Archive for the ages
Ten years of hard work. That's how long Dennis Parker thought it would take to identify and categorize 13,000 photo negatives from the Minneapolis-Moline Power Implement Co. when he began working on the project for the Minnesota History Center in St. Paul the summer of 2000.
'I wasn't sure I would live to see them all categorized,' the 61-year-old Arlington, S.D., Minneapolis-Moline aficionado says.
Trash becomes treasure
Dennis and other members of two Minneapolis-Moline collectors' clubs felt lucky the negatives existed at all, regardless of the enormous chore in store. The huge and historically important collection of black-and-white negatives was dumped from the about-to-be-bulldozed former offices of the Minneapolis-Moline Co. in Hopkins, Minn., in the 1970s. That's when John Wickre, manuscripts cataloger at the Minnesota Historical Society, got wind of the images and retrieved load after load of the firm's papers, brochures, sales literature and photo negatives from dumpsters and brought it all to the Minnesota History Center.
Though Wickre organized and cataloged many of the papers, the photo negatives lay untouched for many years. 'Nobody knew one Minneapolis-Moline tractor from another,' Dennis explains. 'So none of it was catalogued. The History Center really didn't know what to do with it.' The vast majority of negatives were the stellar work of Minneapolis-Moline's official photographer, Arthur Jensen, and dated from the time he joined the company in 1936 until he left at some point during the 1950s - prime years for Minneapolis-Moline development.
Through the years, most members of the Prairie Gold Rush and the Minneapolis-Moline Collectors' Inc. heard rumors about the negatives, and many of them, including Dennis, already had various Jensen photos in their collections. Yet, that was the extent of public knowledge about the collection until Loren Book, president of the MMCI, approached the History Center in 2000. Book convinced the center's organizers that Minneapolis-Moline club members had the expertise to catalog the photo negatives and digitize the images so they'd be publicly available.
Someone had to be first
Dennis' interest in everything Prairie Gold began in 1946 when his father, Bob Parker, bought a new Minneapolis-Moline Model U tractor. They farmed with that tractor for decades, and Dennis still owns it. He now has eight different Minneapolis-Moline tractors, including a 1937 Model Z industrial tractor, a 1941 Model U industrial, a 1953 Model U diesel row crop, a 1949 French-built Mathis-Moline vineyard tractor, a Jetstar orchard tractor, a Model 445 diesel, a Model 335 industrial and a Model R industrial tractor.
Dennis also collects Minneapolis-Moline literature and photos, which made him the perfect candidate to delve into the archive and identify the negatives. Plus, as a retiree, Dennis had much more time to devote to the task than other interested Minneapolis-Moline collectors.
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