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. Continue reading Wood Brothers Company (Part II)→
As published in the January/February 2001 issue of
Belt Pulley Magazine
In 1831, when Hiram and John Pitts developed the first threshing machine, bundles of grain had to be fed by hand into the thresher. Until the process of harvesting grain was mechanized in the late nineteenth century, hand-feeding of bundles into a thresher created a real bottleneck. Hand-feeding required a worker to stand at the front of the thresher to receive each bundle from another worker on the bundle wagon or stack. Then he had to cut the twine on the bundle and feed the bundle into the thresher. The threshing process could go no faster than the worker feeding the bundles into the thresher. Furthermore, hand-feeding of bundles was a dangerous job: once the bundle was fed, the rapidly spinning cylinder tended to “snatch” the bundle out of the hands of the person feeding the bundle. The person’s hands were only a short distance away from the cylinder and in danger of serious injury. There was also the danger of foreign materials getting into the cylinder and being thrown back up into the face of the person feeding the bundles. Consequently, there was a real need to develop some device that would eliminate the need for a person in this dangerous position and that would considerably speed up the threshing process. In the middle 1880s, just such a device was under experimentation on a South Dakota farm owned by the Wood family.
South Dakota was, in the 1880s, in the middle of a boom period, as the effects of the Panic of 1873 had subsided by 1878. They were showing signs of becoming a great wheat producing state, and settlers were moving in from Minnesota and other points to the east. (Herbert S. Schell, History of South Dakota, [University of Neb. Press: Lincoln, 1975] pp. 158-174.) There were growing pains, of course, and emotional debates would break out over a great number of issues. One such instance was the six-year “Spink County War” which broke out in 1878 over the issue of whether the county seat should be located in the town of Ashton or the town of Redfield.
This dispute eventually led in an armed mob of 300 citizens of Ashton in 1884 marching on Redfield to demand the return of county records which had been forcibly removed from Ashton by Redfield citizens. As a consequence, two companies of territorial militia had to be dispatched from Fargo to Spink County to dispell the conflict. However, by the time the militia arrived, the tense situation had eased. (Ibid. p. 204.) Nonetheless, boundless optimism was in the air in South Dakota. Anything seemed possible, and this feeling attracted young men from all over the United States. Among the young farm families immigrating into South Dakota in the spring of 1885 was the Wood family.
Originally from Marlboro, Massachusetts, the Wood family consisted of the parents and two daughters–Susan (born in 1855) and Clara (born in 1858). Sometime in the late 1850s or early 1860s, the family moved from Massachusetts and settled in Freemont Township in what would become Winona County in the southeastern corner of Minnesota. While living in Freemont Township, two sons were born–Robert L. (on August 31, 1861) and Franz John (on March 7, 1864)–thereby completing the family. In the spring of 1885, the Wood family learned of free land available for settling in South Dakota. Thus, they moved there and settled on a piece of land in the extreme southeastern corner on the state in Spink County on the border with Hand County. Later that same year, Franz Wood took “pre-emption” on a plot of land for himself a short distance away and Robert also took a claim on yet another plot of land. (Later, Robert would use his land as collateral when he went to Huron to get a loan in order to buy two identical mules–Jack and Jinnie.)
The summer of 1886 was a busy one for the Wood family, but they also made time to socialize with their neighbors. They helped organize the Turtle Creek baseball team, with Robert chosen as captain. Also, in 1886, Robert and Franz Wood purchased a straw-burning, 12-horsepower Case traction steam engine and a hand-feeding Case 36″ x 58″ thresher and began a custom threshing business operating from their parents’ farm. Moving from farm to farm in the neighborhood, they supplemented their farm income with this business.
Over the next couple of years, the brothers became intimately aware of the problems inherent with hand-fed threshers. Thus, they set about developing a self-feeding mechanism. In the optimistic enthusiasm that was part of the atmosphere of South Dakota during this time, the young men believed that they could invent a feeding mechanism that would speed the process of threshing and make it safer. At the end of the harvesting season in 1889, Franz purchased a blacksmith’s forge, hammer and tongs, as well as an old claim shanty to house his new shop. All during the fall and winter of 1889-1890, he worked on the new self-feeder. When it was completed, the new self-feeder was tested on their own Case 36″ thresher in the summer of 1890. Unfortunately, it proved to be a disappointment and broke under the stress after just 10 minutes of operation.
Not to be deterred, Franz began again to build another feeder made from stronger steel. In order to have important castings properly made, Franz traveled back to Freemont, Minnesota, where he had been born, to have his cousin’s husband, Arthur Craine, a local blacksmith, work on the self-feeder with him. While in eastern Minnesota working on the self-feeder, Franz traveled to another blacksmith shop in Rushford, where he worked on the self-feeder most of the winter. Continue reading The Wood Brothers Company (Part I)→
The first edition of this article was published in the
November/December 2000 issue of
Belt Pulley Magazine
However, since the article has been brought to this website new information has been added to the article that was not part of the oringinal article in the Belt Pulley version. Furthermore, this article remains under construction as new information continues to be added to the article.
Along with the celebration of V-J Day which brought an end to the Second World War in 1945 was the anticipated ending of rationing of new farm machinery. During the war, farmers had been called upon to raise crops from fence-row to fence-row in order to meet the needs of the nation. In addition, farmers had been expected to operate under the restrictions of having to keep their old pre-war farm machinery functioning. Most of the iron, rubber and other raw materials which would have gone into the production of new farm machinery had been diverted into war production. Now, with the end of the war, there was a tremendous demand for new farm machinery. This demand created new opportunities in sales of new farm equipment. Among the businesses that felt this change was the Nicollet County Hybrid Seed Company of St. Peter, Minnesota (1940 pop. 5870).
St Peter is another of the small communities on the Minnesota River, located 29 miles up river from Jordan, Minnesota, the home of the Grams and Krautkremer Hardware store (see the article on page 16 in the July/August 2000 issue of Belt Pulley), and 10 miles up river from LeSueur, Minnesota, home of the Ray Christian/Easterlund Implement dealership (see the article on page 18 in the September/October 2000 issue of Belt Pulley). St. Peter is a beautiful town with wide main street (Minnesota Avenue) and its Minnesota Square Park betraying the marks of its early, well-planned development when it was anticipated that St. Peter would be the capital of the entire state. That anticipation, however, was thwarted in 1857 when the territorial legislature reconfirmed that St. Paul would be the capital of Minnesota when the state entered the union in 1858, and St. Peter had to content itself with being the county seat of Nicollet County.
Nicollet County stretches westward from the Minnesota River. Thus, although St. Peter is the county seat, the town is situated on the very eastern edge of the county. Across the Minnesota River to the east of St. Peter lies southwestern LeSueur County.
Served by a main branch of the Chicago Northwestern Railroad running along the east bank of the Minnesota River from Mankato, Minnesota, through St. Peter and on through the small towns of LeSueur, Belle Plaine and Jordan before arriving in Minneapolis/St. Paul, St. Peter was connected with the rest of Nicollet County to the west by a branch line of the Chicago Northwestern Railroad. Although now abandoned, the branch line ran out along Ninth Street just below the hill from Gustavus Adolphus College before leaving St. Peter to the northwest, arching around and heading off to the southwest, passing through the small village of Nicollet, Minnesota (1940 pop. 434), before passing over into Brown County at the German settlement of New Ulm (1940 pop. 8,743).
