friends, neighbors and relatives out of Sweden.  Most of these young people left their native land to seek their fortune in the United States of America.  If the letters and messages from relatives already living in the United States could be believed, life was bliss in the New World.

A blacksmith shop located in Smalund Sweden which has been restored back to the 1880s.

 

Albert had training as a blacksmith.  However, the income that he could derive from this vocation in Sweden was so insignificant that he finally decided to leave Sweden for good.  Accordingly, Albert sailed to Copenhagen, Denmark to catch the S.S. Oscar II sailing from Copenhagen to the United States.  The S.S. Oscar II arrived in New York on April 8, 1909.  Sailing past the Statue of Liberty the ship landed at Ellis Island in New York harbor.  From the time that he descended the gang plank of the S.S. Oscar and stepped onto the dock on Ellis Island, Al Anderson found everything was strange and new.

Loaded with emigrants from all over Scandinavia, the S. S. Oscar II leaves one of its regularly stops in Christiana (Oslo), Norway on its way from Copenhagen, Denmark to New York.

 

As he made his way up the large stone staircase in the central hallway of the Ellis Island facility, Albert was considerably anxious about the medical examinations and other processes he would have to undergo on the island.  If he did not pass the physical examination on Ellis Island, he could be sent back to Sweden.  Little did he know that by the time that he reached the top of the staircase, his medical examination was largely completed.  The meager medical staff on the Island was swamped with the large number of immigrants that landed each day.  Consequently, the “medical examinations” of the incoming immigrants were considerably abbreviated and consisted, largely, of the medical staff on Island merely observing the immigrants as they made their way up the long flight of stairs in large central hallway of the main building.

Immigrants on the staircase in the Grand Hall of Ellis Island were unaware that they were being carefully watched as they climbed the stairs. The speed and ease with which they climbed the stairs became the main “medical examination” for most immigrants that passed through Ellis Island.

 

Any individual immigrant that appeared to have trouble climbing the flight of stairs would be pulled aside for further medical tests.  Clearly, Albert Anderson passed his “medical examination” and was leaving Ellis Island much sooner than he expected.  As previously arranged, he started out of New York and headed straight westward toward Verona Township in Faribault County in Minnesota where he expected to meet some of his family members and old neighbors from his old community in Sweden.  Albert hoped to put his experience as a blacksmith to work in the small growing settlement of Huntley, Minnesota located in Verona Township.  Shortly after arriving in Huntley, Albert established a hardware business in a building in the small un-incorporated settlement that was Huntley.

The granary in Huntley, Minnesota is one of the few active buildings existing in the small unincorporated town of Huntley.

 

Within the first few years in Huntley, Albert Anderson met a young lady, named Phoebe G. Skabrud.  They fell in love and were married in 1914.  In August of 1915, Phoebe gave birth to a son, Paul C. Anderson.  Their family was completed by the birth of a daughter, Florence Phoebe, born on November 10, 1917; and finally a son, Albert Elden, born in 1921.

The Albert Anderson family during the Second World War. (left to right) daughter Florence on left, son Paul C., Albert’s wife Phoebe, Albert himself looking down at the dog and then their youngest son Albert Eldon on the right side of the picture. .

 

When the 1920 United States Census taker showed up in Huntley, Minnesota, on January 22, 1920, he listed Al Anderson’s primary language as “Swedish.”  However, in Huntley, Al Anderson was not alone.  The Census report listed a number of heads of household within the settlement of Huntley that also spoke Swedish.  Additionally, the Census report indicated that, in 1920, Al Anderson was already occupied as a “merchant” in the “farm machinery” business.  One would have to surmise that Al Anderson knew enough English to not only make himself understood in English, but could actually make a successful sales pitch to English-speaking customers.  By the time of the 1930 United States Census, Albert Anderson’s occupation was listed as a “proprietor” of a business described as a “hardware/farm implement” business.

Image result for Allis-Chalmers Manufacturing Company
The Allis-Chalmers “Tractor Works” in West Allis, Wisconsin. The rapid increase in the popularity of the row crop style Model WC tractor, put pressure on the Tractor Works for increased production and also on the sales network for expansion of the local dealerships.

 

As shown previously, the Allis-Chalmers Manufacturing Company, in the mid-to-late 1930s, engaged in a campaign to build up and extend its nationwide sales network.  (See the history of the Distel Oil Company dealership described in the article called “The Rinehardt/Christian/Boehne Allis-Chalmers Model E Threshermans Special Tractor” in March/April 2007 issue of Belt Pulley magazine and the history of the H.B. Seitzer and Company dealership described in the article called “The Allis-Chalmers Two-Row Corn Picker at Work” contained in the May/June 2007 issue of Belt Pulley magazine.)  This campaign was carried on by Allis-Chalmers sales representatives scouring the countryside of the Midwest looking for local businesses that would be willing to become Allis-Chalmers franchise dealers.  When the sales representatives arrived in Faribault County sometime in the mid-1930s, they must have found the Al Anderson hardware store, which already had a long history of serving as a local farm machinery sales outlet, an attractive prospect.  For his part, Al Anderson knew that by becoming an authorized Allis Chalmers dealer, he would be able to sell farm tractors along with all the other farm machinery he already was offering to the farming public of his community.  Al Anderson realized that, by accepting the offer of an Allis Chalmers dealership, he would suddenly become “full line” farm equipment dealership.  Furthermore, Al knew that the Model WC row-crop tractor was a very popular sales item.  As noted in a previous article, sales of the Model WC tractor had been explosive since the tractor had been introduced in 1933.  (See the article called “An Allis-Chalmers Two-Row Mounted Corn Picker at Work” contained in the May/June 2007 issue of Belt Pulley magazine.)  Nation-wide, sales of the Model WC had reached 17,914 tractors in 1936.

