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Custom Threshing on a Large Scale: The Pauley-Seppmann 40-inch by 64-inch Minneapolis Thresher

Custom Threshing on a Large Scale: The Pauley-Seppmann 40-inch by 64-inch Minneapolis Thresher


Brian Wayne Wells

As published in the July/August 1997 issue of

Belt Pulley Magazine

            The 1920s heralded the beginning of the small tractor era.  The production and sale of smaller tractors during that time was accompanied by a downward trend in the size of threshers.  By the late 1920s, large threshers had become dinosaurs of a bygone era–huge behemoths which reminded one of threshing days prior to World War I.  However, there remained one small niche in the farm market for the large thresher/separator–the custom thresher operator.

Generally, threshing on North American farms in the past was done by a threshing/separator jointly owned by a “ring” of neighborhood farmers.  During harvesting season, a thresher would make the rounds of each of the farms in the neighborhood ring, threshing all the small grains on each farm before moving on to the next farm.  Occasionally, one farmer would own the thresher outright and would circulate the neighborhood with the thresher and thresh his neighbors grain for a fee.  This was called “neighborhood custom threshing.”

Custom farming (i.e., custom threshing, custom baling, etc.) in the immediate neighborhood was a common way in which farmers supplemented their own farm income.  As the regular Belt Pulley reader will remember, the Hanks family of LeRoy, Minnesota, found that the extra income provided by custom combining and baling in their neighborhood provided just enough income to make it through 1947.  (See “The Case NCM and a Family’s Crucial Year” in the January/February 1995 Belt Pulley.)

To make an income at custom threshing, the operator had to get outside of his neighborhood and follow the ripening crop from south to north across the Midwest.  This style of custom threshing is mentioned in the book Threshers, by Robert Pripps & Andrew Morland (Motorbooks International: Oseola, Wis. 1992), pp. 57-59.  Such custom threshing would require full-time operation and would generally not be done by a farmer who had to operate his own farm.  These custom threshing operators were required to thresh a great deal of grain in a very short time.  They had to cover a lot of ground quickly.  They were, after all, fighting a rear guard action against the trend toward smaller threshing rings and downsized threshers which predominated throughout the 1920s.  Nonetheless, the threshing separator market was still significant enough in the late 1920s that some threshing machine manufacturers were trying to court this market by updating their largest threshers.

One of the biggest threshing separators ever built was the 40″ x 64″ separator (a 40″ cylinder and concave with 64″ wide separating tables and screens) manufactured by the  Minneapolis Threshing Machine Company (MTM) of Hopkins, Minnesota.  MTM seems to have begun manufacturing the 40″ x 64″ separator as a wooden thresher as early as 1899.  However, whereas Case had begun offering all-steel threshers as early as 1904, information obtained by researcher and writer C.H. Wendel seems to indicate that MTM was one of the last threshing companies to offer an all-steel version of its thresher/separator.  MTM began offering the all-steel design as an option in the late 1920s.

One particular all-steel 40″x 64″ separator, among the first ever manufactured by MTM, rolled out of the company’s Hopkins factory in early 1926.  It was loaded onto a waiting Chicago Northwestern railroad car and then connected to a  Chicago Northwestern train headed south to the town of Madelia, Minnesota (1920 pop. 1,447).  The steam engine powering the train pulled slowly out of Hopkins and picked up speed.  In the early spring, teams of horses and farmers could be seen just starting their field work for the season.  It was still very much the time of the horse.  As the train carrying the MTM thresher passed through the Minnesota Valley and through the small towns of Shakopee, Jordan, Belle Plaine, St. Peter and Mankato, it rolled on past fields full of farmers and horses in harness working up the soil for the start of a new year of crops.  At Mankato (1920 pop. 12,469), where the Minnesota River arches around a bend to head off to the northwestern part of the state, the train began to climb up out of the valley.  The tracks then settled out onto the flat plains southwest of Mankato.  At the small town of Lake Crystal, Minnesota (1920 pop. 1,204), the original tracks built by Chicago Northwestern turned south toward Iowa.  However, the train with the large MTM thresher headed off onto the tracks which headed west-southwest out of Lake Crystal.  This line had originally been built by the Chicago-St. Paul-Minneapolis and Omaha RailRoad and was commonly known as the Omaha Road.  Many years prior to 1926, this railroad had merged with the Chicago Northwestern Railroad; however, the railroad employees still affectionately referred to the section of the line between Lake Crystal and Omaha as the “Omaha Road.”  This particular train followed the Omaha Road for only 17 miles before arriving at the small town of Madelia, Minnesota, located in Watonwan County.  Here, the railroad car was disconnected from the train and put off onto a siding for unloading of the thresher.

A few of weeks earlier, the local hardware store in Madelia–James Brothers Hardware and Farm Equipment–had placed an order with the Minneapolis Threshing Machine Company for the large separator.  Bezaleel “Bez” James and his brother J.C. James had opened the hardware business in 1910.  They sold Massey-Harris tractors and equipment and Minneapolis Threshing Machine Company threshers and equipment.  Carrying these two lines of farm equipment meant that James Bothers had the entire cross-section of farm equipment needed by any farming operation.

            James Brothers had placed the order for the large MTM thresher pursuant to a purchase contract signed by brothers Cyril and Zeno Pauley of Lewisville, Minnesota (1920 pop. 229) located in Watonwan County, 10 miles south of Madelia.  Cyril Pauley was a mechanic and lived with his wife Laura (Mosel) Pauley and their two children, Eugene and Joyce, in the town of Lewisville.  Zeno and his wife Ann (Fafzden) Pauley owned and operated a 160-acre farm in the rural Lewisville area where they lived with their two children, James and Lorraine.  The Pauley brothers were both tall and big men.  Obviously, they both had the strength and endurance to take on two full-time jobs each–their own respective occupations and also custom threshing.  They began custom threshing in 1917 using a wooden 32″x 52″ Red River Special fitted with double-wing feeder extensions made by the Carpenter Company of Peroia, Illinois.  However, by 1926, the Red River Special had become worn and was too small for the growing number of farmers who were employing the Pauley Brothers to do their threshing each year.  Consequently, they had purchased the large MTM from James Bros. Hardware and Farm Equipment.  The Pauleys had both grown up in the Madelia area; therefore, it was perhaps natural that they would turn to James Brothers to purchase a new thresher for their business.  To power the smaller Red River Special, the Pauley brothers had used a 25 hp. Port Huron steam engine.  For their new thresher, the Pauley brothers obtained a larger steam engine with the increased horsepower necessary to power the larger MTM thresher.

The type of threshing that was generally conducted in the Lewisville area at that time was predominately “stack threshing.”   The individual farmer would bind all of his wheat and oats, and rather than putting the bundles of grain into small “shocks” in the field to “sweat” or dry, he would begin carefully constructing large stacks of bundled grain that would rise to a point at the top.  If the top of a stack were correctly made, it would repel rain and keep all the bundles in the stack dry for a long time.  Many times the stacks would have to sit out in the elements a long time before threshing.  The threshing season would begin in August, but could extend to as late as November before a threshing crew could get around to threshing the last customer on their list.  Although farmers would try to position the stacks close together (usually with just enough room between the stacks to insert the self-feeder of the threshing separator), the fact that the stacks were large and immobile meant that some bundles would have to be carried from one side of the stack to the other.  Furthermore, near the bottom of the stack the crew members (bundle tossers) throwing the bundles onto the self-feeder would not have the advantage of standing on a wagon to feed the thresher.  Consequently, the bundle tossers would have to lift the bundles up above head level to feed the thresher.  As a result, stack threshing created a real need for feeder extensions which would swing out to any angle from both sides of the self-feeder to ease the task of the bundle tossers when working on the stacks.  Additionally, the feeder extensions could be lowered as the bundle tossers worked down the stack.  The “double-wing” feeder extensions jutting out at angles from the self-feeder were a great improvement and became a very popular option for most threshers headed to “stack threshing country.”  Anticipating that their 40″ MTM thresher would be used primarily for stack threshing, the Pauley Brothers ordered the optional Garden City double-wing feeder extensions on their new MTM thresher.  Although manufactured by the Garden City Company of Pella, Iowa, the double-wing feeder extensions were added to the Pauley thresher by MTM at their Hopkins facility as a factory installed option.  Continue reading Custom Threshing on a Large Scale: The Pauley-Seppmann 40-inch by 64-inch Minneapolis Thresher

A Life of Giving: Marcus Griep’s Minneapolis-Moline Model ZAU Tractor

A Life of Giving: Marcus Griep’s Minneapolis-Moline Model ZAU Tractor


Brian Wayne Wells

As published in the May/June 1997 issue of

Belt Pulley Magazine

            At various antique tractor shows around the nation, you can see service tractors which have, at some point, been restored with a new coat of paint and the proper decals, but usually they are not as pampered as the tractors meant exclusively for exhibition.  Service tractors provide the day-to-day power needed to prepare a site for a show.  They are expected to start the first time, every time, in all kinds of weather.  They are expected to pull water wagons for steam engines, to pull graders and drags for grooming the grounds, and even to pull the other pampered tractors in attempts to start them.  Service tractors usually do the seed bed preparation and planting of the crops in the spring and the binding of the grain in the summer, well before the fall threshing shows.  More often than not, service tractors are neglected and taken for granted.  They usually are not registered for the show nor are they usually paraded with the other tractors.  Instead, they tend to be invisible to the viewing public as they perform the more mundane tasks.  In other words, they are treated much the same as a tractor on a working farm.  In this way, service tractors are the best example of a “real farm tractor” that a show may actually possess.

One such tractor on the grounds of the LeSueur County Pioneer Power Association is a 1949 Minneapolis-Moline ZAU, Serial No. 0064903012 (hereinafter referred to as “No. 3012”), last owned by the late Marcus Griep of nearby Henderson, Minnesota.  Marcus remembered No. 3012 from his childhood on his family’s farm.  In the years following the death of his father, Oscar Griep, in January of 1982, Marcus used No. 3012 to perform useful duties and impromptu acts of kindness throughout the Henderson community, like helping people get their cars started in the winter.  The very fine recent history of Henderson (Henderson: Then and Now) contains a pictorial record of Marcus Griep’s community involvement–helping city workers hang Christmas decorations and participating in the community beard growing contest.

His early membership and participation in the activities of the LeSueur County Pioneer Power Association led him to bring No. 3012 out to the Pioneer Power grounds to continue a family tradition of service to the Henderson/Dresselville/LeSueur community.  Although Marcus, himself, was most often in attendance at “work nights” on the new 93-acre site which had just been purchased by the Association in 1980, he made it clear that No. 3012 was to be used by association members in his absence if the need arose.  Soon No. 3012 became a regular sight around the grounds, performing all sorts of tasks.

In late April of each year, the tractor can be found pulling the road grader, leveling the roadways around the grounds in preparation for the LeSueur County Pioneer Power Swap Meet.  Also, No. 3012 is used to pull wagons loaded with seed corn and oats during the spring planting of the fields located on the grounds.  After the wheat and oats are ripe and have dried in the shocks in the fields, No. 3012 is once again used by the crews to pull the loaded bundle wagons.  During the Show, No. 3012 can be seen pulling water wagons for the steam engines and pulling the trash pickup wagon through the campgrounds in the morning.  In short, No. 3012 continues to give good service to the LeSueur County Pioneer Power Association, long after its previous owners–Marcus and his father Oscar–have passed away.  Even today, the tractor is continuing a Griep family tradition of community service to the LeSueur area.  (In the Second Hour portion of Tape #5 of the International Harvester Movies, No. 3012 can be seen doing just that–pulling the road grader in preparation for the 1993 Pioneer Power Swap Meet.)

The family tradition of service began with Marcus’ grandfather, Reverend A.O. Mann, who served as the last minister of the Salem-St. Paul’s Evangelical and Reform Church located in the small unincorporated settlement of Dresselville, Minnesota.  August Oscar Mann was born on January 29, 1885, in Detmold, Missouri, as the son of a local flour miller.  His family later moved to Washington, Missouri, where A.O. spent his childhood.  On April 23, 1911, he married Lydia Panhorst from his hometown and on March 2, 1912, had one daughter, Viola.  Continue reading A Life of Giving: Marcus Griep’s Minneapolis-Moline Model ZAU Tractor

Irving King’s McCormick-Deering Corn Binder

A McCormick-Deering Corn Binder at Work on the

Irving King Farm


Brian Wayne Wells

As published in the January/February 1997 issue of

Belt Pulley Magazine


            As previously noted, necessity is the mother of restoration projects.  (“The Anthony Company of Streator, Illinois,” Belt Pulley Vol. 8, No. 4, [July/August 1995] p. 17).  The most recent example of this principle was at the August 1995 LeSueur County Pioneer Power Show when a one-row, ground-driven McCormick-Deering corn binder was made a part of the machinery collection on the Pioneer Power Showgrounds in time for the threshing show.  The LeSueur County Pioneer Power Association plants some corn on their 100-acre site every spring.  Part of the corn is cut, bundled and shocked prior to the August show to allow at least some ripening and curing to occur prior to the August threshing show.   The corn bundles are then fed into one of the two corn shredders located on the Showgrounds.[1]   

            The remaining corn which had not previously been bundled and shocked, is cut and bundled at the Show itself.  These bundles are immediately fed into the stationary silo fillers as part of the green corn harvest field demonstrations at the Show.  Consequently, there was a need to have at least one working corn binder employed prior the Show and to also serve as part of the field demonstrations at the Show itself.  (One of these stationary silo fillers at the 1995 Show was the newly re-painted and decaled Model 442 OK silo filler made by the Algoma Manufacturing Co. which was pictured in its unrestored condition in the article on the Algoma Company in the March/April issue of Belt Pulley Vol. 8, No. 1, p.18). 

            In the years before 1995, a one-row, ground-driven McCormick-Deering corn binder was used to fill this role.  However, this binder was sold by its owner over the winter between the 1994 and 1995 Show and had been removed from the Showgrounds.  Recognizing the need for a corn binder for the 1995 Show, Glendon Braun, board member of the Association and life-long resident of Tyrone and Sharon Townships, brought another one-row, ground-driven McCormick Deering corn binder to the Showgrounds.  Glendon had purchased this binder some years previously from his neighbor, Ralph King.  This binder had originally been purchased by Ralph King’s first cousin once-removed, Irving King, of rural LeSueur, Minnesota.  The corn binder arrived on the Showgrounds in time for the August 1995 Show.  

            Every restored farm tractor or machine serves a number of purposes.  In the mind of the collector or observer, the machine may call up memories of a similar farm machine from the past.  The memory might be of a comparable machine used by the collector or his family in the past or the memory may stem from a fleeting experience with or observation of a similar machine.  In this way, the restored farm machine becomes the representative of the machine in the memory of the collector.  Because the McCormick-Deering corn binder was a very popular and widely used farm machine, any restored McCormick-Deering binder is sure to bring back memories to many people. 