From its location on land leased from the Chicago Northwestern Railroad just south of the current location of South Elementary School, the Nicollet County Hybrid Seed Company had expanded over the years. Early on, it had obtained a franchise for selling Chrysler/Plymouth automobiles and a franchise for selling John Deere farm equipment in addition to hybrid seed. The Nicollet County Hybrid Seed Company was owned and operated by Lyle Churchill. Now, with the huge explosion of demand for new farm equipment, Lyle Churchill suddenly found that the business he was operating had become too large and unwieldy to be operated as a sole proprietorship. Further complicating his business affairs was the fact that he also owned the Arlington Implement Company of Arlington, Minnesota (1940 pop 1,222), approximately 30 miles to the north, which was the John Deere dealership franchise for that community. Therefore, some simplicity was needed to run the business efficiently. Consequently, in 1946, Lyle Churchill sold off the hybrid seed part of the Nicollet County Hybrid Seed Company, which then moved to a new location on the corner of Third Street and Broadway in St. Peter and continued under that name. Further, Lyle and his wife also sold off the Chrysler/Plymouth franchise part of the dealership, which was then relocated in a building at the corner of Broadway and Minnesota Avenue, and it became St. Peter Auto Sales. Retaining what he felt would surely be the most lucrative part of the business–the John Deere dealership franchise–Lyle Churchill then moved across the Minnesota River to the LeSueur County side.
Because of its location on the Minnesota River, some of St. Peter’s development spilled over into LeSueur County, on the east side of the river. This location had special appeal to Lyle because of its close proximity to the main north and south tracks of the Chicago Northwestern railroad and the Chicago Northwestern freight depot. Also located on the east side of the river were Hanson Silo Company, the Cargill grain drying and storage facilities, the Hormel livestock buying station, and the large Peavy Company grain elevator. These businesses brought a heavy amount of rural farm customers to this particular area of St.Peter; especially, the Peavy grain elevator which bought a great deal of the farm products–including sugar beets–grown in the rural St. Peter area during this time. It was the vacant lot between the elevator and Highway #99 that caught Lyle’s eye. This location was sure to be convenient for the farm traffic which was headed to the grain elevator. Thus, he purchased the lot for the new John Deere dealership which he was to name the St. Peter Implement Company.
Because there were no buildings at the new site, a new one had to be constructed. Even though he had sold off two parts of his St. Peter business, Lyle Churchill soon found that his ownership of the Arlington Implement Company as well as the new St. Peter dealership stretched his resources near the limit. In Arlington, although he owned the Arlington Implement Company together with Jack Barnard, Jack was working full-time as an agronomist for the Green Giant Canning Company in LeSueur, Minnesota, and served only as a “silent partner” with Lyle in that business. As a silent partner, Jack had invested some of the capital that was needed for the dealership, but left the day-to-day management to the active partner–Lyle Churchill. Now finding himself in need of more capital for the St. Peter dealership, Lyle turned again to Jack, who agreed to put up the additional capital needed to buy the land and construct the building. Once again, Jack would serve as a silent partner and leave the active running of the affairs to Lyle. Continue reading St. Peter Implement Company& the Holmberg/Weyl John Deere Model G Tractor→
Ray Christian/Easterlund Implement of LeSueur, Minnesota,
and the Wagner/Wacker 1947 John Deere A
Brian Wayne Wells
As published in the September/October 2000 issue of
Belt Pulley Magazine
LeSueur, Minnesota (1920 pop. 1,795) is a small town located in the colorful Minnesota River valley, where canning of corn and peas has long been a part of the economy. LeSueur is famous for having been the location of the corporate headquarters of the Green Giant Corporation. Readers familiar with advertising of LeSueur brand peas and Green Giant peas and sweet corn will remember the musical jingo, “+*…in the Valley of the Jolly (ho ho ho) Green Giant *+.” The Minnesota River valley around LeSueur is known as the Valley of the Jolly Green Giant.
Green Giant Corporation began in the James Cosgrove Harness Shop at 106 South Main Street in LeSueur. On April 2, 1903, James Cosgrove and his brothers C.N. and John R.S. Cosgrove and C.N.’s son Robert H. Cosgrove gathered with others to form the Minnesota Valley Canning Company. From this very inauspicious start, the company grew into a large concern known as the Green Giant Company. (Margaret Block et al., LeSueur:Town on the River [Walsworth Publishing Co.: Marceline, Miss., 1977] p. 148.) In 1903, the company used the crops from a mere 200 acres of the surrounding community; twenty-five years later, in 1928, the company was contracting with area farmers for the crops from 20,000 acres. Ibid. The effect the Minnesota Valley Canning Company (later the Green Giant Corporation) would have on the progress of farming in this area was pivotal. Many farmers in the northwest corner of LeSueur County and eastern Sibley County grew large quantities of sweet corn and English peas for Green Giant. Contracts between Green Giant and area farmers for growing sweet corn and peas supplied a financial floor, of sorts, on which LeSueur area farmers could bank as they risked the expense of new farm machinery.
C. N. Cosgrove came to LeSueur in 1872 at the age of 18 years, and that same year he opened a hardware store at 112 North Main Street. C.N. had always been interested in modern farming methods. Consequently, from a very early date, his hardware store had sold farm implements. (A 1910 picture clearly shows that the Cosgrove Hardware Store was the local dealer for Kentucky grain drills.) C.N. did well enough at selling horse-drawn machinery that in 1890 he built the first of the “Cosgrove” houses in LeSueur. (This historic house, located at 228 South 2nd Street, is currently owned by Wayne and Marilyn Wells and is operated as a bed and breakfast.) C.N.’s interest in progressive agriculture led to his appointment to the Minnesota State Fair Board where he served for many years. (Visitors to the Minnesota State Fair will note that the street on the east side of the fairgrounds, in front of the Administration Building, the 4H Building, the Educations Building, the Creative Activities Building, and the Fine Arts Building, is named Cosgrove Street in honor of C.N. Cosgrove.) In 1918, C.N. took on additional community responsibilities with his election to the Minnesota State Senate. C.N. continued to serve on the board of the Green Giant Corporation and would eventually become president of the corporation in 1925. In order to devote adequate time to his other responsibilities, C.N. Cosgrove sold his hardware store/implement dealership to R.T. Bryan in 1919. In 1924, after just five years of ownership, R.T. Bryan sold the hardware store/implement dealership to a young man by the name of Ray Christian. Continue reading Ray Christian/Easterlund Implement in LeSueur, Minnesota→
General stores have a unique place in the history of small town Americana, where people would gather to hear the news of the community and beyond. A visit to a general store would not only supply people with their material needs, but would also nourish their spirits with good neighborly discourse and interaction while they were there. This was so, because outside of the livery stable, train depot, and church on Sunday, there were precious other locations for people to gather. What’s more, anything a person could possibly need could be obtained from the general store. If the exact product were not available, the storekeeper would simply try his best to order whatever the customer wanted. Hopefully, the product would arrive in some future delivery, aboard a train or on a Wells Fargo wagon or an Overland stage. Chances are the slogan that hung in many a small town general store was more than apt: “If we don’t have it, you don’t need it.”
As small towns grew, however, grocery stores sprang up to specialize in food products, dry goods stores specialized in clothing, and lumberyards were started as independent businesses. All of these businesses offered the public a much larger selection and variety within their particular economic market than did the old general store. Usually, in the course of this small town diversification, the general store, stripped of all other products, was left with the hardware business, e.g., nails, bolts, pipes, plumbing supplies and hand tools. Needless to say, customers of the hardware store still found the old fashioned comradeship and neighborly atmosphere in most small town hardware stores. For travelling salesmen, this atmosphere was a welcome environment, with a potbellied stove pouring out heat in the wintertime and an overhead Casablanca fan offering cool refreshing breezes in the summer.
