Clarence Rodning: Farming with an International 10-20 Titan Tractor

Clarence Rodning: Farming with an International

Model 10-20 Tractor


Brian Wayne Wells

As published in the May/June 1996 issue of

Belt Pulley Magazine


The introduction and immediate sucess of the small Fordson tractor by the Ford Motor Company in 1917, sent shockwaves through the tractor manufacturing industry.  The Fordson weighed only 2,710 and was priced so reasonably ($750.00 in 1917 [Michael Williams, Ford and Fordson Tractors (Blandford Press: London, 1985) p. 55]) that small farmers all cross the North America were began modernizing their farms by getting the Fordson to perform the heavier tasks on their farm.  In 1918, the Fordson knocked International Harvester out first place in the sales of new farm tractors and within two years Fordson had garnered a 2/3 share of the farm tractor market.  (Barbara Marsh, A Corporate Tragedy: The Agony of International Harvester, Doubleday and Co.: Garden City, New York, 1985, p. 52.)  Still by, 1921 only 4% of United States farms had a tractor and thus the remaining 96% of United States farms represented a wide open market for tractor manufacturers.  (Ralph Baumheckel and Kent Borghoff, International Harvester Farm Equipment [American Society of Agricultural Engineers Press: St. Joseph, Missouri, 1997] p. 118.) 

The International Harvester Company needed an answer to the popularity of the Fordson.  As early as 1916, with the introduction of the 10-20 Titan, International Harvester had begun the process of reducing the size of its tractors.  Nonetheless the 10-20 still a large and cumbersome tractor weighing 5,708 lbs.  The 10-20 Titan represented a small tractor only in context of the other behemouths being offered to the farming public during the First World War.  (“Farming with the International 10-20 Titan Tractor” in the May/June 1996 issue of Belt Pulley Vol. 9, No. 3, p. 16.) 

By 1917, the International Harvester Company had ceased all production tractors over 30 horsepower to concentrate on smaller tractors that they hoped would appeal to 96% of smaller farmers who still farmed with horses.  Following the sudden and amazing popularity of the Fordson, International Harvester started a complete redesign of the International 15-30 (Titan).  The new International 15-30 that resulted from this redesign weighed only 6,000 pound as opposed to its predecessor, the 8,990 the 15-30 Titan.  (C.H. Wendel, Nebraska Tractor Tests [Crestline Publishing: Osceola, Fla., 1993] pp. 19 and 40.)  Introduced to the public in 1921, the design of the 15-30, however, included more than just a reduction in size of the old 15-30 Titan tractor.  The new 15-30 copied the Fordson innovation of a tractor with and integrated engine, transmission and rear axle housing all bolted together and without a traditional frame.  (Robert Pripps and Andrew Moreland, Ford Tractors [Motorbooks Intl. Press: Osceola Wisc. 1990] pp. 14-17)  At the same time International Harvester introduced their own innovations.  The four cylinder engine on the 15-30 had a 42″ bore and a 6″ stroke.  (R. Baumheckel and K. Borghoff, International Harvester Farm Equipment p. 118.)  The engine featured removeable cylinder sleeves, a geared final drive enclosed in oil, rather that the chain drive of the older 15-30 Titan tractor.  The new 15-30 also introduced large ball-bearing crankshaft bearings on the crankshaft of the engine.  By 1924 some 6,400 of the new Model 15-30s had been sold to the farming public.  

In 1923, just two years following the introduction of the new gear-driven International 15-30, International Harvester made the same technological changes to 10-20 Titan tractor.  With the introduction of the new 10-20 came a new name for both the Model 15-30 and Model 10-20.  They would now be known as McCormick-Deering tractors.  Consequently, in 1923, the new gear-driven McCormick-Deering 10-20 was introduced to farming public to replace the chain-driven 10-20 Titan tractor.  The new 10-20 featured a 42″ bore and 5″ stroke four-cylinder engine.  The Tractor was 14″ shorter that than the Model 15-30 and weighed only 4,010 pounds.  (Ibid. p. 119)  Just as in the Model 15-30, the crankshaft for close-coupled and heavy enough that it rested only on two ball bearings – front and rear – so too the need for a center crankshaft bearing on the McCormick-Deering 10-20 was eliminated.  (Ibid. p. 119.) 

The International 10-20 was a success from the very start with 11,197 manufactured in 1924, 18,437 in 1925, 25,021 in 1926, 26,646 in 1927, and 30,353 in 1928.  Production of the 10-20 reached its peak in 1929 with 39,433 tractors rolling off the assembly lines at the Tractor Works in Chicago.  Ibid. pp. 397-398.  Only in 1930, did the production of the McCormick-Deering 10-20 start to decline with 21,890 produced that year. 

The 1919 Model 10-20 Titan that had been purchased by Clarence Rodning in 1927 was beginning to show its sho its age in 1930.  It had  problems, as revealed in the first article in this series.    (See the article “Farming with the International 10-20 Titan Tractor” in the May/June 1996 issue of Belt Pulley as cited above.)  Consequently, Clarence began to admire the new Model 10-20 International tractors that were being made by the International Harvester Company.  He saw the new tractors at the Ray Anthony dealorship every time he drove into Norseland, Minnesota.  He wanted to trade the Titan on the newer International 10-20.  He had married Cora Knutson in 1928, a little over one year later but the stock market had fallen in October of 1929 and the Great Depression had followed.  Suddenly he was not getting as much for the crops he rose.  Meanwhile, his family had grown. A son, Warren had been born on    . He was soon followed by another son Harold on  .  Adaughter Corinne was born on   ,  Thenanother son, Dennis was born on    .  To feed his growing family seemed large enough task without worrying about trying to modernize his farm equipment. 

Still every time he drove the family to church in Norseland on Sunday,  sb ne destined sold through the Anthony Dealership in the unincorporated village of Norseland, Minnesota.  The buyer of this particular Model 10-20 tractor was Clarence Rodning.  Regular readers of Belt Pulley will remember that Clarence Rodning was one of the earliest owners of a tractor.  In 1927, he had purchased a used 1920 Model 10-20 Titan for his farming operation.

