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Allis-Chalmers Tractors at Work on the Engstrom Farm
Brian Wayne Wells
(As published in the September/October 2007 issue of
Belt Pulley Magazine)
When the Second World War ended in September of 1945, it was clear that great changes were being wrought in rural America by the fact that the modern farm tractor was replacing the horse on the average farm in rural America. During the war, new modern farm tractors had been hard to obtain because of the mobilization of the whole economy of the United States for the war effort. However, once the war was over, sales of farm tractors skyrocketed. As use of the farm tractor became universal in rural America, the cost of producing an average bushel of corn began to decrease. Consequently, there was a long term decrease in the market price of corn which had started prior to the recent war and was now continuing with abandon in the post-war era. The family farmer needed to raise more bushels of corn to make up for the decrease in the price of each individual bushel. Thus, the long-term decrease in the price of a bushel of corn, was putting the economic pressure farmer to “get big or get out” of farming altogether. The effects of this economic trend were evident. Whereas, in 1940, farming had employed 18% of the North American population, by 1950, just ten (10) years later, this figure had fallen to only 12.2%. During the same period of time, the number of farms in the United States had decreased by almost 1 million farms, from a figure of 6,102,000 farms to a low of 5,388,000 farms. At the same time, the average size of the United States farm had increased from 175 acres in 1940 up to 213 acres just ten years later in 1950.
The trend toward bigger farms had always had its first and most deleterious effect on rental farm agreements. A rental farm agreement usually meant a division of the crops in half, with one half going to the renter, who performed the work on the land, and the other half going to the landlord, who owned the land. In other words, two families were attempting to live off the crops of the same piece of land. Even now in the post-war era, the owner of a small farm of 160 acres or less might be able to make a living. However, chances of a renter bring able to make a living on his share of the crop of a 160 acre farm were becoming increasingly doubtful. The story of the Engstrom farm of LeRoy Township, Minnesota is one such story of a post-war farm rental agreement. Like the previous article in this series, this story begins with a Swedish immigrant to America.
Just like Albert Anderson in the article in the previous issue of Belt Pulley magazine, August Engstrom was born in Sweden and immigrated to the United States. (See the article called “The Allis-Chalmers Model WC: the Styled Version” contained in the July/August 2007 issue of Belt Pulley magazine.) However unlike Albert Anderson, who immigrated to the United States in 1909 and came through the immigration process at Ellis Island in New York harbor, August Engstrom was a part of the much larger Swedish wave of immigration which arrived in the United States between 1865-1892, before United States Immigration Service had even opened the Ellis Island facility.
Born in Sweden on April 24, 1874, August Engstrom had immigrated to America with his parents in 1881 as a seven-year-old child. The family settled near Rockford, in northern Illinois. In 1900, the age of 24, August married Edna Preston. Together they moved to a farm near Byron, Illinois, in Winnebago Township in Winnebago County, Illinois. They entered into a rental agreement to work the farm. However, they dreamed of saving enough money to purchase their own farm. On this farm in Illinois, they lived and started their family with the birth of a daughter, Frances (Ruth), in 1902 and a son, Verne H., on January 28, 1904.
This was the “golden age” of farming and by 1905, August and Edna were ready to move to a farm of their own. They took the money that they had saved and moved to LeRoy Township in Mower County along Minnesota’s southern border with Iowa. There they purchased and moved onto a large 320-acre farm located in southeastern LeRoy Township in 1906. On their new farm their family continued to grow with the birth of a daughter, Danna, born in 1907; another daughter, Doris, in 1908; a son, Glenn, born in 1911; another son, Charles, born in 1913 and, finally, a last son, Eugene born in 1917.
Excluding the building site and the small 15-acre permanent pasture located just north of the buildings, the farm consisted of about 300 arable acres. On this farm, there was about 70 acres of hay and 100 acres of oats were raised each year. All the hay and nearly all the oats would be consumed on the farm as feed for the horses, chickens and pigs. Corn was the largest cash crop. About 70 acres of corn was raised each year. Initially, barley had served as the farm’s second cash crop. However, during the prohibition years there had been less demand for barley for malting beer. Accordingly, August and his neighbors, in Mower County had switched to raising flaxseed. Flaxseed was predominately processed and used as “linseed oil.” Linseed oil was used on leather, mainly horse harnesses, to preserve softness and flexibility of the harness. Each year, the crops were rotated from field to field in order to avoid depleting the soil. In this rotation, the hay field of the prior year became the pasture land for the current year. The old pasture land of the prior year had to be plowed and converted into a corn field.
Naturally, August needed help to work such a large diversified farm. First there were a great number of horses that needed care and feed year around. Then there were the dairy cows that needed to be milked and fed twice a day, the pigs and the chickens to be fed and cared for. Accordingly, when Lewis Hatlestad, the United States Census taker, showed up on the Engstrom farm on Friday, April 29, 1910, he found that a 23-year old hired hand, Joe Thelen, was living on the farm with the family. Joe helped with milking the cows and feeding the pigs in the winter. During the summer, Joe helped with the field work. However, the size of the farm required that August hire on even more help, on a temporary basis, during the busy times of the summer.