At first, in most communities, farm machinery companies sold their grain binders, plows and cultivators through the general store. Later, specialized hardware stores became the natural outlet for farm machinery. In the beginning, all farm equipment companies, as well as automobile manufacturers, would share the same hardware store in the small town, where Overland-Willys’, Studebakers, and Chevrolet and Ford cars and trucks might all be sold together with Case steam engines, Buffalo-Pitts threshers, and horse-drawn farm wagons from the Bain Wagon Company of Kenosha, Wisconsin, or from the Brown Manufacturing Company of Zanesville, Ohio. Later, as the farm equipment business became more competitive, companies like International Harvester and Allis-Chalmers began to offer only exclusive franchises to retail outlet stores. Pursuant to these exclusive franchise contracts, the “franchisee” would agree to sell only the farm equipment products of the franchisor company. In exchange, the company agreed not to establish any other franchise dealer in that town or in the surrounding community.
In many a rural community, a chance to get into the farm equipment business offered a real opportunity to many hardware (general) stores that were looking for ways to avoid the decline they were headed into as they lost their exclusive market to food products, dry goods, lumber, etc. In the mid 1920s, as farmers created more and more demand for new farm equipment, the prospects of doing well in the farm equipment business appealed to many an ambitious young man. Two such young men were Joe Grams and Herman Krautkremer from Jordan, Minnesota (1920 pop. 1,106). Jordan, a flourishing German-American village, was the economic hub for west-central Sand Hill Township and for the area immediately across the Minnesota River in southeastern Carver County. Sand Hill Township and neighboring Carver County were part of the rich black soil area of the lower Minnesota River Valley, with small, diversified farms. Year after year, the soil consistently produced good harvests. In other areas of the state, the insecurity of growing crops on poorer soil compelled farmers to expand their landholdings and forced them to take on large amounts of debt to pay for additional land and any modern farm machinery they might need to farm these larger tracts of land. Here in the lower Minnesota River Valley, however, farms could remain small and still provide a good living.
Farmers in this area were conservative in nature. Recognizing that the black soil could yield a family a good living if the farmer did not overextend himself financially, modern farm machinery was slow to be accepted by the farmers in townships like Helena Township and Sand Creek Township in Scott County. However, in the mid-1920s, it was hard to resist the temptation to borrow money so as to buy more land and grow more crops. Still, older farmers remembered that just after the Great War of 1914 to 1918, there had been a sharp depression which caused many farmers to go into bankruptcy. Nevertheless, by 1923, the worst of the post-war depression was over and the farm economy had once again started to rise. By 1928, optimism was in the air and it was infectious. Joe Grams and Herman Krautkremer were among those people who looked hopefully to the future. It was in this spirit and time of optimism that Joe Grams and Herman Krautkremer decided to go into business for themselves. Continue reading The Grams and Krautkremer Hardware: John Deere Dealer in Jordan, Minnesota→
Fredericksburg, Iowa (pop. 1,075), is a small town located in southeastern Chickasaw County, about six miles south and five miles east of New Hampton (pop. 3,940), the county seat of Chickasaw County. The mere name “Fredericksburg” in and of itself breaths the town’s German ancestry. Among the many German-American settlers in the rural Fredericksburg area were Fred and Mable (Johnson) Fulcher. Fred and Mable had four daughters–Ada, Amy, Hazel and Mildred–and four sons–Vernon, Lester, Everett and Alfred Lee.
Alfred Lee Fulcher was born on November 12, 1891 and raised on the farm. Like most farm boys, he was very much interested in farming for himself when he came of age. As part of growing up, farm boys’ thoughts diverge only temporarily from farming–when they discover girls. So too did the thoughts of Alfred Fulcher when he met Julia C. Lensing and fell in love. At the age of 24, Alfred figured he had been a bachelor long enough, so he asked Julia to marry him. On August 15, 1915, they were married at St. Mary’s Church in New Hampton. Al and Julia immediately started farming in the New Hampton and Charles City area. On November 17, 1917, a daughter Delores was born. Delores was followed by three sons–Al J., Raymond and Donald.
During the United States involvement in the First World War, farming the basic staples was good. “Food will win the war!” was a popular slogan. Leland Sage in his book titled History of Iowa stated the following regarding those times: “Government spokesmen urged the farmers in Iowa and other states to produce to the limit, and bankers begged them to borrow money and buy more land for this purpose. Experts showed them how to increase yields and urged them to plow under pasture-lands and roadsides and put them into production. The government announced guaranteed minimum prices for wheat, corn, cotton, and other products needed for the war effort. No one could lose.” (Leland L. Sage, History of Iowa [Iowa State University Press: Ames, 1974], p. 253.) Nobody much cared that the price of land went up to $800 to $1,000 per acre. With wheat prices as high as $3.60 per bushel and corn at $3.00 per bushel, it certainly would not take long to pay off any debt that might be accumulated by buying more land. (Ibid.)
At the end of the war in 1918, Europe was devastated and faced with mass starvation of its citizens. Thus, President Woodrow Wilson appointed an Iowa native, Herbert Hoover from the town of West Branch in Cedar County, Iowa, to head the American Relief Administration (A.R.A.) in an attempt to avert a catastrophe. Under Hoover’s direction, the A.R.A. shipped 19 million tons of food and supplies worth $3.5 billion to Europe. (Joan Hoff Wilson, Herbert Hoover: Forgotten Progressive [Little Brown and Company: Boston, 1975], p. 46.) To support this post-war effort, the United States government left the war-time price supports on farm commodities in place during 1919 and into 1920. Wheat was particularly profitable for United States’ farmers. With government supports, the price of wheat ran well over $2.00 a bushel for all the wheat a farmer could produce. (John D. Hicks, Republican Ascendancy: 1921-1933 [Harper Bros. Publishers: New York, 1960], p. 18.) By this quick action, a disaster was averted and it looked by early 1920 that Europe would be able to stand on its own. Consequently, on May 31, 1920, the United States Government announced that the price supports for wheat were being removed. The price of wheat fell immediately, and started dragging all other farm commodity prices downward also. By July of 1920, the index of farm prices was ten points below the June level. August brought another 15 point drop, and September meant yet another drop of 15 points. By the end of the year, wheat was selling for 67¢ a bushel. Bankruptcies and foreclosures exploded into an avalanche, as 435,000 farmers lost their farms in the economic collapse. (Ibid. p. 19).
For Alfred and Julia Fulcher, this time was an extremely bitter time. They had been farming well together and raising their family since 1915. They had managed to make some improvements to their farming operation and had even put aside some assets. However, they too finally had to quit farming, as the economic crash swamped the fruits of five years of hard work. Suddenly, with growing family, Alfred and Julia not only had to face the problem of an uncertain future, but the more immediate problem of finding housing for their family. Toward this end, the family moved back into New Hampton, Julia’s home town. After a long while of looking for a mere opportunity to work, Alfred found employment as a welder at the Hart-Parr/ Oliver factory in nearby Charles City, Iowa.
In late 1920, Alfred and Julia and their family moved to Charles City to be closer to work, and rented a house at 607 South Iowa Street. In 1925, they moved to a house at 708 Freeman. Later, in 1928, they moved to yet another rental house at 1808 Bailey; and still later, in 1931, they rented a house at 1203 Waller.
