Statistics recorded with Counterize - Version 3.1.4
Statistics recorded with Counterize - Version 3.1.4
A 1931 Farmall Regular at Work in Mower County, Minnesota by Brian Wayne Wells
(As published in the March/April 2008 issue of
Belt Pulley Magazine)
In the years before the First World War, the internal combustion tractor had shown great promise as an efficient power source for use on farms. Immediately following the First World War, that promise came into fruition as internal combustion powered tractors replacing work horses in the most arduous tasks on the average farm. During the 1920s, many farmers were performing their heaviest field work; e.g. plowing and discing, with farm tractors. However, one field task avoided mechanization and still required work horses. That was the cultivation of row crops—especially corn. The conventional “four-wheel” or “standard” style farm tractor was not suited, nor had it been designed, for to the task of cultivating row crops.
Ever since 1915, the International Harvester Company had been experimenting with various proto-types and configurations of a motorized self-propelled cultivator. However, as important as a cultivating machine would be to the average family farm, a separate motorized implement, which would be used only for the task of cultivating row crops in the summer time and would be stored unused on the farm for the remainder of the year, was not deemed the most efficient use of the limited resources of the average family farming operation. Eventually, the minds the engineers at International Harvester, crystallized around the concept of redesigning the conventional farm tractor into a power source on which a cultivator could be mounted during the summer growing season and from which the cultivator could be removed once the cultivation of row crops was finished. Such a redesigned farm tractor could be used for all tasks on the average family farm on a year-around basis and could replace the horse entirely on the average family farm. Because such a redesigned tractor held the promise of performing all tasks on the farm, the International Harvester Company began calling this newly redesigned tractor the “Farmall” tractor.
The conventional “standard” or “four wheel” style tractor had both front wheels mounted wide apart. Just like an automobile, the front wheels were spaced so that the rear wheels of the conventional tractor traveled in the same paths as the front wheels of the tractor. Additionally, the standard four wheel tractor had an “automotive style” type of steering in which each front wheel pivoted on its own bolster. Thus, the standard tractor could turn only as sharply as a car. On the other hand, the front wheels of the Farmall tractor were mounted close together in a narrow front end configuration. Both of the front wheels of the Farmall were mounted on the same bolster or pivot point which allowed the front wheels of the Farmall to be turned to a 90° angle from the straight forward line of the tractor. This type of steering is called “fifth-wheel” steering. Both because of the narrow front end and the fifth wheel type of steering, the Farmall tractor design has been called the “tricycle design.” The tricycle design of the Farmall tractor was ideal for the cultivation of row crops.
Thus, in 1924, after nine years of experimentation, the new Farmall went into production at the old Tractor Works located at 2600 West 31st Boulevard (the corner of 24th and Western Avenue) in Chicago, Illinois, beginning with Farmall tractor bearing the Serial Number 0501. Only 199 Farmalls were produced in 1924. However, in 1925, the Farmall’s first full year in production, another 837 were manufactured. Only in 1926, did production of the Farmall hit its stride, with 4,418 Farmalls being made and sold in that year. The suggested retail price of these new Farmalls was $950.00. However, in October of 1926, production of the Farmall was relocated to a new factory—the Farmall Works located in Rock Island, Illinois.
Introduction of the innovative new Farmall tractor coincided with some other industrial innovations—large and small. Some of these innovations were incorporated into the design of the Farmall, even after production of the Farmall had already begun. One such industrial innovation was rather small in size but proved to be a very important watershed in industrial and farm machine lubrication. This was the development of the grease gun and the small grease fitting called the “zerk.” This small innovation came to a great number of farms of North America, “piggy-backed” on the Farmall tractor. The grease zerk was destined to change a great number of practices on the farm.
The word “zerk” was derived from its inventor—Oscar Ulysses Zerk. Emmigrating from the Magar region of the Hungarian part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Oscar Zerk came to the United States and settled in Kenosha, Wisconsin. There he developed the famous little grease fitting that still bears his name. It was the development of the zerk and the parallel development of the grease gun by young Arthur Gulborg that led to a small revolution in lubrication of bearings, shafts and other moving machine parts.
Traditionally, grease cups were used for periodic lubrication of moving parts on both farm machinery and industrial machines. The large cap of the individual grease cup was removed and filled with grease. Then the cap was screwed back into place, but was not screwed entirely onto the fitting. Rather, the large cap was held in place on the fitting by just a couple of threads. This was usually done at the beginning of a day’s work in the field with the machine. Throughout the day, while working with the machine in the field, the operator would pause long enough to turn each cap a couple more revolutions. Turning the cap tighter onto the grease fitting would force more grease into the bearings.
One particular factory, owned by the Alemite Die Casting and Manufacturing Company in Chicago, Illinois, contained number of machines fitted with grease cups. The job of filling the grease caps and screwing down the caps throughout the day belonged to a young man by the name of Arthur S. Gulborg—who happened to be the son of one of the co-owners of the Alemite Company. Arthur Gulborg, however, had real mechanical ability and soon developed a “grease gun” with a hose which could be screwed onto the grease fittings. Consequently, the grease cup was made obsolete.
Greasing with a grease gun gave a real boost to efficiency because of the reduced amount of time required for greasing. The grease gun proved to be a popular innovation in lubrication and soon the Alemite Die Casting and Manufacturing Company named their new grease gun method—the “Alemite High-Pressure Lubricating System” and began marketing the grease gun.
