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Published April 23, 2010, 12:00 AM

Farmall program includes Osakis

Farmall Red ruled in the Wright County, Minnesota historical program given recently by Conrad Fiskness, past-president of IH Collector’s Club, Chapter 15.

By: By Lois M. Erickson, The Osakis Review

Farmall Red ruled in the Wright County, Minnesota historical program given recently by Conrad Fiskness, past-president of IH Collector’s Club, Chapter 15. Conrad’s family members are longtime residents of rural Osakis. He presented International Harvestor (IH) tractor history to a packed crowd of old-time tractor enthusiasts from all over Minnesota. Several gleaming, restored models flanked the entrance of the building, brought in for display by current owners.

Clubs collect and share information about the hard-chugging tractors owned by Minnesota farmers. These iron horses powered the different lines of machinery manufactured to do the work of American farmers – and rural people developed their favorites.

Fiskness spoke about and shared photos from the early 1800s to 1950s. One photo showed the Fiskness-owned International Junior Hay Stacker. Long wooden tines jut into the air, alongside a growing haystack. His father’s horses stand by and the working men, with hayforks in their hands, hold still for the camera shot.

The family photos selected for the event’s slide show were vintage rural Minnesota. In one, elderly Grandfather Martin Fiskness, helps with haying, and, in another, Conrad is a small toddler in the arms of his youthful aunt watching the threshing. The pictures date back six decades.

Fiskness’ talk was spiced with interesting, even odd, tidbits of information, along with many curious names given to the emerging machines. What’s a tedder? It is a device to lift hay so air can circulate underneath to dry it out Did you know that 62 “Red Baby” trucks were made in St. Cloud, using up excess parts? That was unusual, since most IH manufacturing occurred in Illinois, in Chicago and Rock Island.

He showed photos of the oldest tractors – big gray steel monsters with names of Titan and Mogul. They were “heavy” tractors, and important in the development of the familiar “light” tractors to come – designed to be more eye-pleasing, and, in 1936, painted red instead of gray to increase safety.

The historical sweep of the IH development parallels the history of the agricultural development of America. A picture of harvesting using a flail reminded the crowd how huge was the 1831 development of the reaper. It cut harvest time from one acre per day to one acre per hour, although it still took two men, and they had to go back to stack it.

The reaper allowed northern women and boys to harvest the fields while the men fought the Civil War in the mid-1800s. Those wheat crops financed the Union war effort, even as slave labor picked cotton to support the South. Some have said, “The reaper saved the day.”

The Chicago Fire of 1871 burned down the Cyrus McCormick factories that manufactured agricultural machines, but his wife, Nettie, encouraged Cyrus to build again. He did, and soon many other machine manufacturing companies formed to supply the booming agricultural expansion. Brutal price wars raged, creating great distress for rivals, but competition spurred positive progress as inventors sought an edge with ingenuity.

Where did the word tractor come from? One possibility is a shortening of the early descriptive name “traction engines.”

Names of machines changed as the new modifications emerged. Some old players disappeared. New lines of machines dealt with corn, along with hay and wheat.

Inventiveness brought in the gasoline engines and power take-offs. Farmall built WWII provisions like the M-1 rifle, the half-track and about 5000 high-speed (30 mph) tractors to move anti-aircraft guns and Howitzers.

To complete its line, Farmall added a plow, which brought it into full competition with John Deere – a big step. In 1919, the 17-year-old company had 54 classifications of machines.

To guarantee continuous supply and top quality, the progressive company secured ore mines, ore boats, a lumber company and even a Cuban sisal plantation for supplying twine (a favorite snack of grasshoppers).

Fiskness described his personal collection of the second generation letter series of Farmalls, built from early 1940s until the mid-1950s, when production moved on to the number series. The letters followed the size of the tractor model: the small sizes were A and B, the medium size an H, and the big tractor was the M.

Fiskness’ father, Carl, brought home a new M to his West Union Township farm in 1941 and that M is now the centerpiece of his collection.

Fiskness gave a nod to the quilters in the crowd, including his wife, Lois, and offered a tidbit of information for the sewers – The Singer Co. used IH trucks to deliver their sewing machines back in the early 1900s.

The audience was full of collectors; not only of tractors, but a wide variety of memorabilia associated with farming machinery – items that bring back memories of shared rural American experience. Attendees were encouraged to find ways to share their own stories and knowledge, for example, to write them down or get them recorded.