Last year in 1937, nation-wide sales nearly doubled and rose to 29,006 despite the recession of 1937.  This was a record year for the production of the Model WC by the Allis-Chalmers Manufacturing Company. This was an average of 2,417 model WC tractors per month throughout 1937.  So far in 1938, sales of the Model WC were starting to pick up again as the effects of the 1937 recession started to wear off. However, production of the Model WC tractor was suspended while the Allis-Chalmers Tractor Works in West Allis, Wisconsin was being re-tooled for introduction of the 1938  Model WC tractor.

Because of the spectacular sales of the Model WC tractor, Al Anderson agreed to become the local Allis-Chalmers franchise dealership for Huntley, Minnesota.  He would sell the Allis-Chalmers line of farm equipment out of his hardware store in Huntley, Minnesota.  The sales area covered by his new franchise would include, not only Verona Township where Huntley was located, but included the much larger area of western Faribault County and eastern Martin Counties in southern Minnesota.

The bottom two counties on this map are Faribault and Martin Counties locat3d on the Minnesota and Iowa border. These counties encompassed the marketing territory encompassed by the Allis-Chalmers franchise sold to Albert Anderson of Huntley, Minnesota.

 

  Some time in 1938, one of Al Anderson’s English-speaking neighbors came into the hardware store to investigate the purchase of a WC tractor.  This was Harlan Hanks who had grown up in Verona Township, but now was faming in Winnebago Township just to the north of Huntley.  Harlan had been born on his parent’s (Fred and Jeanette [Ogilvie] Hanks) 200-acre farm in Verona Township in Faribault County on February 21, 1905.  In March of 1922, a short time after Harlan’s seventeenth birthday, Harlan’s father suddenly died.  Abruptly, Harland, his 26 year old brother, Howard; his 19 year-old brother, Stanley; and his 13 year-old younger brother, Kenneth were required to take up the reins of their father’s farming operation.  The four brothers did so gamely.  However, soon it was just Harlan and Stanley that were their father’s real sucessors on the farm.

In 1920, Howard had married Ethel Buck.  Since their marriage, they had been living on the Hanks farm.  However, in the spring of 1923, Howard and Ethel rented the 160-acre “Foss farm” (or “Stratton farm” ) located in Verona Township about one mile and a half east of the Hanks farm.

Upon his graduation from high school in 1926, young Kenneth obtained a scholarship and attended the University of Minnesota Agricultural Extension School.  This left only Stanley and Harlan in charge of their father’s farming operation.  Their father, Fred Marshall Hanks, had been active in the raising of purebred Polled Shorthorn cattle.  Later, their father had sold his entire herd of Shorthorn cattle and purchased a herd of “grade,” (non-registered) Guernsey cattle for his milking operation.  Guernsey cows produced milk that was richer in butterfat than any other breed of milking cow—except for the Jersey breed.  (Guernsey milk averages 4.48% butterfat as opposed to the average figure of 3.66% butterfat for Holstein milk.)  Although, Jersey cattle could produce milk that would approach 5% butterfat, Guernsey cattle were much more even tempered, gentler and easier to work with than were the Jersey cattle, especially the Jersey bulls.

Guernsey cows were known for their milder temperament and they gave more milk than Jersey cows and they gave richer milk than Holstein cows.

 

Stanley and Harlan inherited their father’s Guernsey herd.  However, the Hanks brothers had there own ideas on how to improve that herd.  They knew they could make more money with the Guernsey herd by selling the Guernsey milk to creameries that specialized in Guernsey milk and paid a premium price for that milk.  However, the brothers reasoned that they could make more income with a purebred Guernsey herd which was properly registered with the American Guernsey Association.  Not only would they make money selling the milk from the Guernsey herd, but they could also sell registered purebred heifers and bulls to other Guernsey farmers and make additional income.

Guernsey heifers like the one that began the Harlan and Stanley Hanks herd in Winnebago, Minnesota in 1925.

 

Accordingly, in 1925, Stanley and Harlan purchased a single registered heifer from the herd of registered Guernseys owned by Louis A. and Winifred (Parrett) Yaeger of Rapidan Township in Blue Earth County, Minnesota.  Later that same year, they purchased four more registered cows from the herd of Lewis A. and Erma Brunz of Good Thunder, Minnesota.  This was the start of the Hanks brothers’ registered purebred Guernsey herd.  Also that same year, 1925, Stanley and Harlan showed their herd at the Faribault County Fair.  Next year, 1926, the Hanks brothers began showing their herd at the Mankato Free Fair in addition to the Faribault County Fair.  In the years that followed, the Hanks brothers became regular participants at the Minnesota State Fair.  (Indeed, on page 29 of the May/June 2003 issue of Belt Pulley magazine, there is a picture of Harlan and Stanley loading their prize Guernsey cattle into a truck for the ride to the 1937 Minnesota State Fair.

The page out of the published article in Belt Pulley magazine showing Stanley and Harlan Hanks of Winnebago, Minnesota loading show cattle for the Minnesota State Fair.

 

Active participation in the American Guernsey Association led both brothers into the judging of show cattle at various county and state fairs across the Midwest.  Judging and frequent showing of the cattle boosted the reputations of both Stanley and Harlan Hanks within dairy industry across the Midwest and the nation.  Soon they were selling Guernsey cattle to other dairy farmers all across the nation.

 

Purebred Guernsey bull judging at the 1904 St. Louis, Missouri World’s Fair.