In 1918, Arthur Gulborg and his father approached the United States Army seeking a government contract to sell the Alemite grease guns to the Army. They were successful and on July 10, 1918, the Alemite High-Pressure Lubricating System was made “standard equipment” on all U.S. Army trucks. The Alemite grease gun became so popular that sales of the grease gun soon outstripped the other products manufactured by the Alemite Company.
Over time, the Alemite Company developed a compression-style grease fitting which replaced the screw type-connection. In 1922, Alemite developed its famous “Alemite button-head” connection. The button head was also a compression style connection. The Alemite grease gun did not lock onto the compression style connection. Rather a seal between the grease gun coupler and the grease fitting was maintained by the grease gun operator applying pressure against the fitting with the grease gun. Indeed, initially, the grease was pumped into the fitting by the act of repeatedly pressing the grease gun squarely onto the button head fitting. This type of grease gun is called the “push/pump”type of grease gun.
The Alemite button head connection was made available in a number of different sizes—the Regular or standard button head; the Junior button head; and the Giant button head. Later much smaller Alemite connections were designed and marketed as “pin head” compression connections. The pin head became so universally popular that it became the unofficial standard of the industry. The pin head connection became known simply as the “Alemite” connection.
Starting in 1923, automobiles made in the United States were being routinely equipped with an Alemite grease gun to encourage owners to lubricate their cars on a frequent basis. These “pistol type” grease guns featured a trigger style of pump. The operator’s index finger pulled a trigger on the handle of the pistol-type grease gun and this action would pump grease into the pin head connection. While the old push/pump-type of grease gun could develop pressure of 6000 pounds per square inch (p.s.i.), the pistol-type grease gun could develop 7,500 p.s.i. The pistol-type grease gun was more flexible and could be fitted with a rubber hose. Many of the grease guns sold with automobiles were fitted with rubber hoses. The advantage was that the rubber hose could bend around corners and the grease gun was easier to use in close quarters. The disadvantage was that both hands were required when greasing with a rubber hose. One hand was needed to press the coupler of the grease gun squarely against the pin head connection to form a tight seal, while the other hand held the gun and operated the trigger.
Meanwhile, the alternative style of grease connector was developed by Oscar Zerk and was being was being marketed by the Allyn-Zerk Company of Cleveland, Ohio. Like the Alemite grease connections, the first Zerk grease connections were also of the compression type. However, in 1922, Zerk developed his first “ball” or “nipple” style grease gun connection. These connections allowed grease gun coupler to snap securely onto the ball-type grease connection. No longer was there a need to press the coupler onto the grease connection in order to form a seal. The tight seal was formed merely by the coupler being snapped over the ball on the grease fitting. This type of grease fitting could with stand pressures of 10,000 p.s.i. Soon grease guns with long pump handles, as opposed to triggers, were being manufactured. These long handle grease guns could develop 10,000 p.s.i. of pressure and, thus, take full advantage of this new high pressure grease fitting. It was probably inevitable that the new improved high pressure Zerk grease fitting would become a part of the Alemite High Pressure Lubrication System. This is exactly what happened when the Alemite Company bought out the Allyn-Zerk Company in 1924—the very same year that International Harvester introduced its Farmall tractor.
The first Farmalls from Serial Number 501 up through Serial Number 4339, were fitted with Alemite pin head compression type grease connections. From the very first, the International Harvester Company included a push-pump style grease gun (IHC Part Number 27051D) with every Farmall they sold. However, in May of 1926, beginning with the Farmall bearing the Serial No. 4340, the International Harvester Company began fitting every new Farmall tractors with the new Alemite-Zerk ball-type grease fittings. Consequently, a new push-pump type grease gun (IHC Part Number 59599) with the appropriate coupling for a ball type Alemite-Zerk grease fitting replaced the earlier push/pump grease gun and was sold with every new Farmall tractor made after Serial No. 4339.
Installation of the new improved zerk grease fittings, was just one of the many innovations that combined to make the Farmall tractor a very popular sales item for the International Harvester Company. Production figures of the Farmall continued to mushroom by geometric proportions, reaching 9,501 in 1927; and 24,898 in 1928; and 35,320 in 1929. In 1930, production of the Farmall reached a new all time high with the manufacture and sale of 42,092 tractors. Thus, in its first seven years of production nearly 120,000 of the new unconventionally designed row crop tractors were put to work on the farms of the United States. However, there were a total six (6) million operating farms in the United States in 1930 and only 850,000 of those farms employed a farm tractor of any style in 1930. Thus, nearly six (6) out of every seven (7) farming operations in the United States still relied entirely on horses as the only source of power on the farm. Accordingly, farm tractors of any configuration were still an unusual sight in rural America in 1931. Row crop tractors were positively rare on North America farms—being employed on only 2% of the nation’s farms.
For a number of years following its introduction in 1924, the Farmall was the only row crop tractor available to the farming public. Even as late as 1931, the other major national tractor manufacturers were still only getting started in designing their own row crop tractors. Thus, in 1931 the term “row crop tractor” was still completely synonymous with the name “Farmall.” Farmers who desired to purchase a tractor for cultivating row crops were, thus, required to visit their local International Harvester dealer. One such farmer was Marvin Seim who owned a 240-acre farm in section 32 of Frankfort Township in Mower County in southeastern Minnesota.