Nonetheless, these years continued to be good years for the Engstrom family fueled by high commodity prices for farm products during the First World War. Following the post-war recession which occupied the first few years of the 1920s, good prices for farm cash crops—most importantly corn—returned. Though the price of corn never reached the high level it achieved during the First World War, there was a return to a decent price which allowed a corn farming family, like August and Edna, made a good living on the farm even after paying the hired help. Like their neighbors, they suffered through the worst part of the Great Depression and felt the economy start to recover in the mid-1930s. However, by 1940, August was 65 years of age and Edna was 64 years of age. Thus, they began to plan for a retirement from farming. Because none of their children were showing any immediate interest in taking over the farming operation, August and Edna determined to sell the farm.
Among the people who were interested by the news that the Engstrom farm might be up for sale, was Frank Klassy who was living with his father on the farm immediately adjacent to the Engstrom farm to the west. Consistent readers of the Belt Pulley will recognize that Frank Klassy was the son of Matt and the late Ada (Loveland) Klassy. (See the article called “The Decline of the LeRoy Equipment Company” contained in the November/December 2006 issue of Belt Pulley magazine.) As noted previously, Matt and Ada had purchased the present Klassy farm from Hans Rudolph in 1909. Born on September 10, 1902, Frank had spent most of his young life on this farm. Along the way there had been much hardship and tragedy. Frank’s younger brother Frederick was killed in a bizarre accident on October 19, 1922, when he choked to death on a pebble that he threw up into the air and caught in his mouth. Frank’s mother Ada died on March 16, 1934, after an illness and an unsuccessful operation in Rochester, Minnesota. To help his father on the farm, Frank had ceased his schooling when he was 15 years of age. It would take Frank eight additional years to complete his high school education. Eventually, Frank graduated from LeRoy Public Schools, at the age of 26 years, in the class of 1929 with his younger brother, Wilbur.
A few days after graduating from high school, Frank Klassy married Esther Ann Lamon on June 5, 1929 in an open air ceremony held at the LeRoy Municipal Wildwood Park. (Wildwood Park has since become Lake Louise State Park.) Together they moved back into the house on the farm with Frank’s parents. In May of 1930 Esther gave birth to a daughter Jeanne. Later, the family was expanded with the birth of a son, Donald F. Klassy, born on April 27, 1932 and another son, Robert E. (nicknamed Buzz) Klassy born on August 4, 1936.
Now in 1943, he and Esther were looking forward to having a home of their own. The Engstrom farm looked like the perfect opportunity. They would be living on their own farm, yet they would be close enough to the home farm that Frank would still be able to cooperate with his father in summer field work and share horses and farm machinery. Accordingly, Frank and Esther began to negotiate the purchase of the Engstom farm.
However, Frank’s father, Matt, had also been thinking about the future. He was now 68 years of age and he had been widowed for nine years now. He was tired of living alone. He had been seeing Doretta Spencer, a widow who lived in the town of LeRoy. Together they had made plans to marry. Matt wanted to retire from active farming but did not want to leave farming altogether. He made plans that when Frank and Esther moved off the farm, he would also move off the farm. He and Doretta would marry and they would move into her stucco house located at the corner of Luella Street and North Broadway Avenue directly across from the Presbyterian Church in the village of LeRoy. Matt thought that he and Doretta might live rather comfortably in retirement on the rental income they could receive by renting out the home farm.
As he related these new plans to Frank and Esther, Frank began to think about purchasing the home farm from his father rather than purchasing the Engstrom farm. In order to remain involved in farming, Matt, in turn, began to think about purchasing and renting out the Engstrom farm. With the current record high prices that were being received by farmers for their crops because of the World War in Europe and the Pacific, Matt wanted to remain involved in farming to some extent. Accordingly, in 1943, public records reflect that Matt purchased the 320 acre farm from August and Edna Engstrom. However, inside the Klassy family the purchase of the Engstrom farm is referred to as a “trade” or “swap of farms” between Matt and his son, Frank.
In actual fact, August Engstrom sold only a 5/6ths interest (or an 83.34% interest) in the farming operation to Matt Klassy. August Engstrom retained the remaining 1/6th interest (or 16.66% interest) in the farm. Probably, he wanted to keep his options open for the future, in case his own children expressed an interest in purchasing the farm sometime in the future. If ever Matt Klassy wanted to sell the whole farm to a third party, August would have agree to sell his 1/6% interest to the same third party. Few buyers would be interested in purchasing only part interest in a farm. The 1/6 interest retained by August would give him a chance to buy back the 5/6ths interest in the farm, if he so chose, before the whole farm was sold to a third party.
Both Matt and August, hoped to live in retirement on the landlord’s share of the crop from the farm. So the crops raised in the farming operation were now expected to support three families. The renting family collected the renters share of the crop and the landlord’s share of the crop would be split between Matt Klassy and August Enstrom.
On October 10, 1944, Matt married Doretta Spencer and he moved into Doretta’s house. Matt and Doretta planned to live off the proceeds of the Klassy home farm to his son, Frank, and from the rent obtained from his 5/6ths interest in the Engstrom farm. The degree of comfort that this arrangement allowed for each of the three families rested heavily on the relatively high prices that the farmers of North America were receiving for the crops they raised during the current war. Matt Klassy and August Engstrom found renters for their farming operation during the war. However, during the post-war era, the landlords once again needed to find another renter. They advertised and they found Curt Foster.