            International Harvester was a corporation that was formed in 1903 from the merger of several smaller companies.  Among these companies were the Deering, Osbourne, Milwaukee and McCormick companies, each of whom offered corn binders in their product lines.  Following the merger, International Harvester continued to offer corn binders under the separate names of Deering, Osbourne, Milwaukee and McCormick.  Although differences existed between these corn binders, over the years of their production under the umbrella of the International Harvester Company, these corn binders became progressively more similar.  By 1927, when the fiction of separate names was dropped, the various corn binders became very much alike and had a great number of interchangeable parts.  In 1927, International Harvester offered corn binders under only one name–McCormick-Deering

            As a representative sample of the McCormick-Deering corn binder at work in the fields of the Pioneer Power Showgrounds, the Irving King corn binder spurs memories in many people.  The George and Louise (Schwark) Wells family of LeRoy, Minnesota, used a McCormick-Deering corn binder in their farming operation not only on their rented farm near Chester, Iowa, but they took the binder with them in 1936 when they moved to the 160-acre Moses Crawford farm in LeRoy Township, in Mower County, Minnesota.  This binder was horse-drawn but later, after the Wells family purchased a 1929 Farmall Regular in 1939, the corn binder was converted to tractor-pulled model.  The corn binder was used in the Wells farming operation to cut and bundle green corn for feeding into the McCormick-Deering Model N silo filler. 

            In a picture in the second article on the Papec Company in the January/February 1996 issue of Belt Pulley magazine, a Deering corn binder–largely identical to the later McCormick-Deering corn binder–can be seen in operation in a field of sorghum on the John T. Goff farm near Mapleton, Minnesota.  This Deering corn binder was owned by the Howard and Ethel (Buck) Hanks family and used on the Goff farm while they rented that farm.  The binder was moved to the Bagan farm near LeRoy, Minnesota in 1945 when the Hanks family purchased that farm. 

            Maynard Lawrence remembers that his parents, Dean and Carrie (Schafer) Lawrence, used a McCormick-Deering corn binder on their Pilot Grove Township farm in Faribault County, near Winnebago, Minnesota.  Dean and Carrie Lawrence and their two oldest sons, Delmar (born April 6, 1914) and Virgil (born July 10, 1916), had moved from the Gatskill farm in Adams County near Corning, Iowa, in 1923.  In Minnesota, they settled on the historic David Ogilvie farm.[2]  When the Lawrence family moved to Minnesota, their livestock rode in a freight train which arrived at the little railroad junction town of Wells, Minnesota (1920 pop. 1,894).  Living on the 160-acre Ogilvie farm, Dean and Carrie had two more sons, Ronald (born December 26, 1925) and Maynard (born January 8, 1928).  The Lawrence family purchased a new horse-drawn McCormick-Deering corn binder in the late 1920s following the consolidation of the names in 1927.  Always seeking to employ modern methods in his farming operation, Dean Lawrence purchased a new Farmall F-12 in 1934.  Their horse-drawn corn binder was immediately converted to a tractor-drawn machine and continued to be used in the Lawrence family farming operation for many more years. 

            Besides serving as representative of some other machine, each restored tractor or farm machine has its own history.  Sometimes the history of a machine is not known and may be impossible to discover.  When the history of a particular machine is known, the restoration of that machine becomes all the more fascinating to the people restoring it.  The Irving King corn binder is particularly interesting in this regard, not only because its history is known, but also because the corn binder is a “neighborhood machine.”  This particular binder was used in the fall of 1958 and the fall of 1959, binding up corn on the Ralph King farm which is a mere stone’s throw from the Pioneer Power Showgrounds where it is currently being used.  Therefore, when the binder is cutting corn during the field demonstrations at the Showgrounds, it is working on almost the same land where is was used in 1958 and 1959.  Furthermore, the Irving King farm, where the little binder spent its life prior to 1958, is also located in Sharon township across the road from the current Ray Allen Schwartz farm south of LeSueur, not far from the Pioneer Power grounds. 

            Irving King was a bachelor farmer living on his own 80-acre farm south of LeSueur, Minnesota, in the late 1920s.  He purchased the present one-row horse-drawn McCormick-Deering sometime in the late 1920s after the 1927 consolidation of the names.  The binder was purchased from the Jack Clifford International Harvester dealership in LeSueur, Minnesota.  (Consistent Belt Pulley readers will remember that the Jack Clifford dealership in LeSueur was sold to Paul Meyer in 1941.  See the article: “History of a Thresher” in the May/June, 1994 issue of Belt Pulley, p. 19).  The binder was used on the Irving’s diversified farm to cut some of the ripened corn in the fall for the corn shredder.  Corn shredding was a popular method of harvesting part of the farmer’s ripe corn in the LeSueur area.  Shredding part of the ripe corn crop allowed the farmer to save some of the corn stalks from the corn crop for livestock feed or bedding.  The corn shredder would be parked near the barn and the bundles of corn were fed into it by a crew of men.  The corn shredder would strip the ears of corn from the stalks and elevate the ears into a wagon.  The stalks and husks are then shredded and blown directly into the hayloft of the barn. (The Rosenthal Steel 40 corn shredder employed at the Pioneer Power Show each year provides the public demonstrations of this very popular, but by-gone method of harvesting corn.)  The rest of the corn crop on the farm would be hand-husked in the traditional manner. 

            Corn shredding was a way to save yet another by-product from at least some of the corn crop.  Indeed, the bedding and feeding value of shredded corn stalks was so appreciated that following the hand-husking of the corn, some farmers would bind and shred these empty corn stalks for additional feed and/or bedding.   

            Binding of corn for shredding usually began the second week in September.  The corn would cure in the shocks until October when the corn would be shredded.  Corn shredding, like grain threshing required a large crew of workers.  During corn shredding and at other times throughout the year, Irving cooperated with his brothers Leland and Howard, who were also both bachelors and living together on a farm about a mile south of Irving’s farm.  Even with the large crew, shredding of corn was a long ordeal which would usually last throughout October and November. Sometimes corn shredding would not be complete until December.

            Horses provided much of the power on the Irving King farm as was the case on so many farms of the 1920s and 1930s.  However, Irving upgraded his farming operation by obtaining a new Case LA standard tractor.  Later, in 1940, he purchased his first row-crop tractor–a new 1940 Farmall B–and a 235 two-row cultivator.  The Farmall B was a three-wheeled version with a single front wheel and was also purchased at Clifford’s.  As shown in the 1939 movie Farmall B and Equipment on Tape 2 of the International Harvester Movie collection, the Farmall B was introduced in 1939 as the “best little tractor on three wheels” and seems to have been offered only in the single-front-wheel configuration for the first couple of years of its production.  Irving found that the Farmall B was a very handy little tractor.  Not only was the Farmall B used for cultivating, but Irving soon began to convert his horse drawn machinery to be pulled behind the B.  By the fall of 1940, the tongue on the little McCormick-Deering corn binder had been shortened up and fitted with a hitch for the drawbar of the B.  After the conversion of the binder to tractor-power, the 1940 Farmall B was used exclusively to pull the corn binder on the Irving King farm.  The Farmall B is ideally fitted to the corn binder.  Indeed the Farmall B was originally advertised as being ideally suited to this task.  In a sight which must be very much reminiscent of the B and the corn binder on the Irving King farm , there is a scene at the end of Farmall B and Equipment in which a three-wheeled B can be seen pulling a ground-driven McCormick-Deering binder in a corn field. 

            The Irving King binder is also a valuable addition to the farm machinery collection on the Showgrounds because its condition.  Having had very good care over the years since its original purchase in the late 1920s and having been stored indoors all of its life, the Irving King binder was in very good condition when it was sold in 1958 to Irving’s cousin, Ralph King.  

            In 1958, Ralph King had just taken over the farming operation of the 80-acre family farm from his parents, John and Hattie (Dressel) King.  Ralph and his wife, Carol (Wanner) King, still live in the same house in which Ralph was raised. 

            Ralph was born on Valentine’s Day, February 14, 1927, as part of the first set of triplets ever delivered in ImmanuelHospital in Mankato, Minnesota.  The other infants in the set of triplets were a boy named Roy (named after Dr. Roy M. Andrews who delivered the triplets) and a girl named Runette.  When the triplets returned to the King home from the hospital, they joined two older sisters, Mary Louise (born on May 25, 1922) and Ruth (born on April 3, 1925); however, Roy died after only two months at home, leaving Ralph as the only boy in a family of girls. 

            As the years went by, Ralph became old enough to help his father with the milking and chores.  The day began early on the King farm.  Without fail, every morning John B. King would awaken Ralph at the stoke of 5:00 AM on the mantel clock in the dining room of the King house.  Ralph would then get up, get dressed and go downstairs and out of the house toward the barn to help his father with milking the cows by hand and with the other morning chores.  After chores, they would return to the house where Ralph’s mother, Hattie, would have breakfast ready.  Hattie was known in the neighborhood for her homemade bread and her home canned dill pickles.  Coming back into the house after milking, Ralph might find the house full of the smell of his mother’s bread baking in the oven. 

            Over the years, the regularity of this schedule was rarely changed.  On only one memorable occasion in the middle of husking season did Ralph find himself awakened after what seemed to be an unusually short night, get dressed and finish all the chores and return to the house, only to find that his father had accidentally awakened Ralph at 4:00 AM by miscounting the number of strokes from the clock.  Ralph and his father had to wait an hour for it to be light enough to get back to husking or hand picking the corn in the corn fields that day!

            In 1936, John King purchased a new model John Deere A.  This tractor was used for all the farming operations on their farm.  During corn shredding season, the John Deere A powered the Rosenthal Steel 40 corn shredder which the King family owned.  This Rosenthal Steel 40 was identical to the Rosenthal corn shredder now used on the LeSueur Pioneer Power grounds, except that the King’s Rosenthal did not have the optional self-feeding attachment.  Therefore, a worker had cut the strings on each bundle of corn and feed the corn into the shredder by hand. 

            After John King retired from farming in 1958, Ralph took over the responsibilities of the farming operation on the King farm.  Corn shredding gave way to mechanical picking of the entire corn crop in 1960.  Consequently, the little McCormick-Deering binder was rarely used after the 1959 season.  In the early 1980s, the binder and the 1936 John Deere A were sold to Glendon Braun.  (The John Deere A came to be named “Ol’ Ralphie” and is still used on the Glendon and Eldon Braun farms.)  During all this time, the corn binder continued to be stored indoors, and when it was brought to the Showgrounds in the summer of 1995, some of the original paint on the binder was still apparent. 

            On the Showgrounds the binder has become the object of restoration plans.  In the future, the binder may be re-painted according to the color scheme outlined in the  International Harvester paint committee decisions obtained from the Wisconsin Historical Society Archives.  Decaling and/or stenciling of the lettering on the corn binder may also be undertaken.  The binder may be pulled in the parade held on the Showgrounds each day of the August Pioneer Power Show. 

            A permanent registration system for the exhibits in the parade has been devised by Kathy Klasseus.  This system is a computerized and will allow each exhibit to be correctly identified by the parade announcer as the exhibit passes the announcer’s stand.  All the registered exhibits are stored on a computer.  This saves much time in registering tractors for the parade each year.  Furthermore, each entry in the computerized registration system contains a “comment” section which is available for additional notations about each exhibit–perhaps a description of the implement being towed by a particular tractor.  Because of the permanent nature of the registration system, care must be taken to attach the same tractor to the same implement for each parade each year.  Therefore, particular tractors tend to became permanently linked with particular implements for purposes of the parade at the Show.  One particularly appropriate tractor to be linked with the Irving King corn binder would be the 1945 Carl Pinney Farmall B (Serial No. 130,161) now owned by Wells Family Farmalls.  With the exception of the lack of a single front wheel, the Carl Pinney Farmall B pulling the McCormick-Deering corn binder would look very much like the unit that Irving King would have taken to the corn fields in early 1940s to bind up the corn for the corn shredder.  

            Whether the Irving King binder is working in the field demonstrations at the Showgrounds or being paraded at the LeSueur Pioneer Power Show each year, it is certain that it will stir many people to memories of their own experiences with a similar McCormick-Deering corn binder. 

    [1]One corn shredder is a small wooden two-roll International Harvester owned by Kenny Schultz.  It can be seen in the Second Hour portion of Tape #3 of the IHC movie collection, operating at the 1988 Show and being powered by Eldon Braun’s 1925 [spoker] John Deere D.  The other corn shredder is a Model 40 all-steel [called a “Steel 40”] four-roll Rosenthal corn shredder, currently owned by Doug Pfarr.  Kenny Schulz can be seen near the end of the second hour portion of Tape #11 of the International Harvester Movies collection, throwing corn bundles into the self-feeder of the Rosenthal Steel 40 which is being powered by an Monty Braun’s Allis-Chalmers WD-45 at the 1994 Show.  The self-feeder on this late-model Rosenthal is an optional attachment not commonly found on corn shredders.

    [2]David and Mary (Reid) Ogilvie, David’s brother James and Helen (Cherry) Ogilvie, Andrew and Jeanette More, and Archibald and Anne Cardle are celebrated locally as the original 1858 settlers of PilotGroveTownship and indeed were among the first settlers of rural southern Minnesota.

Frank Brown Construction Company (Part 3)

The Frank Brown Construction Company (Part 3):

Mechanization with the Caterpillar Model 60


Brian Wayne Wells

As published in the November/December 1996 issue of

Belt Pulley Magazine


            As related in the last two installments of this series of articles carried in the July/August and September/October 1996 issues of Belt Pulley magazine, the F.H. Brown Construction Company was founded in 1920, during the early period of the Great Road Building Boom of the 1920s.  The company prospered during these years because of the huge demand for good roads.  During the early years, the company used mules to built roads in Blue Earth and Waseca Counties in Minnesota; however, in 1925, the Frank Brown Company sought to reduce labor and modernize its operation by purchasing two Caterpillar Model “Sixty” crawler tractors.

            Not only was 1925 a significant year for the F.H. Brown Company but it was also a pivotal year for the Caterpillar Company.  On March 2, 1925, the C.L. Best Gas Traction Company merged with the Holt Manufacturing Company to form the Caterpillar Tractor Company, and the first model Sixty was sold under the Caterpillar name.  Randy Leffingwell, The American Farm Tractor (Motorbooks International: Oseola, Wis., 1991), p. 56.  In the years immediately following the First World War, both Holt and Best had undergone some tough sledding.  Soon, however, events would emerge that would make these two California-based companies the dominate power in construction business across the nation.  

