Beating Wartime Restrictions: Massey-Harris' Harvest Brigade
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Tucker also contended that the self-propelled 12-foot and 14-foot machines would save the 500,000 bushels typically lost when tractors drawing combines crushed grain-heavy stalks while opening up fields. Convinced, the board granted enough materials to Tucker to build 500 more combines than called for in Massey’s 1944 quota limit. Sales of the extra 500 self-propelled machines were restricted to custom operators who agreed to take delivery at the southern edge of the grain belt and to harvest at least 2,000 acres each.
Tucker planned the harvest like a military operation. The May 1944 issue of Farm Journal said, “Organized like an army, these men will slash their way from southern Oklahoma to Canada. ‘Scouts’ will precede them and line up the work. Technical and supply ‘sergeants’ will be along to help keep machines in repair. Combine operators will be ‘lieutenants,’ and there will be a full complement of ‘captains,’ ‘majors,’ ‘colonels’ and a ‘general.’ When the campaign is over, there will even be ‘decorations,’ in the form of War Bonds, for those who cut the most grain.”
Massey-Harris dealers and block men were the “captains” and “majors,” branch managers were the “colonels” and Tucker, creator of the plan, styled himself the “brigadier general.”
Harvest Brigade at full force
In May, the Harvest Brigade began its “elegant, light-armored blitz” by cutting flax in Texas and California’s Imperial Valley. The California detachment moved north, cutting rice and barley in that state and a large part of the wheat crop in the Pacific Northwest. Heavy rains delayed the Plains detachment’s movement into northern Texas and Oklahoma, but once they got going, the bright red No. 21 combines made steady progress. By July, they’d marched through Kansas, Colorado and Nebraska. By August, they reached the Dakotas, and by September, the Canadian wheat fields.
Being a good salesman, “General” Tucker took full advantage of the campaign’s public relations potential. He had large, white signs painted with blue letters, saying “Massey-Harris self-propelled harvest brigade,” and had the signs affixed to the grain tanks of every one of the red combines. He also cued magazines, newspapers and radio stations, so they could follow the Brigade’s northward progress. In a sour-grapes note, Farm Implement News editor Elmer J. Baker Jr. wrote, “After reading all the press dispatches ... on the progress of the Massey-Harris Brigade, we are about to declare an open season on Joe Tucker, the instigator of said Harvest Brigade. No man has the right to pull the whiskers of publicity out by the roots and wave them derisively at honest competition the way Joe is doing.”