Born on December 9, 1921 to James C. and Myrna M. (Gorder) Foster, Curt had been raised on the family farm in Jenkins Township, Mitchell County in northern Iowa. He married Mary Ellen Aspel and they started a family. In 1947, a daughter Karen Kay Foster was born. In the months following the birth of Kay, Curt and Mary became aware of an opportunity to rent the large Engstrom farm located in LeRoy Township about 17 miles northeast of their hometown of Riceville, Iowa. The Engstrom farm was located just across the Iowa-Minnesota State Line. Curt and Mary moved their family onto the Engstrom farm on March 1, 1948. Other changes were afoot in 1948. On December 8, 1948, August Engstrom died. Eventually his 1/6th share in the farm was sold, by his widow, Edna, to Matt Klassey.
Moving to the large Engstrom farm, Curt Foster worried about the changes that had been wrought on farming by the recent war. The much anticipated post-war recession had not occurred because of continued economic aid which the United States had offered to war-torn countries of Europe and Asia including Germany and Japan under the Marshall Plan. The Marshall Plan pledged the United States to financing the recovery of all these countries. Based on the demand for corn created by the Marshall Plan, the price of corn remained at around $2.00 per bushel and United States farmers were encouraged to continue to grow crops from “fence row to fence row” just as they had during the war. Now in early 1948, Curt Foster was still worried, however. The countries in Europe and Asia would, sooner or later, recover and the Marshall Plan would come to an end. What would happen then? Perhaps the post-war recession would only be postponed and not avoided altogether.
Before moving to the Engstrom farm, Curt had sold his 1947 crop of corn. The very wet spring of 1947 had resulted in very late planting of corn in Mitchell County, Iowa. Consequently, as a result, the average corn yield in Mitchell County was reduced by 31.0% in 1947. Luckily, the nation-wide production had also been reduced. This meant that there was no glut of corn on the market and the price remained higher than normal—$2.74 per bushel as an average for the full month of January 1948. Riceville was located on the border between Mitchell County and Howard County Iowa. Both Mitchell County and Howard County were heavy producers of corn. Corn predominated in these two Iowa counties as the major cash crop. However, in Mower County, Minnesota, where the Engstrom farm was located, significant inroads were being made by a new cash crop—soybeans.
Mobilization for the war effort had developed many new products and caused new industries to spring up. One of these new industries was the plastics industry. Plastics had been required for the war effort. However, in the post-war era, plastics had converted easily into many new peacetime uses. Consequently, the post-war demand for plastics was still broad and growing. Soybeans were the main raw material used in making plastics. As a result, the market demand for soybeans, grew proportionately with the demand for plastics. United States production of the soybeans nearly doubled from 107,197,000 bushels for the 1941 growing season to 187,524,000 in 1942. However, demand for soybeans remained so strong that the price actually rose from $1.55 per bushel in 1941 to $1.60 per bushel in 1942. When the war ended, in 1945, despite the continuing increase in production of soybeans during each year of the war, the price of soybeans had actually increased to $2.03 per bushel. Rather than falling off at the end of the war, as industries converted over to peacetime production, the price of soybeans rose, in 1946, to $2.57 per bushel.
In 1941, only 17,800 acres in the whole of Mower County had been planted to soybeans. However, during the war, the amount of acreage of the county planted to soybeans had grown to 51,500 acres. Ever since the end of the war, soybeans continued to grow as a second cash crop on farms in Mower County. Already in 1947, farmers of Mower County were planting 40% of their cash crop acreage in soybeans. Because the terribly wet conditions and the late planting had ruined the soybean crop in 1947, soybean prices had continued to soar until now in early 1948 they were reaching $3.33 per bushel.
In Mitchell County, prior to his move to Engstrom farm, Curt had raised only corn as his cash crop. However, with the move to the Engstrom farm, Curt had determined to diversify his farming operation by raising soybeans. The large Engstrom farm would certainly offer Curt Foster opportunities for diversification into new cash crops in ways that were not available if he were renting a smaller farm. At 320 acres the Engstrom farm was twice the size of the ordinary 160 acre “homestead farm.”
Even on the smaller rental farm in Mitchell County, Curt had spent most of his time in the field in summer cultivating corn. Corn was a labor-intensive crop because of cultivation. Corn needed to be cultivated while small to get the weeds that had started to grow up between the rows of corn and to help build up the hills around the roots of the little corn plants. Then the entire corn crop needed to be cross-cultivated to get the weeds between corn plants within the rows. Then the farmer wanted to re-cultivate the corn lengthwise again. This meant covering each corn field three times during the course of the summer. Even with his Farmall F-12 tractor, cultivating two-rows at a time, cultivation of corn occupied a great deal of the summer field work.
Soybeans were also a row crop and also needed cultivation. However, soybeans would need to be cultivated only twice a season, rather than three times like corn. In this way soybeans were less labor intensive. Still Curt’s largest worry as he moved to the Engstrom farm was whether he could get the field work completed on the large farm.
When he and his family moved to the Engstrom farm, Curt brought his old Farmall F-12 tractor which he had used on the Iowa farm. However, in moving to the large Engstrom farm, Curt knew that he would have to hire some summer-time help to cultivate all the corn and soybeans that he planned to grow on the Engstrom farm. Thus, he knew that he would need a second tractor almost immediately. To meet this need, Curt turned to his local Allis-Chalmers dealer—the Millenaker Implement dealership in Adams, Minnesota (1950 pop. 663).