In the fall of 1927, Harlan met Grace Lair.  They began dating.  Their courtship lasted four years and on June 24, 1931 they were married.  Following the wedding, Grace moved into the house on the Hanks farm with Harlan and Harlan’s brother and mother.  Harlan and Grace were anxious to get out on their own, but the onset of the economic hard times of the Great Depression of the early 1930s, frustrated their plans.  Many farmers were losing their farms during this period of time.  The economic depression reached its worst point in early 1933 as the price of corn slipped to only 24¢ per bushel as an average for the full month of February 1933.  The price of milk dropped so low, that farmers dumped the milk out on the ground in public protests rather than sell it at such a low price.

Farmers in Wisconsin dumping out their milk during the 1933 Milk Strike in Wisconsin.

 

The price of hogs sunk to a low point of 3¢ per pound in early 1933.  However, government spending by the New Deal administration of newly-elected Franklin Delano Roosevelt helped the United States economy recover during 1934 and 1935.  Prices of corn rose back up to its pre-depression levels and actually reached $1.00 per bushel in December, 1934—a price not seen since 1929.  Part of the reason for the high price of farm crops that year was the low yields in 1934 (corn on the Hanks farm yielded only 20-25 bushels per year and oats yielded only 15-20 bushels per acre) due to the extremely dry weather conditions during the growing season in 1934.  Still, optimism was in the air all across the nation.  A political cartoon in the January 10, 1935 Winnebago Enterprise reflected this optimism as it pointed out that despite the extremely dry year and poor crops, farmer still fared better and experienced a 20% gain in income in 1934 over the previous year—1933.  That optimism extended to young Harlan Hanks.  Harlan and Grace decided it was time to move into a house of their own.

 

A cartoon from the Winnebago Enterprize dated January 10, 1935.

 

Ideally, they wanted the purchase their own farm.  However, like most young farming couples, they needed to build up their resources and save money for a down payment on the purchase of a farm.  Traditionally, renters of farms fell into two groups.  One group of farmers were those that always insisted on renting farms.  Owning the land, they knew, created a mountain of debt that might take a lifetime to pay off.  They knew the ideal was that the land would appreciate as they paid off the debt.  Thus, the owner of land should have both “earned equity” (the part of the present valued of the farm that represented the amount that the owner/debt holder paid off each year) and “unearned equity” (the part of the present value of the land that represented the “appreciation” or increase in value of the farm).  However, the renter knew that this ideal picture could also turn completely around and during a sustained and severe economic downturn, the purchaser might be unable to make the mortgage payment and would end up losing the land entirely, together with all the money that they had spent years investing in the land.  The renter need only look back to most recent history (1929-1933) to prove the truth of this contention.

According to the U.S Census Reports, right here in Verona Township, where the Hanks home farm was located, farm ownership had fallen from 60.3% in 1920 to only 53.5%  in 1930.  Furthermore, this second figure did not measure the full impact of the years from 1931 through 1933, which proved to be the worst part of the Great Depression.  Every farm that was lost represented the loss of a lifetime of work for a particular farm family.  While renter suffered too during a severe depression, the renter’s investment was in “chattel property” (farm machinery, horses and other animals) rather than real estate.  The chattel property could be moved with the family as they moved from farm to farm.  Many farmers insisted that renting farms was a safer and more reasonable means of making a living in agriculture.

Still despite the recent severe depression, the dream of farm ownership persisted, and, indeed, flourished.  The second major group of farm renters were those farm families that hoped to rent a farm only until they could save up enough reserves to purchase a farm.  In western Faribault County this dream of farm ownership was fueled by the advertisements run in the Winnebago Enterprise by John Edward (J.E.) Rorman all throughout 1935, which stated that there was no better time for farmers to buy land.

 

An advertisement from February 14, 1935 which offers farm land available for sale. Clearly the dream of owning a farm was still alive even after the worst of the Great Depression.

 

In the spring of 1935, Harlan and Grace discovered an opportunity to rent the 160-acre farm owned by E. Weston located west of the City of Winnebago in Winnebago Township.  Although located in Winnebago Township, the Weston farm was situated only eight or nine miles north of the Hanks home farm.  This would be convenient for the Guernsey dairy operation that Harlan and Stanley still planned to operate together as a partnership.  Indeed, the Weston farm offered a number of benefits for that partnership.  The milking barn on the Weston farm offered additional space to house and milk their growing herd of prize Guernsey cattle.  Additionally, the haymow in the barn on the Weston farm also provided additional space for the indoor storage the hay that would be raised on the Weston farm.  To Harlan it looked like a real advantage for his farming operation.  Accordingly, Harlan and Grace signed the rental agreement which provided the landlord with a share of the crop they raised on the land for rent of the farm and required Harlan and Grace to pay an additional $6.00 per acre per year for the hay and pastureland on the farm.

 

The Blizzard of Christmas of 1935 was the storm of a century.

 

That first Christmas on the Weston farm was a memorable one.  Harlan and Grace had invited many of their Hanks family relatives to come and spend Christmas Day with them on the Weston farm.  They had a great time, but during the day the weather began to look ominous and it began to snow.  Before they knew it, the “blizzard of the century” had blown up and deluged southern Minnesota with a mountain of snow.  The guests, which included Harlan’s older brother, Howard, and his wife, Ethel, and five of his six children visiting from Mapleton, Minnesota and some relatives visiting from Madison, Wisconsin were all required to ride out the storm in Harlan and Grace’s house on the Weston farm.  To provide sufficient beds for all the guests, Harlan was forced to sleep in a “stuffed” living room chair during the night for the duration of the storm.