            Like many large established companies, Holt and Best had been producing war materials for the war effort.  Also like many other companies, the end of the war would necessitate a conversion to peacetime production.  Many companies failed to find a niche in the peacetime economy and were forced to close their doors.  Indeed Holt and Best were among those companies that were facing dire straits with the end of the war.  However, the Great Road Building Boom was to be the saving grace for Holt and Best.  (Century of Change, pp. 24-27.) 

            The Best Company, from San Leandro, California, had started with Daniel Best manufacturing his first steam wheel-type tractor in 1889.  Daniel’s son C.L. Best incorporated the business into a company in 1910.  Within a few years Best was employing about 100 workers.  Best steam tractors were first conceived as a power source for farms in the California area; however, these tractors never had a very large market.  Only the most prosperous of farming operations could afford to buy one of these steam engines.  Nonetheless, Best found a niche for its tractors in the road building and freightage areas of the economy.  Best steam engines were found to be more efficient that animal power at hauling lumber, ores and supplies over marginal roads. They could haul 40 to 50 tons of material over “roads” which were difficult for animals to negotiate. ( The Caterpillar Story, produced by Caterpillar Company (Peoria, Ill. 1990) pp. 6-7.)     

             The Holt Company started as the Stockton Wheel Company located in Stockton, California, where they made combine harvester threshers.  The first combine harvester/threshers made by Holt were ground-driven models.  (An 1887 example of this ground-driven machine is presently one of the exhibits in the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, D.C.)  By 1890, the Stockton Wheel Company was building wheel-type steam tractors which were intended as power sources for their combines, replacing the traditional source–horses.  In 1892, the Stockton Company changed its name to the Holt Manufacturing Company.  The company had grown tremendously and now employed 300 people, making 200 combines and 10 steam engines annually.  Holt, however, also found that the construction business offered a better market for their tractors than the agricultural area of the economy. 

            Holt and Best competed with each other for the California construction market through out the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and over the years their respective tractor models underwent many improvements.   Under the active guidance of Benjamin Holt, the Holt Company designed and built a prototype of a track-laying tractor on November 24, 1904.  Following the successful tests of this prototype in April of 1905, Holt began marketing this tractor under the name “Caterpillar” to distinguish its track-tractor from its wheel-type tractors.  In 1908, Holt abandoned steam power in favor of the more efficient gasoline-powered internal combustion engine. 

            In 1909, Holt made a significant acquisition when they purchased the facilities of the Colean Manufacturing Company in East Peroia, Illinois.  Colean was a tractor manufacturer that had not successfully made the transition from steam power to gasoline power.  Consequently, the company had faded and became an acquisition target for a company with the resources available to expand into the midwestern market.  Holt was that company, and with the purchase of the Colean properties, Holt broke out of the regional California market and became a nationally based company.  Additionally, Peoria would eventually become the main headquarters of the company. 

            As noted above, both Best and Holt flourished during the First World War as they developed a worldwide market for their large track-type (or crawler) tractors.  By the end of the war, both companies were known around the world for their large crawler tractors and had an international network of dealerships and exporters. 

            However, the uncertainty of the post-war economy threatened both companies.  They both began look for solutions and saw that together they might find the niche they needed.  So, in 1925, they merged to form the Caterpillar Tractor Company.  The merger worked better than expected and resulted in Caterpillar dominating the construction market around the nation.  This domination has continued to the present day.

            The “Caterpillar” name came from the Holt side of the company.  However, the management of the new company recognized that the Best Models Thirty and Sixty were superior in design to the Holt models of the same horse power range.  Consequently, the Best models Thirty and Sixty were continued in production by the new company with scarcely any changes, except that the name “Caterpillar” was now embossed on the top of the radiator.  Accordingly, the merger really did result in a combination of the best parts of both companies. 

            Leading the way as the top-of-the-line model of the new Caterpillar tractors, the new model Sixty became a very popular product.  Sales of the model Sixty boomed, as all across the nation small construction companies like the F.H. Brown Company sought to mechanize the job of road building by purchasing modern equipment.

            As noted elsewhere, the depression for the agricultural sector of the U.S. economy continued from 1921 until the coming of the Second World War.  (See “Algoma is OK” March/April, 1995 issue of Belt Pulley Vol. 8, No. 1 p. 19.)  By abandoning the agricultural market and moving to the construction market, Holt and Best were able to avoid the agricultural depression that overcame so many companies in the 1920s.  Then, by merging at the right time, the two companies formed a single entity that would be able to meet the explosive demand for road building equipment that arose in the wake of the Great Road Building Boom of the 1920s.  Caterpillar was the only company in the construction market with the manufacturing facilities to meet this huge demand.  As a result, Caterpillar was able to enjoy a 70% increase in sales at a time when other manufacturers of tractors were engaged in drastic price wars and serious cutbacks in profits.  (The American Farm Tractor pp. 56-58.)

            Manufacturing capacity is useless, of course, unless the manufactured product can be sold.  Another benefit of the merger was the combined sales and distribution networks that the company now enjoyed.  The Gildemeister S.A.C. firm was used to distribute tractors in Chile and Peru.  The Tunisian firm PARENIN was the distributer for Caterpillar in all of North Africa.  Pacific Machinery operated as a distributor and dealer out of Hawaii.  Domestically, Yancey Brothers of Atlanta, Georgia, and Zeigler of Minneapolis, Minnesota, distributed Caterpillar products. The Caterpillar Story pp. 28-29.  Eventually, several fine dealers sprung up around the world, such as Cecil L. Walker Machinery of Belle, West Virginia.  These dealers would offer sales and service of Caterpillar tractors for their respective areas.   

            Ziegler and many other early Caterpillar dealers used to hold “Caterpillar Schools” for owners and operators of Caterpillar tractors.  These schools consisted of month-long sessions which covered the topics of:  the history of the track-type tractor, and the theory, construction and maintenance of engines; and the field adjustment, operation and troubleshooting of Caterpillar tractors.  One feature of the Caterpillar schools was that they promoted loyalty between the company, their employees and their customers.  (Indeed, there was a tradition of cooperation between the Caterpillar workers and the management of the company which continued through good times and bad until recently, when the spirit of cooperation seems to have broken down.  Although Caterpillar continues to have record high profits and the company’s stock continues to sell well on the New York Stock Exchange, since November of 1990, the company has refused to renew the labor contract of its employees and has threatened its work force with permanent replacement workers in a continuing labor dispute.)

            The new Caterpillar Sixty’s purchased by the F.H. Brown Company brought much more power to the tasks of road building in Blue Earth and Waseca Counties.  The Sixty’s were put to work in a number of different heavy tasks.  They made short work of pulling tree stumps from the path of a prospective road.  The introduction of the Sixty’s into the F.H. Brown Company also brought a new class of workers to the road crew–the heavy equipment operator, nicknamed “Cat skinners.”  The same camaraderie that already existed between the muleskinners on the crew now developed between the Cat skinners.  Whereas the mule skinners wore bowler hats, the Cat skinners took to wearing flat roadster-style hats.  (A picture on page 28 of The Caterpillar Story which shows the 1926 class of “Caterpillar School” held at the Ziegler dealership in Minneapolis, Minnesota, reveals that many of the “students” were wearing these roadster-style hats, indicating that they were Cat skinners.) 

            As noted in the second installment of this article, there was generally a hierarchy among the employees of a typical road crew.  The dump man was generally the highest paid employee on the road crew, with the excavating machine operator next, followed by the mule skinners, and finally the general laborers.  The Cat skinners, or heavy equipment operators, created another level of the hierarchy which was inserted into the company employment hierarchy between the excavating machine operator and the mule skinners.  The “Cat skinners” were given more pay than the mule skinners to reflect the fact that they had been trained at “Caterpillar Schools” like the one at the Ziegler dealership in Minneapolis. 

            At first, the Sixty’s replaced the mules in only the heaviest jobs.  It was discovered that the “Cat” would greatly reduce the amount of time required for removing tree stumps standing in the way of the planned road.  Gradually over the years, the Cats were given more tasks on the road crew including some lighter duties.  For instance, when it came time to move the road camp to a new location, the Cats were even used to perform the relatively light duty of towing the buildings-on-wheels to the new location.  

            As the Sixty’s took on more of the work for the F.H. Brown Company, there was a reduction in the number of mules employed each year.  This meant a reduction in the overall size to the road crew.  This was not so evident before 1935, but events would impose some rapid changes on the company. 

            In June of 1935, while the crew was working on a stretch of road in Olmsted County near Rochester, Minnesota, F.H. Brown died of stroke.  The sudden death of her husband put Elizabeth in a difficult situation.  She was college-educated, having graduated in 1921 from Mankato Normal School in Mankato, Minnesota, with a two-year teachers certificate.  Before marrying Frank, she had taught school, two years in Jackson, Minnesota, two years in Pine City, Minnesota, and two years in Little Falls, Minnesota.  Still, with a large family to raise, she could not return to teaching.  Furthermore, she was resolved not to let her husband’s company go out of business.  With the help of her brother, Bud Nicholson, she continued to manage the company following Frank’s death.  However, she and her children stayed in their home in Madison Lake, Minnesota, during the summer instead of travelling with the road crew.  Bud Nicholson conducted the day-to-day operations of the crew and travelled with the crew all summer.  To keep the company competitive, Bud Nicholson finished the mechanization of the F.H. Brown Company by finally replacing all the mules on the crew during the 1940s.   

            The little house-on-wheels, which Frank Brown had built as a summer home for his family while they travelled with road crew, was converted to a bunk house.  As a bunk house, it continued to travel with the road crew each summer until 1952.  In 1952, the little house-on-wheels was parked on the Brown homestead, in Madison Lake, Minnesota, where it served as home for Manze Skoog until 1960.  Manse Skoog had served as blacksmith for the road crew from 1935 until 1960.  Following 1960, the house was used as a storage facility and playhouse for the Brown family grandchildren at their Grandmother Elizabeth’s farm in Madison Lake.

            By the 1990s, the little house-on-wheels and the blacksmith shop-on-wheels were all that remained of the structures that once formed the road camp of the F.H. Brown Construction Company.  Unfortunately, the house eventually sagged under deterioration and vandalism.  The porch on the house was completely rotted away.  With the intent of preserving at least some of the history of the F.H. Brown Company, the Brown family, in 1993, made contact with Donald Borneke of Eagle Lake, Minnesota, a member of the LeSueur County Pioneer Power Association, to have the blacksmith shop-on-wheels and the little house-on-wheels donated to the LeSueur County Pioneer Power Association. 

            The restoration of the blacksmith shop was undertaken by John and Suzie (Krocak) Smisek and Butch and Kathy (Osborne) Krocak, all of Le Center, Minnesota.  By the time of the August 1994 Pioneer Power Show, the blacksmith shop had been restored to its original appearance complete with a new coat of paint which matched the original shade of green.  At the 1994 Show, the blacksmith shop-on-wheels was appropriately towed in the parade each day by John Hiniker’s 1930 Caterpillar Sixty driven by Pioneer Power board member, John Klaseus. 

            Elizabeth and her brother continued to operate the company until their retirement in 1964.  Elizabeth Brown died at the age of 95 on December 31, 1994.  The story of the little house-on-wheels was related in an article by Ted Roemer in the January 11, 1995, issue of the Lake Region Times as a tribute to Elizabeth Brown.  This article was reprinted in the March 1995 issue of the Pioneer Power newsletter–The Pioneer Times–by its former editor Elaine Hein. 

            In the spring of 1996, the restoration of the little house-on-wheels was begun.  Once again, the Smisek and Krocak families applied their considerable talents to the restoration of Frank and Elizabeth Brown’s little summer home on wheels.  Dr. Frank Brown Jr. purchased new windows for the house which were designed to look like the originals.  He also found an old rusted stove on his mother’s farm in Madison Lake which had originally been used by the F.H. Brown Company in one of the bunk houses.  The stove was like the one used in the house.  Consequently, Dr. Brown sent the stove to Michigan to have it re-plated.  The stove now occupies its place in the house-on-wheels.  Gertude (Brown) Suel, third child and second daughter of Frank and Elizabeth, as well as Dr. Frank Brown, served as consultants during the restoration process, especially in the selection of the right shade of yellow paint for the house and green paint for the restored porch and the trim.   

            Both the blacksmith shop-on-wheels and the house-on-wheels are now a permanent part of the restored road camp at the LeSueur County Pioneer Power Show.  The public is able to visit the road camp during the Show conducted each year during the last weekend in August.  Surrounded by the Caterpillar tractors–including John Hiniker’s model Sixty–and other equipment used during the Show, the public is able to enjoy scenes typical to the F.H. H. Brown Company after they became mechanized.  In this way, the restored road camp at the Show will serve as a salute not only to the F.H. Brown Construction Company, but also to Caterpillar and all other companies across the nation who contributed to the modern roads which we all currently use.

Frank Brown Construction Company (Part 2)

The Frank Brown Construction Company (Part 2)

The Road Camp


Brian Wayne Wells

As published in the xseptember/October 1996 issue of

Belt Pulley Magazine



            In the first installment of this article we saw how the F.H. Brown Construction Company developed out of the part-time family road-building business of John Brown and his sons–Frank, Judd, Jack, Sylvester and Luke.  As noted in that article, the oldest son, Frank Brown, struck out on his own in 1920 to form his own road-building company–the F.H. Brown Construction Company.

            Once having formed the company, Frank Brown set out to supply the company with all of the equipment it would need for the summer season.  In the road construction business, everything had to be mobile.  The base camp, where all of the animals and crew slept and took their meals, should be no more than 1 to 1½ miles from the particular section of road which the crew was grading on any particular day.  This meant that the base camp had to be moved every couple of days.  Anticipating this need for mobility, Frank Brown went to Minneapolis to purchase some old wooden-spoked, solid-rubber-wheeled wagon gear which had been built for horse-drawn artillery during the First World War.  Since the war had ended, the wagon gear now became war surplus and was being sold by the United States government to any private citizen willing to buy it.  Being artillery gear, the wagon wheels and axles were made to handle heavy loads. 

            Frank Brown used three or four of the wagon gear for specially constructed bunk houses where the workers were to sleep after a hard day of work.  The bunk houses were each outfitted with bunks and each contained a small woodburning stove which could be fired to take the chill off some of the cooler nights in the fall.  One wagon gear was outfitted with a cook house where all the meals for the road crew would be prepared; another was outfitted with a large dining car where the road crew would eat their meals.  One wagon gear was equipped with a water tank to haul fresh water from the nearby farms to the campsite for the men and animals.  Other wagon gears were designed with sheds to carry the tools that the crew would need for the summer of road construction.  Two wheels and a hitch were attached to the side of an outhouse.  When the camp moved, the outhouse was pushed over on its back and transported in much the same fashion as some ice-fishing houses are transported today.  It has been said that when the “two-holer” was being transported down the road, it looked as if two large eyes were leering back at the traffic behind!  All of the buildings were painted a drab green.  The road camp really became a small town on wheels. 