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rthe had been farming with ara for was ethv.  ukee Works.  ic and ,  the firts yearsold in the .  Eventually this little tractor would sell 215,000 copies and be one of the most successfue  ten  trevn theIn the c5flater the engineers  from its tradhanand its vdo something or lose et t of tthe .  Wic Selling more than  In answer to Clarence Rodning had been married for two years On February 10, 1928, Clarence married Cora Knutson, a local Nicollet, Minnesota.  He had been farming on the , two years when irl.  Clarence’s mother, Christine, then moved into Mankato, Minnesota, and Clarence and Cora set up housekeeping on the farm.  Oscar continued to live on the farm with Clarence and Cora to help with the farming operation and to work as a hired man on neighboring farms. purchased his first tractor–a used 1920 McCormick-Deering Titan 10-20 two-cylinder tractor.  He purchased the Titan at Anthony’s International Harvester dealership in the small unincorporated settlement of Norseland, Minnesota.  Because the Titan 10-20 was advertised by International Harvester as a three-plow tractor, Clarence purchased a 3-bottom plow with 14″ bottoms along with the Titan.  In 1915, the Titan series of tractors was produced by International Harvester.  During the overlapping time that both the Mogul series and the Titan series tractors were being produced, International Harvester was still selling their farm machinery through separate dealerships.  Moguls were sold only at those dealerships operating under the McCormick name and Titans were sold only at those dealerships operating under the Deering name.  Most pivotal among the Titan series tractors was the two-cylinder Titan 10-20 tractor.  Sales of the Titan 10-20 would outdistance all previous IHC tractor models combined!  (C.H. Wendel, 150 Years of International Harvester [Crestline Publishing: Sarasota, Fla., 1981], pp. 259 and 283.) 

As noted earlier (see the May/June 1996 issue of Belt Pulley Vo. 9, No. 3, p. 16.), .)n in rIn the spring of 1920, Clarence returned home, to New Sweden.  Ready to start his own farming operation, he rented a 158-acre farm in New Sweden township, and he and his mother and the rest of the family moved in.  (This farm is about 2 mile from the farm currently owned by Clarence’s son, Harold Rodning.)  Under terms of the rental agreement, Clarence would supply all the equipment and seed and the landlord would receive 1/3 of the crop at the end of the year.  He obtained a larger dairy herd and more horses and established a diversified farming operation, raising corn, oats and hay. 

Although farm commodity prices remained fairly good for 1920, the next year saw the beginning of the agricultural depression which would continue throughout the 1920s, throughout the Great Depression of the 1930s, and end only with the advent of the Second World War.  (Elwyn Robinson, History of North Dakota [University of Nebraska Press: Lincoln, 1966], pp. 368, 374, 399 & 424.)  Luckily, the beginning of the agricultural depression in 1921 also coincided with the “Great Road-Building Boom” which followed the First World War.  (Hicks, John D., Republican Ascendancy [Harper and Row: NY, 1960], p. 9.)

Like many other farmers of the time, Clarence supplemented his farm income by hauling gravel for the county and township roads being built in the New Sweden area.  For this work, he used four-wheeled dump carts which opened at the bottom to deposit their contents, about 12 cubic yards of gravel, at a chosen location.  After the cart was empty, a lever near the operator’s seat on the cart would allow the operator to then close the bottom of the cart. 

Hauling gravel was not easy work.  Each cart was loaded at the gravel pit, one shovelful at a time.  To save time, Clarence would take two teams of horses with two dump wagons to the gravel pit, load up both carts with gravel, then tie one team behind the cart of the other team and drive the front team to the location on the road where the gravel was to be deposited.  By this method, Clarence was able to haul 12 loads of gravel per day.  For this work, Clarence received 85 cents per load.  This provided a nice supplement to his farm income in the summer months.   

Despite the extra time that road building required, Clarence was able to expand his farming operations.  In 1921, he rented another 70 acres to combine with the 158 acres he was already renting.  In 1926, he rented yet another farm which meant that he was farming in excess of 300 acres at one time.  Of course, in those days much of the land in the area of New Sweden township was still uncleared, but Clarence used much of the land as pasture for his increasing dairy herd.  Nonetheless, there remained a good deal of land to be worked in the growing season and Clarence was always looking for more efficient ways to get the field work done.  The benefits of tractor power appealed to Clarence, who recognized the inevitability of tractor power replacing the horse on the farm.  Although Clarence did much farming with horses, he developed a fondness for tractors which would stay with him throughout his life.  Indeed, late in life, he would become an accomplished participant and winner of several tractor pulling competitions held at the Nicollet County Fair in St. Peter, Minnesota. 

The absence of his father during his teenage years, the fact that he became the chief breadwinner of his family at a very early age, plus his experiences at “Aggie School,” combined to give Clarence a unique outlook regarding modern farming methods and may have made him more receptive to the benefits of tractor farming than other members of his generation.  Consequently, to ease the burden of the large amount of field work to be done on the acreage that he had rented in 1927, This promised to be a means of plowing ten acres a day.  (Most probably this 3-14 plow was a steel-wheeled McCormick-Deering Little Genius No. 8 plow, like the one being pulled by an F-30 in the movie Farming the Farmall Way on Tape #1 of the International Harvester Promotional Movie Collection.  However, with only two speeds–2.15 and 2.9 mph–and much less horsepower, the Titan would be going much slower across the field than the F-30.)

John Hiniker of North Mankato, Minnesota, has two Titan 10-20 tractors which are shown at the LeSueur County Pioneer Power Show on the last weekend in August each year.[1]  Although John has not had too much trouble with the operation of his Titans, the Titan had a reputation of being difficult to operate.  

Mitch Pearce of Mooresville, Indiana–who owns the beautifully restored Titan 10-20 which was exhibited at the 1995 International Harvester Collectors’ Winter Convention held at Fort Wayne, Indiana–has collected many experiences that owners and operators of the Titan have had with the tractor.  Some of these experiences point to the shortcomings of the Titan tractor.  One of the first shortcomings was the fact that the tractor was advertised as a three-plow tractor, which was much beyond the actual capabilities of the tractor.  Even if the tractor was able to pull a 3-bottom plow in the fields, the excess torque on the drive mechanism and the gears at the rear wheels was too great and the gears rapidly wore out. 