The Allis-Chalmers Manufacturing Company had traditionally risen to meet the demand of farmers for a full line of modern farm tractors and farm equipment offered to the farming public at an inexpensive price. In 1948, the Company introduced their new row-crop tractor, the Model WD, which replaced the venerable old Model WC tractor. Weighing 3,300 pounds and with a horsepower rating of 17.67 horsepower (hp.) at the drawbar and 26.8 hp. at the belt pulley, the old Model WC was definitely limited to the two-plow tractor class. However, the new WD tractor was a modern post-war tractor. The WD weighed 3,721 pounds,and was able to deliver 23.56 horsepower (hp.) to the drawbar and 32.57 hp. at the belt pulley. Thus, the new Model WD tractor was, clearly, in the three-plow class of farm tractors.
Introduced as the new companion tractor for the new Allis-Chalmers Roto-Baler—the new Model WD tractor was fitted with a hand clutch in addition to a foot clutch. The foot clutch was used in the conventional way to disengage the whole power train to change gears or to engage the belt pulley or the power take-off (P.T.O.) shaft. The hand clutch was attached only to that part of the power train that led to the rear wheels of the tractor. When the hand clutch was pulled back, the forward motion of the tractor was ceased. However, the PTO shaft of the tractor continued to operate. When being used to power the new Roto-Baler, this feature allowed the operator of the WD tractor to periodically pause all forward motion of the tractor and baler, while the baler completed the periodic cycle of wrapping, tying and ejecting each round bale onto the ground. Thus, the hand clutch provided the Model WD tractor with a form of “live power.”
Although he did not purchase a Roto-baler, Curt Foster purchased a new WD tractor in 1948 from Millenaker Implement in Adams, Minnesota along with the two-row cultivator. He would employ both the new WD tractor and the old F-12 with their two-row cultivators in the corn fields during the summer growing season on the Engstrom farm.
Unlike the previous year, the weather appeared to be cooperating. Curt got his corn and soybeans in the ground in a timely manner. As he began his cultivation of the corn fields with the new Model WD and he noticed that the corn seemed to be sprouting up out of the ground in fine order. The rains were moderate in nature and well spaced throughout the entire growing season in 1948. As a result, Mower County farmers celebrated a bumper crop in 1948. The county’s farmers established new production records in both corn and soybeans by producing 5,272,400 bushels of corn and 880,500 bushels of soybeans. These new production records came on the back of new record yields of 49 bushels per acre of corn and 15 bushels of soybeans in Mower County in 1948.
Nationwide, there was also a bumper crop of corn with a new production record of 3,307,038,000 bushels produced nationally. As might be expected, the glut of corn coming onto the market depressed the price for corn. Even with the large worldwide demand for food created by the Marshall Plan, the price of corn fell from $2.46 a bushel for the entire month of June of 1948 to only $1.44 per bushel as an average for the entire month of December of 1948. Even storing the corn on the farm and waiting for the price to rise was not a successful strategy. The price continued to fall in the new year—down to $1.27 per bushel as an average for the month of February, 1949. This was a drop of nearly 50% in the price of corn in just eight (8) months.
Meanwhile, the nationwide production of soybeans also set a new production record with 227,217,000 bushels produced in 1948. However, it was significant that while the price of soybeans sagged somewhat from the extraordinary high price of $3.33 per bushel in 1947, the decline was no where near as severe as the price drop of corn. Indeed soybeans averaged $2.46 per bushel for the whole of 1948 and then averaged $2.16 for the whole of 1949. This percentage of this decline was then 35.1%. However, this “decline” was from the $3.33 price, which was an temporary aberration and an unreasonably high price. Had the decline been measured from a more reasonable price then the percentage of decline would have been even less and may have more accurately reflected the true situation. Soybeans were clearly a cash crop with a future. In the spring of 1950, farmers all across the United States responded to this “crop of the future” as they planted more soybeans than ever before—15,048,000 acres of their respective farms were planted to soybeans.
Like his neighbors in Mower County, Minnesota, Curt Foster increased the acreage he planted to soybeans on the Engstrom farm each succeeding year since he had moved to Engstrom farm. Curt was extremely thankful that he had a second cash crop to support his farming operation while the corn market remain glutted with surpluses and the price remained low. He wanted to avoid having “all his eggs in one basket.” After all the whole idea behind “diversified” farming was to have a variety of crops and/or products to take to market.
However, as promising as soybeans were, Curt Foster was far from willing to abandon corn as a cash crop in favor of a total soybeans crop. Curt and his neighbors knew that if they could produce more corn with the same or less investment they could overcome the decline in the price of corn. Corn yields had been increasing by quantum jumps ever since the end of the war. Farmers were raising more corn on the same amount of land. On a per bushel basis, corn was becoming less and less expensive to grow. The major reason for this steady increase in corn yield was the growing use of commercial fertilizers. Farmers were finding that they could increase their corn yields by as much as 20% by the use of commercial fertilizers. The increased yield of corn offset the cost of purchasing the fertilizers many times over.