However, the move to the Weston farm was an improvement for Grace and Harlan, personally.  In their third season on the new farm, Grace gave birth to their first child—Robert Harlan Hanks born on August 8, 1937.  Financially, things were looking up in that third season on the new farm.  After another extremely dry season in 1936, which had seen the average corn yield for all of Faribault County fall to 25 bushels per acre, the normal amount of rain in 1937 had brought the average corn yield for the county as a whole back up to 43 bushes per acre, well above the normal county-wide corn yield of 37.9 bushels per acre.

Harlan’s long range plan for renting the Weston farm, as a means to save up resources to purchase a farm of his own, was temporarily stymied, once again, in September of 1937, about a month after the birth of their son Bob, as the newly recovering economy of the United States was, once again, hit with another economic downturn.  As noted in a previous article, the Roosevelt Administration was persuaded by some of its advisors to reduce government spending on economic supports for the recovering economy and try to allow the economy to walk on its own feet.  (See the article called “An Allis-Chalmers Two-Row Mounted Corn Picker at Work” contained in the May/June 2007 issue of Belt Pulley magazine.)  However, as pointed out in that previous article, the economy proved to be still too weak to stand on its own without government support and the economy soon buckled and farm prices fell.  Corn, the standard cash crop in southern Minnesota, sunk to 46¢ per bushel as an average for the whole month of October of 1938.

Also as previously noted, the Roosevelt Administration soon reversed itself and reinstated the economic supports.  However, what really pulled the economy out of the doldrums of the 1937 “Roosevelt Recession” and back on the track to full recovery was the growing amount of aid and grain sales to the Nationalist Republic of China.  Since July of 1937, China had been actively at war with Japan.  The American public, overwhelmingly, saw the Japanese as the aggressors in this conflict and heavily sympathized with the Chinese.  Although the American public was strongly against any overseas military adventure involving their own troops, they were, nonetheless, demanding that something, short of military involvement, be done to help the Chinese in this war.  Thus, the United States government began a program of aid to China which encouraged increased trade between the United States and China.  This increased trade had the direct effect of creating a favorable market for farm products.  Corn prices rose again in 1939 and 1940 to the range of 60¢to 70¢ per bushel.  However, the price of corn did not return to the highs of a $1.00 per bushel that it had reached in the middle 1930s.

By 1938, farming all across North America was in the process of changing.  The increasing use of mechanical power meant that the average farmer in the United States was now feeding 19 people as opposed to feeding only 10 people in 1900.  Mechanized power meant that the farmer was spending much less time to accomplish the same amount of work.  This meant that the farmer could produce much more crop with less money and time invested.  Therefore, the average price of a single bushel of corn or wheat etc., tended to decrease over the long term.  As this price tended to decrease, all farmers were forced to enlarge their farming operations to raise the necessary income so their family could survive.  In short, the farmers of the United States were being forced to “get big or get out” of farming altogether.

Farmers, like Harlan Hanks, were feeling this pressure to change to more modern methods of farming in 1938.  Harlan really needed to mechanize the source of power in his farming operation with the purchase of a modern farm tractor.  Naturally, that tractor had to be a tractor of the row-crop tricycle design such that Harlan could replace the horses in all farm field work including the task of cultivating corn on the Weston farm.  Farmers, like Harlan, knew that they needed to raise more cash crops to make up the difference caused by this long-term reduction in the price per bushel of these cash crops.  He knew that by purchasing a farm tractor, he could reduce the number of horses on his farm.  Harlan knew that the average mature horse required three (3) acres of crop land for feed (oats, hay and pasture)  each year.  By simply reducing the number of work horses on the farm, Harlan could significantly reduce the acreage that he devoted on his farm to the raising of hay and oats merely to feed the horses.  This acreage could then be converted into raising cash crops—mainly corn.  Thus, by merely switching from slow animal power to mechanized farm tractor power, Harlan knew that he could actually increase the size of his farming operation resulting in more cash income, just as surely as if he had moved onto a larger farm.

Harlan Hanks loved his horses and was reluctant to give up his horses even after he obtained the Allis-Chalmers row-crop Model WC tractor.

 

Harlan resisted, most strongly, the trend to replace his work horses.  He loved his horses.  To Harlan, farming was livestock.  Harlan had worked with the horses extensively over a period of years.  He came to know the peculiarities and habits of each of individual horse on his farm.  It was like the horses were part of the family.   To Harlan, this type of close proximity with the horses and all the livestock was the heart and soul of farming.  In later years, Harlan reflected that he could not understand the fascination that people had with restoring antique farm tractors and machinery.  In the 46-page biography of Harlan Hanks written by his nephew, Fred J. Hanks (the current author’s uncle) not once is Harlan quoted making comment on any of the tractors or farm machinery that Harlan used in his long farming career.  On the other hand, the biography is replete with Harlan’s description of the livestock–cattle and horses—that he owned over the years.

As a renter of a farm, who hoped to eventually to purchase a farm of his own, Harlan did not want to sink all his reserves into the purchase of a farm tractor.  Farm rental agreements, as Harlan knew, were attempts to support two families from product of one farm.  Thus, the profits of the single rental farm were already stretched to the breaking point.  On the Weston farm, Harlan knew that he was working to support not only his own family but also the landlord’s family.  In this situation, Harlan knew that the speed and efficiency offered by using mechanical power rather than slow animal power, was even more important than if he owned his own farm.  Accordingly, Harlan began to look for a tractor that would be best suited to his farming needs.