Starting the Titan was also a troublesome, delicate task.  The initial settings of the needle and idle on the tractor were temperamental and needed to be changed with the changes in the outside temperature and humidity.  In cold weather, the Titan was reluctant to start at all.  The starting process began with the opening of the compression release valves on each piston.  The carburetor on the Titan was about two feet tall and had four little spigots that had to be opened to release any air in the fuel lines.  Once the air in the lines was removed, the spigots were closed again and the tractor was primed using a lever on the fuel pump.  Care had to be taken to not over-prime or under-prime the engine.  The operator then cranked the engine at the flywheel. 

In his 1982 taped interview with his grandson, Kenny Rodning, Clarence remembered that he had to crank the engine a number of times to get the tractor started!  Once the tractor fired, the operator had to adjust the impulse on the magneto and then, after the engine was running, the operator would close the compression releases on each cylinder.  The tractor was started on gasoline, and when the engine was sufficiently warm, it was to be switched over to kerosene.  However, the switch to kerosene could not be made too soon; the engine had to be good and hot first. 

A special steering device, called the plow guide, was available as an option for the Titan.  This also created problems for the tractor.  Attached to the hub of the right front wheel, the heavy plow guide steered the tractor while plowing by rolling along in the furrow ahead of the tractor.  The operator was then free to get off the tractor and make adjustments to a gang plow which the tractor might be pulling.  (A picture of the plow guide attached to a McCormick-Deering 8-16 Mogul can be seen at the top of page 284 of 150 Years of International Harvester.)  At the end of the field, chains and brackets allowed the operator to lift the plow guide out of the furrow while he made the turn.  During this whole time, the entire force of steering the tractor and the entire weight of carrying the heavy plow guide bore down on the hub and axle to the right front wheel of the tractor.  Consequently, the bearings and axle on the right front wheel wore out rather quickly.  The front wheels of a Titan would become misaligned and develop a “toe-out.” 

The Titan engine was cooled by a water evaporation system.  The open water tank at the front of the tractor contained 34 gallons of water.  Steam evaporation and spillage of sloshing water from the open tank meant that after working in the morning the Titan needed about 10 to 15 gallons of water added to the system at noon.  The boiling water in the water tank, however, was sometimes used for some unconventional tasks.  Some operators would put a ham in a cheesecloth bag and suspend the bag in the water tank in the morning.  By noon, the ham would be ready to eat.  Suspending another bag full of eggs in the tank would render a side course of hard-boiled eggs for the noon meal.   

The two-cylinder Titan engine was designed with a parallel crankshaft such that both pistons operated together, rather than in an alternating pattern like John Deere two-cylinder tractors.  While one piston was coming up on its compression stroke, the other piston was coming up on the exhaust stroke.  Although the flywheel on the engine was counter-balanced to offset both pistons operating together in this manner, the engine still rocked rather severely.  Consequently, when the Titan 10-20 was working on the belt, the tractor tended to “lope,” or rock back and forth, sending waves down the belt and causing the threshing machine or other belt-powered machine to shake more than usual.  This shaking of the engine was so severe that the carburetor needle and idle adjustment would shake loose.  The tractor could not hold an idle without constant re-adjustment by the operator.  Furthermore, the shaking of the engine always caused the hoses leading to and from the water tank to leak.  Still, the Titan 10-20 was a mechanized way of handling one of the most laborious and time-consuming jobs on the farm–plowing. 

The Titan brought about a big change in the farming operations on the Rodning farm.  Clarence used the Titan to perform as many of the difficult tasks around the farm as possible.  The Titan plowed and performed other field work and did belt work, powering the burr mill to make feed for the livestock on the farm.  Big changes were also occurring within the family during this time.  

Because of the difficulty in operating the Titan, Clarence jealously guarded his Titan.  Clarence’s younger brother, Oscar, remembered that Clarence would not let anyone else operate the tractor.  Oscar also recalled that when he was eighteen years old he longed to operate the Titan, but continued to fret under Clarence’s strictures against operating the tractor.  In the early spring of 1928, however, while Cora and Clarence were away from the farm for a few days, Oscar decided it was his turn to operate the Titan.  He started the Titan, hooked up to the plow and did a little spring plowing while Clarence was gone. 

In the decade of the 1920s, the revolution in small efficient gas-powered tractors had taken another quantum leap with the introduction in 1917 of Henry Ford’s Fordson tractor.  In 1918, the Fordson knocked International Harvester from its top position in the domestic tractor market.  (Barbara Marsh, A Corporate Tragedy [Doubleday: Garden City, NY], p. 52.)  International Harvester attempted to meet the challenge of the Fordson with the introduction in 1923 of the new four-cylinder International 10-20.  However, weighing 4,010 lbs., the International 10-20 was still not as light as the Fordson ( 2,710 lbs.).  Still, the International 10-20 was widely advertised and proved a popular seller throughout the 1920s. 

As time passed, the problems and shortcomings of the Titan became more apparent to Clarence, and in 1929 he decided to purchase one of the new, four-cylinder International Harvester 10-20 tractors which he had heard so much about.  Although the 10-20 had the same horsepower rating as the Titan, IHC had learned its lesson from the Titan and advertised the new four-cylinder 10-20 as no more than a two-plow tractor.  Consequently, Clarence would need a 2-bottom plow to replace the 3-14″ plow he had obtained with the Titan.  Accordingly, as part of the purchase price on the new standard-type International 10-20 and a new Little Genius 2-14″ plow, Clarence traded both the Titan and the 3-14″ plow back to Anthony’s dealership. 

Problematic as it was, the Titan introduced the Rodning family – as it introduced other farm families – to the modern era of power farming, easing the burden of heavy labor around the farm.  The Titan, therefore, stands as one of the significant milestones of farming in the 1920s.  Thanks to the efforts of Titan restorers like John Hiniker and Mitch Pearce, the public is not only able see the equipment that was used by their ancestors, but are able to hear about some of the difficulties that had to be overcome in operating these early tractors.  Enclosed you will find Part II of the two-part article on the Wood Brothers Company of Des Moines, Iowa, and also the Model WB-1-P one-row Wood Bros. corn picker used by Mel Anderson and Wayne A. Wells from the fall of 1946 through the fall of 1948. 

