The M & W Company of Anchor Illinois (Part 2):
The Clark-Christenson 1953 Farmall Model Super M
Brian Wayne Wells
As published in the January/February 1998 issue of
Belt Pulley Magazine
In the early 1950s, M&W Company parts for Farmall tractors became so immediately popular that farmers would often require their local International Harvester dealer to install these parts on their new Farmall tractor as part of the sales agreement. One such tractor, a 1953 Farmall Super M (Serial No. 31,634), would eventually make its way to Srsen Bros. where, in the Spring of 1954, George Clark, a farmer from rural Claremont, Minnesota (1950 pop. 426), and his 14-year-old daughter, Sharon, would see it and make a deal on the tractor.
George Joseph Clark was the third “George Clark” to operate the Clark family farm in Ripley Township, seven miles south of Claremont, Minnesota. It all began when his grandfather, George Ezekiel Clark Sr., was given a 160-acre farm by the United States government in recognition of his service in the Illinois militia during the American Civil War.
George Ezekiel Clark Sr. operated the Dodge County farm together with an adjacent 80-acre farm which was homesteaded in the name of his wife, Harriet (Jeffers) Clark, until the farming operation passed to his son, George Ezekiel Clark Jr., and his wife, Mary Alice (Steele) Clark. George Jr. and Mary Alice had nine children, the sixth of whom was George Joseph Clark, who was born on November 3, 1908. Life was fairly typical for George Joseph and his eight brothers and sisters until the sudden death of their father in 1917. Pulling themselves together to deal with the hard times, Mary Alice and her children continued operating the large family farm. However, as the older children came of age, they struck out on their own. In early 1939, George Joseph married Evelyn O’Leary and moved to northern Minnesota. Two years later, they returned to Ripley Township in Dodge County and rented a farm near the home farm where George’s mother and some of his brothers and sisters still lived and worked the land. In 1948, George Joseph’s mother moved to the city of Rochester, Minnesota (1940 pop. 26,312), and the home farm was rented out. In 1950, George Joseph made the decision to move back to the home of his birth and childhood, and in 1952 George Joseph and Evelyn contracted to buy the Clark home farm.
The Clark farming operation included raising oats, wheat, barley, and corn. Livestock included chickens, geese, pure-bred Columbia sheep, hogs, and 30-40 milking cows. By now, George and Evelyn had a family of five children; Sharon (December 1939), Kay (1941), Mary Jean (1942), Judy (1946), Steven (1950). A sixth child, Jenny, would be born in 1955. The whole family was involved in the farming operation; Evelyn milked the cows, and the four oldest daughters all helped their father in the fields and around the farm. George often said that his four daughters could do anything that four boys could do.
George always tried to stay modern in his farming operation. In this, he was supported and often encouraged by Evelyn. Indeed, it may have been Evelyn who suggested many of the improvements made to the Clark farming operation. The Clark family started farming with a 1941 Farmall H with its factory-installed rubber tires. By 1944, George had purchased a new Farmall M from the Srsen Bros. IHC Dealership in Blooming Prairie (1940 pop. 1,442). (Dealership records still in the possession of Jim Srsen indicate that the sale of this Farmall M [Serial No. 74276] to George Clark occurred on May 15, 1944.) In the late 1940s, George obtained a Farmall F-20 and an Oliver to supplement the field work. In about 1946, even before moving to the home place, George had his hay baled, rather than storing it loose in the haymow. His brother-in-law, Carl Keller, was originally hired to do the baling with his new McCormick-Deering automatic wire-tie baler; later, George obtained his own McCormick-Deering automatic twine-tie baler. Sharon was assigned the task of driving the Farmall M that pulled the baler in the field during hay season. Also, in 1946, George purchased a McCormick-Deering Model 2-M two-row mounted corn picker to fit on the Farmall M. With this new picker, he could “open” his own corn fields during the fall harvest. He also retained his older New Idea Model 6-A 2-row pull-type corn picker which could then be used in the “opened” corn fields without running down any rows of unharvested corn.
Prior to 1950, all of the harvesting of small grains on the Clark farm had been accomplished by threshing as a part of the neighborhood threshing ring together with the Drache family and George’s brothers, most of whom were farming on other neighborhood farms. However, in 1950, George purchased a used Allis-Chalmers All-Crop harvester and started combining all of his small grains rather than participating in the threshing ring.