Thus when Harlan visited the Al Anderson hardware in Huntley in the late summer of 1938, Al Anderson informed Harlan of all the new improved features of the styled version of the Model WC farm tractor.  Like other tractor manufacturers in the late-1930s, the Allis-Chalmers Company kept making minor changes and improvements to the tractor models they produced.  The Model WC, by and large, continued the great Allis-Chalmers experiment with pneumatic (air-filled) rubber tires mounted on tractors.  Allis-Chalmers had begun the rubber tire era with the introduction of the Model U “standard” or “four-wheel” tractor in 1929.  While steel-wheels could be obtained for the any Model WC tractor, a great number of Model WC tractors were sold with 5.25 inch by 17 inch rubber tires on the front and 11.25 inch by 24 inch rubber tires on the rear of the tractor.  The rubber tires on both the front and the rear were mounted on appropriate-sized round-spoke rims manufactured by the French and Hecht Company of Bettendorf, Iowa.

 

An Allis-Chalmers unstyled Model WV with rubber tires mounted on French and Hecht Company round spoke wheel rims front and rear.

 

Round-spoke rubber-tire wheel rims worked well on four-wheel or standard configuration tractors.  Standard or four-wheel tractors were fitted with “automotive style” steering in which each front wheel pivoted on its own journal.  Accordingly, the standard configuration tractor with its automotive style steering was not expected to turn any sharper than an automobile.  However, when the tricycle style row-crop tractor was developed it was fitted with a “fifth wheel” type of steering in which both front wheels pivoted on a single journal or pivot point.  The tricycle style tractor was designed with this type of steering to allow the front wheels to be turned to as much as 90º from straight line of the tractor.  This was to allow for much sharper turns in the field.  The specific task for which these row-crop tractors were designed was cultivation of row crops.  Cultivation of row crops required very sharp turns at the end of the rows.  Such 180º turns were anticipated by farm tractor manufacturers.  Indeed, in early advertisements of the Model WC tractor, the Allis-Chalmers Company specifically showed a top-view diagram of the WC tractor making one of these 180º in a corn field to begin cultivating the next two adjacent rows of corn.

 

A diagram in some Allis-Chalmers advertising literature showing the corporate expectation that the “fifth wheel” type steering would turn very sharp corners while cultivating corn. 

 

However, in practice, farmers found that making these very sharp turns at the ends of the rows on a regular basis, created a great deal of stress on the round-spoke rims on the front end of the tractor.  The front wheels, when turned to an extreme angle approaching 90º, will tend to “bulldoze” the soft soil of the corn field rather than bring the front end of the tractor around in the turn.  This put a large amount of stress on the rims of the front wheels as the bottom half of the wheel would tend to “buckle” or bend under.  In real operating conditions in the field the round-spoke wheel rims would weaken and break loose at the point where the round spoke attached to the actual rim.  Having broken entirely the round spoke would then puncture the inner tube of the rubber tire and cause a flat tire.  This problem was reported back from the field and was recognized as a design error or weakness of the round spoke wheel rim.  This design error was compounded by the fact that the round spoke rims used in the front end of the Model WC tractor were 17 inch wheels as opposed to the 16 inch rims that were used on the front end of other makes of row crop tractors.  The round spokes were shorter and, thus, stronger on 16 inch wheels than on 17 inch round spoke rims.  Because Allis-Chalmers continued to use the 17 inch round spoke rims, the design error of the round spoke wheel rims revealed itself first on the Allis-Chalmers row crop tractors.

An unstyled Allis-Chalmers Model WC with steel wheels in the rear, but the front wheels are rubber tires mounted on “disc-type” wheels which replaced the French & Hecht round spoke wheel rim.

 

Thus, although all row crop tractor manufacturers would eventually switch to disc type front wheel rims or to some sort of cast-iron drop-center wheel rim, Allis-Chalmers made the switch to disc type rims first.  Al Anderson explained to Harlan Hanks that the weakness of the round-spoke rim had caused engineers of the Allis Chalmers Company to recommend that the Company change suppliers of the rims from the French and Hecht Company to the Electric Wheel Company of Quincy, Illinois.  Rather than a round-spoke rim, the Electric Wheel Company offered a disc type of rim.  The disc type of rim was, intrinsically, a great deal sturdier that the any round spoke or, indeed, any flat spoke designed rim.

Thus, in early-1936, starting with the WC tractor bearing the serial number 23529, the Allis-Chalmers Company started to use 16 inch disc-type rims on the front end of all rubber tire Model WC tractors.  The rims were fitted from the factory with 5.50 inch by 16 inch tires.  This was the first of a series of small improvements to the Allis-Chalmers unstyled WC which would gradually have dramatic changes on the appearance and performance of the Model WC tractor.  Eventually, Allis-Chalmers would recognize that the accumulation of all these gradual changes had yielded a totally new model of tractor.  Accordingly, starting with the model WC tractor bearing the Serial No. 74330, all subsequent WC tractors were referred to as “styled” model WC tractors, while the WC tractors with serial numbers prior to 74330 were now referred to as  unstyled WC tractors.  Thus, the Model WC tractor eventually purchased by Harlan Hanks from the Al Anderson dealership in Huntley, which bore the Serial No. 63306, was actually one of the last of the Model WC tractors to be officially designated as unstyled WC tractors.

The contract with the French and Hecht Company regarding the rear wheel rims remained in place until late-1937 when the switch to a disc-type wheel rim for the rear wheels was also incorporated into the manufacture of the Model WC tractor.  Thus, starting with Serial No. 59656, built near the end of the 1937 production year, all Model WC tractors, fitted with rubber tires, that rolled off the assembly line at the West Allis Works in West Allis, Wisconsin, did so with disc-type wheels in the rear as well as the front.  Thus, the unstyled-version of the Model WC, that Al Anderson was offering to sell to Harlan Hanks in 1938, was fitted with a rubber tires mounted on disc-type wheel rims on the rear as well as on the front.

One of the new “streamlined” Allis-Chalmers Model WC tractors with the new “bullet” shaped gas tank and also fitted with the new disc type wheels in the rear as well as the front of the tractor.