This farm had originally belonged to Marvin’s parents, Gunder and Martha (Brattieg) Seim. Gunder and Martha were both Norweigan immigrants. Martha Brattieg had immigrated into the United States, at the age of 13 years, with her parents, Knute and Margaret (Grove) Brattieg, in 1880. Her family settled in LeGrand Township in Marshall County, Iowa. Two years later in 1882, Gunder Seim had immigrated into the United States from Raldahl, Norway, at the age of 23 years.
During his first years in the United States, Gunder worked and farmed in Battle Township in Ida County in western Iowa. Later Gunder moved east to Marshall County, Iowa, where he met and married Martha Brattieg in 1891. Together they borrowed some money and purchased a farm in Greencastle Township in Marshall County. On October 4, 1893, a son, Oliver, was born to the couple. Three years later on October 24, 1896, another son, Carl, was born. A third son, Harry, was born on November 2, 1898. Marvin had been born on January 8, 1902. Sometime after the birth of Marvin, Gunder and Martha sold the farm in Greencastle Township and purchased another farm in Timber Creek Township, which was also located in Marshall County, Iowa. On the new farm in Timber Creek Township, the birth of Marvin’s sister, Ella, on August 1, 1906 rounded out the family.
Ten years later, in 1916, the family again sold their farm and moved to the present farm in Frankfort Township in Mower County in Minnesota. This was the farm on which Marvin grew up and came of age. By 1929, Marvin’s parents had retired and sold their interests in the Frankfort Township farm to Marvin. Together with Marvin’s older brother, Carl, Marvin’s parents purchased another farm in Bridgewater Township in Rice County, Minnesota. Here they lived in retirement and provided what assistance they could to their bachelor son, Carl, on the Bridgewater Township farm.
Marvin’s older brother Harry, owned and operated a 120 acre piece of land which bordered Marvin’s farm—the home farm. However, there was no building site on the land that Harry owned. Accordingly, Harry lived with Marvin in the house on their boyhood home farm. The two brothers cooperated to farm the whole 360 acres of the two farms as a single farming operation. The brothers raised a great deal of oats and hay on their farms to feed the horses they used in the fields. Corn made up a great deal of the remaining arable acreage on the farm. The Seim brothers had some hogs, sheep and chickens on their farm, but their main farming operation was beef. They owned a number of Hereford cows that produced a crop of calves each year which they would they raise and market as full-grown feeder cattle.
Corn was generally a cash crop for the Seim brothers, but it was also a flexible crop. Harry and Marvin knew that, if the corn were not sold directly to the elevator, the corn could be fed to the beef cattle on the farm—particularly to the feeder cattle which could then be marketed for cash income. This flexibility provided the Seim brothers with a certain amount diversity in their farming operation. When prices of corn were higher than normal, the brothers would sell more corn and sell off some of the Hereford beef cows and, thus, reduce their breeding stock. When the price of beef was higher than normal as compared with the price for corn, Harry and Marvin could increase the number of cows in their breeding herd, by saving back a few of the better-looking two-year-old female calves (heifers) out of the feeder cattle that were soon to be marketed. The additional corn would then be used to feed and fatten the additional calves that would result from the enlarged breeding herd.
Naturally, it was always easier to decrease the beef herd, than it was to increase the beef herd. The decision to increase the size of the beef herd was not a decision that could be made on the spur of the moment. Young heifers, could be bred as early as six (6) to eight (8) months of age. However, heifers at this age are too small physically to carry a pregnancy and give birth. Harry and Marvin, like most cattle farmers, preferred to wait until the heifer was 15 months of age before she was bred. Given the 285 day (or 9 month) gestation period, the heifer would, then, be a full two years of age when she gave birth to the new calf. Besides being physically full-grown at two years of age, the heifer would be more mature and would be a better mother at that age.
Thus, depending on when they made their decision to increase the size of their beef herd was made, Marvin and Harry would have to wait until the heifers came of age. Then, once the heifers were bred, there was the 285 day (9 months and 7 days) gestation period until the heifer gave birth. Then the newborn calves would need almost two years to reach market weight of about 1200 pounds. Thus, the decision to increase the size of the beef herd was a decision that could possibly take nearly three years to effectuate. Over that three-year period of time, a great deal could happen in the beef economy.
Over the last couple of years, however, Marvin and Harry, along with their neighbors in Mower County, had been attempting to use this flexibility of corn to their best advantage. It had all started back in the summer of 1927. Ever since the end of the 1921 post-war recession cattle prices had remained fairly constant at about $9.57 per one hundred pounds. However, in August of 1927 beef prices started to rise, reaching $12.02 per one hundred pounds for the whole month of August and the price of beef kept on climbing. By January, 1928 the price was $13.67 per one hundred pounds as an average for the whole month. This represented a 37% increase in the price of beef and beef prices remained high well into 1929.
Corn prices were also experiencing an increase. However, the increase in corn prices in 1928 was much more tame—rising only 11.1 % over the normal price. Against the dramatic increase of beef, corn prices seemed positively flat. No wonder then that Marvin and Harry sought to increase their beef herd. They were not alone. Nationally, the number of beef cows having calves grew by almost 10% between 1928 and 1931. Right here in Mower County, the number of beef cattle had increased by 6% in just one year from 1930 to 1931.