Improvements in farming practices were advertised everywhere during the early 1950s, but none of these methods of advertising was more entertaining for the families in Ripley Township than that which occurred at the Srsen dealership when they hosted Pancake Days. The Clark family, along with many other rural families, would drive to Srsen’s on one cold wintery February Saturday to have a look at the latest IHC farm machinery, to enjoy the free food, and to see some IHC promotional movies. Srsen’s shop would be temporarily cleared out, and new 2 x 8 pine planks would be placed on 5-gallon paint cans to form seats. When the lights of the shop were turned off, the shop would become an improvised theater. For young farm children, Pancake Days would be the greatest day of the year–except for Christmas–all the free pancakes and milk that one could eat and a chance to see free color movies of farm equipment.
Srsen Brothers IHC dealership originally opened for business in 1918 when brothers Al and Louie Srsen obtained franchises to sell the McCormick and Deering lines of farm equipment. Srsen Brothers signed two separate franchise contracts–one for McCormick and one for Deering–even though both lines of equipment were produced by the same company–International Harvester. Although the merger of these two companies had occurred in 1903, two distinct lines of equipment were independently maintained until the 1930s. Accordingly, until 1930, it was still possible to buy a Deering grain binder as opposed to a McCormick grain binder. Srsen’s also obtained franchises to sell cars–first, Willys-Overland cars, and then, in 1925, a Chrysler/Plymouth franchise. When Al and Louie retired, Al’s son, Hubert (Hoob) Srsen, took over the dealership. Over the years, Konard Wold became a loyal and faithful employee at the business and later came to own part of the business. Also employed at various times at Srsen were Harold Severson, Karl Harding, Ron Janning, Joe Lynard, Elmer Srock, Martin Nelson and Harold Hillson.
Improvements in farming operations were also given a great boost when on September 5 and 6, 1952, Wasioja Township in Dodge County hosted the National Soil Conservation Days and Plow Matches, also know as “Plowville 1952.” Agreements were made with Kasson/Dodge Center area farmers–Henry Snow, Donald Delzer, George Holtrof, Arnold Scherger, Clarence Jorgenson, and Roy Gossard–to have their combined farms used for this event. Plowville was a huge event that attracted 100,000 to 150,000 people who came to see the latest in farm equipment, particularly large scale plowing. Because 1952 was also a presidential election year, it was inevitable that major politicians would be attracted to Plowville as a means to court the farm vote. Both General Dwight Eisenhower, the Republican presidential candidate, and Governor Adlai Stevenson, the Democratic presidential candidate, showed up on September 6 and used this forum to present their respective positions on agricultural issues. (Dwight D. Eisenhower, Mandate for Change [Doubleday: Garden City, N.Y., 1963], p. 57; James Bartlow Martin, Adlai Stevenson of Illinois, [Doubleday: Garden City, N.Y., 1976], p. 667.) This became the only time in history that two candidates for the presidency spoke from the same platform on the same afternoon. Minnesota’s Republican Governor C. Elmer Anderson, running for re-election, appeared and escorted General Eisenhower. More than twenty-five years later, Plowville was described as the “greatest event in Dodge County history.” (Harold Severson, Dodge County: 125 Years of History, [Mantorville, Minn. 1979], pp.96-106.) Plowville 1952 created much excitement about plowing, and the publicity was widespread. George and Evelyn and the whole Clark family attended.
Perhaps Plowville influenced him, or perhaps he was impressed by the new Super line of tractors which he had seen at a recent Pancake Days celebration, but by the Spring of 1954, George Clark was in the market for a more powerful tractor and a bigger plow. Consequently, George and his daughter Sharon got into the family’s 1952 Chevrolet and travelled to Blooming Prairie to the Srsen Bros. IHC dealership.
At Srsen Bros., George was met by Hoob Srsen. When George expressed interest in one of the new Farmall Super M’s, Hoob showed him a new 1953 Farmall Super M that was part of the inventory of tractors the dealership had on hand. This Super M was No. 31,634.
Srsen Bros. was in the district served by the International Harvester “block house” located at 25727 University Avenue in St. Paul, Minnesota. Under ordinary circumstances, the 1953 Super M No. 31,634 would have arrived at Srsen Bros. from this block house via the Milwaukee Road railroad which passed through Blooming Prairie on its way from the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul to Chicago.