The Hart-Parr Company was an old and established company in the farm equipment industry–having been the first developer of the gasoline powered tractor. Alfred continued to work at the Hart-Parr/Oliver plant in Charles City throughout all the 1920s and 1930s as a welder. Because he was working in the farm equipment industry, Alfred was in an excellent position to notice the increasing demand for farm machinery. Consequently, Alfred became intrigued by the possibility of going into business for himself in the retail end of the farm equipment business. A opportunity arose, in 1939, for Alfred and Julia to start a business in Cresco, Iowa, (1930 pop. 3,890) selling John Deere farm equipment He was given the chance to start the implement dealership in Cresco as a partnership with R.L. Atkinson of New Hampton, Iowa.
Cresco was the county seat of Howard County, located in northeastern Iowa, with Chickasaw County on its southern border and the Iowa-Minnesota state line on its northern border. After some investigation into the tractor market and the town of Cresco, Alfred and R.L. Atkinson had determined that Cresco and the Howard County area would be fertile ground for a new tractor dealership and welding business where Alfred could employ the welding skills he had learned at the Hart-Parr/Oliver plant in Charles City. Together the partners leased the DeNoyelles building in downtown Cresco which had formerly housed the Caward grubber factory.
One clue as to just how fertile the market was in Cresco for farm tractors was indicated by the anticipation with which the Cresco public watched the negotiations and the establishment of the new business. Every Wednesday the Howard County Times reported the local events of the Cresco area. The January 11, 1939 addition reported that during the week of January 2-6, 1939, A.L. Fulcher and R.L. Atkinson had been in Cresco making arrangements for the start up of their business. The article noted that the business would be selling Case tractors and would feature repair of farm implements with both electric and acetylene welding. Legal possession of the DeNoyelle building would take place on January 15 with the first shipment of tractors to take place on January 20, 1939. When asked about their housing arrangements, the article reported that both partners intended to move to Cresco as soon as they were able to secure suitable locations.
The partners decided to call their new business the Cresco Implement Company. Alfred and Julia moved their family to Cresco. The March 8, 1939, Howard County Times carried the announcement that the John Deere Plow Company had contracted with the Cresco Implement Company to sell the entire line of John Deere equipment, examples of which would be arriving soon according to the announcement. Even before the announcement to the public, the John Deere Company had been aiding Alfred Fulcher in getting the new dealership off to a good start. The annual dealership open house called “John Deere Day” was traditionally held at all John Deere dealerships across the nation in the early spring. The John Deere Company walked Alfred through the process of organizing his first open house celebration by shipping an inventory of tractors, machinery and promotional literature to Alfred’s dealership even before the doors of the dealership were open for business.
Meanwhile, the announcement extended to the public extending a free invitation to all farmers for John Deere Day in Cresco to be held on Tuesday March 14, 1939, just five days after the official opening of the dealership. Activities would begin at 10:00 AM on the 14th of March, with an educational program and “Hollywood Comedy” movie to be shown at the Cresco Theatre. A free lunch was to be served at the Cresco Implement building one block south of Highway No. 9 in Cresco.
The Hollywood comedy feature movie shown at “John Deere Day” in 1939 was the “The Tuttle Tugger” (This movie is currently available on VHS video tape No. 89-3 from Two-Cylinder Magazine, P.O. Box 10, Grundy Center, Iowa 50638-0010, Tel.  345-6060.) Additionally, the educational program would have included the fourth annual film of the line of Sheppard family films called “The Sheppards Take a Vacation” This movie featured the John Deere Model No. 11A pull-type combine which was purchased by the fictional Sheppard family which allowed them to get their small grain harvested quickly thus freeing the family to take their first summer vacation they had taken in years. (This movie is also currently available on VHS tape No. 89-7 from Two Cylinder.) Also shown as part of the educational program in 1939 was the movie “In the Field with the Model L” which advertised the smallest of the John Deere line of tractors–the newly styled 8 horsepower Model L tractor. (This film also is available on VHS video tape No. 90-2 from Two Cylinder.)
The really big news in 1939, of course, was the fact that the Model A and B tractors were improved with more horsepower and were available as “styled” tractors complete with a sheet metal hood and grill. Regular readers of the Belt Pulley will remember that sales of the popular John Deere Model D tractor had saved many a John Deere dealership in the 1920s, e.g., the Beske Implement Dealership of Minnesota Lake, Minnesota. (See Part I in this series: “Beske Implement of Minnesota Lake” in the March/April 2000 Belt Pulley.) However, by 1939, not only had the tractor market grown much larger, but it had moved away from the standard designed four-wheeled tractor toward the tri-cycle designed tractor with capabilities of handling row-crop work on the average farm as well as heavy plowing and other field work. The tricycle John Deere Model A and B tractors did not disappoint the company or their dealerships. The Cresco Implement Company sold many of these new improved tractors.
The dealership did relatively well in the short period of time prior to the United States’ entry into the Second World War. However, once the United States government began buying large amounts of food products for the armed forces overseas, farm commodity prices sky-rocketed. Suddenly farmers were creating a heavy demand for tractors which made for brisk sales volume at the Cresco Implement Company. Generally, the John Deere Company of Waterloo, Iowa, served as the blockhouse (distributing warehouse) for all the dealoships across the entire state of Iowa. However, because the Cresco Implement Company was so close to Minnesota it was served by Deere and Webber at 800-828 Washington Avenue North in Minneapolis. Deere and Webber was the distributor of John Deere farm equipment for the entire state of Minnesota. To be sure, Al Fulcher became well acquainted with the personnel at Deere and Webber as he attempted to obtain the farm equipment which was now so much in demand by the farmers of Howard County.
When the Fulcher family had first moved to Cresco they had rented housing as they had in Charles City. By 1943, they were secure enough to purchase a home. After years of renting the family was finally able on to move into their own home and invest the former rental payments into their own property. On May 13, 1943, they purchased a house in the Baldwin Addition in Cresco from R.J. and Maude Fiske. Some time during the war Alfred Fulcher bought out R.J. Atkinson and became the sole proprietor of the Cresco Implement Company.
Upon the conclusion of the Second World War, the restrictions on production and sale of farm machinery were lifted and this released a flurry of purchasing by the farming community. Not only were the veterans returning home from the war and adding to the farm public, but the world after the war was a different world than it had been prior to the war. Horses were uniformly replaced tractors on the farms all across the nation. Whereas, before the war the farmer had fed himself and ten others, after the war he was producing enough to feed himself and 17 others. Therefore, it was not the small tractors in the John Deere line that sold, rather it was the larger row crop tractors. Symbolic of the demand for more horsepower was the fact that in 1946, sales of the Model A tractor surpassed sales of the popular Model B tractor for the first time in the history of the two tractors. (J.R. Hobbs, “Taking a Look at the Late Styled Model ‘A’ 1947-1952,” Green Magazine [Vol. 12, No. 7, July, 1996], p. 23.) Recognizing this trend for more powerful tractors, John Deere again improved both the Model A and B tractors by giving them even more horsepower. The Model A tractor now allowed many farmers to move into full four-row capability on their farms. (One such farmer who purchased a new Model A in 1947 will be the subject of a later story in this series.)
Indeed, nationwide, all tractors were selling faster than the Waterloo works could make them. Many of the new John Deere Model A and B tractors were sold by the Cresco Implement Company. Many of these sales involved a “trade-in” of a used tractor. One such trade-in was a three-speed 1935 John Deere Model D with 7.50 x 18″ factory rubber tires in the front and cut-down steel wheels in the rear which had been fitted with 28″ rims and 13.5 x 28″ rubber tires. This particular tractor was sitting on the used tractor lot at the Cresco Implement Company one Sunday in August of 1950 when it was spotted by Howard Hanks and his son Fred.