            The road building season usually began in mid-May each year.  However, activity around the Frank Brown four-acre homestead on the southwest edge of Madison Lake, Minnesota, would begin long before the snow had all disappeared.  Operating only in the summer (usually from mid-May, when the ground became dry enough to work, until October or November, when the ground froze solid), the average road company anticipated that about 20 miles of road would be built per year. 

            Mules supplied the main source of power for the road crew, as mules were better able to work in the hot sun than were horses.  Only a few horses were used to pull the scrapers, called “jippos,” around the construction site.  Jippos were metal buckets, with long handles extending out behind which the driver held.  The jippo would be dragged along the ground to scrape up small amounts of earth.  By lowering the handles, the jippo could be made to ride along on the heel of the bucket with the scraping edge up off the ground.  The dirt could then be hauled to another location where it was needed.  Then the handles would be raised as the horses moved along and the scraper edge would dig into the ground and turn the whole bucket over, dumping the contents at that location.  By the 1920s, jippos represented the old-fashioned way of earth moving.  With the development of the internal combustion engine as a power source, the excavating machine became a much more efficient means of moving the large amounts of earth required in building improved roads.  Nonetheless, jippos remained a part of the road construction scene by performing the light duty finishing work around the construction site.  This was the only task on the F.H. Brown Company crew that was left to horses. 

            In November, at the end of the working season, all the iron shoes were removed from the feet of the horses and mules in anticipation that they would be pasturing all winter long.  Over the winter months, the animals were pastured on two different farms.  First they were pastured at the McGraw farm near St. Mary’s Church, a short distance north of Madison Lake.  (The McGraw farm was where Frank’s mother, Jane [McGraw] Brown, had been born and raised.)  Then, as the alfalfa hay on the McGraw farm was used up, the animals were moved  in about March to the Lake Ballantyne farm.  In April, the daily rations for the mules and horses would be fortified with oats and other feed to help build them up for a long summer season of work.

             As spring would begin each year, the crew would start arriving at the Frank Brown home in Madison Lake.  At first the arrivals were a mere trickle, but as the days lengthened and the weather turned warmer in the spring, more and more of the crew would show up in Madison Lake.  There were men from the local area, some from Minneapolis, and some from elsewhere.  They were young and old.  Some were sons of local farmers and some were students hoping to pay their way through college with summer employment.  (One student of Gustavus Adolphus, now in his eighties and living in retirement in Mankato, Minnesota, remembers working on the Frank Brown Construction crew in the early 1930s to earn money for college.)  Some of the crew were lumberjacks looking for regular summer work until they could return to the lumber camps in northern Minnesota for the winter logging season.   

            The early arrivers would take up quarters in the bunk houses-on-wheels which were sitting in the yard at the Frank Brown home in Madison Lake.  One of the first to arrive was the blacksmith.  He would start the process of trimming the mules’ feet and re-shoeing them.  The men who arrived early would help in this operation as well as the cleaning and repairing of the harnesses and performing other duties in preparation for the summer’s work.  Another task to be completed before the summer work season could start was to remove the large wooden-spoke wheels from all the dump wagons and other equipment and bathe each wheel in a large tub of oil.  The wheel sat in the oil up past its axle hub and was then turned so that oil would cover the entire wheel.  Then the wheel was removed from the oil and placed back on the axle.  In this way, all of the wooden wheels were waterproofed and prepared for another season of hard work under the hot sun. 

            The crew anticipated that they would have steady work from May until the ground froze in the fall.  Frank Brown always hoped that the season might extend to Thanksgiving in anticipation of completing as much road as possible.  Indeed, the crew sometimes celebrated Thanksgiving with a turkey dinner cooked in the cook house and served in the dining car out on some stretch of undeveloped road in rural Blue Earth or Waseca County. 

            Once the summer road-building season started, the crew headed out from Madison Lake in a caravan of buildings-on-wheels, all pulled by horses or mules.  Upon reaching the site of the proposed road, the crew would set up the campsite.  Work would begin immediately on the first stretch of the planned road.  The crew worked from 8:00 am until 5:00 pm, six days a week, with a break at noon for dinner.  The relatively short eight-hour working day was not imposed because of any federal or state regulation nor because of the limitations of the men; rather, the eight-hour day was dictated by the limitations of the mules.  The mules could not be worked regularly in the hot summer sun day after day for more than eight hours in a day. 

            Although the actual road work began at 8:00 am, the road camp came alive with activity long before that time with the men dressing and pouring out of the bunk houses for breakfast in the dining car at 6:00 am.  The usual fare in the morning was pancakes.  All the meals at the Frank Brown Company road camp were prepared by a cook from Minneapolis hired especially for the summer.  The meals were quite good and healthy, even by current standards.  There was always plenty of fruit being served with the meals–pears and cling peaches from the large institution-sized cans stored in the cook house.  Cooked Great Northern beans were frequently served at dinner and supper.  At supper, peach, apple or cherry pie was served as desert.  Iced tea, lemonade and coffee were also served with the meals.  An old used disc blade from the mucking machine would be suspended from a cord near the door of the dining car to be used as a gong to call the crew for meals.    

            In the F.H. Brown Construction Company, a hierarchy existed among the workers on the crew.  The highest paid person was the dump man.  It was his responsibility to orchestrate the actions of the crew to placing all the fill from the ditches in the right place on the road.  Next was the grade man who was responsible for leveling and packing the road.  The next most highly paid worker was the excavating machine operator.  The excavating machine, or “mucking machine” as it is sometimes called, was used to tear loose the ground and to elevate loose dirt from the ground to the horse-drawn dump wagons so that the dirt could be removed from one area of the road and taken to another area where it was needed.  The motorized excavator was the focal point of the road-building process.  As such, the operator of the excavator was timekeeper for the crew.  His watch was the one that governed the whole crew’s working day.  It was the “thumbs-up” sign from him right at the stroke of 5:00 pm on his watch that ended the workday. 

            Next were the muleskinners who worked the mules on the road crew.  The muleskinners were recognizable from the rest of the crew by their distinctive bowler hats.  Although muleskinners carried large bullwhips, the bullwhips were never used on the animals.  The mules responded to verbal commands.  Only occasionally were the commands reinforced with a crack in the air from a bullwhip.  The Frank Brown Company also hired some general laborers to provide additional muscle for the project.              With the “thumbs up” signal from the operator of the excavating machine, the day ended for the crew.  All the mules, horses and men returned to the camp.  The mules and horses were housed under large tents during the night; however, they were not immediately tied up.  First they were released from their harnesses and allowed some free time inside a portable corral made of a sort of flimsy wire fence.  During this time in the corral, they would be allowed time to run around free and to roll over on their backs on the ground while being watched over by one of the muleskinners.  After their free time, the mules and horses would move toward their spots under the tents where fresh straw had been laid down and fresh hay and oats awaited them.  Hay, straw and oats were purchased by the company from local farmers.  Sometime after 1923, the large tents were replaced by barns-on-wheels to which the animals were tied each night.  These barns-on-wheels were really large hay mangers which had sides made of corrugated metal that could be lifted up and braced to provide a lean-to type of shelter on either side of the “barn.”    

            The crew was paid on a seasonal basis.  They would work all summer and collect their pay at the end of the working season.  However, to meet their needs during the season, they were allowed to ask for a few dollars in advance every Saturday evening after work.  Frank Brown would go around the camp and each man on the crew would hold up a number of fingers on their hands, indicating the number of dollars they would need for that night and the rest of the week.  Usually the amount requested was $5.00.

            On Saturday night, the men might clean up at the base camp and hitch-hike to the nearest town in order to find some excitement.  Sunday was the only day of the week that the crew did not work.  If the men were inclined to attend religious services, they would do so on their own.  Generally the base camp was quite still on Sunday with the men writing letters, reading the newspaper or enjoying a game of horseshoes.  Cheap western magazines were popular reading material.  These magazines, nicknamed “hoof and horns” magazines, were usually kept in the crew member’s bunk under his mattress.  July 4th was traditionally celebrated by the road crew as a day off.  Some of the crew might draw some of their pay and go to Minneapolis for the day, some 100 or more miles away. 

            By the 1925 season, the Frank Brown Construction Company was doing well enough that a number of improvements were made.  That year, Frank Brown made another building-on-wheels to replace the tent and lean-to affair that had heretofore served as the road camp blacksmith shop.  The new mobile blacksmith shop contained a little forge and all the tools needed for repairing the shoes on the animals in the camp and for doing all the other welding and metal work that the camp would need during the upcoming road-building season.  The new blacksmith shop-on-wheels added greatly to the ease and speed with which the blacksmith’s tools and equipment could be packed up and moved when the location of the road camp was changed. 

            Another building-on-wheels was added to the Frank Brown Company road camp in 1926 when Frank Brown married Elizabeth Nicholson.  As a new wife, Elizabeth was determined that she and Frank would not be separated.  Accordingly, Frank had a small house fitted to one of the war surplus wagon gear.  The house-on-wheels was complete with a front and rear door and a porch.  It also had six windows and a stove and furnishings on the inside.  The house-on-wheels became the summer home of the burgeoning Frank Brown family.  In 1927, a daughter Betty was born, followed by a son Frank Jr., another daughter Gertude, and finally two sons John and Tom.  Betty died suddenly in 1936.  Frank Jr. became a medical doctor and is now living in St. Cloud, Minnesota.  Although he does not have actual memories of the time he spent in the house-on-wheels, he and Gertrude (now Gertrude [Brown] Suel) are active in collecting family history and memorabilia of that time.  The house-on-wheels accompanied the road crew on all the road-building projects from 1926 until 1936.

            Both the blacksmith shop-on-wheels and the house-on-wheels are now a permanent part of the restored road camp at the LeSueur County Pioneer Power Show held each August.  The public is able to visit the camp and to walk back in time and gain an understanding of the day-to-day living conditions of the crew typical not only of the F.H. Brown Construction Company, but also of all the other small companies across the nation which built roads during the Great Road Building Boom of the 1920s.

Frank Brown Construction Company (Part 1)

The Frank Brown Construction Company (Part 1):

The Little House on Wheels


Brian Wayne Wells

As published in the July/August 1996 issue of

Belt Pulley Magazine


            In 1993, two odd little buildings on wheels were donated to the LeSueur Pioneer Power Association by the children and heirs of Frank H. and Elizabeth (Nicholson) Brown.  These buildings were all that remained of the many “Buildings-on-Wheels” which were used by the Frank Brown Construction Company during the flurry of road building activity known as the Great Road Building Boom of the 1920s.  The buildings formed the base camp for the crews and all the horses and mules used by the company during the summer working season, moving from location to location to keep up with the latest stretch of road being made by the crew. 

            One of the two buildings-on-wheels donated by the Brown family had been built in 1925 and served as the blacksmith shop.  The other building-on-wheels was built in 1926 and had served as Frank and Elizabeth Brown’s home while they travelled with the road crew every summer from 1926-1935. 

            The blacksmith shop, restored in time for the August 1994 LeSueur County Pioneer Power Show, was beautifully done by John and Suzie (Krocak) Smisek and Butch and Kathy (Osborne) Krocak of LeCenter, Minnesota.  These two families are also currently in charge of restoring the little house-on-wheels which will be exhibited for the first time at the 1996 Pioneer Power Show on August 23, 24 and 25, 1996.  Together, the  little house on wheels and the blacksmith shop on wheels will be displayed as the restored Frank Brown Company road camp exhibit, part of the second annual Dirt Show feature. 

            Just as the First Annual Dirt Show feature at the 1995 LeSueur Pioneer Power Show employed antique construction equipment in the purposeful activity of clearing and leveling a site for a new building on the showgrounds, so the Second Annual Dirt Show feature will involve use of antique construction equipment in the leveling of a field as part of a conservation measure to prevent soil erosion and also in building a new road and entrance to the Showgrounds.  The public will see the old construction equipment operating on actual work projects rather than in a stationary exhibit or engaging in meaningless activity.  (A glimpse of some antique construction equipment at work at the 1995 Dirt Show feature of the Pioneer Power is contained in a picture with official show report by Kathy Klaseus in the January/February 1996 issue of Belt Pulley, Vol. 9, No. 1 p. 34.)  

            The Second Annual Dirt Show also coincides with the hosting of the 1996 summer convention of the Historic Construction Equipment Association at the Pioneer Power grounds.  Establishment of the road camp exhibit on the showgrounds along with the 1996 Historic Construction Equipment convention will be a salute not only to the Frank Brown Company, but a salute to all the other small road building companies who played such an important role in United States history during the Great Road Building Boom.  Indeed, the entire Second Annual Dirt Show feature will be a celebration and remembrance of the Great Road Building Boom of the 1920s.   

            The real story of the Great Road Building Boom of the 1920s begins with Henry Ford.  The great genius of Henry Ford was not the invention of the automobile itself; rather, it was his assembly line method of making automobiles that was his most significant contribution to the industrial progress of the United States.  The assembly line process drastically reduced the cost of producing a car.  Suddenly, the car was within the reach of the average person.  Ford’s Model T led the way in supplying low-cost cars for the car-buying frenzy which swept the nation (472,350 Model T’s were sold in the single model year 1915-1916; 730,041 were sold in 1916-1917; and in 1920-1921, 933,720 Model T’s were sold!  Robert Lacey Ford: The Men and the Machine [Little Brown and Company: Boston 1986], p. 184).  Although Ford accounted for over half of the automobiles sold every year, other manufacturers soon emulated Ford’s assembly-line method of producing cars.  Soon the “roads” were populated with low-priced Dodges, Chevrolets, Plymouths and Pearce Arrows.  The word “roads” in the previous sentence is used rather advisedly, however.  Most often the buyer of a new car looked around in vain for a place to drive the new car.  The roads that did exist were often in such bad shape that they were usually impassible to the millions of cars that were now in the hands of the public.  As a result, there was a huge outcry from all of these new drivers for more and better roads.  The result was the historic era known as the Great Road Building Boom of the 1920s. 

            Following the First World War, the attention of the American public turned away from foreign affairs back to domestic problems.  The most glaring problem was the lack of good roads.  The growing number of cars created a great demand for improved roads all across the United States.  Sometimes this demand took the form of organized grass roots political activity.  The American Automobile Association and the American Road Builders Association initiated the “Good Roads Movement” as early as 1902.  Various statewide Good Roads Associations were chartered as a result of this movement, e.g., California’s Association was chartered in 1908.  (Century of Change, Special Edition of Caterpillar World [Peoria, Illinois, May 1984], p. 20, from the library collection of John Hanks, current Caterpillar employee from Chillocothe, Missouri.)   By the early 1920s, the Associations were organized down to the local level. 