 

Harlan recognized that because he still shared work with his brother Stanley on the home farm located about eight or nine miles away from the Weston farm, a rubber-tired farm tractor would be advantageous to him.  He anticipated that whatever tractor that he purchased, he would have to drive the tractor along the public roads between the farms on a regular basis.  Rubber tires would allow the tractor to operate legally on all roads.  (In the late 1930s, laws were already getting highly restrictive regarding the use of steel wheeled tractors with lugs operating on public roads.)  Thus, Harlan was inclined toward purchasing a tractor with rubber tires.

By 1938, many of the major national farm tractor manufacturers were starting to modernize the looks of their farm tractors.  Much of this modernization took the form of applying new sheet metal to the hood, grill and fenders of the tractor.  This whole process of adding sheet metal is described as “streamlining.”  In the summer of 1938, the Allis-Chalmers Company “streamlined” the looks of the WC tractor.  Engineers of the Allis-Chalmers Company re-designed the old square fuel tank of the WC into a “bullet” shape or “tear-drop” shape.  A grill was designed to cover the exposed radiator of the “un-styled” or “non-streamlined” Model WC tractor and the “square” fenders of the un-styled WC tractor were re-designed as “clamshell” shaped fenders.  Thus, as noted above, starting with the tractor bearing the serial number 74330, all Model WC tractors that rolled off the assembly line were now “streamlined” or “styled.”

Another right side view of the “styled” Allis-Chalmers Model WC tractor. This view, however, shows a little bit of the new styled grill in front of the radiator of the tractor.

 

Harlan, also wanted the tractor, that he purchased to be as inexpensive as possible so that Harlan could continue to save for the purchase of a farm.  Thus although the tractor was fitted with the optional power lift, Harlan bypassed fitting the tractor with the optional electrical lights, battery and electric starter.  Thus, the tractor would always be started by hand crank.  The suggested retail price of the styled Model WC tractor was $960.00 for the basic tractor mounted on rubber tires, front and rear.  At this low price, the Model WC tractor appeared to be tailor-made for his farming operation on the Weston farm.

Thus, Harlan Hanks signed a sales agreement with Al Anderson for the purchase of an unstyled Model WC tractor.  Also as a part of the same sales agreement, Harlan purchased an Allis-Chalmers  two-row mounted cultivator and an Allis-Chalmers 2-bottom plow with 14 inch bottoms with the tractor.

An advertisement of the new “styled” Allis-Chalmers Model WC tractor available at the Albert Anderson dealership in Huntley, Minnesota.

 

No. 63306 arrived on the Weston farm late in the growing season in 1938—just as Harlan was getting ready to start the corn harvest—too late to have a real impact on the crops for that year or the finances of the farming operation.  The 1938 harvest was a good harvest.  Faribault County as a whole produced 5,711,200 bushels of corn.    Near perfect weather in the summer of 1938, had resulted in a county-wide average corn yield of 44 bushels per acre in the fall of 1938.  From 1921 through 1937, the average annual production yield in Faribault County was 37.9 bushels per acre.  Thus, the 1938 corn harvest was well above the normal yield per acre.

Harlan put the tractor and plow to work, plowing under a field of corn stalks in the fall of 1938.  Had this been a year earlier Harlan’s crop rotation would have required this field to be planted entirely to oats to feed the horses in the next year.  However, according to his new planning, at least part of this field would be planted to corn again next year.  This field would represent the first major change in his farming operation that was to be wrought by the new Model WC tractor.  He started plowing in this field only after all the corn on the whole farm had been safely cribbed.  As usual, following the corn harvest there were not many warm days left in the fall which could be used for plowing.  Nonetheless, Harlan would plow into the late fall as long as the weather would allow.  In early November 1938, there was a cold snap which saw the temperature fall down to 10ºF at night and the temperature did not get above freezing during the day.  However, this cold snap lasted only for a couple of days and then was followed by warmer than normal weather.  This allowed Harlan a few more days in the field with the tractor and plow before Thanksgiving to get some more all plowing done.  Any plowing done in the fall, would certainly save time in the spring.  Harlan did notice the speed and convenience of the tractor and two-bottom plow in comparison to plowing with the horses.  As the evenings began to get colder again just before Thanksgiving, he could hear a cracking sound coming form the soil as the trailing plow slid through the soil.  This was the ice that had formed on top of the ground breaking as the soil flexed and twisted as it rolled over into the furrow.  This meant Harlan’s fall plowing was coming to an end.  Soon the soil would be frozen solid.  Harlan raised the bottoms at the end of the row and started for the house.  Before storing the plow away,  Harlan covered the shiny plow bottoms with grease.  This would prevent the surface of the bottoms from rusting and would preserve the “land polish” on the bottoms throughout the winter months.

Cover of an advertisement of the Allis-Chalmers Model WC showing a picture of the WC pulling a two-bottom plow in the field, just as Harlan Hanks first put his
WC tractor in the corn field in the autumn of the tractor’s first year on the farm.

 

He did not get all the plowing done in the fall, but, when spring arrived, however, the plowing was quickly finished with the tractor and plow.  To prepare the seed bed in the plowed fields, Harlan used a trailing disk.  Because, the trailing plow, turned the soil in only one direction, the  return trip back across the field on every round rolled the soil in the opposite direction than the previous trip across the field.  Accordingly the field was divided into 4 or 6 alternating “lands” across the width of the field.  Within each land the furrows were all turned the same direction.  However, the furrows in the lands on either side were turned the opposite direction. The area where the lands were adjacent and touched each other was unfortunately clearly marked by a “dead furrow.”  A dead furrow was either a ridge of dirt stretching across the length of the field (where two lands were joined by furrows which had been toward each other), or the dead furrow was a gulley extending clear across the field (where two lands were joined by furrows that had been plowed away from each other).