Regular readers of the Belt Pulley will remember that John T. Goff had rented his farm in Mapleton, Minnesota to the Howard and Ethel (Buck) Hanks family from 1935 until 1945 and that John T. Goff had sold the Hanks family some of his farm machinery–including a 1931 John Deere Model D and a 3-bottom John Deere No. 5 plow with 14″ bottoms. (The story of the 1931 Model D tractor was carried in the previous article in this series.)
Even after the Hanks family moved off the Goff farm, the Hanks family had kept in touch with their old landlord–John T. Goff. Thus, one Sunday afternoon in August 1950, John T., John’s new wife, Blanche, and Maud Hamp, John T.’s widowed cousin who now lived with John T. and Blanche in Mapleton, drove down to the Hanks farm for a visit. To show the Goff’s and Maud Hamp some of the surrounding countryside, Howard and Ethel invited everybody along on a road trip in the Hanks family’s new 1949 Chrysler. Howard’s oldest son, Fred Hanks, drove so that Howard could talk with John T. In the rear seat of the spacious Chrysler sat Ethel, Blanche and Maud Hamp. The trip took the group through Cresco, Iowa. While driving along, Fred happened to notice the 1935 rubber-tired John Deere Model D at the Cresco Implement Company dealership. He hesitated to interrupt the conversation that was going on in the car, but he finally mentioned the tractor to John T. and his father. It being Sunday, a day of leisure, they all agreed to stop and look at the tractor.
Recognizing the limitations of the two-speed Model D, the John Deere Company had, in 1935, introduced a new three-speed John Deere Model D. The new Model D had speeds of 2½ mph in first gear, 3½ mph in second gear, and 5 mph in third gear. (C.H. Wendel, Nebraska Tractor Tests [Crestline International: Osceola, Wisc., 1993], p. 90.) Although 5 mph was still too slow for the average farm in the post-war world, it was nonetheless an improvement over the two-speed Model D. When introduced, the 1935 three-speed Model D was available only on steel and really could not have a faster speed for safety reasons. Then, early in the production year of 1935, the Model D was made available to the public with 7.50″ x 18″ rubber tires in the front. Later that same year, beginning with serial No. 123,099, the Model D was available with 12.75″ x 28″ rubber tires in the back. (“The John Deere Model D Tractor [1931-1938]” Two Cylinder Magazine November/December 1997, pp. 28 and 32.) A great number of 1935 Model Ds were sold with factory-installed rubber tires in the front and steel wheels in the rear. As time went by, however, many of these Model Ds were altered by having the rear wheels cut down and fitted with rims for rubber tires. The 1935 Model D that Howard and Fred saw at Cresco Implement in August of 1950 was one of these altered tractors.
Not only were Howard and Fred impressed by the tractor’s rubber tires, they were also impressed with the three-speed transmission. Furthermore, the tractor appealed to Howard because this 1935 Model D was merely an improved version of the 1931 Model D. Consequently, they made a deal with Al Fulcher to purchase the 1935 Model D, and the dealership agreed to take the 1931 Model D in on trade. Thus, the Cresco Implement Company truck delivered the 1935 Model D to the Hanks farm located 25 miles away to the northwest, across the state line in Minnesota. Once the 1935 John Deere Model D was unloaded at the Hanks farm, the old 1931 John Deere two-speed was then loaded up and hauled back to Cresco.
Following the harvest that year, Howard put the 1935 Model D to work in the fields doing the fall plowing. Pulling the John Deere No. 5 three-bottom plow with 14″ bottoms in the soil on the Bagan farm, Howard found that the 1935 Model D was just like the 1931 Model, except the rubber tires offered a much smoother ride and the third gear allowed the tractor to drive out of the yard and down the road to the field considerably faster. The only fault with the whole fall plowing was that, as the cold weather moved in, plowing became an uncomfortable task. Thus, Howard, who had, as previously noted, inherited a skill in woodworking from his grandfather, set about making a cab for the Model D. The high, square, wheel fenders on either side of the driver invited the building of a cab for the tractor. The cab that Howard built was a three-sided affair made from plywood, with Plexiglass plastic windows on the front and both sides. Not only did the cab on the Model D make fall plowing more comfortable and pleasurable, but Howard found that by removing the windows in the summertime, the cab would also provide relief for the hot sun. This benefit would soon be very much appreciated, as the family would find an unexpected summertime use for the Model D in the years immediately ahead. Cabs were popular homemade additions that were added to many John Deere Model D tractors. (A picture taken in July of 1936, showing a Model D tractor with a homemade cab performing road work, can be seen in the article “The Model DI tractor” by J.R. Hobbs on page 25 of the December 1997 Green Magazine. Additionally, two Model Ds, complete with cabs, can be seen performing seed bed preparation work in the horizon-to-horizon wheat fields of Montana in the 1949 movie Big Operations in Wheat Country, available on tape No. 91-4 from the Two Cylinder Magazine.)
Ordinarily, the Hanks family patronized the John Deere dealership in LeRoy, Minnesota–the dealership owned by the LeRoy Farmers Cooperative which also owned the lumberyard and the grain elevator. (This dealership was only one of two dealerships in the State of Minnesota owned by a cooperative.) Therefore, it was the LeRoy Cooperative dealership rather than the Cresco Implement Company that the Hanks and Wayne Wells families turned to when, as previously noted, in the summer of 1956 they traded in their old 1948 Case NCM baler on a new John Deere 14T baler. (See “The Family’s First New Tractor” in the March/April 1999 issue of Belt Pulley Magazine, p. 47.)
The John Deere 14T baler purchased by Howard and Fred Hanks and Wayne Wells was a PTO driven baler. John Deere had introduced this new baler in 1954 as the new “in-line” self-tying twine baler for the average farm. (See the article by Ralph Hughes called “Four New Balers Ended the Era of Two-Cylinder Tractors” in the February 2000 issue of Green Magazine, p. 13.) The only problem with the new baler was to find an effective power source. Although in 1951 the Hanks family had purchased a new Massey-Harris 44 which, of course, had a PTO, the 44 usually spent haying season carrying the mounted 4-row cultivator and was thus unavailable to power the new 14T baler. The same was true of Wayne Wells’ new 1950 Farmall M. The Hanks family had also acquired a Massey Harris 22. However, this tractor was just a little undersized to power and pull the baler complete with a wagon load of hay bales over the sometimes gently rolling hills of eastern Mower and western Fillmore Counties in Minnesota. The 1948 Ford 8N was seen as too small a tractor to power the new baler and, anyway, it had been traded off with the Case baler on the purchase of this new John Deere 14T baler. Therefore, the only tractor left with power enough to pull the baler was the 1935 John Deere three-speed Model D tractor.
Unlike the 1931 two-speed Model D tractor which the family had previously owned, the 1935 Model D came with no factory equipped PTO. However, John Deere offered an attachable optional PTO shaft kit which could be installed as an after-market item. This attachment was an attempt to bring the pre-war configuration of a John Deere Model D into the modern post-World War II era. In the case of the Hanks’ 1935 Model D, the addition of the “quill” housing and the PTO shaft kit brought new value to the tractor.
During the crush of field work during haying season, use of the Model D on the new 14T baler would free up the other tractors owned by the Hanks family for cultivating the row crops and allow for simultaneous mowing, raking and hauling of hay bales to the barn during the hay harvest. This attachment extended the useful life of the 1935 John Deere Model D well into the 1950s and 1960s. Indeed, the Hanks family felt secure enough about the continued usefulness of the John Deere Model D that on April 9, 1957, they bought a used Model 55 three-bottom plow with 14″ bottoms from a neighbor Earl Jacobson to replace the old No. 5 three-bottom plow which the family had brought with them from the Goff farm.