            Merrill Cheseborough, student of local history and participant in local Mower County governmental affairs around the village of LeRoy, Minnesota, remembers that the local Mower County chapter of the Good Roads Association was quite active in the early- and mid-1920s.  The Mower County chapter of the Good Roads Association was organized by Gilbert Mahoney of LeRoy, Minnesota.  Gilbert Mahoney owned a farm northwest of LeRoy, Minnesota, which was outfitted with a gasoline/kerosene-powered Delco electric light plant and batteries.  Therefore, in the days prior to the Rural Electric Act (REA), the Mahoney farm was well supplied with electric lights for the night-time business meetings, ice cream socials and fund raising events they sponsored.  As the members of the local chapter approached the Mahoney farm at night for the meetings and fundraisers, they would see the whole farm shining brilliantly in the distance from the electric lights which had been strung in the trees around the farm. 

            Merrill Cheseborough remembers that his parents, Earl M. and Birdie (Sommerville) Cheseborough, owners and editor of the weekly LeRoy Independent newspaper, would attend these ice cream socials at the Mahoney farm, not only to express support for the organization, but to be able to report on the activities of the local Association in the next issue of the Independent.  Newspaper coverage of the Association greatly increased the impact that the Association had on the voting public as well as the Mower County Board and the township boards within Mower County. 

            Ostensibly, the reason for the Good Roads chapter meetings in Mower County was to raise funds to buy gravel for the roads of the area.  Local farmers would haul gravel from gravel pits to the section of road where it was needed.  (In Nicollet County during the 1920s, Clarence Rodning did some of the graveling work in his local neighborhood.  See the May/June 1996 issue of Belt Pulley Vol. 9, No. 3, p. 19.)  However, the Association knew full well that road improvement and construction of the scale needed in Mower County was well beyond the means of a private association funded only by voluntary contributions and small fundraisers.  They never lost sight of their true goal–to spur governmental spending on local roads.  All across the nation the various other chapters of the Good Roads Association engaged in the same activities as the Mower County chapter, and all across the nation, state and local governments were pressed to do something about their local roads.  

            Not too many people involved in local government could argue against the need for better roads.  However, as has been noted elsewhere (see the article on Clarence Rodning in the May/June 1996 issue of Belt Pulley), in the rural areas of the United States, the Great Depression did not begin with the stock market crash of 1929; rather, the depression for farmers began with the post-war business slowdown in 1921.  Whereas the urban areas of the nation experienced relief from the post-World War I recession starting in 1923, down on the farm the recession continued throughout the 1920s and only became worse with the crash of 1929.  Thus, local county and township boards were responding to the demand for new roads by asking how to raise the money for these road improvements.  The most obvious way to finance the road improvements would have been for the local board to raise the mil rate of the local property tax.  However, given the economic conditions of the early 1920s, the local governments in rural areas were extremely reluctant to take this step.  This would not have made the county or township governments very popular with the voters.  As sub-divisions of Minnesota State government, the county and township units were required by the Minnesota State Constitution to always maintain a balanced budget.  Consequently, the local governments could not engage in deficit spending.  (The same was also true in many other states across the nation.)  However, in 1900, in New York City, a fortuitous event had occurred that would provide another option for local units of government in the midwest to raise money in the 1920s. 

            In 1900, the former mayor of New York City (he had beaten Theodore Roosevelt in the 1886 New York City mayoral election), Abram S. Hewitt, “invented” the municipal bond as a means of funding the underground subway system for New York City.  The idea of municipal bonds caught on, and before long, county and local units of government were rushing to sell bonds to finance local projects.  To be sure, the local government bond was indebtedness; however, the legal definition of the municipal or local government bond escaped the constitutional prohibition against indebtedness for local units of government.  This seemed an ideal method by which to raise the necessary funds for road improvements.  Nonetheless, bonds are successful as a means to raise funds only if there are buyers for these bonds.  Why should large investors buy county and municipal bonds when there were so many other investments on the stock market which could earn much more money? 

            At this point, a couple of happy circumstances merged.  Due to the fact that the county, municipal and township governments were all considered sub-divisions of the state government, the interest income derived from any bonds issued by these local governments could not be taxed by the Federal Government.  The legal support for this proposition is found in Article I of the United States Constitution.  Article I, Section 8, allows Congress to assess taxes, but only in a matter that is “uniform throughout the United States.”  The current interpretation of Article I holds that “uniform” means having the same impact on all citizens.  Since only bond holders, and not the whole public, would be taxed if the earnings of municipal bonds were taxed by the Federal Government, such taxation would not be uniform across the whole nation.  Thus, taxing the earnings of local government bonds would violate the Constitution.  (The upshot is that interest earnings from municipal or local government bonds was and continues to be exempt from the Federal Income Tax.)  Additionally, the Federal Income Tax had only become the law of the land in 1913.  As a consequence, large investors began seeking tax shelters for large portions of their money.  The purchase of municipal bonds provided that tax shelter.  Furthermore, the post-war recession from 1921 until 1923 meant that the stock market was not doing well and thus the bond market provided better opportunities to make money than did the stock market.  Consequently, in the early 1920s, there was a flood of investors entering the bond market, making a torrent of money available for local governments through the sale of local government bonds.  Across the nation, states, counties and townships took full advantage of this source of funding to build and improve their roads.  In addition to all the spending by local governments on roads, the federal government got into the act.  The end of the First World War allowed the Federal Government concentrate on internal development.  The federal government started supplying “federal aid” to the state and local governments of the nation for purposes of building and improving roads.  The Great Road Building Boom was on!  By 1921, the country was spending half a billion dollars on roads.  (John Hicks, Republican Ascendancy [Harper Brothers Publishing:  New York, 1960], p. 9.) 

            The Great Road Building Boom of the 1920s stimulated the founding of a great many road construction companies across the nation.  Among these companies were:  the Sorenson Brothers from Albert Lea, Minnesota; the Ulland Brothers from Austin, Minnesota; Leon Joyce from Rochester, Minnesota; S.G. Groves and Sons from Minneapolis; the DeRuyter Brothers from Wilmar, Minnesota; and the Megarry Brothers from St. Cloud, Minnesota.  One of the road building businesses started in the early 1920s which operated locally in LeSueur County was the Ziegenhagen Brothers.  (See the article “Dave Preuhs and the LeSueur Pioneer Power Association” in the Spring 1996 issue of Hart-Parr/Oliver Collectors Magazine, Vol 7, No. 1, p. 33).  The Ziegenhagen Brothers were really farmers in a LeCenter, Minnesota, neighborhood who obtained some heavy construction equipment and engaged in road building as a part-time activity in the summer to supplement their farm income.  Another of the road building businesses which was formed during this time was the Frank Brown Construction Company of Madison Lake, Minnesota. 

            Frank H. Brown was born to a family of five brothers–Frank, Judd, Jack, Sylvester and Luke.  Although Frank’s parents John and Continue reading Frank Brown Construction Company (Part 1)

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

Clarence Rodning: Farming with an International

Model 10-20 Tractor


Brian Wayne Wells

As published in the May/June 1996 issue of

Belt Pulley Magazine


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

oj this  r

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Sincerely yours,




                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Brian W. Wells





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

                                                 by Brian Wayne Wells

                                                  with the assistance of

                                 Gary Oechsner of Fond-du-Lac, Wisconsin

                                Clarence L. Goodburn of Madelia, Minnesota

                                                                                                                                Alan C. King of Radnor, Ohio

                                  Charles R. Durham of Brainerd, Minnesota


                                      Hugh Hash of Sparta, North Carolina




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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dave Preuhs and the LeSueur County Pioneer Power Association

Dave Preuhs and the LeSueur Pioneer Power Association: Build It and They Will Come


Brian Wayne Wells

As published in an issue of the:

Hart-Parr/Oliver Collectors Magazine

The famous “Wheel Arch” main entrance to the Showgrounds of the modern LeSueur County Pioneer Power Association.  Dave Preuh’s dream came true!

Some dreams begin at a very early age and remain with us all of our lives.  So it was for young Dave Preuhs.  Dave, his sister Barb, and brothers Richard and Elroy grew up on their parents’ farm, the Clarence and Edna (Eichler) Preuhs farm, in Tyrone Township, LeSueur County, Minnesota.  Ever since his earliest years, Dave had been fascinated by antiques.  He turned an old brooder house on his parents’ farm into a “museum”  of sorts by gathering together a grain cradle, butter churn, hand corn planter, and other small antique farm implements and displaying them in the brooder house.  (This brooder house can be seen serving as a backdrop for a Hart-Parr Model 16-30 in the picture located on pages 42 & 43 of the book Oliver Tractors: History of Oliver, Hart-Parr, Cockshutt & Cletrac Tractors, by Robert N. Phipps and Andrew Morland.)

The tower at the main public entrance to the grounds of the LeSueur County Pioneer Power grounds.


Some antique farm implements which interested young Dave were too large for his brooder house museum.  He was also attracted to a large thresher on a neighboring farm.  The 1913 thresher, a 36″ x 60″ Nichols and Shepard Red River Special with Carpenter double wings mounted on the feeder (Serial No. 23410), was owned by the Ziegenhagen brothers and had threshed the small grain crops on many of the neighborhood farms during the first few years following its purchase by the Ziegenhagens in 1913.  Indeed, the Ziegenhagen thresher had been used to thresh grain on the Preuhs farm (then owned by Dave’s grandparents, Carl and Anna [Horrisberger] Preuhs) in the years prior to 1917.

The years following World War I brought about a flurry of road building projects across the nation, with the Ziegenhagen Brothers also becoming involved in the road construction business in LeSueur County, leaving precious little time for them to engage in custom threshing.  As a consequence, the large double-wing Red River Special thresher was employed less and less until it was retired to the machine shed in 1942.

As noted in the Nichols and Shepard article Dave Preuhs wrote for the Fall 1995 issue of the Hart Parr/Oliver Collector, page 8, Dave obtained the Ziegenhagen Brothers’ double-wing Nichols and Shepard Red River Special 36″ x 60″ wooden thresher in 1980.  This was the culmination of the dream that Dave had had ever since childhood.  However, there is more to the story of the Ziegenhagen thresher and the dream of a young boy which began so long ago.

While resting in the machine shed on the Ziegenhagen farm, the thresher was visible from the road and attracted the early attention of young Dave Preuhs.  On every trip to LeCenter, Dave would encourage his parents to take the route which would bring them by the Ziegenhagen farm, three miles east of the Preuhs farm, so that he could catch a glimpse of the large double-wing thresher.  He also listened carefully to the stories the older generation of neighbors told about the large thresher.  Wouldn’t it be fine if that big thresher could once again be put into action for everybody to see?

Although during his childhood on the farm Dave’s parents had used a combine for small grain harvesting, he did have early memories of a thresher in action.  At the age of five, Dave’s parents took him to a local threshing show put on by “Steam Engine Joe” Rynda of Montgomery, Minnesota.  The show was held each year in the 1940s and 1950s on the Rynda farm.  (Readers may have seen this farm in modern days on the western edge of the City of Montgomery, Minnesota, where many old steam engines still sit out in the yard.)  Dave has distinct memories of Joe Rynda feeding an old wooden hand-fed thresher.  At the show, Dave remembers that two women dressed in old-fashioned long dresses stood on the platform, one on either side of Steam Engine Joe, and cut the bands on the bundles as he fed the loose bundles into the thresher.

These early memories of Steam Engine Joe Rynda further stimulated Dave’s thoughts of making the Ziegenhagen thresher the center of a “living museum.”  From these early childhood fantasies would grow the present LeSueur County Pioneer Power Show located on its own grounds within eyesight of the Preuhs farm.

Although Dave could not have consciously foreseen all of the details of the future LeSueur County Pioneer Power Show at the age of ten, and although he would have other experiences with other threshers which would continue to mold his childhood dream, it is significant that he would use the term “museum,” indicating that the public would be invited to come see the exhibits in this museum.  This childhood fantasy was clearly linked to the dream of seeing the Ziegenhagen thresher operating, just as he had seen the threshers operating at the Joe Rynda threshing show.  Together, these ideas indicate that even in childhood the broad outlines of a public threshing show built around the Ziegenhagen thresher were already in his mind.  Although young Dave may not have been totally cognizant of the event, the foundation of the future LeSueur County Pioneer Power Show had already been laid.

As related in his article, Dave’s first opportunity to work on a threshing crew was in 1965.  The thresher being used at that time was a 28″ x 46″ all-steel Red River Special (Serial No. 53290) owned by Paul and Ida Mae (Schultz) Bessel of Belle Plaine, Minnesota (maternal grandparents of Dave’s future wife, Carol [Madlo] Preuhs).  According to the serial number index for Nichols and Shepard threshers in the back of C.H. Wendel’s book, Oliver/Hart Parr, page 295, the thresher is a 1946 model.  In 1965, the Bessel thresher was powered by an Oliver 88 owned by Willy (Sonny) Bessel.  This one experience of actually working around an operating thresher gave another strong boost to Dave’s lifelong interest in threshing.  Unfortunately, 1965 was destined to be the last year that the Bessel thresher would be used in active threshing.

In 1968, Dave married Carol Madlo and together they settled on the Preuhs farm to take over the farming operations.  After six years of talking about a threshing bee with his neighbors, Dave was successful in convincing some of them to help him host the project on his farm in August 1974.  Being unable to obtain the Ziegenhagen thresher, Dave was able to obtain the Bessel 28″ x 46″ Red River Special.  Antique farm machinery at this first threshing bee was rather limited, consisting of a 1926 John Deere D (spoker) owned by Eldon Braun, Dave’s 1928 John Deere D, and a 1929 Model A Ford truck owned by Al Easterlund.  Total attendance at the threshing bee consisted of 22 people from the immediate neighborhood.  However, a good time was had by all, and the neighbors agreed to have another threshing bee the next year.