Moldboard plowing of the last small narrow piece of soil between two “lands” or sections of plowed soil in the field results in a trench type of dead furrow.  Here a Ford Model 9N plows the last bit of unplowed soil in the field.

 

Dead furrows of either type created an un-desireable unevenness in the contour of the field following moldboard plowing.  In an attempt to smooth out this unevenness, Harlan prepared his seedbed in the plowed field by disking the field on a diagonal basis across the field.  With the old 15 foot single tractor disk, Harlan was able to cover the ground in a hurry with the WC.  The disk was composed of two “gangs” each seven and a half (7½) feet in length.  When the disk was transported, a three-foot “wing” on each end of the disc was loosened and folded up over gangs on each end of the disc.  This would shorten the overall width of the disc to less than ten (10) feet.  Thus, the disc could be pulled through any conventional ten-foot gate on the farm.  When hitching the disc to the tractor, Harlan picked up the control rope which was fastened to the hitch of the disc and attached the other end of the rope to a wire on the back of the operator’s seat of the tractor.  While in the transport position, the gangs of the disc were arranged to roll straight ahead without cutting into the ground.  However, once through the gate leading to the plowed field, Harlan unfolded and lowered the wings on each end of the disc.  Then he crawled back up into the operator’s seat of the tractor and pulled the control rope attached to the operators seat.  Then he backed the tractor.  The telescoping hitch on the disc shortened and locked in its operating position.  Shifting the WC into second gear and pulling the throttle a little more open Harlan released the clutch on the Model WC tractor.  The braces attached to the outside of each gang pulled the ends of the disk forward while the middle of the disk, where the two gangs met, dropped back slightly.  This was the operational position of the disk.  The disk blades of each gang dug into the plowed ground as the tractor moved forward.  The rear end of the tractor settled down slightly as the 24 inch wheels dug into their work.  Harlan opened the throttle all the way open and the tractor moved out across the field diagonally over the plowed ground.

A trench type dead furrow which still needs further discing to create a good seed bed in the field.

 

Traveling diagonally across plowed ground, like this, created a rough ride for the operator.  Harlan knew that this was a task that the operator needed to perform while holding tight to the steering wheel.  As the two front wheels of the tractor rolled over the furrows of the plowed ground, the steering wheel was constantly and violently jerking from one side to the other—continually trying to break free of the operator’s grip.  Harlan knew that this field task certainly needed to be performed without the aid of a steering knob on the steering wheel.  Any steering knob on steering wheel at this time would become a hazard if the steering wheel spun free of the operator’s grip.

Reaching the opposite corner of the field, diagonally, Harlan swung the tractor and disk around to head back across the field.  He brought the front end of the tractor around and aimed the front wheels of the tractor straight down the edge of the previously disked ground.  This reduced the jerkiness of the steering wheel to some degree as the front wheels were passing over relatively smoother ground.   By steering the front end of the tractor along the edge of the previously disked ground on each succeeding round, one of the two 7½ foot gangs of the disk would be re-disking half the previously disked ground.  In this way, Harlan hoped to “double disk” the entire field with his single disk.  Double disking would tend to bring the dirt, moved over by the single disk on the previous crossing of the field, back again close to its former location.

The diagonal pattern of the disking operation tended smooth out the contour of the field.  Although blunted, the effect of the dead furrows on the contour of the field would not be totally obliterated until the field was once again plowed with a mold board plow.  To smooth the ground even more, Harlan would disk the field a second time in a diagonal pattern.  However, this diagonal pattern would extend from the opposite diagonal corners and would cut across the pattern made by the first disking.

However, because the disk, itself, was a directional implement, the disk, too, created its own little dead furrow in the center where the two gangs met.  As a result Harlan, performed one more seed bed preparation operation in the field.  He dragged the entire field with a two-section drag to obliterate the little dead furrows left by the disk and to further smooth the surface of the ground for planting.

With his seed bed all prepared, Harlan had planted his corn.  As noted above, he planted more corn this year because of the reduced amount of oats that he needed for horse feed.  It was the perfect year to increase his corn acreage.  The weather was perfect— hot days to stimulate growth and just the right amount of rain.  Harlan and his neighbors all across Faribault County, harvested a record 6,696,000 bushels of corn in 1939.  This production figure was up by a staggering 17.2% from the 1938 harvest and, as noted above, the 1938 harvest had been an above-average corn harvest.  The tremendous 1939 production figure was based on a record 54 bushels-per-acre average yield for Faribault County in 1939.

Harlan had purchased the tractor at the right time.  The United States involvement in the Second World War created a favorable market farm prices.  In this favorable environment, the tractor soon paid for itself by providing increased efficiency in the farming operation.  Additionally, the economic restrictions placed on manufacturing of all products, except those products needed for the war effort, meant that tractors would be extremely hard to obtain for the duration of the war.  Had he waited any longer to obtain a tractor, Harlan may have been unable to obtain a tractor at all and would have been forced to use his horses as his sole source of power on the farm for the duration of the war.

During these same years, other changes occurred.  Mr. E. Weston, Harlan’s landlord, died.  Ownership of the farm passed to his daughter Lori (Weston) Barton.  Harlan was afraid that a new landlord may change things for the worse.  However, he pleasantly surprised that the Mrs. Barton continued to rent the farm under the same terms as had her father—a share of the crop and six (6) dollars an acres for the pasture and hay lands.  In light of this, as noted above, one of the major advantages of the mechanized power on the farm was the reduced number of horses that needed to be fed on a year around basis.  Thus, the amount of hay and pasture acreage could also be reduced.  Pursuant to Harlan’s rental agreement, his purchase of a tractor alone reduced Harlan’s annual out-of-pocket expenses by reducing the number of acres of hay land that he would have to pay $6.00 per acre for.