Commercial fertilizers had been proving themselves in terms of increased yields since before the war. However, during the recent war the nitrates used in commercial fertilizers had been almost totally appropriated by the government to make explosives and ordinance for the war effort. Since V-J Day on September 2, 1945 when the war finally ended, there ceased to be any huge demand for the vast quantities of nitrates that had been produced for the war. Thus, the price of nitrates dropped. One of the fastest growing peacetime markets for the use of nitrates was commercial fertilizer for farm crops—especially corn. Thus, commercial fertilizers were offered to the farming public at very low prices. As the commercial fertilizers became less and less expensive in the early 1950s the use of commercial fertilizer became grew by leaps and bounds. Over the winter of 1951-1952, Curt came to realize he would need to plant his corn with fertilizer in the coming spring just to make the same profit that his neighbors would be making due to higher yields from using commercial fertilizer. To settle for less profit by not using fertilizers would put his farming operation at risk.
Accordingly, Curt ordered a quantity of fertilizer from the LeRoy Farmer’s Cooperative Elevator up town. The Elevator sold the Smith-Douglass brand of fertilizer. A great number of salesmen, advertising and selling commercial fertilizer, had sprung up in the last couple of years. The Elevator sold their fertilizer at a price which was about the same as any of these other fertilizer salesman. However, when Curt considered that as a member of the Cooperative that owned the Elevator, Curt would receive an annual dividend for all his purchases made throughout the year, he found that the Elevator’s price was, indeed, a better deal.
At home, Curt used a fertilizer spreader pulled behind his tractor to apply the granular Smith-Douglass fertilizer to the fields after the seed bed had been prepared. After covering the entire field with fertilizer, Curt dragged the field once more in an attempt to “incorporate” the fertilizer into the soil prior to planting the seed corn. Curt was not alone, among his and his neighbors in Mower County in using commercial fertilizer for the first time in 1952.
The weather cooperated to a great degree. A great deal of snow had fallen in the winter of 1951-1952. Thus, nearly 16 inches of accumulations were still on the ground late in March, 1952. However, in April, the temperatures suddenly reversed themselves. Starting as a colder than normal spring, the weather suddenly became warmer than normal. Temperatures in late April reached 90°F on some days. These warm days quickly melted the snow, dried out the ground and allowed spring planting to get off to an early start. The summer was an average summer with many, good, soaking rains well-spaced periodically throughout the summer. Curt was staggered and pleasantly surprised by the early growth of his corn in the early summer of 1952. An old saying, in the “pre-fertilizer days,” used to state that corn should be “knee high by the 4th of July.” However, after viewing his corn crop all during the early summer Curt came to the conclusion that now with commercial fertilizers, the old saying almost needed to be revised to “waist high by the 4th of July.” Of course, the faster corn grew in the early stages, the shorter was the period of time that Curt and his neighbors had to complete the cultivation of the corn and soybeans. Thus, completion of the cultivation of row crops became a more pressing problem for farmers of the cornbelt region of the country. Now the corn was almost too high to cultivate by the 4th of July.
The late spring and summer of 1952 was a lovely time with hope for the coming crop and also with the hope for a new addition to the Foster family. In 1952, Mark Douglas Foster was born to Curt and Mary. Now the family consisted of three children. Following the birth of Karen in 1947, their first son, Stephen Curtis had been born on February 21, 1950.
The autumn of 1952 continued to be beautiful and warmer than normal with 60°F days as late as early November and no snowfall until Thanksgiving. This allowed for a long dry fall season in which to harvest the crop and what a crop it was! Curt and his Mower County neighbors set another new record for corn production in 1952—producing a staggering 6,930,000 bushels of corn countywide. Significantly, Mower County also set a new record yield of 55 bushels per acre. This tremendous increase in over the old 1948 record of 49 bushels was directly attributable to the wider use of commercial fertilizers by farmers of Mower County.
The 1952 corn harvest also was a bumper crop nationally. The huge harvest brought another glut of corn onto the market. During this period of time, the United States initiated a series of alliances—the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the South East Asian Treaty Organization (SEATO) and the Central Treaty Organization (CENTO) were examples. All of these treaty organization agreements were backed up by economic aid packages to foreign nations. The market price of corn actually recovered to some degree on the backs of these economic aid packages, rising again to $1.66 per bushel as a yearly average for 1952, but the price of corn did not reach $2.00 per bushel again as a yearly average for many years. Thus, even the Korean War, the “cold war” that arose between the Soviet Union and the West and rise of the “third world nations” could had not created the demand necessary to keep up with the huge production capabilities of corn farmers of the United States.
Even the production of soybeans seemed to reached a plateau at about $2.73 per bushel in 1951. The price of soybeans would remain at about this level as a yearly average for the next three years. It appeared that an equilibrium between supply and demand was finally reached in the soybean market. Now in true diversified fashion, corn actually became the better cash crop again. If Curt and his neighbors could keep the costs of production of corn as low as possible they could raise corn enough to make money—especially as the price of corn had recovered some what.
One of the new advances in corn farming technology that was becoming popular in the corn belt was the four-row system of planting and cultivating corn. Four-row corn planting and cultivation had been available since the 1930s. However, it really became popular only after the Second World War when there arose the compelling need of farmers, like Curt Foster and his neighbors, to complete the cultivation of corn by about the 4th of July.