The 1975 threshing bee was held on the Edwin Reddemann farm. (Readers of the Hart-Parr/Oliver Collector magazine are familiar with the Ed Reddemann farm from the descriptions contained in the article on the Horn Manufacturing Company in the Winter 1995 issue, page 20.)  This Show was advertised for the first time in local newspapers and by means of 8½” x 10″ xeroxed leaflets.  (Copies of these leaflets and posters from subsequent years of the LeSueur County Pioneer Power Show have been lovingly preserved by Pioneer Power member, Mike Bluhm, in frames behind glass.  These framed posters now hang on the north wall of the new Pancake House on the showgrounds of the Association.  Visitors to the show pass by these cabinets as they wait in line for their pancake breakfast each day of the show.)  Featured at this show for the first time was a 1927 Hart-Parr Model 18-36 tractor (Serial No. 27652) Dave had obtained in 1974.  The engine was stuck on the little Hart-Parr when he bought it, but over the winter Dave had restored the tractor in time for it to be shown at the 1975 threshing bee.  Dave’s Model 18-36 was a nice match for the Bessel thresher and produced more than enough horsepower needed to operate the Bessel 28 x 46 Red River Special.  (A Model 18-36 tractor delivered 42.85 hp at the belt pulley as a maximum on kerosene at the Nebraska tests in 1926.  See Test No. 128 on page 54 of Nebraska Tractor Tests by C.H. Wendel.)  Furthermore, because the Hart-Parr and Nicols and Shepard companies were merged with the Oliver Chilled Plow Company on April 1, 1929, the Model 18-36 tractor was entirely appropriate to match with the Bessel all-steel Nichols and Shepard 28″ x 46″ thresher.  In preparation for the 1975 threshing bee, some of the neighbors built a stack from bundles of oats.  This was the first year that grain was threshed from a stack.  The 40-60 persons in attendance saw stack threshing demonstrated with the fine running, but as yet unpainted, Model 18-36 powering the Bessel thresher.  Exhibits at the show also included several stationary gas engines and a few other tractors.

Adopting the name “Dresselville-Tyrone Threshers” for the first time, the 1976 threshing bee was moved back to the Preuhs farm located on the southern boundary of Tyrone township.  Desselville was the name of an old community located southwest of the Preuhs farm.  Although Dresselville was largely a memory by 1976, the unincorporated village had at one time consisted of a school, church, post office, and creamery.  (The building that housed the Dresselville creamery was moved to the LeSueur County Pioneer Power showgrounds in 1980 where it became part of the permanent collection of exhibits.  Indeed, prior to 1993, the Dresselville creamery was used each morning of the annual show to house the pancake breakfast.)  The 1976 Dresselville-Tyrone threshing bee was advertised by means of a limited number of posters which were circulated locally.  About 100 people attended the August 8, 1976 threshing bee.  The crowd was treated to the first appearance of the 45-65 Avery tractor owned by the Budenski brothers of West Concord, Minnesota, and treated for the first time to field demonstrations of corn shredding and plowing.  In addition, Orbe Reddemann of rural LeSueur, Minnesota,  operated his Ottawa cross-cut log saw for the first time.  In all, 15 tractors, 20 stationary gas engines, and 4 antique cars and trucks were exhibited.  A donation box was used to collect contributions from those in attendance.

Finally, on March 1, 1977, seventeen neighbors interested in the Dresselville/Tyrone threshing bee met in the large farm shop on the Eldon Braun farm and decided to incorporate into a non-profit association.  Upon the suggestion of Ivan Guertin, the association was called the “LeSueur County Pioneer Power Association.”  It was thought that the name would enlarge the appeal of the association beyond the immediate Dresselville/Tyrone area to all of LeSueur County.  Little did the founders realize, but the Association would soon have national appeal.  (There is an interesting interview captured on tape by Patti Lehner of LeSueur, Minnesota, of a man attending the 1988 show who was from Santa Marie, California.  During the interview, the man stated that even though he was from California, he and his wife had attended the Pioneer Power Show in the years prior to 1988, noting for the camera that the 1988 show had “grown a lot” over the previous Pioneer Power Shows that he had attended.)  At the founding meeting of the Association, Dave Preuhs was elected president; Eldon Braun, vice-president; Ivan Guertin, secretary; and Bill Thelemann, treasurer.  Also elected as members of the Board were Frank Boehne, Ken Braun, John Pollack, Brian Guertin, Glendon Braun, and Wayne Schwartz.  Other charter members at the first meeting were Monty Braun, Jim Schultz, LeRoy Thelemann, and Maurice Thelemann.  All necessary papers were filed with the State of Minnesota for non-profit, tax-exempt status.  The 1977 show was scheduled for the first full weekend in August, with advertising greatly expanded.  Many large posters were printed and distributed over a much larger area than the year before and admission/advertising buttons were ordered and sold to the public for the first time.  The 1977 show was advertised nationally in Gas Engine magazine, Engines and Engineers magazine, and Iron Man magazine.  With that, the LeSueur County Pioneer Power Association was finally born.  Membership grew at a steady rate.  Monthly meetings of the Association were held at various places; sometimes even the granary on the picturesque Preuhs farm was employed for this purpose.

The enlarged two-day Show in 1977, now re-scheduled for the last weekend in August, was again held at the Dave Preuhs farm.  An estimated crowd of 300 people attended.  Among the 50 tractors exhibited at this show were both of Dave Preuhs’ Hart-Parrs–the Model 18-36 and the new Model 15-30 (Serial No. 17892) which Dave had purchased in December of 1976 as his second Hart-Parr restoration project.  The 1977 show was the first to feature a sawmill demonstration with Mike Kovich (now deceased) of Jordan, Minnesota, bringing his portable sawmill.  During the day he demonstrated the process of sawing logs for all those in attendance.  Two steam engines were operated and paraded for the first time.  In addition to the 50 tractors, 75 gas engines were exhibited in the grove on the Preuhs farm.  (Many of the exhibits at the 1977 Show, including the Mike Kovich sawmill, can be seen in the movies contained in the second hour portion of Tape #2 of the International Harvester collection.)

By 1978, the LeSueur County Pioneer Power Show was rapidly becoming a fixture.  Regularly scheduled each year on the last weekend of August, the Show competed for the public’s attention with the first weekend of the Minnesota State Fair.  However, as the State Fair and its prime attraction “machinery hill” metamorphosed from a rural orientation of tractors and combines to a more suburban orientation of lawn mowers and snow blowers, the Pioneer Power Show represented an attractive alternative to many State Fair attendees.   As a result, there was a boom in attendance and exhibits at the 1978 show.  This large crowd was all the more remarkable considering the fact that four to five inches of rain fell on Saturday night, turning the Preuhs farm ground into a sea of mud for the second day of the show.

With the tremendous growth, it was clear that the show had outgrown the Preuhs farm.  Accordingly, a 20-year lease agreement was made with Ervin Dahn, a local farmer, to rent his large wooded grove about two miles south of the Preuhs farm as the permanent site for the show.  In preparation for the 1979 Show, the members constructed loading docks on the west side of the Dahn grove near the main entrance to the prospective show grounds.  Additionally, a building with a kitchen was constructed on the property by Orbe Reddemann.  This shop became known as Orbee’s Eat Shop, serving food to the public beginning in 1979.  (This same building houses the kitchen which is currently operated by the LeSueur Lions Club.)  The year 1979 was another year of large growth for the Pioneer Power Association.  Although attendance remained at about the 500 figure, exhibits were 50% higher than they had been at the 1978 Show.  Memberships in the Association rose by about 50%–from 55 to 75 dues-paying members.

Following the Show in 1979, Dave traded a Model T Ford truck for his third Hart-Parr–a 1929 Model 28-50 (Serial No. 71313).  Still, as the Show grew from year to year, it became apparent that people were attracted by the opportunity to see big antique machinery at work.  For Dave this meant a big thresher, and the thresher that he had in mind was the Ziegenhagen 36″ x 60″ wooden Red River Special thresher.  He had attempted earlier to restore an all-steel 36″ x 60″ Red River Special thresher with Garden City double-wings on the feeder; however, this thresher was found to be too rusted for restoration.  Thus, another all-steel 36″ x 60″ Red River Special thresher was found and brought to the Pioneer Power grounds.  This thresher also had Garden City double-wings and was used in field demonstrations at the Pioneer Power Shows immediately preceding 1980.  It threshed well; however, it was not as old as the wooden Ziegenhagen thresher and its history was not as related to the neighborhood around the Pioneer Power grounds as was the history of the Ziegenhagen thresher.  Accordingly, Dave still sought the proper opportunity to purchase the Ziegenhagen thresher.  This opportunity finally arose in the summer of 1980, when Dave was able to purchase the Ziegenhagen thresher.

After concluding a deal with Arnie Ziegenhagen, the day finally arrived when Dave would retrieve the big wooden thresher that had first caught his attention so many years before.  With the help of his friend, neighbor, and fellow-founding member of the Pioneer Power Association John Pollack, Dave set out to get the large thresher from the machine shed where it had rested since 1942.  As related in Dave’s article, he and John Pollack first had to cut down the tree that had grown up in front of the machine shed since the thresher had first been put there for storage.  After that task was accomplished, the thresher was pulled out of the shed and secured for transfer down the road to the Preuhs farm.

Pulling up into the yard of the Preuhs farm, the grand old wooden thresher was once again on a farm it had left some 63 years before.  As a result of the relatively low number of actual operational hours on the thresher and its storage indoors, the thresher remained in very good condition.  Therefore, only a minimal amount of work needed to be performed on the thresher in the weeks before the 1980 Show.

At the 1980 Show, the large Ziegenhagen thresher took the primary role of doing the stack threshing during the field demonstrations.  Standing on top of the Ziegenhagen thresher in front of the 500 people who attended, Dave must have felt that his childhood dream had come true in a way that exceeded any expectations.

The Melounek-Deutsch sawmill in its new building was added to  the grounds of the LeSueur County Pioneer Power Association in time for the 1983 Annual Show.


The large Red River Special thresher continued to occupy a primary role at the Show until 1991, when it yielded that position to the 36″ x 58″ Case thresher with a double-wing feeder donated to the Association by the Baumgard Brothers of Good Thunder, Minnesota. The Baumgard thresher had been newly restored by LeSueur County Pioneer Power Association member, Doug Hager, of Good Thunder, Minnesota, in anticipation of the fact that the LeSueur County Pioneer Power Association would be hosting the  J.I. Case Collectors’ Summer Convention during the August 1991 Threshing Show.

The seventh page of the article on Dave Preuhs and the Pioneer Power Association as published in the Oliver/Hart Parr Collection magazine.  Dave Preuhs can be seen standing on top of the “Bessell thresher.”


At some future date when the Hart-Parr/Oliver Collectors come to LeSueur for their summer convention, they are sure to see the Ziegenhagen Red River Special occupying the center stage between the stacks on the Showgrounds.  With the help of this article, readers may also understand the additional significance of the large thresher to the history of the LeSueur County Pioneer Power Association itself.

Threshing with the Volkart Brothers in Beaver Township, Fillmore County, Minnesota

Threshing with the Volkart Brothers in Beaver Township, Fillmore County, Minnesota


Brian Wayne Wells

As published in the September/October 1995 issue of

Belt Pulley Magazine

Younger brother, Fredrick Volkart feeding bundles of oats into the large 42 inch x 62 inch Case thresher. n the Volkart Bros. farm in 1948
Younger brother, Fredrick Volkart feeding bundles of oats into the large 42 inch x 62 inch Case thresher on the Volkart Bros. farm in 1948

Like most young men, Erhardt and Fred Volkart were anxious to strike out on their own.  In the early 1890s, the two boys were living with their parents Henry and Katherine (Wenig) Volkart, who were renting the Pollard farm (now the Dean Hamlin farm) in the “old town” area north of the village of LeRoy, Minnesota (1890 pop. 523). After saving money for the purchase of their own farm, Erhardt (nicknamed Hard) and Fred Volkart purchased a 160-acre farm in Beaver Township, located in Fillmore County on the border with Mower County.  They were also able to buy another 160 acres just across the road to the west in Mower County.  This second piece of land was without a building site and was covered with timber and pasture land, therefore not much of the land was arable.  It was Fred’s dream that some day he would build a house and building site in the timber on this piece of land; however, that would never happen.

The time was right for buying land.  The United States economy was just emerging from the Panic of 1893.  This recession was the worst in United States history up until that time, but by 1896, however, the rural areas of the nation were starting to come back to life.  Indeed, the rural economy would come roaring back!  Propelled by the growing influence of the young nation in the world economic markets and the resultant increase in exports of agricultural products to those markets, farm prices began to increase in 1896 and kept climbing in 1897.  By 1897, commentators were stating that agriculture in the United States was entering a “new age” of prosperity.  (Harold U. Faulkner, Politics, Reform and Expansion: 1890-1900, [Harper Brothers Publishers: New York, NY, 1959] p. 60.)  It was the start of a period of relative prosperity which would be called the “golden age” of American agriculture and would extend all the way to 1921.

Older brother, Erhardt (nicknamed "Hard") Volkart stands on the top of the 40 x 62 inch Case thresher on the Volkart Bros. farm in 1948.
Older brother, Erhardt (nicknamed “Hard”) Volkart stands on the top of the 40 x 62 inch Case thresher on the Volkart Bros. farm in 1948.

Like their neighbors in Beaver township, the Volkart Brothers operated a diversified farming operation involving crop rotation which included the small grains of wheat and oats.  For the threshing of their small grains, Fred and Erhardt would collaborate with their neighbor to the west, Matt and Doretta (Spencer) Klassy.  At that time, the Klassys farmed the 400-acre Bagan farm which bordered the Volkart farm to the east.  (The Bagan farm is described in an article by Fred Hanks, “Survivors from the Past,” January/February 1994 Belt Pulley, Vol. 7, No. 1, p. 14.  The Bagan farm would eventually be sold to Howard Hanks, father of Fred Hanks and grandfather of the author, in 1945.)

Almost immediately the boys set about improving their farming operation.  In 1896, Hard and Fred built a new barn on their farm.  Later they added other buildings to the site.  Sometime after 1904, when J.I. Case introduced its new line of all-steel threshers, the Volkart Brothers, together with Matt Klassy, purchased one of the new Case all-steel threshers.  They also obtained a steam engine for powering the thresher.  Matt Klassy and later his son Frank became the engineers of the threshing crew, responsible for the operation and care of the steam engine.  Even after Matt Klassy sold the Bagan farm in 1908 and moved to another farm 2-1/2 miles to the west of the Volkart farm, the Klassys and the Volkarts continued to thresh together.

The huge Model 35-70 Minneapolis tractor weighed 22,500 pounds (lbs.) and actually made the ground shake when it passed along the road at its travelling speed of 2.1 mph.
The huge Model 35-70 Minneapolis tractor weighed 22,500 pounds (lbs.) and actually made the ground shake when it passed along the road at its travelling speed of 2.1 mph.

Sometime after the turn of the century, Hard and Fred’s mother, Katherine, died and their father moved to the Volkart farm to stay with his sons.  Later on, another brother, Henry Jr., moved to the farm with his new bride Frieda (Linde) Volkart where they were to raise seven children: George, born in 1912; Wilber (nicknamed Webb), born in 1914; Grace, born in 1916; Raymond (nicknamed Bud), born in 1918; Lorrie, born in 1922; Gerald, (nicknamed Gett and a long time Belt Pulley subscriber until his recent death), born in 1924; and Beverly, born in 1926.  One day while on the farm, the owner of an 80-acre piece of wooded land to the east of the Volkart farm, and directly across the road north of the Bagan farm, approached Henry Jr., offering to sell his land.  Henry Jr. offered him a “low ball” price of $10 per acre, expecting that the seller would walk away.  To Henry’s surprise, the seller immediately accepted the price and the Volkarts found themselves farming yet more land in addition to doing the neighborhood threshing.