To feed these additional cattle, diversified farmers with beef herds were retaining more of their shelled corn on the farm rather than selling it to the local elevator. This fact was reflected in the decline of national corn inventory figures for the United States. The “inventory of corn” represented all “domestic corn in store in public and private elevators…and corn afloat in vessels or barges in harbors of lake and seaboard ports.” (Corn, Commercial Stocks table on the National Agricultural Statistics Service web page of the United States Department of Agriculture website.) This inventory of corn excluded all the corn stored by the farmers, themselves, in their own corn cribs and granaries. Consequently, corn only becomes part of the national “inventory” when a farmer shells out his corn crib and sells the shelled corn to the local elevator. Traditionally, then, inventories are quite low in the summer, when very little corn is sold to the grain elevators around the nation. Inventories of corn usually rise during the winter months when the ear corn stored in corn cribs is traditionally shelled out by farmers of the nation’s Midwestern cornbelt. Corn inventory figures, traditionally, reach an annual peak in the month of March of each year—the most popular month for shelling out the corn cribs on Midwestern farms.
During the years from 1926 through 1930, national corn production, in numbers of bushels harvested, remained at a fairly constant figure. Weather conditions during the growing seasons of each of those years were almost ideal for raising corn. As expected when the 1926 corn crop was shelled out in the winter of 1926-1927, corn inventories, as expected, rose to 49,760,000 bushels during the month of March 1927—indicating that a great deal of the corn being shelled out during the winter of 1926-1927 was being sold to local grain elevators rather than retained on the farm for animal feed. A year later, following the dramatic increase in the price of beef in August, 1927, national inventories of corn reached a high of only 48,270,000 bushels in March of 1928. Clearly, some farmers were already holding back more of their shelled corn than in past years. Most probably, these farmers were beef farmers intending to increase the number of feeder cattle on their farms and retaining additional shelled corn on their farms to feed them. This tread becomes clearer each following year as beef prices remained at high levels. In March of 1929, the corn inventories reached only 37,740,000 bushels, and just last March (1930), corn inventories were only 25,670,000 bushels, as still more shelled corn was retained on the farm to be used as feed for livestock. Harry and Marvin Seim were among those beef farmers that had retained more corn to feed the increased number of feeder cattle on their farm. They were now “finishing” their first expanded crop of feeder calves for the market. They were about to reap benefit of these additional feeder cattle.
Like many other beef farmers, Harry and Marvin, generally, marketed their feeder cattle in December or January each year, as the two-year-old feeder cattle reached the ideal weight of 1,100 to 1,200 pounds. The winter of 1930-1931 was warmer than usual and there was a reduced amount of snow all winter long. Consequently, Marvin and Harry had no trouble arranging with 28-year old Frederick Warner, a truck owner from Grand Meadow to come to the farm on a few occasions over the winter months to haul all the two-year-old feeder cattle to the Hormel Company meat packing plant located 25 miles away, in Austin, Minnesota (1930 pop. 12,276). The price they received for the their feeder cattle of about $10.17 per hundred pounds. Although this price was not as good as the price had been, it was still the price was above the normal price–$9.57 per hundred weight.
Marvin and Harry had been able to convert their corn from a cash crop to an animal feed quite successfully during the years from 1927 through 1931. As a result they were able to increase their farm income. Now, they wanted use the profits, gained from this successful conversion, to further modernize their farming operation. They wanted to purchase a farm tractor. When thinking of purchasing a farm tractor, Marvin and Harry bore in mind that no matter whether the corn was sold or used for feed, they would always need to raise a lot of corn on the 360 acres they operated together. This meant that the brothers spent a great deal of time every summer in the corn fields, cultivating, cross cultivating and re-cultivating the corn on their large farm. Consequently, Marvin and Harry were desperate to find a way to get their field work done each summer—especially the cultivation of the large amount of corn they raised each year. This extreme necessity compelled the brothers to begin looking at the new tractors that were coming onto the market.
Because cultivation was foremost on their minds, Marvin and Harry, naturally, were led to explore the purchase of a Farmall tractor. Thus, on one of the mild spring days in March of 1931, Marvin and Harry Seim visited the International Harvester Company dealership located at 1303 East Oakland Street in Austin, Minnesota (1930 pop. 12,276.) The Austin dealership was not a privately owned franchise dealership. Rather it was a Company-owned dealership. The employees of the dealership were direct employees of the International Harvester Company.
Harry and Marvin were both aware that a Farmall tractor would allow them to complete their cultivation of corn in far fewer hours than they were now spending in the field with the horses. The sales staff at the IHC dealership in Austin, however, stated that purchasing the Farmall, would drastically reduce operating expenses on the farm—allegedly savings of up to 27½ cents on every bushel of corn they raised. Marvin strongly doubted this claim. This amount was nearly one-third the price of bushel of corn under normal market conditions. However, the sales staff told Harry and Marvin that International Harvester was prepared to support this claim by introducing a new financing plan called the “Farmall Savings Investment Plan.” (Indeed public announcement of this new financing plan was to be made, later, in early May, 1931, in a series of advertisements carried in many local weekly newspapers across the Midwest.) Under the terms of this of this plan, the brothers could pay for the tractor over three years. International Harvester sought to drive home the point about the savings in annual operating expense by requiring the first annual payment was to be due in the fall after the corn harvest. Marvin knew this was a mistake.