Upon visiting Millenaker Implement Company in nearby Adams, Minnesota, over the winter of 1952-1953, Curt learned that the Allis-Chalmers Company now had a four-row corn planting and cultivation system now available. This new system was available only with the new tractor that Allis-Chalmers was now making available to the farming public—the new WD-45 tractor. The new tractor was to replace the Model WD tractor. The new WD-45 tractor came from the factory fitted with the same 5.50 by 16 inch front wheels as was the old WD tractor. However the rear tires were now two inches wider—being 13 inch by 28 inch tires as opposed to the 11 inch by 28 inch tires which were standard on the Model WD tractor. When the Model WD-45 tractor was tested at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln, Nebraska, the tractor was found to deliver a maximum 40.01 horsepower (hp.) to the drawbar and a maximum 45.27 hp. to the belt pulley. This represented was a nearly 40% increase in power over the horsepower ratings of the Model WD tractor. This increase in horsepower placed the Model WD-45 tractor in the four-plow tractor class.
Curt knew that the best advantage offered by the conversion to a four-row system would be that his time spent in the fields cultivating row crops would be cut in half. However, in order to convert to four-row cultivation he would have to abandon his old two-row corn planter and purchase a new four-row corn planter. A four-row cultivator could not be used on row crops planted with a two-row planter. The Millenaker sales staff were quick to point out to Curt, that the new four row planter was not just a larger planter, it was a better planter. In terms of fertilizer application alone, they said, the new planter would save money on fertilizer by doing way with the broadcast method of fertilizer application that Curt had been using on his corn fields. Instead, each planting shoe on the new Allis-Chalmers four-row corn planter would open the ground. Then the planter mechanism on that particular shoe would deposit three or four corn seeds in the ground every 40 inches as triggered by the check wire that stretched across the entire field. Then a press wheel would cover the seed with dirt and slightly pack the ground over the seed. A fertilizer applicator behind the press wheel would, then, drop a small handful of granular commercial fertilizer on the ground over the buried corn seeds.
Curt immediately understood how this system of fertilizer application would be a vast improvement over the broadcast method, he had been using. No longer would he be fertilizing the whole field—in fact, fertilizing the weeds along with the corn crop—merely to get the corn fertilized. The new corn planter would get the fertilizer to the corn and only the corn. The old broadcast method had actually cost him more time and money in cultivation, by actually helping the weeds to grow.
So Curt purchased a new four-row planter and cultivator and a new WD-45 tractor with an adjustable wide-front end. Curt also purchased a manure loader for the new tractor. Predominately, he intended to use the loader to facilitate the moving of manure from his hog house, barn and cow yard into field. However, after he purchased the loader, and the WD-45 tractor, he found all kinds of uses for the loader. One use, Curt discovered, was to use the loader for hauling gravel from a small gravel pit, located just east of the building site, to spread in the yard of the Engstrom farm building site. The building site on the Engstrom farm was located on a hill. The top of the hill was flat. As a consequence, the building site location on the Engstrom farm was almost entirely level. Located to the east of the barn where the topography of the ground tapered off down hill to the east, was located a small gravel pit. Curt periodically used the tractor loader to make trips to the gravel pit to scoop up some of the loose gravel in the pit and take it back up into the yard and spread the gravel on the driveway and in the yard. Being located on a hill and being quite level, the building site was nearly always dry and well drained. There was no place for water to gather and make a mud hole. Accordingly, the rough un-washed gravel was more than sufficient to provide a firm surface for the driveway and yard—even under the wettest of weather conditions. The gravel consisted of a great deal of small, round pebbles and being unwashed, the gravel also contained a lot of sand. Over time, the sand would allow grass to grow on the driveway along the middle area of the driveway—the part that was usually straddled by the car tires. Small children always found the driveway and yard of the Engstrom farm easier to walk on with bare feet than other farms in the neighborhood. The high amount of sand and small round pebbles of the gravel had very few sharp edges which are uncomfortable for bare feet. Other farms in the neighborhood used washed gravel, or, worse, crushed rock, on the driveways and in the yard. This ground cover was very hard to negotiate while bare-footed. (The current author has first-hand knowledge of this fact, as the Foster children were childhood playmates of the current author.) Indeed, bare footed children could run the entire length of the driveway, if need be, by staying on the soft grass “pathway” in the middle of the driveway.
The winter of 1952-1953 was a snowy winter. March of 1953 arrived with as much as 10” of snow accumulations on the ground. Unlike the previous year, there was no late winter storm that deposited a great deal of snow on the ground. There was enough warm weather in March, 1953 to melt all the snow by the middle of the month. However, the rains began as soon as the snow melted. These were not deluge-type rains, but they were consistent enough to keep Curt out of the fields and to delay planting that spring. Just as the field work was getting started that spring Curt heard the sombre news from uptown in LeRoy, that Matt Klassy had died on May 2, 1953. Ownership of the farm now passed to Frank and the other living children of Matt Klassy. Curt would now be shpring the crop of the Engstrom farm with them.
Once the planting was complete in the spring of 1953, Curt had to take advantage of any break in the rainy weather to get the cultivation of the corn and soybeans completed. Even with the delayed spring planting, the corn appeared to be thriving as Curt saw it pass between the cultivator shovels. The placement of the fertilizer in small patches right over the sprouting seed corn, put the weeds at a decided disadvantage as the corn grew up and put the weeds in the shade. No longer were weeds receiving the same benefits as the corn from the commercial fertilizer, as had been true with the broadcast method of application of commercial fertilizer.