The records of the Srsen Brother Dealership are in the possession of the descendents of the Srsen brothers. Thus, these records remain intact to this day and are in surprizingly quite complete, even containing the serial numbers of the tractors that arrived at the Srsen Dealorship from the block house during their years that Srsen conducted business in Blooming Prairie. Still these records do not contain any mention of a Super M with the serial number 31,634. However, this does not rule out that the fact that fact that No. 31,634 was sold through the Srsen Bros. Dealorship, since it was quite common for the dealorship to obtain tractors from other dealorships in the Southern Minnesota area when there was a pressing need for a tractor. The serial numbers of these tractors arriving from other dealorships would not appear on the records of the Srsen Bros. Dealorship. Thus, it appears likely that No. 31,634 was one of thes tractor It is likely, then, that y wer S. the it is likely that this particular Super M came to Srsen’s from another dealership. This was not an uncommon occurrence in the early 1950s following the end of the Korean War. With the lifting of price and wage controls which had been imposed during the Korean War came a boom in the sale of farm equipment. Although not as big as the boom of 1946 following the end of the Second World War, sales of farm equipment in 1953, nonetheless, created an inventory shortage problem for most farm equipment dealers. Accordingly, dealerships would occasionally obtain a tractor or a piece of equipment from other dealerships in other areas. Most likely, then, No. 31,634 became part of the Srsen Bros. inventory as a result of this method, and thus the serial number of the tractor does not appear in the regular records of the Srsen dealership.
International Harvester’s new Model Super M was introduced in 1952. Under pressure from third-party manufacturers, like the M&W Company, International Harvester had increased the size of the bore of the pistons on its new Super M to a full 4″ over the 3-7/8″ bore of its immediate predecessor, the Farmall M. The Super M, with the new oversized pistons, would deliver 43.92 horsepower at the belt as recorded by tests performed at the University of Nebraska. (C.H. Wendel, Nebraska Tractor Tests Since 1920 [Motorbooks International: Oseola, Wis. 1993], p. 169.)
In the horsepower race of the 1950s, the M&W Company now offered a “cratered” piston to obtain even higher compression and even more horsepower from the Farmall Super M. The cratered piston was built very tall and had a small notch (crater) in the top of the piston to leave room for the bottom of the sparkplug to protrude down into the combustion chamber at the top of the cylinder. When the piston came up on its compression stroke, the size of the combustion chamber would be reduced to almost the size of the crater itself thus creating more compression and horsepower for the engine. With the new M&W cratered pistons, dynamometer tests showed the Super M attaining in excess of 50 horsepower. Indeed, Bill Radil Jr., an area farmer from nearby rural Hayfield, Minnesota, found that, according to a dynamometer test conducted at Munsen Implement in Hayfield, Minnesota (1950 pop. 805), the new cratered M&W pistons in his Farmall Super MTA allowed the tractor to deliver 58 horsepower.
George Clark was well aware of the increase in horsepower that would be available if the Super M were fitted with M&W cratered pistons. Therefore, as he and Hoob negotiated the sale of the Super M in Hoob’s office, Martin Nelson, a mechanic at Srsen Bros., was called to join the conversation. Although fourteen-year-old Sharon was not a party to their conversation and was only observing the activity in Hoob’s office through the large window into the office, she now deduces that Martin Nelson was most probably called in at this point in the negotiations to determine how soon the service department at Srsen Bros. could add the M&W high compression pistons to George’s 1953 Super M.
Sharon Clark was watching a fairly familiar scene which occurred at many International Harvester dealerships across the nation in the early 1950s, as Farmall tractor buyers wanted M&W pistons installed on their new tractors. George Clark’s request for the new M&W pistons was made a part of the sales agreement, and No. 31,634 thus became one of those tractors that had M&W pistons installed from the very beginning of its working career. Also included in the purchase of the new Super M was a new Model HM-438 four-row cultivator. George Clark traded in the family’s 1941 Farmall H as part of the payment on the new Super M.
Back home on the Clark farm, the new Super M was put to work on a variety of jobs. In the summer, the tractor was used to prepare the seed bed and to plant the corn, beans, and small grains. It was also used along with the new four-row cultivator to cultivate the corn and beans. In addition, it pulled the hay baler. During harvest season, it was put under the 2-M mounted corn picker, and the Clark’s 1944 M pulled the New Idea 2-row Model 6A corn picker. In the winter months, the new Super M was employed in belt work, powering the feed grinder making feed for all the livestock on the Clark farm. During many of these farming operations, in all seasons, usually one of the Clark daughters could be found in the operator’s seat of the Super M. Most often, it was the eldest daughter–Sharon.