Farmers are paid for there corn only in March after the corn had dried over the winter months in a corn crib and then was shelled in March, the following spring. Indeed Harry and Marvin would selling their feeder cattle before they ever sold their corn and it would probably be the money from the feeder cattle that would make the first installment payment for the tractor. (International Harvester would soon learn from this “mistake” and in 1937 the Company would rename their financing plan to become the famous “Income Purchase Plan.” Under this financing plan the farmer would pay installments according to his scheduled income during the year, whenever the farmer stated that income would be received. In this way the farmer “wrote his own ticket.” (The Income Purchase Plan is featured in the 1937 movie called “Write Your Own Ticket” which is available on Disc/Tape #4 of the International Harvester Promotional Movies collection.)
The sales staff at the Austin dealership put together a sales contract including a new Farmall tractor, a new McCormick-Deering 2-bottom No. 8 “Little Genius” tractor plow with 14-inch bottoms and a McCormick-Deering Model 211 “steerable” two-row mounted cultivator. Then the sales staff made an offer on the entire package that Marvin and Harry could not refuse. Marvin and Harry were convinced that purchase of the Farmall would add to the efficiency of their farming operation and were impressed by the Company’s offer to extend financing for purchasing of the entire package over a three-year period of time.
The Farmall tractor was colored a light “battle ship gray” color with red colored wheels in the front and the rear. Both the Little Genius plow and the two-row cultivator were much more brightly colored than the tractor itself. The plow was red with royal blue colored moldboards and cream white colored wheels, the while the Model 211 cultivator had a red frame and royal blue gangs attached to the frame.
Naturally, the Farmall was fitted with the high pressure ball-type grease zerks, as noted above. In the years since the International Harvester Company had converted to ball type zerk, the ball-type zerk had been adopted by the American Society of Agricultural Engineers as the “standard” for all grease lubrications systems. Consequently, these same zerks also appeared on the No. 8 Little Genius plow and the Model 211 mounted cultivator.
With the money that they received from Hormel’s from the sale of their Hereford feeder calves, Harry and Marvin placed a down payment on the new farm equipment. They took delivery of the light-gray tractor and multi-colored plow early in the spring so that they could get used to operating the Farmall before field work started. Delivery of the Model 211 cultivator was delayed until later in the spring, closer to the time that it would be needed in the corn fields.
Marvin and Harry employed the Farmall on the wintertime chores of hauling manure to the fields and grinding feed for the livestock. Additionally, it was time to shell out the corn in their corn crib. Once they filled all the granary bins on the farm with shelled corn, they intended to sold the surplus corn to the Farmer’s Elevator Company in Grand Meadow. The price of corn was not good—averaging only $.65 per bushel for the whole month of February. The price of corn had not risen, as expected, since the summer. The price of corn was not obeying its normal annual cycle. Marvin and Harry did not receive a lot of money for the corn they sold, but they used part of it to pay some more on the new farm machinery.
Following the warm snowless winter, the spring arrived very early in 1931. April, 1931 was very warm. Temperatures even in the early part of the month reached above 80°F. Marvin and Harry were able to get into the fields rather early in the season with the new Farmall and the new No. 8 plow. The brothers took turns plowing with the tractor and doing the lighter work of seedbed preparation with the work horses. Although they now had fewer horses than before, they had not sold all the horses. The soil warmed so well that they were able to plant the corn much earlier than normal.
When it was time to cultivate the corn, the difference between the tractor mounted two-row cultivator and the one-row trailing horse-drawn cultivator was dramatic. The tractor could cover twice the number of rows, every time across the field than could the horses. Although the tractor moved along at 3 miles per hour (m.p.h.) in second gear, a speed no faster than the horses, the tractor could still cover more than twice the acreage in a day than could the horses. The Farmall did not need to be rested at the end of the rows before heading back across the fields, like the horses. Furthermore, once the small shoots of corn had become tall enough that the dirt from the cultivator shovels presented no danger of covering the young corn plants, Harry and Marvin could remove the shields from the cultivator and as the corn grew in size even more, the tractor could be shifted out of second gear and into third gear for the cultivation. In third gear, the tractor could move along at 4 mph.
Thanks to the early planting in 1931, the corn was “knee high by the 4th of July.” This was the traditional “rule of thumb” measure by which the growth the corn crop was measured each year. Marvin and Harry were in the middle of cross-cultivation during the first part of July. Driving the tractor across the width of the field Marvin would press down on the clutch when he reached the fence at the side of the corn field. He then raised the cultivator by means of the two levers on either side of the operator’s seat. Then shifting the tractor into reverse gear, he would turn the steering wheel sharply and back the tractor around 180° to align the cultivator with the next two rows of corn to be cultivated. When mounted on the Farmall, a great deal of the “steerable” component of the Model 211 cultivator protruded out forward from the front wheels. This made the front end of the tractor very heavy and made the steering wheel quite difficult to turn at the sides of the field. Accordingly, Marvin did not try to turn sharply enough to line the tractor up on the two rows immediately adjacent to the rows he had just completed. Rather Marvin followed a pattern of cultivation in which he would lined the tractor up on a pair of rows which were four or even six rows from the pair he had just cultivated. He would return to the skipped rows on subsequent trips across the field. In this way, Marvin could avoid the very sharp turns with the steel wheeled tractor in the soft dirt of the corn field which would be required if he were to align the tractor on the next two adjacent rows each time he turned around. Additionally, by backing through the 180° turn at the side of the field Marvin reduced the amount of effort needed to turn the steering wheel and eased the stress on the front wheels. If he were to proceed forward through the 180° turn at the end of the field, the sharply turned front wheels would tend to bulldoze the soft ground in front of the tractor.