As always, time remained the most pressing concern for Curt Foster and his neighbors in the summer of 1953. Commercial fertilizer had already limited the cultivating season to the period of time before the 4th of July. Now in 1953, the periodic rains throughout the month of June reduced this cultivation time even more. It was really thanks only to his ability to cut the cultivation time in half by cultivating four rows at a time that Curt was able to get all his cultivation of the corn and soybeans completed. As he drove to town, on those rare occasions in the summer of 1953, that he was able to leave the farm, Curt had a chance to look at some of the other crops in the neighborhood besides his own. Curt could not help but notice that not all the farmers in his neighborhood were able to adequately cultivate all their corn because of the steady nature of the rains in the early summer of 1953. This lack of cultivation was evident in the appearance of weedy spots in the fields, but it was also evident in the yield figures at the end of the harvest in the fall of 1953.
The average yield of corn for the whole of Mower County was 50 bushels per acre. This was down a full five (5) bushels per acre from the average yield of the year before. Soybeans, on the other had set a new record yield of 20 bushels per acre up a full bushel per acre from the old record set just the year before. The rain of 1953 was not enough to flood the crops, but was enough to prevent the farmers from getting into the field with their cultivators. Consequently, all the cultivating of the corn was not completed by some farmers of Mower County and the lowered yield results for corn county-wide show the result. Competition from weeds obviously reduced the yield results for corn in 1953. However soybeans, the crop that required less cultivation, set a new yield record in 1953. Clearly, the soybean crop had much less competition from weeds than did the corn crop in the same county in 1953. This in turn indicates that the necessary cultivation of soybeans was largely completed in Mower County in 1953, even by farmers using two row equipment.
Those farmers with four–row cultivators like Curt Foster surely stood a better chance of getting their corn cultivation completed than those farmers with two-row cultivators. Thus, we can expect that Curt’s corn yield was higher than the county-wide average. To the degree that his yield was higher than the county average was directly attributable to his change from two-row cultivating to a four-row system of cultivation in 1953. The new Model WD-45 tractor and farm equipment were already paying for themselves in 1953 in terms of higher yield.
In the years, that followed The WD-45 continued to pay for itself. The rain in 1954 was better spaced during cultivation and allowed Curt and his neighbors to complete the cultivation of corn and soybeans. As a result the average yield for soybeans on a county-wide basis set yet another new record average yield of 21 bushels per acre for the whole of Mower County and the yield of corn returned to the 1952 record level of 55 bushels per acre. The Foster family could celebrate the bumper crop harvest but they also had another reason to rejoice. In 1954, another son, Gregory Dan, was born to the Foster family.
The growing season of 1955 was too dry. Soybeans yielded only 16 bushels per acre in 1955 and corn yields fell to 42 bushels per acre. However, 1955 proved to be only a short interregnum in a decade of record setting harvests. In 1956, corn set a staggering new yield record of 68 bushels for the county as a whole and average soybean yields in Mower County climbed to 22 bushels per acre—another new record. Corn yields repeated themselves in 1957 with a county-wide average of 68 bushels per acre as soybean yields rose another three (3) full bushels per acre to 25 bushels per acre in 1957.
Passing almost unnoticed in the successful harvest of 1957 was the sale of the Engstrom farm by Frank Klassy and his siblings to Donald and Dorothy (Richardson) McGowan of Renwick, Iowa. Don McGowan was renting a farm near Renwick in Humboldt County, Iowa. There Don and Dorothy had raised two daughters—Karen and Kay. The older daughter Karen had graduated from high school in the spring of 1956 and was planning to get married to Harold G. Haver. The younger daughter Kay was still attending high school, but would graduate in June of 1958. Currently, it seemed to Curt Foster as though nothing would be changed by the new landlord of the Engstrom farm. However, he remained worried over the future. Still he delighted in the birth of a new daughter, Lynn, in 1957.
Despite any worries that he might have had about the future, Curt started the planting season in 1958 with hopes that another record setting year of crop production was in the offing. However, the growing season that year proved to be another dry season weather-wise and the results of the dry year became evident when the county-wide production figures for the fall of 1958 revealed that corn yields were down by 18% to only 56 bushels per acre. The soybean crop of Mower County suffered worse under the severe weather conditions of the summer of 1958. The fall harvest revealed the county-wide average soybean yield was down by a full 30% from the year before—1957. To make matters worse, the bad growing season was pretty much localized. The nation had a record setting year in the production of soybeans and, as a consequence, the price of soybeans fell to $2.00 a bushel as an average for the whole year of 1958. The new year of 1959 did not look any better as the price of soybeans dipped under $2.00 to fall to $1.96 per bushel as an average for the full year of 1959. This was the worst of situations for a farmer to experience. To have a bad year locally while the nation is having a bumper year meant that, in the first place, the local farmer family has a reduced amount of crop to sell to the elevator and, in the second place, the price that they receive for their crop is also reduced because of the glut of crop on the market caused by the bountiful crop in other parts of the nation.
While corn also had a record production year in 1958, the decline in prices was not quite as severe as it was with soybeans. Thus, the corn crop saved the family income for the Foster family and other Mower County farm families in 1958. Diversification of farm income was working again, especially in this bad harvest year.
Some time in the winter of 1958-1959, Curt and Mary Foster heard the news that they had feared. Donald and Dorothy McGowan wanted to come to the Engstrom farm to run the farm operation themselves and, thus, they provided the Fosters with notice of the termination of the rental agreement. Curt and Mary would have to move to another farm. Despite purchasing the Engstrom farm over a year before, Don and Dorothy McGowan had stayed on the rental farm in near Renwick to allow their youngest daughter, Kay, to graduate from high school in Iowa with her friends in the class of 1958. Since Kay had now graduated, the family was now entirely free to move to the Engstrom farm. Don and Dorothy McGown wished to move onto the Engstrom farm starting March 1, 1959. For the first time Don and Dorothy would be farming on a farm they owned themselves.