Thus, the 1935 Model D, an anachronism from an earlier time, continued to be used on the Hanks farm and continued to create memories in a whole new generation of children–the grandchildren of Howard Hanks. Indeed, the earliest memory of Neil Hanks (son of Fred Hanks born on July 31, 1956) was of riding on the 1935 John Deere Model D in the spring of 1959. Not yet three years of age, Neil went for a ride on the tractor with his grandfather, Howard Hanks, out to the field to do some seed bed preparation work with the John Deere No. 10 field cultivator. Once in the field, with the tractor and digger put to work, Howard started singing to himself as he habitually did while working. The rhythmic sound of the two-cylinder tractor and the singing of his grandfather soon lulled young Neil to sleep. To accommodate the sleeping toddler, Howard arranged a collection of old coats and blankets on the spacious transmission cover, ahead of the driver’s seat and behind the gas tank. In this ready-made “bed”, toddler Neil slept, apparently oblivious to the loud howl of the transmission gears. The words and melody of the song sung by his grandfather were deeply imprinted on Neil, and years later, when he was in grade school at Ostrander, Neil would discover the song in his song book–a Scottish folk song called __ The Darby Ram _. However, on this particular spring day, however, a sudden rain ended the field work, and Howard and the now awake Neil beat a hasty retreat for the machine shed and the farm building site.
Whereas, the children of Howard Hanks, including Marilyn Hanks Wells, mother of the current author, have strong memories as school age children of the 1931 two-speed, steel-wheeled John Deere model D tractor, it is the 1935, three-speed John Deere Model D with rubber tires mounted on cutdown steel wheels that became the source of loving memories of the grandchildren of Howard Hanks. and was being revived to a new life on the Hanks farm,
Changes were also occurring at the Cresco Implement Company. In the post-war farm equipment market, Alfred Fulcher found that he was selling a lot of farm equipment. He and Julia watched with pride as their children grew up and struck out on their own. Their daughter Delores had graduated from Immaculate Conception High School in Charles City in 1935 and had gone on to nursing school at Mercy Hospital in Mason City, Iowa. There she met and married James E. Johnson of Mason City on April 21, 1944. By the 1950s, they had a beloved daughter Patricia, who remembers with relish all of her visits to Cresco where Grandpa Fulcher would take his grandchildren for a ride in his Packard car. Events, however, intruded into this beautiful domestic scene when Al Fulcher was diagnosed with cancer and was persuaded that he should retire. Casting around for a buyer of the Cresco Implement Co., Al and Julia found an interested party–George Hansen.
George Hansen had experience as an operator of a dealership, as since 1945 he had been a partner with Lester Lund in the John Deere dealership located in Walcott, Iowa. Now he recognized that this was an opportunity to become a sole proprietor of his own dealership. Thus, after some negotiations, George and his wife Violet (Hoffmann) Hansen purchased the Cresco Implement Company in 1954 and moved with their family–Norma, Helen (nicknamed Bootie), and Harold–to the Cresco community to establish their new home.
Alfred and Julia Fulcher lived on in retirement in Cresco. Alfred was, medically speaking, a “cancer survivor,” as he continued to live more than five years after his first diagnosis of cancer. Indeed, he lived an additional eleven years–until May 22, 1965–when he died from a heart condition. Selling the dealership when he did in 1954 was a good move that yielded Julia and Al a secure and comfortable retirement. Having purchased the dealership before the Second World War when the farm tractor market was still in its relative infancy, Alfred had seen the dealership grow in value, as (1) the end of the depression brought recovery to American agriculture and (2) the demand for food in the Second World War really gave farming a boost. Furthermore, Alfred had seen the dealership grow even more in the post-war period when tractors sold faster than they could be obtained. By 1954, this market had about reached its peak, and this was the exact time that Alfred and Julia sold their business. Farm consolidation would follow the end of the Korean War boom, as would consolidation of farm equipment dealerships. Small town dealerships would give way to dealerships in bigger towns servicing a broader area. Also, tractors and combines became bigger and more expensive, thereby creating difficulty for the small dealerships to carry a good inventory of machines.
George and Violet Hansen guided the Cresco Implement through these years of consolidation. In 1965, the same year that Alfred Fulcher died, Violet Hansen also died. In 1966, George closed the dealership, sold the building and moved to Bolan, Iowa. George lived on until August of 1999, just as the present author was beginning to research this article. His daughter Bootie (Hansen) Kapler still lives in Cresco and works at the Union Savings Bank.
Delores (Fulcher) Johnson’s daughter Patricia followed her mother into nursing. Currently, Patricia (Johnson) Sheldon is the director of nursing in Rockwell, Iowa. This is the same nursing home where Delores spent her last few years and where she died on November 19, 1999, just days before the present author called to talk to her about this article. Thus, the current author narrowly missed the opportunity to include the memories of Delores (Fulcher) Johnson, the daughter of George and Violet into this article.
Consequently, it is an ever-present fear of this author that information will not be gathered and written down before the passing of the main players. As can be seen above, this particular article is a case in point. Not just one, but two of the major players with very sharp memories died just before they could be questioned with regard to this article. This is a regrettable loss and requires the researcher to turn to publicly-held records to resurrect the history of a particular tractor and all of the people associated with that tractor.
As noted above, the children of Howard Hanks have fond memories of the 1931 John Deere Model D that was used and later owned by the Hanks family from 1935 until 1950 and the grandchildren of Howard Hanks have similar fond memories of the 1935 John Deere Model D. As a result of these fond memories, a desire to obtain and/or restore a John Deere Model D tractor was instilled in the surviving children and grandchildren of Howard Hanks. Accordingly, in July of 2015, Marilyn (Hanks) Wells acted on this desire by purchasing a John Deere Model D from Chris Wyman of rural Chaska, Minnesota. This Model D bears the Serial Number–123360. The serial number certificate ordered from the Two-Cylinder Club reveals that this particular John Deere Model D was shipped out of the Waterloo, Iowa tractor plant on June 17, 1935.
No. 123360 had been placed on a Great Western Railroad flatcar and attached to a Great Western train. The freight train with no. 123360 headed southwest, through DesMoines, out across southern Iowa and into Missouri. The Great Western train reached the end of the Great Western line at St. Joseph, Missouri. In St. Joseph, the flat car carrying the John Deere D bearing the serial number 123360 was transferred to a Chicago, Rock Isand and Pacific Railroad (the “Rock Island” Railroad) freight train headed for end of its line in San Diego and Los Angeles, California.
At St. Joseph, the train crossed the Missouri river and proceeded west into Kansas and then turned south toward Topeka, Kansas. More cars were added to the freight for the trip to California and the Rock Island train pushed on southwest through the small towns of Kansas. Eventually, the train stopped in Ramona, Kansas (1930 pop. 240) located on the northern border of Marion County, Kansas. Here in Ramona, No. 123360 was unloaded at the depot and some of the staff of Tatge Implement picked up the tractor and took it back to the dealership.
Although, Ramona, Kansas was served by the “branch house” located in Kansas City, Missouri, No. 123360, was being shipped straight to the small town of Ramona, pursuant to a request for a John Deere model D tractor which had been submitted by the Tatge Implement John Deere dealership. Tatge Implement was owned by two local farmers and brothers, Edwin J. and Harlan H. Tatge. They had purchased this dealership located on Main Street of Ramona in 1927 as a way of diversifying their income. They both recognized the great future that tractors and mechanized farming held for the American agriculture.