On the extreme right side of this picture can be seen the un-styled John Deere Model G owned by Gaylord Aspel in the summerf of 1948.
On the extreme right side of this picture can be seen the un-styled John Deere Model G owned by Gaylord Aspel in the summerf of 1948.

For many years the Volkart/Klassey threshing ring became the only ring in the neighborhood.  However, in later years, another smaller threshing ring was started in the neighborhood by John Anderson.  John, and later his son Mel Anderson, used a Case 28″ x 46″ thresher.  Farmers of the neighborhood were either part of one ring or the other.  One of the farmers in the Vokart ring was Gaylord Aspell.  His son Jim Aspell of LeRoy, Minnesota, is nearly the only person left with first-hand memories of threshing on the Volkart crew.  Members of the ring, who formed the crew during threshing season, looked forward to bringing the thresher to the Volkart home place because it was well known in the neighborhood that Henry Jr.’s wife Frieda was a good cook.

Steam power had its short-comings.  Steam engines spewed forth a constant flow of hot cinders which created a real fire hazard during threshing season.  Furthermore, steam engines required constant attention and manpower to maintain a proper head of steam.  To alleviate the potential for fire and to modernize their farming operations, the Volkarts sought to replace their steam engine with a fuel-powered tractor.  In 1914, B.F. Avery introduced a 25-50 model kerosene-powered tractor.  Sometime after the introduction of this tractor, the Volkart Brothers bought one.  The 25-50 was advertised as being able to pull a five or six-bottom moldboard plow at the drawbar in addition to supplying ample horsepower at the belt.  (C.H. Wendel, Nebraska Tractor Tests Since 1920, [Crestline Publishing: Sarasota, Florida 1985] p. 25.)

A restored 1919 Model 25-50 Avery Tractor which looks like the Volkart’s 1914 Avery tractor.


With the addition of the 80 acres purchased by Henry Jr., which needed to be cleared and plowed for the first time, the Volkart Brothers reasoned that the Avery could help out a great deal with the plowing of this virgin soil as well as some of the hard pasture soil on the “home place.”  Accordingly, they purchased a 5-bottom Avery plow with the 25-50 tractor.

1914 Avery Company advertisement showing the Avery 25-50 tractor pulling a six bottom plow.


Although the 25-50 was a good tractor while it was running, it proved to be a reluctant starter in any season.  Webb Volkart, currently of LeRoy, Minnesota, was an adolescent while the family farmed with the Avery.  He remembers that ether had to be poured into the cups on each of the four cylinders, and then the engine was turned by pulling a large lever attached to the flywheel.  Once started, however, and placed on the belt for the threshing machine, the tractor worked like it was made for belt work–which indeed it was!

About 1926, the Volkart Brothers and Matt Klassy heard about a Minneapolis 35-70 fuel powered tractor and a 40″ x 62″ thresher which were being offered for sale by a farmer in McIntyre, Iowa.  The Minneapolis Threshing Machine Company (MTM) had introduced the 35-70 as the largest tractor in a new line of fuel-powered tractors in 1912.  This huge four-cylinder tractor was one of the largest tractor ever built.  The Model 35-70 was truly big!  It weighed 22,500 lbs and delivered 70 horsepower to the belt.  John Grass Jr., of LeRoy, Minnesota, remembers that when the 35-70 lumbered past at its travelling speed of 2.1 mph, you could feel the ground shake!

The Minneapolis 35-70 tractor purchased by the Volkart Brothers and Frank Klassey, seen here in 1948 powering the 40 x 62 inch Case thresher on the Volkart Bros. farm.

One of these Model 35-70 tractors is currently owned by Frank and Betty Sticha of New Prague, Minnesota, and can be seen powering the Melounek and Deutsch sawmill on the grounds of the LeSueur Pioneer Power Association.  (It can be seen at the beginning of the Second Hour portion of Tape #1 of the International Harvester Promotional movies powering the sawmill and can also be seen at the very end of the same tape, as it was the final exhibit in the parade at the Pioneer Power 1992 Show.)  Although most tractors seem to shrink in size from the childhood memories that one has of the same tractors, the Minneapolis 35-70 still seems every bit as big and awesome now as it does in the childhood memories of the author.

The Volkarts and Matt Klassy purchased the huge tractor and drove it the 16 miles home to the Volkart farm–a trip that must have taken all day.  They recognized that the Minneapolis was not a tractor designed for drawbar work in the field; therefore, no attempt was made to use the Minneapolis for plowing as had been done with the Avery.  The Minneapolis was reserved for belt work each year on the huge Case 40″ x 62″ thresher which came with the tractor.

An Aerial view of the Minneapolis Threshing Machine Company factory in Hopkins, Minnesota.


Although Case did make a 44″ x 66″ thresher, only a handful of these machines were ever built. For all practical purposes, the 40″ Case machine was the largest thresher available to farmers.  Generally, these large threshers were found in the western grain-belt states of the Dakotas and Montana.  Smaller threshers were generally employed on the diversified farms of the row-crop areas like southeastern Minnesota.  The Volkart Brothers were attracted to the thresher because of the double wing extensions on the feeder and the reputation that the thresher had of being impossible to overload.

A double-wing style of feeder attached to a smaller (36 inch) Case thresher.


At that time, stack threshing was common in the LeRoy area.  After cutting and binding the wheat, the farmer would haul the bundles to a central location where the threshing would occur and construct a stack of bundles.  Building the large stack was a technique that had to be learned.  A proper stack would repel the rain and allow the grain to cure, or “sweat,” nearly as effectively as the grain might have done in the small shocks in the field.  The stacks were built just far enough apart to allow the feeder of the thresher to be inserted between the piles so that bundles could be “pitched” into the feeder from both piles simultaneously.  With sufficient wheat or oats, the farmer would build stacks in two rows so that the thresher could be moved ahead in a straight line to the next pair of large stacks once the first pair of stacks was gone.  The bundled grain would then wait on the threshing day.  The advantage of large stacks was that the fields would be cleared of the small grains so that the “under-crop” of hay which may have been planted with the small grain could be allowed to grow unhindered by the shocks as the farmer waited for the thresher to arrive on his farm.

Because stack threshing was typical in the LeRoy area, the Volkart Brothers realized that the double wing attachment to the thresher would be especially useful.  The double wing attachment consisted of two extensions which could be swung out at 90 degree angles on either side of the feeder.  This was a great advantage for stack threshing.  In order to repel rain, stacks were built with a slight downward slope on the outside of the stack.  This meant that the sides of the stack could be slippery for the man or men standing on top of the stack pitching bundles into the feeder.  The double wing attachment to the feeder on threshers basically extended the “feeder” out to the center point of the stack.  The men on the stack could then stand in one place near the center of the stack and place the bundles gently on the wing, rather than “pitching” them into the feeder from the edge of the stack.  The chain apron in the wing would glide the bundles along to the feeder where the bundles would be swallowed up by the thresher.

In 1928, Matt Klassy and his son, Frank,purchased a large 25-45 Case tractor like this tractor which has been converted to a road building roller or packer.


In 1928, the Volkarts and Matt Klassy sold the Avery tractor and the 5-bottom plow.  With their share of the proceeds, Matt Klassy and his son Frank bought a Case cross-motor 25-45.  The tractor was called “cross motor” because the engine was mounted on the tractor with its crank shaft parallel to the axles of the tractor.  The cross motor style of tractors were discontinued by Case in 1929 in favor of the more conventional “in-line” engine tractor with the crank shaft of the engine perpendicular to the axles of the tractor which required the conventional-style differential for the rear end of the tractor.

Foremost in the new line of Case tractors for 1929, all of which were equipped with the in-line engine and the differential-style rear end was the Case Model L.  With their share of the proceeds, the Volkart Brothers bought a new Case Model L tractor along with a three-bottom Case plow.  (For 1929, Case had abandoned the light green, dark green, and red color scheme of the cross motor tractors in favor of the gray color with bright red wheels; however, Case continued its old three-color scheme for their implements.)

A pair of Case Model L tractors on rubber tires with rubber-tired Case plows at an antique tractor show.


The Volkart’s Case Model L and Case plow operating in the fields would have presented a picture very similar to the beautiful color photo of Herb Wessel’s 1938 Model L and Case Centennial plow on the cover of the September/October 1994 issue of Belt Pulley.  (Readers of Old Abe’s News will recognize another picture of the Herb Wessel Model L and Case plow on page 19 of the Winter 1993 issue of Old Abe’s News.)  The Volkarts found that the Model L could walk right along with the three 16″ bottom plow even in the hardest of old pasture soils.  There was good reason for this ability.  The Model L delivered  30.02 horsepower to the drawbar.  (C.H. Wendel, Nebraska Tractor Tests, p. 63.)  Although the Model L also delivered 44.01 hp. at the belt (nearly as much as the old Avery), the Volkart Brothers never put the Model L on the belt with the 40″ Case thresher.  That duty remained exclusively for the huge Minneapolis.

On June 5, 1929, Matt and Doretta Klassy’s son, Frank, married Esther Lamon and started farming on another farm adjoining his father’s farm.  Because of the ample storage space available on this new farm, the Minneapolis and the thresher came to be stored on the Frank Klassy farm.  Every year, then, the thresher and Minneapolis would travel the 2-1/2 miles down the county and township roads to the Volkart farm after the threshing had been completed on the two Klassy farms.  The route allowed the driver plenty of time to think, given the 35-70’s travelling speed of 2.1 mph.  On these slow trips between farms during threshing season, a little boy (the author) on the Wayne Wells farm would hear the huge tractor and thresher coming down the road, and he would have plenty of time to run to the front yard to see them passing.

These trips were so slow between the various farms of the threshing ring that Webb Volkart remembers one of the men on the crew would start off on the trip to the next farm while the rest of the crew ate dinner.  Then when another member of the crew had finished his dinner, he would drive off in a car to relief the driver of the Minneapolis so that the tractor and thresher could proceed to the next farm without any interruptions.

As the years went by, changes occurred in the Volkart family.  Henry and Frieda’s oldest son George married Beatrice Hall and moved off the Volkart farm and onto his own farm south of LeRoy.  Beatrice (Bee) Volkart still lives in the LeRoy community and has become a historian of the Volkart family, collecting many dates and much written material on the Volkarts and their ancestors.  Their second son, Wilbur (Webb) married Ruby Whiteside on March 26, 1943, then he served in the Armed Forces in the Second World War.  Upon his return from the military in November of 1945, he lived on the Volkart home farm for only about one year before he moved into the town of LeRoy to go to work at the John Deere dealership which was owned by the local Farmers Cooperative.  His parents, Henry Jr. and Frieda, and the rest of their family, also moved to town.  Once again, as it had been in the beginning some 50 years before, the farm was being operated solely by Earhardt and Fred Volkart.

During that period of time, changes had also occurred in the method of harvesting small grains which would doom the large threshers, such as the Volkart thresher.  Farmers began to seek tractors for cultivating their row crops.  Farm equipment companies obliged by producing smaller general purpose tricycle-type tractors.  For threshing, this meant that farmers began to seek smaller 22″ and 28″ threshers that could be powered by these smaller row-crop tractors.  Although the threshing rings still existed, there was a trend toward more numerous and smaller rings with smaller threshers.  With smaller rings, the grain on each farm could be threshed sooner after it had been cut; thus the shocks would not have to stay in the fields as long, and interference with the under-crop of hay would be held to a minimum.This meant the demise of stack threshing in favor of shocking the grain in the fields.

Image result for All Crop Harvester Model 60
The introduction of the Allis-Chalmers All-Crop Harvester in 1928 really spelt the beginning of the end of stationary style threshing grains.


However, the real threat to big threshers, and indeed all threshers, came with the introduction of the Allis Chalmers All-Crop Harvester in 1929.  (C.H. Wendel, The Allis Chalmers Story, [Crestline Publishing, Sarasota, Florida 1988], p. 65.)  The small combine was popular from the beginning.  Even as late as the 1950s, despite stiff competition from John Deere, Massey-Harris, Case and International Harvester, one out of three sales of pull-type combines in the nation was an All-Crop Harvester.  (See the Allis-Chalmers promotional movie “Get More, Make More with the 66 Combine” [1957], available from Keith Oltrogge, Box 529, Denver, Iowa 50622-0529, Telephone: (319) 984-5292.)

An advertisement of the new  Allis-Chalmers Model 60 All-Crop Harvester small combine.


This nationwide trend toward combines became pronounced in the period of time following the Second World War, as more farms sought the freedom and independence offered by a combine.  The wheat and oats could be harvested when the grain was ripe, rather than having to “wait on the whole neighborhood” to have grain threshed.  One of the first combines in the LeRoy neighborhood around the Volkart farm was the John Deere No. 7 combine brought to the area by Howard Hanks, who moved onto the Bagan farm in 1945.  (This combine is pictured in the article “Wartime Farmall H” in the July/August 1994 Belt Pulley, Vol. 7, No. 4, p. 13.)

By 1948, threshing with the Volkart’s 40″ Case thresher powered by the Minneapolis 35-70 was enough of an anachronism that it began to attract the interest of all of the neighbors as a sight that was slowly passing from the scene of North American agriculture.  Busy as he was on the Bagan farm with harvesting in 1948 (See the article “Deering and McCormick Grain Binders” in the May/June 1995 issue of Belt Pulley, Vol. 8, No. 3, p. 16), Howard Hanks was sufficiently motivated to get his camera and take pictures of the thresher and Minneapolis tractor operating on the Volkart farm.  In 1976, two of these pictures were published in the LeRoy Independent newspaper along with a story on threshing in the LeRoy area.  These pictures reveal that horses were still being employed during threshing season on the Volkart farm as late as 1948.  Furthermore, the article indicates eight bundle wagons, either pulled by horses or by tractors, were needed that day to keep a steady flow of bundles into the thresher.  Webb Volkart remembers that in earlier years, when the thresher had been set up a substantial distance from the field, up to 16 bundle wagons were needed to keep operations going smoothly at the thresher.

The Volkart brothers sold out their farming operation in the Fall of 1951 and moved into the town of LeRoy, Minnesota, where they lived the remainder of their days with their brother George and his wife Lil (Hansen).  Following the Volkart sale, Frank Klassy and his wife Esther (Lamon) bought a McCormick-Deering 28″ x 46″ thresher in 1952 to do their own threshing, but after two years of farming, Frank put his farm in the Soil Bank government program for ten years and practiced his other profession as a carpenter.  When his farm came out of the Soil Bank in 1964, he rented the farm to the families of John Grass Sr. and Frederick Bhend; however, he continued to live on the farm until his death in 1994.