So while Curt and Mary Foster searched for another farm to rent (they found a farm in Oak Grove Township, just across the state line in Howard County, Iowa), and while they packed their belongings to move off the Engstrom farm, the McGowan family began to bring their belongings onto the Engstrom farm. Don McGowan farmed with a Ford model 8N tractor, but when the Allis-Chalmers Model WD-45 was introduced, Don McGowan purchased one of these new WD-45 tractors from his local Allis Chalmers dealer. Don had used the WD-45 tractor on the farm he rented near Renwick, Iowa. This was another example of Allis-Chalmers meeting the power needs of a rental farming operation.
Like the Model WD-45 owned by Curt Foster, the tractor that Don McGowan had purchased was fitted with an adjustable wide front-end. However, Don had also purchased an additional narrow front-end for the same tractor. At various times throughout the year, he would change the tractor from a wide front-end tractor to a narrow front-end tractor. Harvest season was one of the times that required Don McGowan to mount the narrow front end on the WD-45. Among the farm machinery that Don McGowan brought with him to the Engstrom farm was an Allis-Chalmers two-row mounted corn picker. This corn picker was exactly like the Henry F. and Wallace Juberien corn picker described in an earlier article. (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.)
Don McGowan anticipated mounting the corn picker on his model WD-45 tractor. However, in the fall of 1959, Don McGowan found that his tractor was busy with the soybean harvest and could not be spared to be used as the power source for the mounted corn picker. Consequently, Don borrowed an unstyled model WC Allis-Chalmers tractor from a neighbor to use over the fall harvest season. He mounted the corn picker on this borrowed Model WC tractor. Not only was the mounted corn picker used on the Engstrom farm during the 1959 fall corn harvest, but several neighbors requested that Don McGowan bring the WC and the mounted corn picker to their farms to “open” the corn fields on those farms.
“Opening” a corn field, was a procedure by which the “end rows” on the near and far end of the corn field were picked. This allowed any pull-type corn picker, with an wagon in tow, to turn around at the ends of the field with impunity without running over any unpicked corn. To make the field even more convenient for use with a pull-type picker, Don would make a few rounds with the WC tractor and mounted picker across the middle of the field as well as along each side of the field. This would divide the corn field into two or three “lands.” When the field properly opened, the farmer could then enter the field with his pull-type picker and harvest all the rest of the corn in the field without running down any unpicked corn. Furthermore, with the field divided into lands, the “turn-around” an the end of the field could be kept relatively short—as opposed to driving the entire width of the field at the end of every round, just to make the return trip across the field.
Trying to open a corn field with a pull-type picker would result in the tractor and wagon running over many unpicked rows of corn on the initial trips across the field. To be sure, if the field was opened with a pull-type picker, the farmer could turn the picker around and pick the ears of corn that remained on the stalks of the rows that had been run down. However, this procedure would not be able to recover the ears that had fallen to the ground as the rows had been run over. This loss of ears was the type of loss that was becoming unacceptable to diversified farmers at the end of the 1950s.
Consequently, many farmers wished to have their corn fields opened by mounted corn pickers. However, once the field was opened, most farmers, preferred to pick their corn with a pull-type corn picker, because pull-type pickers generally had large, efficient husking beds. Most mounted pickers did not have a husking bed at all. Any husking of the ears of corn performed by a mounted corn picker was generally limited to the husks that could be removed by the upper part of the snapping rollers. Usually this resulted in a very unsatisfactory amount of husking. (Readers will remember that the Juberien family also had criticism of the husking ability of their Allis-Chalmers mounted corn picker and preferred to use the mounted corn picker only to open the corn fields at the start of the harvest season each year. Once opened, the Juberiens picked their corn fields with a two-row New Idea Model 6A pull-type corn picker. The Model 6A was renowned for its husking capability.)
Accordingly, many of Don McGowan’s new neighbors in LeRoy Township sought to have him use his Allis-Chalmers mounted corn picker to open their corn fields before using their own pull-type pickers in the corn harvest of 1959. (One of these farmers in LeRoy Township seeking to have Don McGowan open his corn fields with the mounted corn picker was his next door neighbor, Wayne A. Wells, father of the current author, who operated the farm immediately to the east of the Engstrom farm.)
So once again, in 1959, Allis-Chalmers tractors were called upon to supply the power demands of the farming operation on the Engstrom farm, just they had in the previous decade on that some farm. The decade of 1950 through 1960 had experienced a staggering number of successful harvests and record yields. However, despite the record harvests, the long term decline in the price received for cash crops had eroded the profitability of rental farm agreements. The experience of Curt and Mary Foster on the Engstrom farm, during this period of time, shows clearly that only by making every improvement possible to their diversified farming operation to reduce the costs of raising farm products, could a diversified farm family make a decent profit at rental farming. Helping the rental farmers out in this regard was the Allis-Chalmers Company. Tractors and farm machinery manufactured by the Allis-Chalmers Company were, specifically, designed and marketed to help farmers make these necessary improvements and to do so at an inexpensive initial price.