In 1955, the Super M’s Lift-All hydraulic system (which was a single action hydraulic system) was modified to allow the hydraulics to have power in both directions. This meant that not only would the hydraulic system lift tillage tools out of the ground, but the tillage tools could be forced into the ground. One-way hydraulics would have to rely on gravity to pull the tillage tool into the ground. Although George’s Super M was never fitted with wheel weights, the 13 x 38 rear tires were filled with calcium chloride to provide more traction during heavy drawbar work.
Of course the heaviest drawbar job on the farm is mold-board plowing. Indeed, the horsepower class of a tractor is usually determined by the number of plow bottoms it can pull; e.g., a two-plow tractor or a 2-3 plow tractor. Large-scale plowing was, in fact, on George Clark’s mind when he bought his Super M and equipped it with M&W pistons. After taking delivery on the Super M, he obtained a John Deere 4-bottom plow with 14″ bottoms. Plowing with 4 bottoms was where the Super M provided the most substantial upgrade in the farming operation on the Clark farm.
Pulling the four-bottom plow in hard ground made the Super M work. At night while plowing on the Clark farm, one could see that the bottom of the muffler would become so hot that it would turn cherry red. The M&W pistons were obviously generating a great deal more horsepower than the factory installed pistons. Inevitably, this took its toll on other parts of the tractor. In 1963, parts of the bull gear broke and cracked through the housing of the rear end of the Super M. However, the bull gear was replaced, the rear end housing was welded, and the tractor returned to the farm where it continued to work until 1967 when George Clark traded it in on a new International 856. The 856 purchased from Srsen Bros. was among the new models introduced by International Harvester in 1967.
The Super M did not spend much time on the used tractor lot at Srsen Bros., however, before it was purchased by another farmer–Ray Christenson–who owned and operated a 160-acre farm west of Blooming Prairie. He milked 30-35 head of cattle and raised small grains, corn and soybeans. His son, Norman Christenson, helped him with the farming operations, using a 1948 Farmall M and a 1945 John Deere A. In 1967, Ray and Norman negotiated the purchase of the Super M with Jim Srsen, who had just that year taken over the operation of Srsen Bros. from his father Hoob Srsen. As part of the price of the Super M, Ray Christenson traded in his 1945 John Deere A.
At home on the Christenson farm, the Super M was employed in seed bed preparation and cultivating corn. In the fall, the tractor was put under the 2ME mounted cornpicker for harvesting corn. The Super M also saw plenty of belt work. In the summer, the tractor powered the apron-fed IHC blower during green corn harvest and silo filling. In the late fall, the Super M was used on the belt, powering an International Harvester corn shredder for harvesting bundles of ripe corn which had been bundled and shocked instead of picked. All winter, the Super M was used on the belt to power the Farmhand feed grinder.
Ray and Norman Christenson also appreciated the power that was generated in the Super M by the installation of the M&W crater pistons, and they put this power to work in their fields by obtaining a 4-bottom IHC plow with 16″ “breaker bottoms.” (This plow still sits indoors at the Christenson farm.) When pulling this plow, the roar of the tractor engine under full load could be heard by the neighbors around the Christenson farm, and at night, of course, the muffler would have a red glow just as it had during plowing season on the Clark farm.
In the mid-1970s, Ray Christenson passed away and left his son Norman to operate the farm. With a shortage of manpower around the farm, Norman would hire men to help him during busy times of the year. In the mid-1980s, Bill Radil III was one of those men hired to help around the Christenson farm, and he became familiar with the Super M and its history, including the welding scar on the bottom of the differential of the tractor which had resulted from the broken bull gear in 1963.
Norman Christenson had the Super M overhauled in 1985, and the cratered M&W pistons were replaced with the standard IHC Super M pistons. This reduced the amount of power that was generated by the tractor, but, by 1985, the Super M was no longer likely to be used for heavy farm work and the extra power would not likely be needed.
By the 1990s, the Super M became pretty much obsolete in modern farming operations. So it was in the summer of 1992 that Norman Christenson sold his Super M (No. 31,634) to his brother-in-law, Martin Krampitz. Martin and his wife, Avis (Nelson) Krampitz, owned and operated Krampitz Hardware on U. S. Hwy 218 in Blooming Prairie where they had a franchise to sell Cub Cadet lawn and garden equipment. They also bought and sold used farm tractors. Thus, Martin Krampitz parked the Super M on the south side of his hardware building where it could be clearly seen by any potential buyers driving by. Not long after, in that same summer of 1992, the Super M was sold and left the Blooming Prairie area–gone forever, everyone assumed, from the neighborhood of those people who had been involved with the history of the tractor.