I have enclosed a number of pictures.  Once again, to allow you the greatest latitude, I have put captions on the back and have avoided making references to the pictures in the text of the article.  As before, I have included a copy of the article on diskette as well as a hard copy. 



                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Sincerely yours,




                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Brian W. Wells





          The Wood Bros. Company, Part II: The Model WB-1-P Cornpicker

                                                 by Brian Wayne Wells

                                                  with the assistance of

                                 Gary Oechsner of Fond-du-Lac, Wisconsin

                                Clarence L. Goodburn of Madelia, Minnesota

                                                                                                                                Alan C. King of Radnor, Ohio

                                  Charles R. Durham of Brainerd, Minnesota


                                      Hugh Hash of Sparta, North Carolina




                                                                                                                                By 1928, the Wood Bros. Thresher Company appeared to be at the top of its form, and its future looked even brighter.  Having successfully overcome a few challenges in its recent history (the disastrous fire of 1917, another fire–although somewhat less disastrous–in 1926, and a change of factory locations in 1926), production of threshing machines was at a new all-time high.  Franz L. Wood presided over a company that was the largest, single industrial project between the Mississippi River and the Rocky Mountains, with his brother Robert L. serving as treasurer.  The company produced enough threshers that year, such that 200 threshers were delivered aboard a single train to its branch house in Fargo, North Dakota.  Yet, just when everything appeared to be at its best, the greatest disasters befell.  Already in 1928, warning signs were out which too many people would ignore, pointing to a major economic cataclysm just ahead.  The effects of this period of economic stress would have a tremendous impact on the Wood Bros. Thresher Company. 

                                                                                                                                Despite the debt that the company had accrued in its move in 1926 to the new location at 1700 E. Aurora Avenue, and despite objections from his brother and other people within the company, Franz was able to divert some of the resources from the sale of threshers into building combine harvesters.  Franz correctly foresaw that combine harvesters were the wave of the future that would eventually replace the stationary thresher/separator on all United States farms.  He wanted to position the company securely in the new combine market before thresher sales started to decline in favor of the new combines.  It was a bold plan that promised to assure the future prospects of the company.

                                                                                                                                In 1929, Wood Bros. marketed its first model combine harvester/thresher.  Three models of the new combine, with its unique overshot-type cylinder and fork-type impeller feeder, were offered to the public–a model with a 12-foot cutter bar, a model with a 16-foot cutter bar, and a model with a 20-foot cutter bar.  Furthermore, the company made plans to boost combine production to 1,000 machines in 1930.  The company, borrowing more money from the bank for the increase in production, suddenly found that the total debt on the bonds they still had left to pay together with the new loan they had just taken out added up to $950,000.00. 

                                                                                                                                Suddenly, the price of wheat fell to 204 to 254 per bushel and farmers began defaulting on their payments for their threshers and combines.  The company, too, became stressed under its load of debt and were unable to make payments on its bonds as they came due.  As a result of these defaults, the whole Wood Bros. debt became due immediately.  Franz, in an attempt to help the company, borrowed all that he could against his own $80,000.00 life insurance policy.  However, nothing helped for very long.  The company simply was not selling anything, and had to seek the protection of bankruptcy to allow time to restructure the debt load. 

                                                                                                                                In January of 1931, Robert L. Wood, his son Franz W. Wood, and Mr. Worden from the bookkeeping department of the company traveled to Chicago to meet with the bankers who now owned the notes of the company’s debt.  They hoped to work out a debt restructuring agreement.  However, the bankers had strong demands.  First, they required that a bankruptcy trustee be established to run the company, rather than the Wood brothers.  While Robert L. Wood was retained by the company because he headed the sales department and was needed, Franz Wood was required to give up his position and salary while the company was being reorganized.  Secondly, plans for production of combines were scrapped and the company had to stick to making threshers.   While there were bitter feelings directed toward the bankers and the trustee who was placed in charge of the company, luckily, no permanent estrangement was created between the brothers or their families during this trying time. 

                                                                                                                                Eventually, the brothers were able to get a banker from New York to take over the debt obligation of the company.  This new banker allowed the brothers to take charge of the company again, and Franz received a salary of $1,000.00 per year while the company got back on its feet.  Throughout 1932, 1933 and 1934, the company met its financial obligations under the new debt plan by selling the inventory stock it had on hand during these years.  By the spring of 1935, the company was ready to begin making threshers again, and planned to make 500 threshers with the help of a loan from the Reconstruction Finance Corporation (RFC).  (The RFC was part of an attempt by the Roosevelt Administration’s New Deal plan to spur the sagging economy.)  However, the RFC loan fell through, and Wood Bros. made only 300 threshers in 1935.  Nonetheless, the company substantially reduced its overall indebtedness in 1934 and 1935, and by the fall of 1935, the company owed only $86,000.00 on its overall debt.  Furthermore, the company was selling threshers again.  It seemed that the company had turned a corner in its struggle to survive. 

                                                                                                                                In 1936, Franz was able to incorporate some of the new ideas he had about threshing into a new model separator, and it was introduced that year.  In 1937, Wood Bros. introduced its first straight-through-type model combine with a 5-foot cutter bar.  In 1938 and 1939, the straight-through combine improved to handle both a 5-foot and a 7-foot cutter bar and header.  Also, in 1937, Wood Bros. introduced its first cornpicker–the Model WB-1-P.  It was a power-takeoff-driven, single-row, pull-type model cornpicker. 

                                                                                                                                During these times, the private lives of the Wood families were also undergoing changes.  For one thing, Franz and Elizabeth’s daughter Helen graduated from DrakeUniversity in Des Moines in 1936.  First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt was the guest speaker at the graduation.  Following the ceremony, Franz Wood had a pleasant and productive talk with the First Lady.