In the years between 1927 and 1935, Tatge Implement sold a great number of John Deere Model D tractors. Indeed, despite, the introduction of John Deere model C tractor with its three row-cropping system in 1925, and the introduction of the first tricycle style GP (General Purpose) model tractor with its two-row cultivator, following the more conventional two-row cropping system that was currently being used by horses, the Tatge brothers found that the standard-type four-wheel John Deere model D continued to be their most popular selling tractor.
The Production Log of the Waterloo Tractor Works states that 5,980 individual John Deere Model Ds built in 1935. In June of 1935 the Production Log indicates that 631 tractors were produced. Over the course of 1935 many significant changes were made to the John Deere Model D. There is no way of knowing the serial number of the 1935 Model D tractor purchased by Howard Hanks in 1950. However, many of the features of No. 123360 indicate that the Howard Hanks Model D was very close serial number production to the Ramona, Kansas Model D bearing the serial number 123360. Most significantly, all John Deere Model D tractors after serial number 124193 were made with a 12-spline rear axle. All Model D tractors prior to that time were made with 10-spline rear axles. No. 123360 has a 10-spline axle and so too did the Howard Hanks 1935 John Deere Model D.
Proof of this fact in contained in the fact that when the 10-spline axle was discontinued, so too was the decorative nut that was screwed onto the hub at end of the 10-spline axle. Use of the decorative nut at the end of the axle was discontinued at serial number 124193. The decorative nut had a “J-D” script on the front. In the picture of the Howard Hanks’ Model D pulling the John Deere Model 7A combine located at the top of this article clearly shows the decorative nuts on the center of the rear wheels. The Ramona John Deere Model D also has the decorative nut at the end 10-spline axle on both rear wheels. Thus the Howard Hanks Model D could not have had a Serial number larger than 124193.
The Parts Book for the John Deere Model D indicates that the clutch control lever at the right side of the steering wheel was changed at serial number 114692. It was made heavier and was fitted with a bushing in the pivot hole. Obviously, No. 123360–the Ramona Model D–was fitted with this heavier clutch lever. However, so too was the Howard Hanks 1935 John Deere Model D. Clearly, then, the Howard Hanks Model D John Deere D had a serial number among the 9,501 between No. 114692 and No. 124193 and thus was close to the Ramona Kansas John Deere D bearing the serial number 123360–proof that both tractors were made at about the same time in the summer of 1935 .
Blue Earth County, located in south-central Minnesota, derives its name from the bluish-green color of the soil which was once used as a pigment by the native Sioux tribes in the area, long before the coming of the white man. (Warren Upham, Minnesota Geographical Names, [Minnesota Historical Society: St Paul, 1969], p. 57.) Indeed, the bluish-green tinge of the soil led the French explorer, Pierre LeSueur, to believe that the soil contained copper. After his initial exploration of the southern Minnesota area in 1695, LeSueur returned to France and made plans for another trip to the new world, this time with miners in tow who were to establish Fort L’Huillier in Blue Earth County and to commence mining the copper that was sure to be there. This expedition to the new world was mounted in 1700; however, as history reveals, no copper was ever found in Blue Earth County. Thus, Fort L’Huillier and France’sattempts at settlement of southern Minnesota came to an inglorious end.
Indeed, it was wealth of quite another sort located in the soil that attracted permanent settlement to southern Minnesota very early in the history of the State. It was the dark rich humus soil, now renowned as being some of the best soil in the world. Among the earliest settlers were four families from Scotland: David and Mary (Reid) Ogilvie; James and Hellen (Coutie) Ogilvie; Archibald and Anne Cardle; and Andrew R. and Jeanette More. They were attracted to the area by the rich soil and settled in what was to become Pilot Grove Township of Faribault County, the county immediately adjacent to Blue Earth County on the south. The Ogilvies, Mores and Cardles took up land near Weasel Lake. While James and Hellen Ogilvie took up a piece of land adjacent to the lake, David and Mary Ogilvie took up land to the north which was not adjacent to the lake. On June 5, 1867, a baby girl was born to David and Mary Ogilvie. They named her Jeanette More Ogilive, after their good friend Mrs. Andrew More. (We will meet Jeanette, or Nettie, Ogilvie as a mature woman later in this story.)
Settlement, based on agriculture, in southern Minnesota was successful beyond all expectations. Towns sprang up all over, with businesses to serve the agricultural community. One such town was Minnesota Lake, located directly on the boundary between Blue Earth and Faribault Counties. Conveniently located on the Chicago-Milwaukee and St Paul railroad line, Minnesota Lake was lopsidedly settled, with more of the village in Faribault County than in Blue Earth County. In 1890, the population of Minnesota Lake was 340. Ten years later, the population of the town had grown to 518. In 1877, Gustavus A. Beske immigrated with his parents from Germany when he was only 8 years and settled in Minnesota Lake, Minnesota. In 1902, Gus, or G.A., Beske, Andrew Petrok, and Ben Engibrittson bought a hardware business from the estate of C.W. Appley. The Appley Hardware store had been financed by Peter Kremer, the largest holder of stock in the 1st National Bank in Minnesota Lake. The three new partners, however, were able to continue this financing of the hardware store under their names. In 1904, the hardware store began selling farm machinery manufactured by many different companies.
After a few years, G.A. sold his interest in the hardware store to his partners and went to work for the International Harvester Company, traveling far from Minnesota Lake. Ultimately, however, he found that life on the road did not compare with the small town life of Minnesota Lake. Upon the untimely death of Ben Engibrittson on April 6, 1909, G.A. took the opportunity to return to his home town and bought out Ben Engibrittson’s share of the old hardware store. He also met Lydia Fischer, whom he married on June 31, 1909.
Once back in the hardware business, it became clear that G.A. Beske was the real force behind the partnership. It was G.A. Beske’s true element. He was a natural at sales. It was said that G.A. could sell anything, just by talking to people. Eventually, Andrew Petrok also sold his share of the hardware business to G.A. Beske Hardware truly fit the tradition of the general store in American folklore. It served as a place where the men of Minnesota Lake would gather daily around the coal-burning, pot-bellied stove in the middle of the store and converse. The Beske Hardware also began selling New Idea farm equipment and Ford cars.
In 1912, two significant events happened–G.A. and Lydia had a son, Woodrow, and G.A., as sole proprietor, undertook a franchise agreement to sell John Deere equipment out of the hardware store. So it was, that one of the first John Deere dealerships in the state of Minnesota was established in the tiny community of Minnesota Lake. A farm machinery dealership was an enterprize with great promise in 1912, but there were also great risks, as the next 80-year history of Beske Implement would show. Continue reading Beske Implement of Minnesota Lake, Minnesota→
As published in the January/February 2000 issue of
Belt Pulley Magazine
In the second article on David Bradley farm machinery, two of the most popular and recognizable products were discussed–the farm wagon and the garden tractor. However, the David Bradley line, as advertised in the Spring and Fall issues of the Sears and Roebuck catalogue every year, included tractor loaders, field tillage equipment, and even harvesting equipment such as its one-row, semi-mounted corn picker. This installment will feature two lesser known, but still popular, items–the tractor plow and the manure spreader.
As pointed out in the first article, the David Bradley Company began its plow production with the famous horse-drawn Clipper plow. With the dawn of the tractor era, however, David Bradley introduced tractor-drawn plows. In the Spring 1936 Sears catalogue, a 2-bottom plow with 12″ bottoms was advertised for $69.95, another 2-bottom plow with 14″ bottoms for $71.85, and a 3-bottom plow with 14″ bottoms for $105.00. These steel-wheeled plows were painted David Bradley red with lime-green wheels to match the rest of the David Bradley line of farm machinery.
