Steam Traction: The Aultman & Taylor Company

The 14th installment of Dr. Lorin E. Bixler's history of the Aultman & Taylor Company appeared in Steam Traction.


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Dr. Bixler, a professor at Muskingum College in New Concord, Ohio, passed away before he could publish the manuscript to which he had devoted considerable energy. Several manuscripts belonging to Dr. Bixler are in the Sherman Room of the Mansfield/Richland County Public Library in Mansfield, Ohio.

Advertising was one of the most important elements in the marketing of Aultman & Taylor machinery. The officials of the company were imaginative and aggressive in devising new methods by which the public and particularly farmers and threshermen were made aware of the company's products. The United States mail was the chief avenue for the distribution of advertising materials. Much of the firm's promotional literature was handed out at the fairs and expositions where Aultman & Taylor machinery was exhibited. Along with advertising, the company developed a program of public relations designed to build good will, and nothing was left undone to achieve that end. In addition, it will be of interest to describe several of the firm's more dramatic means of advertising; one of these was referred to as the 'Royal Train.'

The Royal Train

One of the gimmicks used by a number of companies to call attention to their machinery was a special train loaded with equipment. It is not altogether clear as to which company began the use of such trains, but J.I. Case and Avery were among the foremost.1 Nevertheless, the Aultman & Taylor people laid claim to being the originators of the special train, for it was in 1874 that they shipped 76 threshers to Kansas. They were also the first company to ship a trainload of machinery to a foreign country. During 1891 they shipped a train filled with equipment to Mexico, a distance of 3,200 miles.

The special trains had many of the earmarks of a circus and were a unique and dramatic means of making products known to farmers and threshermen.

Perhaps it is within the realm of possibility to join the crowd of people along the railroad tracks in Mansfield and to enter vicariously into the experience of a day when a train of 30 cars loaded with Aultman & Taylor machinery pulled out of the yards. Even to this day there are a few of those living who in a nostalgic mood recall the experience of seeing that train and sensing the high emotion that prevailed among the thousands of people who witnessed it on that May morning of 1892. It was the kind of experience that was never forgotten.

On Sunday, May 8, several thousand people visited the Union Depot in Mansfield to inspect the Aultman & Taylor Machinery Company's train of machinery that was destined for the far West. For many days workmen had been busy loading the equipment on the cars. The train extended back to the Fourth Street crossing in Mansfield, from which point the train began its long journey.

This special train left the company yard at 8 o'clock on Monday morning, May 9, loaded with threshing machines, horsepowers, engines, water tanks, swinging stackers, etc., bound for Omaha, Neb. Shipments of this kind were no longer a novelty, but there was one departure in the case of this train. An engine and separator were belted up and in full operation in charge of James Boles, a machine expert. The equipment was valued at $90,000. The train was decorated with bunting and flags.

A special car was attached to the end of the train that carried Chester Miller, the freight agent of the Pennsylvania Railroad Company, and D.H. Maloney, the general freight agent for the Chicago and Rock Island Railroad. In addition to these gentlemen the following representatives of the firm accompanied the train as far as Crestline: J.E. Brown, president, James Reynolds, Arnold Kalmerten, W.A. Habeson, J.F. Stine, William Ackerman and George Knofflock, all of whom were influential members of the organization.

The special coach that carried the above party was also loaded down with circulars that were distributed at the various stations as the train made its way to the West. When a representative of one of the local newspapers boarded the train, he was treated to fine cigars and accorded every courtesy in keeping with the event.

The cheers of the crowds of spectators along the track were almost continuous from Fourth Street to the waterworks reservoir.

The train was on the road five days before it reached Omaha. It moved slowly for the purpose of giving the people along the route an opportunity to view the sight of this unusual train. It was taken to Chicago over the Pennsylvania Railroad, leaving each of the stations on the way: Crestline, 9:15 a.m.; Bucyrus, 10:50 a.m.; Upper Sandusky, 11:50 a.m.; Forest, 12:40 p.m.; and Lima, 2:15 p.m. It arrived at Fort Wayne at 6:00 p.m. It left Fort Wayne the next morning and then left Englewood via the C.R.I. and P. railroads. The train made brief stops in the towns of Illinois and remained at Rock Island during the night. It reached Des Moines, Iowa, on Thursday evening and left the next morning, arriving at Council Bluffs, Iowa, on Friday evening. On Saturday morning the train was taken across the Missouri River and delivered at the company's branch house in Omaha.

The Dialogue

In 1880 the company published a unique pamphlet that contained a dialogue proclaiming the unquestionable merits of Aultman & Taylor machinery. On the front cover was a picture of the firm's trademark.

