First Things: Dedication to Common Sense

H.W. Adams spent two years testing a tractor before he started building his own.

LeslieMcManus.jpg

Content Tools

Build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door.

As theories go, that one seems founded in logic. But logic doesn't always follow in the world of commerce. Consider the Common Sense Gas Tractor Co., the subject of a fascinating article on page 24 in this issue by Bill Vossler.

Launched in 1914, the Common Sense line was a case study in tractor design. Backed by exhaustive field-testing and an unusual amount of input from farmers, the tractor looked like the real deal. Featuring unique, progressive technology, the line won rave reviews from the industry press and buyers alike. Still, just five years later, the Common Sense company fell off the radar.

Parts of the company's tale are familiar; others take unexpected turns. One aspect that caught my imagination was the story of the line's inventor, H.W. Adams. Before he started his own company, he tested a tractor in North Dakota for another manufacturer … for two years.

I like to imagine what this young man's life was like, living away from home and family, completely and totally focused on improving a tractor's design. How did he get there? By train? By car? The Model T was a mere infant (see Let's Talk Rusty Iron, page 14 of this issue). Communication with the office back in Minneapolis was surely by mail, a slow proposition. His "test lab," if he had any facility whatsoever, was surely a shed or barn of such condition that no one else wanted it.

That kind of single-minded focus is hard to find now. There are, of course, more distractions these days. We imagine life a hundred years ago to be marked by sunup to sundown work, but conducted at a less frenzied pace than what many know today. We may paint that time in romantic hues, but one thing's for sure: There were no cell phones or computers, no radios or pagers.

The farm's big old dinner bell was off limits except for official business. In case of emergency, its insistent peals sounded an alarm. When the steam engine's whistle sounded two long blasts, women back at the house knew it was time to put supper on the table (know the rest of the steam whistle code? Check out pages 36-38 of this issue). A hundred years ago, it was a beautiful system. Today, of course, we screen calls, send text messages and leave voicemail. A better mousetrap? You tell me!

Leslie McManus, Editor
lmcmanus@ogdenpubs.com