                                                                                                                                Even before entry of the United States into the Second World War, the Wood Bros. Company was feeling the pinch of the restricted supply of steel.  At the end of 1940, the company was unable to get a steel allotment, particularly, the galvanized steel which was used in its threshers.  Therefore, the company had to cease production of the thresher and the combine altogether.  In 1941, however, the company was allowed to produce 1,500 of its gray-painted cornpickers, and, in 1942, it produced 1,728 cornpickers.  However, due to the shortage of rubber during the war, Wood Bros. had to produce these cornpickers on steel wheels.  In place of the threshers and combines, the Company received government contracts for the production of ammunition boxes for the war effort.  (By 1945, the plant had a workforce of 600 employees, one-third of whom were women.)   

                                                                                                                                On February 14, 1943, Wood Bros. announced the signing of a contract with Harry Ferguson Inc. of Dearborn, Michigan, under which the Ferguson Company agreed to market all combines, threshers and cornpickers made by the Wood Bros. Company.  Thus, the Wood Bros. Company closed its branch houses in Minneapolis, Minnesota; Fargo, North Dakota; Peoria, Illinois; Lincoln, Nebraska; and Wichita, Kansas.  The famous handshake agreement in October of 1938 between Henry Ford and Harry Ferguson had linked the Ford Tractor Division and Harry Ferguson, Inc. in the production of Ford/Ferguson 9N tractors.  (Even though in the eyes of the general public these companies were seen as the same company, they remained two distinct companies, a fact that would become all too obvious at a later date during the extended litigation following the dissolution of the handshake agreement.)  Now, this same dynamic was occurring in the close relationship developing between Ford and Wood Bros. Company.  Over the years, Wood Bros. had been advertising how ideally matched the small Wood Bros. thresher was to the Fordson tractor, and, later, how ideally matched the Model WB-1-P cornpicker was for the Ford/Ferguson 9N, later the 2N, and later still the 8N.  To further encourage this link, the gray paint of the Wood Bros. cornpicker was made to match the gray paint of the Ford/Ferguson 9N and 2N tractors.  As the public’s perception grew of Wood Bros. and Ford and Ferguson being one and the same, the fortunes of Wood Bros. became irretrievably linked to the fortunes of Ford and Ferguson.  This sales agreement between the Ferguson distribution network and the Wood Bros. Company was just another step down the path toward an official connection between Ford and Wood Bros. 

                                                                                                                                In the post-war period, Wood Bros. continued to manufacture its very popular Model WB-1-P one-row cornpicker and its pull-type, straight-through Wood Bros. combine with the 5-foot cutter bar.  With rubber again available, Wood Bros. could now offer these implements to the farming public mounted on new modern rubber tires. 

                                                                                                                                One of these Model WB-1-P cornpickers on rubber tires was bought in 1946 from the Regan Ford Dealership in LeRoy, Minnesota, by Mel Anderson and his neighbor George Wells.  The Mel and Irene (Christianson) Anderson farm was located three miles east, northeast of LeRoy, Minnesota.  The George and Louise (Schwark) Wells farm was located one-fourth mile east of the Anderson farm, on the MowerCounty border with FillmoreCounty. 

                                                                                                                                George and Louise Wells had purchased the 160-acre farm in 1936 from the Mose Crawford family, moving from a rented farm near Chester, Iowa.  Their family consisted of three boys and two girls.  Their third child and third son Wayne Alwin (born in 1923) graduated from high school in 1941 and enlisted in the Navy to serve in the Pacific as a Mechanic’s Mate 1st Class in the Seabees–a branch of the U.S. Navy.  He was stationed on the Pacific Island of Guam for the major part of his service.  With V-J Day on September 2, 1945, demobilization of the Armed Forces in the Pacific began, and Wayne returned to the United States just before Christmas.  Because he had not served out all of his tour of duty, the Navy stationed him at the Great Lakes Naval Base near Chicago.  Nonetheless, Wayne was able to obtain a 30-day leave from Great Lakes to journey to his parents’ farm for the holidays.  On New Year’s Eve 1945-46, he went to a party for the local young people at his family’s church–the 1st Presbyterian Church in LeRoy.  Also in attendance at the party that night was Marilyn Hanks and her brother Bruce Hanks.  Marilyn had graduated with a two-year teaching certificate from Mankato State Teacher’s College in the Spring of 1945 and was home with her parents at LeRoy for the Christmas holidays.  At the time, she was teaching a combination class of first grade, second grade and third grade students in the same room at Frost, Minnesota.  Wayne and Marilyn met and talked casually that night.

                                                                                                                                At the end of the 30-day leave, Wayne returned to the Great Lakes Naval Base to serve out the rest of his tour of duty.  He was officially discharged from the military on March 17, 1946, and returned to his parents’ farm.  Like many returning veterans, Wayne was undecided as to what he wanted to do with his life.  At first, he helped his father and mother on the farm, but in April of 1946, he heard that the John Deere Company was hiring workers for their tractor factory in Waterloo, Iowa.  Thus, Wayne moved to Waterloo and obtained a job on the assembly line at the John Deere factory, installing bull gears in the rear-ends of John Deere A’s. 

                                                                                                                                That spring, Wayne frequently drove the short distance from Waterloo to his parents’ farm.  However, he soon came to realize that he really preferred working outdoors to working inside, “looking at a brick wall all day.”  So, in the early summer of 1946, Wayne returned to LeRoy on a permanent basis to help his parents run the farm.  With his return to LeRoy, he began to see Marilyn on a regular basis, until the fall, when she went off on her second year of teaching, this time with 43 second-grade students in one room at Mapleton, Minnesota.

                                                                                                                                As the summer progressed, Wayne became more certain of what he wanted to do with his life.  Thus, as George and Louise began to consider retiring to the town of LeRoy, Wayne decided he would take over operation of the farm.  Wayne knew that there were many advantageous relationships which he would inherit from his father.  For one thing, he knew that Mel Anderson and the Wells family had cooperated over the years in a number of different farming operations.  Ever since moving to the neighborhood in 1936, George Wells had belonged to Mel’s threshing ring.  Wayne also knew of the arrangement between Mel Anderson and George Wells to cooperate in cornpicking with the new Woods Bros cornpicker.            Now, in 1946, in anticipation of his taking over the operation of the farm, Wayne began to look for ways to make a little money on his own.  Thus, when cornpicking season came, he helped his father and Mel Anderson get the corn picked on their two farms.  Then, he took the new one-row Wood Bros. cornpicker and his father’s 1942 Farmall H on the road, doing custom cornpicking for the neighbors for extra income.  The 1942 Farmall H had sufficient power to pull the Wood Bros. cornpicker and wagon loaded with the bright orange ears of field corn through the muddy conditions that existed in the corn fields in the fall of 1946.  (Regular readers of the Belt Pulley will remember that 1946 was a wet fall which led to an extremely wet spring and early summer of 1947.  [See “The Case NCM Baler and a Family’s Crucial Year” in the January/February 1995 issue of Belt Pulley, p. 31.]) 