The introduction in the pamphlet stated that the dialogue and the accompanying letter had been prepared for farmers and threshermen in America, as well as in foreign countries where Aultman & Taylor machinery was used, and wherever grain was grown. The pamphlet was distributed free of charge to 'every intelligent man and woman who feels an interest in the proper threshing of grain.' It stated that threshing machinery was 'a natural ally of the fair sex' and was an active champion of 'the rights of farmers' wives and daughters.' The letter was a compilation of testimonial letters received from their customers.

The dialogue was used at school exhibitions and by literary societies. The one-room rural school made many contributions to the education of past generations and was one of the most popular of all institutions of the 19th Century. Recognizing the potential of the schoolhouse for advertising the company's products, the firm seized upon the opportunity to use its social and educational functions to promulgate information about Aultman & Taylor machinery. To encourage the use of the dialogue, the company sent a certificate to be given to each person who was a participant in the play. The certificate was engraved and signed by the trustees or directors of the school district.


The dialogue is valuable for another reason. More than any other document in existence, it gives the most complete explanation of the Aultman & Taylor separator and clover huller attachment built during the 1880s.

The dialogue was an effective vehicle for dramatizing the advantages and disseminating the merits of Aultman & Taylor machinery. It may have been overdone, but it was couched in the kind of language that the ordinary farmer could understand, and there was enough humor to hold the attention of the audience. At the same time the points that the company wished to emphasize were a part of the content, so that the listener was caught up in the ongoing theme of the dialogue. Listeners became gradually convinced that no other machinery in the world could possibly do the kind of work that was claimed for the 'Starved Rooster' machine.

The following excerpts are presented with the hope that they may indicate the nature of the subject matter, the style, and the method of staging the dialogue.

The characters in the dialogue were five boys and two girls: Mr. Robinson, a farmer living in St. Joseph County, Ind.; Bill Simmons, the miller, proprietor of the Empire Mills; Mr. Jones, a farmer living in Elkhart County, Ind.; Mrs. Robinson, wife of Farmer Robinson; Mrs. Jones, wife of Farmer Jones; and boys and girls. Costumes were of that period.

Jones 'See here, you, Mr. Miller, I've a crow to pick with you. How does it come that you pay my friend, Mr. Robinson, five cents more for the same kind of wheat than you pay me? You said my wheat was good, and I know it is the same kind of wheat that Robinson sold you. It doesn't seem like a fair shake. I haul my wheat 30 miles, and Robinson hauls his five miles, and you pay him more for the same kind. Do you think that is just?'

The Miller 'No oh no, that would not be right if the grain was in every particular the same; I have put your wheat and Mr. Robinson's in separate bins, as they do not grade alike at all, and now I will bring a sample of each, and I think I can show you to your entire satisfaction that there is fully five cents a bushel difference in the market value of the two in favor of your friend, Mr. Robinson's wheat (brings samples of wheat). This sample of wheat I bought of Mr. Robinson this morning; you cannot but notice how entirely free it is from broken and cracked grains, cheat, dirt, etc. This sample is from the wheat I bought from you, which, in the straw, was quite as good or better than Mr. Robinson's, but you see there is a large percentage of cracked and broken grains, cheat, cockle, broken straw and dirt in it. And now let me explain to you that the price of wheat is governed in large measure not only by the kind and quality of the grain but very much by the condition in which it comes to the market.'

Robinson 'Hold on, my friend, you are wrong about my having run my wheat through a fanning mill; you see it now just as it came from the threshing machine.'

Jones 'Now see here, Robinson, you don't pretend to tell me that there is a thresher in all Christendom that will thresh wheat and clean it like that?'

The Miller - 'Just a word, Mr. Jones, right here; there is a vast difference in threshing machines now-a-days; there has been wonderful improvements made in threshing machines in the last eight or 10 years; we are always willing to pay from three to five cents per bushel more for grain threshed by what is known as the 'standard thresher of the vibrator class,' what is better known among farmers (on account of the peculiar trademark) where it is in use as the 'Starved Rooster' thresher, manufactured by 'The Aultman & Taylor Company' at Mansfield, Ohio, than for wheat threshed by the endless apron make of threshers, or in fact any other make that we know of.'

Robinson 'Yes sir, Jones, I know what the miller has said to be true, and I do pretend to say that there is a threshing machine called the 'Starved Rooster' that will not only thresh and clean your wheat just as you see mine has been threshed and cleaned, but that will do some other things no other machine will or can do. If you will sit down with me on this pile of bags, I will tell you what else it will do no other machine that I have ever seen, heard of, or expect to see or hear of, can do; that is, she will thresh all kinds of grain and seed, in any condition, in all kinds of weather, wet or dry, hot or cold, and I will prove it by my own experience before I am through talking to you about it; and now, Jones, just as you see this load of wheat I brought up this morning, she will do her work every time; besides, in 10 years she will save a man a little fortune.'