Harlan’s relationship with Mrs. Barton was so good enough in the years that passed that in 1940 when she decided to sell the farm, she gave Harlan first “right of refusal” on the purchase of the farm.  Because it had long been his dream to own a farm, Harlan quickly accepted the offer to buy the farm at the agreed upon rate of $85 per acre.  However, in 1944, Harlan became interested in another farm that had just come onto the market.  This was a 120-acre farm down in Verona Township, previously, owned by the Ralph W. and Jennie (Dwight) Johnson in Verona Township.  By September of 1944, Harland and Grace had agreed to sell the Weston farm and move to the Johnson farm.  Many people in the Winnebago community, to this day, wondered why Harlan would trade the Weston farm with its excellent soil for the smaller Johnson farm and which is covered, in parts, by trees. Even worse, it seemed, the Johnson farm had a creek flowing through it which meant that not even the full 120 acres of the smaller farm could were arable or could be planted to crops.  This acreage could only be used for permanent pasture.  People thought that, perhaps, it was these permanent pastures that attracted Harlan to the Johnson farm.  He could use the permanent pastures for his pure-bred Guernsey dairy herd.  This was true.  However, there were other reasons.  The house on the R. W. Johnson farm was a magnificent structure that appealed to Grace.  Additionally, the building site on the Johnson farm had not just one, but had two barns which appealed to Harlan.  Most importantly, however, in Harlan’s mind, was the location of the Johnson farm.  The Johnson farm was located immediately adjacent to the home Hanks farm which his brother, Stanley, was now operating.  The two farms shared a common boundary.  This would be very convenient for their pure-bred Guernsey cattle business which he and Stanley still operated together as a partnership.

Harlan financed the purchase of the Johnson farm through the Federal Land Bank.  However, the prices that he received for his plentiful corn crops during the war years also helped a great deal.  For the third year in a row, Faribault County farmers set a new a new all time production record for corn—8,054,800 bushels produced in 1944.  This figure was up a full 10.3% from the 7,305,000 bushel record for 1943.  These production records were built on the backs of yield production figures of 50 and 52 bushels per acre.  As noted above, the old normal yield of corn per acre in Faribault County had been 37.9 bushels per acre.  Since 1938, however, the average county-wide corn yield had been 50.0 bushels per acre.  Clearly it was a new era in corn farming.

The Johnson farm currently contained 120 acres.  However, in the past, the farm had been larger.  There was an additional 120 acres that had originally been part of the farm.  However, the Johnson family had mortgaged this parcel of land in order to build one of the barns on their farm, but the Great Depression had intervened and they were unable to repay the mortgage and the land had been separated from the farm.  Harlan was, now, offered the opportunity to purchase this additional 120 acres for $200 an acre.  The Federal Land Bank was willing to include the additional land in the purchase.  Harlan was enthusiastic, and consulted a state appraiser regarding the value of the additional land.  The state appraiser, however, did not think the additional land was worth $200 per acre.  Accordingly, against his own inclination, Harlan passed up the opportunity to purchase the additional land.  In the February 2, 1995 interview with Fred Hanks for his biography, Harlan noted this decision was the single decision that he (Harlan) regretted most.  Looking back after the passage of time, Harlan felt that he should have purchased the additional land when he had the opportunity, despite the negative opinion of the state appraiser.  However, in all fairness, this decision was made at the close of the growing season in 1944, just as the Second World War was winding up.  Before next planting season, just nine months away, Germany would surrender.  By September of 1945, just twelve months away, Japan would follow suit.  No one could foretell what might happen to farm commodity prices at the end of the war.  Past experience suggested that a severe economic recession might follow the war just as had happened at the end of the First World War.  Consequently, at the time of the purchase, Harlan might be forgiven for his fear of overextending himself financially.  Ownership of a farm was his dream.  He did not want to lose the dream simply because he had over extended himself.  He needed to worry about the possibility of losing the farm to the bank if agricultural prices fell the way they had in the early 1930s just a little over ten years previously.  Farm ownership presented unique set of problems that were not presented to renters.

No. 63303, provided Harlan with a modern efficient power source for his farming operation.  Besides creating efficiency in the farming operation, the tractor was efficient in operation as compared with other tractors.  Thus, the Model WC tractor allowed Harlan to keep his capital expenses in farm machinery low, so that he could concentrate his capital in the purchase of his own farm land.

Harlan Hanks continued to use the styled Model WC in his farming operation on the Johnson farm throughout the post-war years.  Harlan and Grace continued to live on the farm even after Harlan retired from farming.  Grace passed away on November 26, 1991.  Harlan continued to live on the farm alone until he died on  November 17, 1997.  Harlan’s styled Model WC is now in the process of restoration by his son, Robert Hanks.  When finished it certainly will be a tribute to its original owner and to all those other farm families across the nation, who owned similar Model WC tractors.

Meanwhile, Albert Anderson continued to operate his hardware and Allis-Chalmers dealership in Huntley until, in 1951 at the age of 67 years, Al retired and sold the dealership franchise to Lyle and Pearl (Badje) Bahr.  Al Anderson lived on until he passed away on February 14, 1967 in Winnebago, Minnesota.  Albert’s wife, Phoebe survived and lived on until November 29, 1976.

As a tribute to the Model WC and all the other farm equipment made by the Allis-Chalmers Manufacturing Company, the LeSueur Pioneer Power Association is, once again featuring Allis-Chalmers farm equipment at their annual show to be held on August 24-27, 2007.  We hope to see you there.

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