                                                                                                                                Moving from farm to farm, Wayne drove the Farmall H, pulling the cornpicker and one of the Wells family’s steel-wheeled “double box” grain wagons with extensions on the sides of the box flared out at a 45-degree angle to catch all the ears that came spilling out of the elevator of the picker.  Driving into the yard of a customer, he would follow the farmer through the gates of his cowyard and down a lane leading to the field that was to be picked.  The farmer would then show Wayne the rows of corn that had already been hand-picked to “open the field” for the pull-type picker.  The picker had been greased up the night before, but Wayne would stop the tractor at the gate leading to the field to give the cornpicker one last “look-over.”  Then he would get back up into the seat of the Farmall H and turn to adjust the lifting lever of the cornpicker so that the snouts of the gatherer just cleared the ground. 

                                                                                                                                With the frozen crust of dirt on the top of the ground breaking under the weight of the rear wheels of the Farmall H, Wayne pulled up to the end of the first row he was to pick.  Then he pushed in the foot clutch, reached down with his left hand to find the little loop of the power take-off control, and pulled the loop upwards to engage the power take-off.  Because of the wet conditions, he shifted into second gear and started across the field.  The Wood Bros. cornpicker sprang to life and began tackling the first stalks of corn in the row passing along the left side of the tractor.  Stripping the ears of corn off the stalks, the cornpicker passed the ears to a bin at the rear of the snapping rollers and the gathering unit of the picker.  Then an elevator took the ears at a right angle to the top of the husking bed.  As the ears glided around another right turn to slide down over the husking rollers, the corn was actually headed straight forward in the cornpicker, directly toward the operator sitting on the tractor.  The ears of corn then fell into a bin directly behind the tractor but near the front of the cornpicker, where the corn turned another 180 degrees and started up the wagon elevator.  This complex “S” shaped pattern of corn passing through the cornpicker was unique to the model WB-1-P.  The pattern involved many right turns which might ordinarily have served as bottlenecks where corn could have piled up and plugged the picker.  Nonetheless, the “S” shaped design of the flow pattern was helpful in that it allowed the driver of the tractor to have a clear view of the action on the husking bed and of the corn as it started up the elevator.  The location of these two potential trouble spots was near the front of the cornpicker, immediately behind the tractor driver.  (Daryl Dempsey, current owner and user of a model WB-1-P cornpicker [mentioned below] notes that he has experienced incidents of clogging at the last 180-degree turn at the base of the wagon elevator when especially long ears of corn are passing through the cornpicker.  He has also heard reports of the same type of clogging from other former owners of the model WB-1-P cornpicker.)

                                                                                                                                Upon getting to the end of the first row, Wayne would reach around behind him to turn off the drive to the wagon elevator before he started into his turn.  The cornpicker would then finish picking the last few stalks of corn in the row and would allow the ears to pile up in the bin at the base of the wagon elevator.  In that way, no ears would be lost on the ground as the wagon elevator swung out and around, away from the narrow box of the wagon during the turn.  Once the picker and the wagon straightened out and started up another row for the return trip across the field, Wayne would once again engage the wagon elevator control and the wagon elevator would quickly clean out all the built up ears in the bin at the base of the elevator and transport them safely up into the wagon.  In an average year, a narrow double-box grain wagon with extensions would be full of corn after three rounds of an average 30-acre field.

                                                                                                                                The little gray Wood Bros model WB-1-P cornpicker was regarded as a very good picker for husking ears of corn, thus aiding farmers toward their goal of 1% or less of husks going into the crib.  Our farmer, for whom Wayne was performing this custom picking,  would have been well pleased as he looked over the wagon load of clean ears with very little husks left on them.  Clearly, the little gray Wood Bros. cornpicker was not only getting low enough to get all the downed corn, it was even getting the “nubbins” (the small under-developed ears) that were found periodically, even in good harvest years.  Because the picker’s steel and rubber rollers on the husking bed were removing a great deal of the husks, our farmer knew this would aid in the drying of the corn in the crib and that no mold would form in the middle of his crib, causing spoilage or waste of his hard-earned crop.  Thus, our farmer was smiling as he drove his tractor up into his yard, pulling the wagon full of corn–not so much because of these advantages, but because of the real advantage of mechanical picking of corn–speed.  Within two or three days, our farmer would have all of his corn in the crib.  This represented weeks of time saved over the slow laborious task of hand-picking corn.  (Just how much time is saved by mechanical picking over hand picking is shown in the 1938 movie “Party Line,” available on Tape #4 of the International Harvester Promotional Movie Collection.  In “Party Line” it is pointed out that the farmer who hand picked his corn would spend nearly nine times as many man/hours in the field as the total combined time he spent plowing, preparing seed bed, and planting and cultivating the same crop of corn.)

                                                                                                                                As our farmer pulled the wagon load of corn up to his corncrib where an elevator and his two teenage children awaited to help him get the wagon load of corn safely under cover in the crib, our farmer realized another advantage of mechanical picking of corn–he and his family could do the work without the need to hire on extra help.  Yes, hiring custom picking that fall was enlightening.  That winter, our farmer would feed very little of the corn to his animals, and would end up shelling out nearly the entire crib in the spring.  With the money he made on the corn, he would buy a cornpicker of his own for the next harvest season.  Indeed, cornpicker owners were the best salesmen of cornpickers.                                                                     Wayne Wells soon found that many people in his neighborhood and around the nation would become owners of cornpickers.  Wayne had earned some extra money with the cornpicker that fall; however, he would never again do any custom picking beyond that brief season of 1946.  There would not be enough demand for custom cornpicking beyond the fall of 1946. 