During the 1930s, Ned Healy placed an order for a particular David Bradley 2-bottom plow; consequently, a steel-wheeled David Bradley 2-bottom plow with 14-inch bottoms was delivered to the Sears store in Mankato, Minnesota, the county seat of Blue Earth County. Ned Healy, who operated a farm south of Mapleton, Minnesota, farmed with a Graham-Bradley 32-hp tractor and, later, a Massey-Harris 101. Both of these tractors had very fast road speeds for their time (19.8 mph. and 17.85 mph., respectively). (C.H. Wendel, Nebraska Tractor Tests [Crestline Publishing Company: Sarasota, FL 1985] pp. 110 and 137.) Ned not only farmed his own farm, he also helped his brother, Horace Healy, on another farm just down the road. Both the Graham and the Massey Harris tractors, with their rubber tires and very fast road speeds, were well-suited for the Healy farming operation which involved frequent transfers of machinery from farm to farm. Consequently, when the new David-Bradley plow arrived on the Ned Healy farm, its distinctive green colored steel wheels were soon cut down to be fitted with rims for rubber tires.
In the same Mapleton, Minnesota, neighborhood lived the Howard Hanks family. As noted in a previous article, the Hanks family once rented the John T. Goff farm also just south of Mapleton, Minnesota. (“The Family’s First Tractor,” Antique Power, May/June 1994, Vol. 6, No. 4, pp. 22-24.) Now, in early 1944, the Hanks family began negotiations to purchase a farm of their own in Beaver township, Fillmore County, near LeRoy, Minnesota. This 400-acre farm was owned by Albert E. Rehwaldt of Good Thunder, Minnesota, but had always been known as the Bagan farm. Included in the terms of the purchase was a 1942 Farmall H accompanied by a 2-row cultivator. This would be the Hanks family’s first row crop tractor. (See “The Wartime Farmall H,” Belt Pulley, July/August 1994, Vol. 7, No. 4, pp. 13-17.) The family was finally to be settling on their own land! Thus, in order to get an early start on the 1945 growing season, they drove the 100 miles to the Bagan farm in the late summer of 1944 to do some fall plowing, bringing with them their 1931 John Deere D and their 3-bottom John Deere No. 82 plow to do this. They also borrowed Ned Healy’s David Bradley plow to pull behind the Farmall H which was already at the Bagan farm. Because the renter of the Bagan farm, Roy Green and his family, was still in the house, the Hanks family camped out in a small chicken brooder house. Nevertheless, during the ten days they were there, the family completed the fall plowing and did some work on the house before they had to return to the Goff farm for the soybean harvest. They left all of the machinery they had brought with them on the Bagan farm until the following spring, when they would return to plant the crop, and went back to the Goff farm with only Ned Healy’s plow aboard the truck. The little David Bradley had performed well during the short time on the Bagan farm and had helped the Hanks family get a jump on the 1945 crop season.
Also during the 1930s, another David Bradley 2-bottom plow was delivered to the Sears store in Austin, Minnesota, the county seat of Mower County, for a customer by the name of Martin Hetletvedt. Martin farmed a 160-acre farm north of the “Old Town” area of LeRoy, Minnesota. (Most of his farm has now been merged into the Lake Louise State Park located in the Old Town area.)
LeRoy was originally settled at the site of a sawmill located next to a dam on the Upper Iowa River. The dam and sawmill were built in 1853. By 1855, a settlement had grown up around the sawmill, and by 1858, the town of LeRoy was platted there. However, as white pine from northern Minnesota became more readily available for building material, the sawing of local hardwoods became unprofitable and the sawmill was converted to a grist mill in 1858. In 1867, when the Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul Railroad (later the Milwaukee Road) came through the area, it by-passed the settlement of LeRoy, and the railroad station built by the railroad to serve the town was actually located about a mile southeast of LeRoy. Consequently, over the next several years, the people of whole town of LeRoy resettled to the area around the railroad station, and in 1874, LeRoy was incorporated at the new location. Gradually, the settlement around the grist mill declined and the area became known as “Old Town.” The grist mill itself also closed up, as better methods of flour milling were developed.
As published in the November/December 1999 issue of
Belt Pulley Magazine
By the time Sears Roebuck bought out the David Bradley Manufacturing Company in 1910, the “David Bradley” name was already associated with a wide range of different farm machinery products manufactured at its site in Bradley, Illinois. Nonetheless, the company remained small and relatively unknown outside its local market. Its connection with the Sears mail-order system, however, changed all that. Once David Bradley farm implements were offered to the public through Sears catalogue, David Bradley became a household name across the nation.
After Sears purchased the company, it added a great number of farm implements to the David Bradley line of equipment. Many of these implements were manufactured by other companies and merely sold under the David Bradley name. Soon these implements out-numbered products actually manufactured by the David Bradley Works. Nevertheless, whether made by the David Bradley Works or by someone else and merely sold under the David Bradley name, some products became very popular with farmers. Two examples were the very popular David Bradley garden tractor and the David Bradley farm wagon gear and wagon box. The garden tractor was a product manufactured at the David Bradley Works in Bradley, while the widely-sold David Bradley wagon was an example of one of the products made by another company and sold under the David Bradley name.
As published in the September/October 1999 issue of
Belt Pulley Magazine
The story of John Deere crossing the Allegheny Mountains in 1836 from Rutland, Vermont, to settle in Grand Detour, Illinois, to develop the first steel-bottom plow is well-known. (C.H. Wendel, Encyclopedia of American Tractors [1979 Crestline Publishing: Sarasota, Fla.] p. 82.) Likewise, the story of James Oliver developing the chilled steel process for plow bottom manufacturing in 1855 is also well-known. (C.H. Wendel Oliver/Hart-Parr [1993 Motorbooks International Publishing: Osceola, Wis.] p. 107.) The stories of these two men have been widely disseminated as part of the folklore of farm equipment companies which would later bear their names. Somewhat less well known, however, is the story of David Bradley and his plow.
Long before James Oliver developed the first chilled steel plow in 1855–and even before John Deere invented the steel-bottomed plow in 1836–a young pioneer and foundryman in Chicago by the name of David Bradley invented the first cast iron plow which would scour the soils of the Midwest. It was David Bradley who first answered the need for a plow which would turn its own furrow and scour the sticky, heavy, virgin prairie of the Middle West with the invention of his chilled cast iron plow in 1832. David Bradley was the first man ever to bring pig iron west of the Allegheny Mountains for use in making his famous chilled cast iron plow.
David Bradley was born on November 8, 1811, in Groton, New York. He worked for a while at a plow business in Syracuse, New York. In 1832, he left the east to traveled over the Allegheny Mountains, eventually settling in Chicago in 1835. Operating out of a foundry and machine shop, he perfected the chilled cast iron plow called the “Garden City Clipper.” In the late 1830s, together with Conrad Furst, he incorporated the business as Furst and Bradley Manufacturing Company. The company produced plows and other agricultural implements. Over the years, David Bradley’s son, J. Harley Bradley, gradually took over operations of the company from his father. Under the leadership of J. Harley, the company began a period of expansion. During this period, the Bradley family also bought out the stock owned by Conrad Furst and the company became the David Bradley Manufacturing Company, hereinafter known as the David Bradley Company. From its plant facilities at Des Plaines and Fulton Streets in Chicago, the company answered the growing need for agricultural equipment in the Midwest and enjoyed success from the very beginning, producing plows, horse-drawn corn planters, cultivators and other farm implements. This success in the 1890s was spurred by two factors: location and favorable publicity. Continue reading The David Bradley Company (Part I)→
Belt Pulley Magazine Articles by Brian Wayne Wells