Once the tractor and cultivator was lined up on the rows of corn for the return trip across the width of the field, Marvin backed the Farmall all the way back to the fence before he lowered the cultivator. The shiny cultivator shovels that were hanging from the gangs of the cultivator were a combination of “spear point” shovels and “deer tongue sovels. The wider spear point shoves were located on the gangs near the middle area between the hills of corn, well away from the corn plants. The narrow double-ended “deer tongue” shovels which were fitted on the gangs of the cultivator nearest the hills of corn. The deer tongue shovels were located near the corn plants because they were narrow and presented less danger to the corn plants as they passed close by the corn plants. The deer tongue shovels were double ended, so that when the sharp point of the shovel was worn off to a rounded shape, the shovel could be loosened and turned over so that the other end of the deer tongue shovel could be used. Only when both ends of the deer tongue shovel were worn to a rounded shape would the shovel have to be discarded and replaced with a new shovel.
Now with the tractor backed up to the fence, Marvin lowered the cultivator and shifted the tractor out of reverse and back into third gear and released the clutch. As the tractor moved forward, the cultivator shovels plunged under the ground again. The Model 211 cultivator was one of the patented McCormick-Deering “steerable” cultivators. This meant that the cultivator gangs were connected to the steering system of the Farmall tractor. As the steering wheel was operated to turn the front wheels of the tractor to avoid running over hills of corn, cultivator gangs would also swing from side to side to avoid the hills of corn. Indeed, International Harvester advertised that the gangs of the steerable cultivators could swing from side to side faster and farther that the front wheels of the tractor as the steering wheel was turned from side to side.
The steerable cultivator was ideal for the cross cultivating of wire-checked corn. Ideally, corn planted by wire-checking results in straight lateral lines of corn across the width of the field. However, in reality, the lines of corn plants across the width of the field are rarely absolutely straight. To compensate for this lack of straightness, the operator of the steerable cultivator actually “steers” the cultivator shovels around the hills of corn when cross-cultivating corn.
As Marvin drove the tractor across the corn field, the front end of the tractor bobbed up and down as the front wheels rolled across the hilled up rows created by the earlier lengthwise cultivation of the corn. Marvin knew enough to grip the cast iron steering wheel tightly and to keep his thumbs safely outside the steering wheel.
Marvin knew that if one of the front wheels were to hit a rock, the steering wheel would suddenly go spinning out his grip. If his thumbs were wrapped around the inside of the steering wheel he could very easily end up with a broken or dislocated thumb as the spokes of the rapidly spinning steering wheel caught his thumbs.
Harry and Marvin listened to the market reports on WCCO radio 830 AM out of Minneapolis. What they heard in regards to the price of beef was not encouraging. Following the sale of their feeder cattle in the winter of 1930-1931, the market price of beef had continued to decline throughout the rest of 1931. By December of 1931, the price of beef had fallen to $7.11 per hundred weight. Nor did any relief appear on the horizon as 1932 began. The price of beef averaged $6.61 per hundred weight for the month of January, 1932. By December of 1932 the price had fallen to $5.44 per hundred weight. Beef prices finally bottomed out in February of 1933 at a price of $4.80—a 64.2% decrease in the price of beef since 1929.
Switching back to corn as a cash crop, was no alternative in the present economic situation. Indeed, corn prices ended up worse, as they spiraled downward and bottomed out at $.24 per bushel in February of 1933, which represented a 72.4% decrease from its 1929 price. The present economic situation was being recognized as the worst financial crisis in the history of the United States. Beef farmers could take a minor amount of consolation in the fact that hogs were faring even worse than beef in the economic depression. Hog prices had started their decline in November of 1930, at least two months before beef and corn and when the price of hogs bottomed out in February of 1933 it reached a low of $2.52 per hundred weight representing an 88.7% drop in hog prices since 1929.
The economy refused to recover on its own. However, on March 4, 1933, the Roosevelt Administration was inaugurated into office and began agricultural policies which sought to raise farm commodity prices by a policy government spending on relief for suffering farm families. President Roosevelt’s optimistic personality and his use of the radio to communicate with the public restored consumer confidence in the economy. Agricultural prices finally started to recover in March of 1933–the very month that Franklin D. Roosevelt was inaugurated as President.
The return of consumer confidence was clearly seen in the increased demand for beef. Harry and Marvin noted that in March, 1933, beef prices rose above $5.00 per hundred weight. The rise in price continued at a slow, but steady, rate. In July of 1933, beef rose above $6.00 as an average for the whole month. By June of 1934, the price of beef had returned to a level above $7.00. Three months later, in September of 1934, the price of beef rose above $8.00 as an average for the whole month. When the Seim brothers sold feeder cattle in January of 1934 and January of 1935, the price they received was hardly enough to break even on the expenses of raising the cattle. However, it was the best price they could get. It was a desparate time. During these years, farmers worried about losing everything they had. On Seim farm, the white-faced Hereford beef cattle operation had saved their farming operation. However, it was Farmall tractor that had reduced operating expenses of raising the corn to feed the cattle that had allowed the Seim brothers to survive the worst years with their farm intact.