                                                                                                                                By the spring of 1947, Wayne finalized arrangements with his parents so that after he and Marilyn were married that summer, they would take over the farming operations on the Wells farm.  They would purchase the tractor and some of the equipment and rent the farm for a few years until they could get established.  They would purchase the farm at a later date.  Although he never again did any custom picking, Wayne and Mel Anderson used the little gray Wood Bros. cornpicker on their own farms through the fall harvest of 1949.  In 1950, Mel and George Wells (who still owned half-interest in the one-row Wood Bros. picker) traded the Model WB-1-P in to the Millenaker Implement dealership of Adams, Minnesota, on the purchase of a two-row New Idea Model 6A cornpicker.  So as to allow Wayne to upgrade to 3-plow and four-row farming–by purchasing a new 1950 Farmall M, a McCormick Deering Model 435 four-row cultivator, and a new four-row McCormick-Deering corn planter–George continued his half-interest in the new picker.                                                Already in the early 1950s, farmers were beginning to feel the necessity of “getting big or getting out.”  The little Wood Bros. Model WB-1-P had offered farmers a chance to get into mechanical picking of corn, but only for the very limited period of time from the end of the Second World War until the 1950s. (For the story of the New Idea Model 6A cornpicker , see “The New Idea Company [Part II] in the November/December 1998 Belt Pulley, Vol. 11, No. 6, p. 26.) 

                                                                                                                                Another of the little gray Model WB-1-P pickers was purchased new by Fred Langley of Hillsboro, Ohio, in 1948.  Fred powered the picker with his Ford 8N and used the picker for harvesting corn on his farm and the farms of his neighbors from 1948 until 1952.  (The original owner/operators manual for this particular Model WB-1-P picker is still in existence and contains notes by Fred Langley of all the corn harvests the picker completed.)  This particular little Woods Bros. picker is unique on two scores:  First, the picker is still in use on the farm of Daryl Dempsey of Oak Hill, Ohio, where Daryl lovingly stores the picker in a machine shed when the picker is not in use; and, secondly, this picker has a decal which states, “Made exclusively for Harry Ferguson Co. Detroit Michigan.”  This is significant, because in 1946, Henry Ford II, grandson of the company’s founder, upon the death of his grandfather, assumed control of the Ford Motor Company and decided to end the “handshake agreement” between Ford and the Harry Ferguson Company.  To this end, Ford created the Dearborn Motor Company which would now have a monopoly on production and distribution of the new Ford Model 8N tractor.  (Robert Lacey, Ford: The Men and the Machine [Little Brown & Company: Boston, 1986], pp. 428-429.)

                                                                                                                                Consequently, Harry Ferguson Inc. sued Ford Motor Company for “breach of the handshake agreement.”  This famous lawsuit came to occupy the legal resources of both companies until the 1953 court settlement.  Following the dissolution of the handshake agreement, Harry Ferguson Inc. was forced to start producing tractors of its own and to develop its own sales network.  As noted in an earlier article, Harry Ferguson Inc., during this time, had formed a joint venture with the Belle City Company to have Ferguson Model TO-20 and Model TO-30 farm tractors sold through the same network of dealerships as Belle City farm machinery.  However, the Langley/Dempsey picker is clear evidence that for at least a short while after the breakup of Ford and Ferguson, Ferguson had been able to obtain some Wood Bros. cornpickers and to market them under the Ferguson name alone.  (See “The Belle City Manufacturing Company” [Part II] in the July/August 1999 Belt Pulley Vol. 12, No. 4. p. 20.)   

                                                                                                                                The breakup of Ford and Ferguson also had an important impact on Wood Bros.  Because Wood Bros. had for so long been advertising their small threshers as ideally suited to Ford tractors, then later advertising their Model WB-1-P cornpicker as also ideally suited for Ford tractors, the public had perceived Wood Bros. as part and parcel of Ford.  The Wood Bros Company would not be able to escape the embrace of FordWood Bros. had become, over the years, inexorably linked to the destinies of the Ford Tractor Division.  There were, perhaps, good reasons to break free of Ford, as the split between Ford and Ferguson would cost Wood Bros. customers and dealership outlets.  Consequently, Wood Bros. would need to establish its own independent sales network to make up the difference, and this would be no easy task.  Their only other alternative would be to attach to either Ferguson or Ford in order to obtain a ready-made sales and distribution network.  Since Ferguson was already associated with Belle City, the only choice left for Wood Bros. was to remain associated with Ford, and Ford had ended up with a larger share of the Ford/Ferguson dealership outlets following the breakup. 

                                                                                                                                Secondly, Ford, being so preoccupied with the lawsuit during this time, was unable to introduce a full 3-plow tractor until 1953, when it introduced the Model NAA “Golden Jubilee” tractor.  To be sure, Ford had, in 1949, offering a “flat head” 6-cylinder engine as a “conversion kit for its Model 8N tractor, enabling it to develop 95 horsepower, and also a Funk Bros. V-8 engine conversion for the Model 8N, which could then develop 100 horsepower.  However, these tractor conversions were problematic.  (As Palmer Fossum remembers, the prevailing wisdom with either of these conversions was: “Remember that you have a 100 horsepower engine and a 30 horsepower transmission and rear end, and you won’t get into any trouble.”  [Robert N. Phipps and Andrew Morland, Ford Tractors (Motorbooks International Press: Osceola, Wisc. 1990) p. 118.])  Therefore, during the critical time at the end of the 1940s, when farmers were demanding 2-row cornpickers and 3-plow tractors, Ford was unable to direct its energies toward designing and producing the dependable 3-plow tractor necessary to power any 2-row cornpicker Wood Bros. might have been able to produce. 