The story of the Volkart thresher conveniently coincides with the story of the changes that occurred in harvesting of small grains throughout the nation during the first half of the twentieth century, and is similar to that of a great number of farm families.  The fact that part was captured on film helps preserve another chapter in the long history of American agriculture.  It should serve as a lesson to us all about the necessity of saving old pictures and negatives.  Even the most mundane of pictures will, in the future, be very important.

The Algoma Foundry and Machine Company of Algoma Wisconsin

Algoma is “OK”:

History of the Algoma Foundary and Machine Company of Algoma, Wisconsin


Brian Wayne Wells

As published in the March/April 1995 issue of

Belt Pulley Magazine

The restored Lindstom silo filler in 1994.
The restored OK silo filler manufactured by Algoma Foundry and Machine Company which was formerly owned by Roy Johnson, Harris Quist, Howard Nelson and Leonard Johnson and later sold to Maynard Mohn od Center City, Minnesota.

The ensilage process of chopping green corn or hay and storing it in a silo was first developed by August Goffart, a French experimenter, in 1877.  (Robert C. Nesbit, Wisconsin: A History [University of Wisconsin Press; Madison, Wisconsin, 1973], p. 291.)  In 1880, Dr. H.S. Weeks, of Ononomowoc, Wisconsin, also conducted experiments with ensilage stored in silos.  The success of Dr. Weeks’ experiments led some pioneering farmers to construct silos for storage of this new type of cattle feed.  Later experiments found that three cows could be fed for seven months on one acre of silage crops while it would take two acres of hay to feed just one cow for the same seven months.

At first, there was a major resistance to this new method of chopping and storing ensilage based on the belief that the fodder would eat away at the stomachs of cows or cause them to lose their teeth.  As of 1904, there were only 716 silos in the entire state of Wisconsin.  However, in the early 1900s, William Dempster Hoard, editor of Hoard’s Dairyman, began promoting silage for dairy herds in his magazine.  Thus, following the First World War, silos started to spring up across the nation as farmers began to see the advantages of silage.


Most commonly, silage was cut into pieces about an inch in length.  Machines were developed to facilitate this procedure, and the ensilage cutter–or stationary forage harvester–was born, with the dairy state of Wisconsin becoming the center for manufacturing and sales of silage equipment.  One of the companies that realized the potential market for ensilage cutters in Wisconsin was the Algoma Foundry and Machine Company of Algoma, Wisconsin.

The Algoma Machine company factory located east of the 4th Street Bridge
The Algoma Machine company factory located east of the 4th Street Bridge

Algoma is a small city of 3,600 people located on the shore of Lake Michigan at the base of Door Peninsula.  The entity that was to become the  Algoma Company was first established there in 1883 as A. Hamacek and Company by Adolf and Anton Hamacek.  A. Hamacek and Company made horse-drawn farm machinery and operated an electric light plant for those Algoma residents who had electric lighting in their homes and businesses.  On August 28, 1891, Adolph Hamacek left the partnership and moved to Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin.  Anton, however, continued to operate the business alone until the spring of 1893 when he formed another partnership with Joseph Wodsedalek and August Ziemer from Kewaunee, Wisconsin.  On August 6, 1895, a fire totally destroyed the business’s two-story building located in the 600 block of Fremont Street in Algoma.  Following the fire, the partnership purchased a new property, just east of the new Fourth Street Bridge in Algoma, owned by John Ihlenfeld.  This was an excellent location which was served by a spur of the Green Bay and Western Railroad.  The partnership then moved their operations to the single-story building located on that property.

During World War I, one of the partnership’s employees, Joseph Sticka, a machinist, conceived of his own design for a stationary forage harvester and left the employ of the partnership to establish his own business.  However, the business he established was not sufficiently capitalized and he soon sought the backing of his old employer.  Thus, in 1920, the partnership began mass producing the forage harvester developed by Joseph Sticka.

In March of 1920, the partnership was transformed into a company and incorporated as the Algoma Foundry and Machine Company.  Joseph Wodsedalek became president and Joseph F. Sticka became a director.  E.W. Anderogg, general manager of the Algoma Net Company, also became a director.  While continuing his work at the Net Company, Mr Anderogg sat on the board of the Algoma Foundry and Machine Company as representative of the interests of his boss, M.W. Perry, president of the Algoma Net Company.  M.W. Perry, although a minority shareholder, had loaned the Algoma Foundry and Machine Company a great deal of money.  Therefore, M.L. Perry had much influence over the company.

Shortly after they became incorporated, the Algoma Company introduced a new line of modern farm equipment bearing the trade name OK.  This line included forage harvesters–or ensilage cutters–forage blowers, feed grinders and hammermills.  This expansion, however, was ill-timed.

Workers in the Algoma Foundry and Machine Company in Algoma Wisconsin.
Workers in the Algoma Foundry and Machine Company in Algoma Wisconsin.

Although it is commonly accepted that the Great Depression began with the stock market crash in 1929 following a period of prosperity throughout the 1920s, the facts are that in the rural areas of the nation the depression actually began in 1921 with the fall in the price of farm products following the end of World War I.  Farmers were feeling the effects of the depression as early as 1921.  This meant that there was little demand for new farm machinery from that time until the nation began to recover in the 1930s.  As a result, the Algoma Foundry and Machine Company suffered deficits for the first nine years of its existence.

A financial statement, dated Feb. 1, 1929, noted that the corporation had a $38,807.20 deficit in its annual budget at that time.  The board required action and the corporation underwent a financial reorganization whereby the persons who had loaned the company money were made preferred stockholders in the corporation.  Suddenly, all the creditors of the company became the owners of the company.  In short, this meant that M.W. Perry became the majority shareholder of the company with 51% of the shares.  He also bought out all of the remaining inrterests of the Joseph Wodsedalek family.

On March 2, 1929, a new management team was installed.  M.W. Perry became the new president and E.W. Anderogg became the new general manager of the Algoma Foundry and Machine Company.  Following the reorganization, the compamy underwent a corporate down-sizing and under the new leadership managed to finish the year in good order and even showed a profit.  Consequently, in 1929, the corporation made its first profit in the face of the financial dislocations which occurred on Wall Street in October of 1929 and continued profitably for the next three years.

In the Spring of 1932, E.W. Anderogg was made treasurer.  The Company then began to cast about to find the right person to fill the position of general manager and were fortunate in obtaining the services of E.J. Albro for this position.  He had served as manager of the farm equipment division of the Montgomery Ward Company for 15 years, from 1917 to 1932.   In his position at Montgomery Ward, E.J. Albro had supervised the purchasing of thousands of dollars of fly nets from the Algoma Net Company.  Now he used his influence to arrange for Montgomery Ward to purchase all of their hammermills from the Algoma Foundry and Machine CompanyMontgomery Ward would sell these farm implements under their own name and eventually would become the Algoma Foundry and Machine Company’s largest single customer, absorbing 35% of all of the farm equipment they produced.

The silo fillers produced by the Algoma Foundry and Machine Company continued to follow the original design conceived by Joseph F. Sticka; however, with some small improvements made to the original design.  Two sizes of silo fillers were offered, e.g., a 13″ throat model and a 15″ throat model.  These two models came out of the factory, along with the hammermills and all of the other farm equipment offered by the Algoma Foundry and Machine Company, cloaked in the green paint that in the early years symbolized the OK line of farm machinery.  A bright yellow “OK” insignia would appear on both sides of the hinged casing covering the knife wheel.  Another insignia declaring “Mfd. by Algoma Foundry and Machine Company, Algoma, Wisconsin” was stenciled on both sides of the transport frame underneath the feeding table.  Although no paint numbers now exist which could allow a restorer to recreate the exact shade of this green paint, according to John Beitling, long-term employee of the paint department, the shade was very close to the green color which was habitually used on 1948-1950 Chevrolet pickups.

When Montgomery Ward began placing large orders for hammermills and other equipment, the purchasing contract required that such equipment be painted Montgomery Ward red and that the equipment bear no insignias.  Marvin Zirbel, another former employee of the Algoma Company, remembers that to save cost the Company made the decision to change the color of its entire line of OK equipment to Montgomery Ward red, Martin-Senour 99L-1637.  (Later, in 1964, when Massey-Ferguson bought the corporate entity which included the Algoma Company, Massey-Ferguson personnel found that the red paint used by the Algoma Company was indistinguishable from their own Massey-Ferguson red.)  The bright yellow insignias and lettering, however, would still appear in the same locations on the silo fillers and on all of those machines which were not sold to Montgomery Ward but were offered to the public through jobbers and wholesalers under the Company’s own name.

Marvin Zirbel and Ben Schneider work in the foundary of the Algoma Machine Company factory.
Marvin Zirbel and Ben Schneider work in the foundary of the Algoma Machine Company factory.

In 1943, one of these OK silo fillers rolled out of the plant cloaked in its red paint job and insignias.  It was one of the smaller models with a 13″ throat.  It traveled by railroad flatbed out of Algoma, across Wisconsin and into Minnesota, where it was sold to its first owner.  After only one season, the silo filler was resold in 1944 to Roy Johnson (a beef farmer), Harold Nelsen and Harris Quist (who milked Holstein herds on their farms), and Leonard Johnson (who milked Jersey cows).  They bought the silo filler together, along with a McCormick-Deering corn binder which had a wagon loading attachment.  (A two-row version of this binder with the wagon loading attachment can be seen in the 1934 International Harvester movie, Farming the Farmall Way.)  The four Lindstrom-area farmers used the silo filler to fill their own silos on all four farms and for some custom work in their neighborhood as well.  Harold Nelsen remembers that the OK silo filler was a “light runner”–a smooth and easy operating machine–powered most often by a Farmall H.  Each summer the silo filler was towed from farm to farm in the Lindstrom neighborhood by the Farmall H and performed admirably.

Following World War II, a flood of new and more efficient farm machinery came onto the market.  In 1944, International Harvester had introduced the No. 55-T baler, their first successful cotton stripper, and the new No. 2 field forage harvester.  All of these machines were advertised as “one-man harvesting machines.”  (See the 1944 IH movies called “One-Man Harvesting” and “One-Man Cotton Harvesting.”)

Like other farmers across the nation, these four farmers saw the advantages of single-stage processing of ensilage in the field, rather than carrying bundles of corn to the silo for processing.  Thus, in about 1949, Roy Johnson bought one of the new McCormick-Deering field choppers.  The other three farmers then hired him to fill the silos on their farms and the OK silo filler was sold to Maynard Mohn of Center City, Minnesota.  After a few years, the Mohn family also upgraded their silo filling operations; however, the OK silo filler remained stored under cover on the Mohn farm until it was put up for sale several years later at an auction.

John Bjornstad, grandnephew of Maynard Mohn, former owner of the OK silo filler inspects the knives of the OK silo filler.
John Bjornstad, grandnephew of Maynard Mohn, former owner of the OK silo filler inspects the knives of the OK silo filler.

John Bjonstad, grandnephew of Maynard Mohn, having observed the OK silo filler several times on the Mohn farm, expressed an interest in seeing the silo filler saved from the cutting torch.  At the auction, therefore, John’s grandfather, Paul Holm, of Almelund, Minnesota, purchased the silo filler for his grandson.  John and his grandfather then transported the silo filler to the site of the LeSueur Pioneer Power Show near LeCenter, Minnesota.  There, in 1990, the silo filler was set up and operated by John and his grandfather as an exhibit at the Show.

John Bjornstad and his wife pose beside the silo filler that he remembers from his childhood.
John Bjornstad and his wife pose beside the silo filler that he remembers from his childhood.

Following that Show, the silo filler was wintered at the Pioneer Power site; however, due to the shortage of storage buildings, the OK silo filler was stored outside for one of the first winters since it had been manufactured.   Unfortunately, it has not been operated as an exhibit in any of the Shows since 1990.

In August of 1994, the OK silo filler was found by the author and his brother, Mark Wells, of Billerica, Massachusetts, in about the same location where it had been stored following the 1990 Show.  Even in 1994, after four years of sitting outside in the elements, the knives and shear bar seemed to be in very good condition. The pressed-paper pulley showed evidence of having recently been treated with fuel oil.  It appeared, however, that the growing layer of rust threatened to obliterate the “OK” decal hinged blower cover and the “Algoma Foundry and Machine Co.” stencilling on the frame under the feeding table.  It was at this point that the author and his brother began to think about restoration of the OK silo filler.  Research into the proper paint scheme, the correct shade of paint, and remaking of the proper decals is currently being conducted and plans are being made for a 1995 restoration.

The Algoma Foundry and Machine Company continued to function independently until September 14, 1962, when the company was sold to Badger Northland Company, Inc.  The Algoma Company became a division of the Badger Company, with Karl Kuehn of Kaukauna, Wisconsin, serving as head of the Algoma farm equipment division.  Badger was manufacturing a short line of farm equipment, which included silo unloaders and barn cleaners, when they bought out the Algoma Company.  They hoped, through the acquisition of the Algoma Company, to broaden their line of Badger products to include forage equipment, particularly their field chopper.

In 1964, Badger Northland was in turn acquired by the Massey-Ferguson Company.  By this time, however, no silo fillers or forage equipment were being made at the Algoma site.  It was a sign of the times that only garden tractors (the Massey-Ferguson model 10) and snowmobiles were being made in the old foundry building.  In the summer of 1970, operations at the Algoma plant were entirely discontinued by Massey-Ferguson.

Before the merger with Massey-Ferguson in 1964, the president of Badger Northland was Wisconsin native Vincent Rolf.  He had been one of the founders of the Badger Farm Equipment Company in Kaukauna, Wisconsin, in 1949.  In 1965, he along with almost all of the original founders of Badger formed a new company called Calumet Corporation of Kaukauna, Wisconsin.  Calumet manufactured liquid pumps, liquid manure spreaders, and a line of trailers for transporting boats, snowmobiles, and garden tractors at its plant in Dundas, Wisconsin.  Upon learning that the old foundry building in Algoma was available, Calumet moved its manufacturing operations from Dundas to the foundry building in December of 1970, operating there until 1973.

Over the years, many people of the Algoma area were employed at the foundry:  Lester Zimmerman was a machinist at the foundry; George Bietling, Marvin Zirbel amd Doug Silmer worked there at different times; as noted previously, John Beitling worked for many years in the paint department; and Emil Bostick, now of Luxembourg, Wisconsin, worked in the stenciling department.

It is a different world now than when the foundry was first opened in 1895, reflecting the changes in farming methods which have occurred in the interim and reflecting the transition of the United States from an agricultural nation into an industrial nation.  Restoration of old farm machinery is one way in which the agricultural history of the nation can be preserved for future generations.  It is hoped that restoration of the 1943 OK silo filler will compose one more chapter of that history, a chapter which will recognize not only the farmers that used the silo filler but also the men and women who made the silo filler.