Even with the assistance of government spending, recovery of the United States economy came slowly. Only in January of 1935, did the price of beef finally reached $9.24, which was within the customary range of prices established between 1922-1929. It was like rain on a long parched desert. Once recovery had started it was contagious. Recovery was in the air. It was a time when hopes were finally allowed to grow and prosper again after having been dashed and repressed for so long. This newly re-discovered optimism carried over into the personal lives of the brothers. Marvin met Luella Kathleen Hahn, the daughter of Joseph G. and Ursa (Broadwater) Hahn of Preston, Minnesota. Luella and Marvin fell in love and, in 1933, they were married. On February 15, 1935 a daughter, Eleanor Marie was born to the couple. Later in 1942, a son, George Orrin Seim would complete Marvin and Luella’s immediate family.
By the spring of 1936, Marvin had owned the Farmall for five years. In the interim, changes had occurred in tractor technology. The Farmall tractor had originally been designed to be started on gasoline and then when the engine was heated up sufficiently, the engine was switched to the cheaper kerosene and distillate fuels for the field work. Tractors powered by kerosene and tractor distillate, with an octane count of around 50, would deliver approximately 10% less horsepower than on gasoline, with an octane count of 80. Still considering the price differential between gasoline and kerosene, use of the cheaper fuels could save significantly on operating expenses in the course of a single growing season. However, by the mid-to-late 1930s this price differential had largely disappeared and many farmers were making adjustments to their kerosene tractors to let them burn gasoline full time. In 1936, Marvin and Harry also made these necessary modifications to the carburetion system of their Regular that would allow it to burn gasoline full time.
During the mid-1930s, rubber tires became an option for any new Farmall tractor. Marvin and Harry realized that their “Regular” Farmall tractor would be much easier to steer if only they had rubber tires in the front. Consequently, in the late 1930s the brothers made arrangements with Alfred Green owner and operator of a blacksmith shop in Grand Meadow to cut the outer steel rims off the front wheels of their Farmall Regular and then weld new rims on the wheel centers which would allow 6.00 x 16” rubber tires to be mounted on each of the new front rims. To save money, the brothers mounted two used car tires on the front rims of the Regular.
Starting with the particular F-20 bearing the Serial No. 68749 and the particular F-30 bearing the Serial No. 19064 both of which rolled off their respective assembly lines at the Farmall Works in Rock Island on November 1, 1936, the International Harvester Company had begun painting all the Farmall tractors bright red in color instead of the light gray color of all previous Farmall tractors. Meanwhile over at the Tractor Works in Chicago, the same cosmetic changes were made to the Farmall Model F-12 tractors from the dark charcoal gray to same bright red on November 1, 1936. New for 1937, all Farmalls would, henceforth, be painted red at the factory. This cosmetic change proved to be very popular with farmers. Indeed many owners of the gray Farmalls made before November 1, 1936 began to repaint their Farmalls to make them look like the new Farmall tractors. Thus, before the start of the new growing season, Harry and Marvin had the Regular repainted to the bright red color and appropriately decaled.
In the summer of 1939, Marvin became ill and it became the consensus of the family that he should rent out his farm and sell his farming equipment and livestock. (This was not a mortal illness. As noted above, Marvin and Luella gave birth to the second child, a son, George Orrin Seim, on January 30, 1942. Indeed, Marvin lived on until November 22, 1993 when he died at the ripe old age of 91 years.) In late November of 1939, sale bills of the auction to be held on the Marvin Seim farm began to appear at cafes and grocery stores around eastern Mower County. The sale bill noted that Marvin Seim had, “on account of my health…rented out my farm and will close out all my personal property at an auction on the farm …Thursday, December 14.” The sale bill also appeared in the Friday December 8, 1939, issue of the weekly LeRoy Independent published in the small town of LeRoy, Minnesota (1930 pop. 661). A copy of this weekly paper was delivered through the United States Mail to the farm owned by George and Louise (Schwark) Wells (Consistent readers of the Belt Pulley will remember that George and Louise are the paternal grandparents of the current author. The article called “Dryland Farming in Wyoming” contained the January/February 2007 issue of Belt Pulley describes their experiences in dry land farming near Dever, Wyoming from 1919 until 1923.)
As noted in the article cited above, George and Louise had a family which consisted of a son, Floyd Harrison Wells, born on April 22, 1920, and another son , Donald, born on September 22, 1921 both of whom had been born in Wyoming. Since moving back from Wyoming, the George and Louise and their family had rented a farm located ½ a mile west of Chester, Iowa. There, Louise gave birth to three more children; a son, Wayne, born on November 8, 1923, a daughter Winifred, born in 1926 and Donna born in a 1934. In the winter of 1935-1936, George and Louise purchased their current farm from Moses Crawford of LeRoy, Minnesota and moved onto the farm on March 1, 1936.
George saw the sale bill for the auction on the Marvin Seim farm in the LeRoy Independent. A local auctioneer, Sanford Start of LeRoy, Minnesota, known as “Colonel Sanford Start” was conducting the sale. The auction appeared to be primarily a livestock sale, with 30 head of hogs, 60 head of sheep, 75 chickens and 53 head of cattle of which most were Hereford beef cattle but eight of the cattle were described as “good Holstein milch (milk) cows and two of which were described as three (3) year old Holstein heifers which would soon “freshen” (or give birth). The Wells farm was a diversified farm located in LeRoy Township in Mower County, three (3) miles east north east of the village of LeRoy, Minnesota. Although a diversified farming operation, dairying was the leading component of the George Wells farming operation. Since the late summer of 1939, milk prices had steadily risen—reaching a high price of $3.44 per hundred pounds as a monthly average for the month of October, 1939. This was a price for milk that had not been seen on a consistent basis for more than two years. Accordingly, George Wells was looking for a way to expand his dairy operation by adding some cows to his milking herd, in order to take advantage of these high prices. By purchasing some cows that were either already in “lactation” (giving milk) or who were soon to “freshen” (give birth and begin lactating), George could add to his milk income rather quickly without waiting for his own yearling heifers to mature.