                                                                                                                                Furthermore, to design its own two-row cornpicker would create a myriad of problems.  The existing Model WB-1-P picker’s unique “S” path was, to say the least, burdensome.  Each of the four 90-degree right angles that the ears of corn followed through the cornpicker on their way to the wagon created a potential for a clog.  Yet, the Wood Bros. cornpicker was regarded as a very good one-row picker, despite these right angles.  Needless to say, one must assume that the reason the picker worked so well was that it had only the ears from one-row of corn passing through the cornpicker at any one time.  Now, adding a second row to the process would more than double that problem, and the design would most likely fail.  Consequently, a two-row cornpicker would have to be completely redesigned, requiring a great deal of research money and corporate energy by the Wood Bros. Company.  Moreover, in the late 1940s, just when this great expenditure of energy was needed, the main driving force of Wood Bros. was missing–Robert L. had died on April 6, 1943, at the age of 81 years.  While Franz J. Wood would continue a vigorous life until his death on April 14, 1956, at the age of 92 years, he had gradually retired from active management of the company during the war, and management was now in the hands of Franz’s son, Robert E. Wood.

                                                                                                                                With their choices limited, Wood Bros. Threshing Company entered into an option agreement with Harold Brenton and Associates, in which Wood Bros. gave Brenton an option to purchase the Wood Bros. Company.  However, as of 1950, Brenton and Associates had not yet pursued that option.  Thus, in 1950, when Dearborn Motors Company bought out Harold Brenton and Associates, Dearborn Motors also obtained the option to buy the Wood Bros. Thresher CompanyDearborn immediately exercised that option and purchased Wood BrosDearborn also bought up all the shares of stock held by the various Wood Bros. stockholders, including the stock held by the Wood family, thus ending family management of Wood Bros.  With the settlement of the case of Ferguson v. Ford in 1953, the transfer of Woods Bros. Company to Ford Motor Company and its offspring–the Dearborn Motors Company–was complete. 

                                                                                                                                As of the fall of 1947, all Wood Bros. cornpickers sold by Ford were painted “Ford red” to match the 8N “red belly” tractors introduced for the “model year” 1948.  It appears that they were painted red as they rolled off the assembly line.  Not only were all the Model WB-1-P cornpickers painted Ford red in color, so too were the Dearborn/Wood Bros. 5-foot pull-type combines which continued in production.  (See Robert N. Phipps and Andrew Morland, Ford Tractors [Motorbooks International Press: Osceola, Wisc. 1990], p. 76.)  Daryl Dempsey reports that some unexposed surfaces of his “gray” 1948 picker reveal hints that it too had originally been painted Ford red.  This indicates the picker was obtained by Ferguson in its Ford red color and then repainted Ferguson gray color to match the new Ferguson Model TO-20 and Model TO-30 tractors. 

                                                                                                                                The Wood Bros. plant located at East 17th and Aurora Avenue in Des Moines, Iowa, continued to employ hundreds of employees.  They manufactured not only the Model WB-1-P cornpicker and the 5-foot combine, but they also expanded to include production of the Dearborn (later Ford) hay balers, side-delivery rakes, forage harvesters, corn planters, grain drills, and cotton harvesters.  Production at this factory continued until about 1965, when the plant was closed.

                                                                                                                                Over the years, Franz reaped many rewards for his years of service to modern farming.  In August of 1949, the Ford Motor Company honored Franz on the occasion of his 85th birthday by presenting him with a new Ford 8N tractor.  In September of 1951, Franz was honored at the Second Annual Midwest Old Settlers and Threshers Association Convention with the Old Threshers Award.  In July of 1952, Franz was invited to ride as a guest of honor in the Boone County Fair parade in Boone, Iowa. 

                                                                                                                                After Franz J. Wood’s retirement from the management of the company following the Second World War, he maintained his interests in threshing and steam engines and the restoration of old farm machinery.  Franz and his wife, Elizabeth, traveled to many threshing shows which were springing up in the early 1950s.  After Elizabeth’s death in 1951, Franz continued to travel to shows accompanied by his daughter, Helen C. Wood.  In October of 1952, Franz and Helen attended Steam Engine Joe Rynda’s Threshing Bee in Montgomery, Minnesota.  (It is noteworthy that young Dave Preuhs may have attended this same show.  Indeed, this show was one of the main sources of inspiration for Dave Preuhs’ later organization of the LeSueur County Pioneer Power Association of LeSueur, Minnesota.  [See “Build It and They Will Come: Dave Preuhs and the LeSueur County Pioneer Power Association,” in the Summer 1996 issue of the Hart-Parr/Oliver Collectors Magazine, Vol. VII, No. II, p. 33.]) 

                                                                                                                                As noted above, the first generation Wood brothers era came to an end with the death of Franz on April 14, 1956.  After the sale of the company to Dearborn, Robert E. Wood, the only son of Franz and Elizabeth, who had served as managing partner of the Wood Bros. Company in its last years, went on to found Wood Tractor Company of Cedar Rapids, Iowa.  Never “straying far from the tree,” the Wood Tractor Company sold farm implements, including Dearborn/Wood Bros. farm implements, to the farming public throughout the 1950s. 

                                                                                                                                The legacy of the later years of the Wood Bros. Thresher Company was inextricably bound up with the Model WB-1-P cornpicker.  In the late 1940s, the cornpicker’s success was the company’s success.  However, the circumstances that would not allow the picker to change became a trap that limited the prospects of the company’s future.  The Model WB-1-P picker, as experienced by Fred Langley in Ohio and Mel Anderson and Wayne Wells in Minnesota, was to be remembered as a very fine picker that “filled the gap” for many farmers from the end of World War II until about 1950 when the economy of the United States allowed farmers to upgrade to 2-row pickers and the 3-plow tractors that would power these new pickers.    

    [1] One of John Hiniker’s Titans served most of its working career on farms in Canada and Montana before David Alstad of Spring Grove, Minnesota, obtained the tractor and later sold it to John.  A tag on the fender of this Titan indicates that it was sold through a dealership in Hamilton, Ontario.  The other John Hiniker Titan was used its entire life on the Jinus Grotwahl farm near Searles, Minnesota, in BrownCounty.  Although it is not currently known where this Titan was originally purchased, it could very well have been purchased at Brown County Implement.  Brown County Implement is one of Minnesota’s oldest International Harvester dealerships and was located just up the road from Searles, toward New Ulm, Minnesota.  Belt Pulley readers will recognize that John Hiniker advertises and sells decals for many different makes of tractors, including the Titan 10/20.

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