However, arriving at the Seim auction, George found that he was not alone in this type of thinking. However, the Holstein milk cows were quickly bid up to a level above the price George was willing to pay. Nonetheless, it was a beautiful sunny day with temperatures up to 60°F and George was intrigued by the Farmall Regular that was for sale at the auction. So he waited until the afternoon to see what kind of bidding interest there was in the Regular. When Colonel Start, the auctioneer, got around to accepting bids on the Regular, George was surprised that the bidding remained much lower than he had expected. Thus, George bid on the tractor, himself, and was surprised that his final bid ended up being the winning bid. Thus, this particular Farmall Regular became the first tractor ever owned by the Wells family. Once having purchased the tractor, George also purchased the Model 211 mounted cultivator that was also being sold at the Seim auction. Additionally, George purchased the Little Genius 2-bottom plow with 14” bottoms which had also been bought with the Regular back in 1931.
A couple of days later, on Saturday the 16th of December, George took his eighteen year old son, Donald, his second born son, over to the Seim farm. Once they cranked the Regular and started the engine, George assigned Donald the task of driving the tractor over the dirt roads from the Seim farm to the Wells farm. It was a distance of about 20 miles and with a top speed of 4 mph. the Regular took the better part of a day to make the entire trip. Although the day was unseasonably warm, it was, nonetheless, December and it was still a cold trip driving the Regular home from the Seim farm. Nonetheless, the trip was made just in time. In the next week following Donald’s trip with the Regular, the temperatures dropped and a snow storm deposited five (5) inches of snow on the ground. This was the first snow of the season, but temperatures during the winter of 1939-1940 proved to be colder than normal and, thus, the rest of the winter was a “closed” winter with snow covering ground all winter long until the first week of April of 1940.
Following several dry seasons of the mid-1930s (1934, 1935, 1936 and 1937), Mower County was experiencing some very good growing seasons in the late 1930s (1938, 1939 and 1940). Although he remained a farmer who was fond of his horses, George Wells quickly became aware of the advantages of the farm tractor in reducing amount of time that needed to be spent in the fields, especially plowing and cultivating, as compared with using horses on the same tasks. He would never again be without a tractor in his farming operation.
Some small changes were necessary in the farming operation to accommodate the tractor. First, George obtained a large 500-gallon gasoline barrel which was then mounted up on a home-made wooden frame which held the large barrel up higher that the level of the tractor fuel tank. From its high position on the wooden stand of the 500-gallon barrel allowed the fuel tank on the Regular to be filled by gravity alone. Gasoline flowed down the hose and through the nozzle and straight into the fuel tank of the Regular.
George placed the 500-gallon barrel and its stand under a box elder tree in the yard of the Wells farm. This large tree shaded the gas barrel in the summer time and reduced unnecessary evaporation of gasoline from the barrel in the hot summer months. This tree provided good shade because of a crouch that had formed early in the tree’s life. This crouch was only about four feet off the ground and greatly assisted young children in climbing the old box elder tree. The shade of this old tree became a convenient place to park the Regular when it was not in use in the fields. The relative cool of the shade tree also made it a good place to work on the Regular and on the mounted cultivator when repairs or adjustment were needed. One such repair resulted in the removal and replacement of some worn curved “deer tongue” teeth on the Model 211 cultivator. Rather than discarding the old worn teeth on the ground, George placed the worn-out curved steel teeth in the crouch of the tree intending to depose of them in one of the neighborhood scrap metal drives that were common during the early years of the Second World War. However, the teeth were forgotten and remained in the crouch of the box elder for years. All during the childhood of the current author, the tree grew up around the teeth until the metal shovels could no longer be seen in the crouch of the tree.
The Regular continued to serve as a mechanical power source for field work on the Wells farm until 1942 when George Wells had an opportunity to purchase a new 1942 Farmall Model H tractor and George traded the Regular in to his local International Harvester dealer—E. McRoberts Implement of LeRoy—as part of the purchase agreement of the Farmall Model H. (This particular Farmall Model H was mentioned in the article called “Wartime Farmall H” contained in the July/August 1994 issue of Belt Pulley magazine and also in this website.)
As noted above, the 1931 Regular that George bought from Marvin Seim had been fitted in the factory with the new ball-type zerks grease connections. However, the original compression-type grease gun (IHC Part No. 59599) that had originally been sold with this particular Regular in 1931, had long since been separated from the tractor and had been lost by the time that George Wells had purchased the tractor in 1939. Thus, shortly after the purchase of the Regular, George Wells suddenly found himself in need of a grease gun. Accordingly, he purchased an Alemite-Zerk grease gun with the connection for the ball-type zerks and a long handle on the pump. (In later years, this particular grease gun hung on the wall with the rest of the grease guns over the work bench in the shop on the Wells farm. This work bench, now located in the current author’s garage in Winfield, West Virginia, still bears the oil stains of the grease guns that used to hang over the bench on the farm.)
The gasoline barrel and the grease gun were two small changes that were made to many farms during the 1930s. These changes usually coincided with, and actually came to symbolize the farm operator’s purchase of his first farm tractor. So it was on the Wells farm with the purchase of the 1931 Farmall Regular.