Jones 'Look here, Robinson, I am getting interested; I see why I have lost five cents on the bushel this morning, but what in thunder do you mean by saving a man a fortune in 10 years? This - what d'ye call it?'

Robinson -''Starved Rooster,' standard thresher of the vibrator class.' Jones 'Yes! yes! Starved Rooster business, that's it.'

Robinson 'You see there is five cents a bushel you have lost this morning, on account of imperfect separation and cleaning; now add to this fact that the 'Aultman & Taylor' machine will save more grain than the endless apron does, to pay your threshing bills and other expenses connected with the threshing, and the further fact that the Aultman & Taylor will do your work in half the time, and that you have a lot of hands and horses around you for a week, to eat you out of house and home, working your women to death, roasting their brains over the cook stove, and putting them in such bad humor that it takes a whole week for them to get over it. Now after taking all these things into consideration, you will begin to have some idea of what it costs you each year to have your grain threshed by the endless apron and other grain-wasting, time-losing machines.'

Jones 'You talk about getting a job done up so quick, I don't see into it; it sorter puzzles me how that they do the work and faster than any other machine.' Robinson 'Well, you see, Jones, it's altogether different from your endless apron rattle traps; it has no beaters, pickers or raddles to wrap, clog, or wind up with straw. I have seen threshermen spend hours unwrapping old beaters and pickers; besides, endless apron threshers are more subject to breakdown than a man with ague. They shake all to thunder in a few years. I have no patience with a man that will buy such a machine. I hardly know which is the biggest fool, the man that buys or the man that employs them.'

Jones 'Robinson, how are you going to shake the grain out of the straw, if you dispense with beaters and pickers? How does your 'Starved Rooster' machine manage it?'


Robinson 'Well, as I told you, it is differently built from all other machines used for threshing; separation commences at the cylinder, and it has the whole length of the machine to separate over; it has seven sets of rakes or fingers, which bounce up and down like a 'hen on a hot griddle', and knock the stuffing right out of the straw, and you get all your grain in the half bushel and bags, instead of having part of it carried into the straw stack; besides, the riddles are as big as a town lot, and they use the over blast instead of the under blast. These are a few of the reasons, which explain the cleanness of my grain. This curious arrangement of shaking the straw up so lively, and the wonderful separating capacity, prevents the possibility of any grain going over with the straw into the stack. Now don't you see the parable of the 'Starved Rooster' unfold to you like the dawning of a summer morning?'

The Miller 'Mr. Jones, I hope our friend Robinson has enlightened you on the subject of threshing and threshing machines, and that you are fully convinced that I did not take advantage of you in our grain deal this morning.'

Jones 'When a man sees a thing with his own eyes, he is bound to believe. I do see that Robinson's grain is much cleaner than mine, free from cracked grains and worth five cents a bushel more than mine.'


The Miller -'Well, Mr. Jones, I trust that you will profit by this information and either buy yourself, or persuade your threshermen to buy, an Aultman & Taylor machine next season. I can assure you this one thing, that it will prove a source of profit to you and your neighbors, in saving your grain and in time, and in securing for you a better price for your grain, to say nothing about the great satisfaction it ought and certainly will afford every thrifty farmer, too, that the fruits of his hard labor was garnered in his granary instead of being in large measure thrown away. I am not paid for talking up any particular thresher, or prejudiced in favor of any manufacturer of threshers, but I am interested in having all the grain our farmers raise not only saved, but as well in having it come into the market in the best possible condition, and since these very desirable ends can only be accomplished in the transit of the grain from the straw to the sacks, it is the duty, I think, of every farmer to look well o the kind of machinery he employs to do this work, and it seems these Mansfield people have solved the problem of perfect grain threshing. This much I will promise, that I will cheerfully pay you from three to five cents per bushel for your wheat threshed by one of the standard threshers of the vibrator class, manufactured at Mansfield, Ohio, than I will for wheat threshed by any other make now in use; and now that this Aultman & Taylor concern has developed and perfected a machine that is as superior to the endless apron machine as the endless apron machine was superior to the flail and old 'Ground Hog' machine, it is a duty every farmer owes to himself, to his miller, and to the grain dealer, to patronize that machine. Every well-to-do and influential farmer should talk it up among the threshermen and insist that they operate Aultman & Taylor grainsaving, time-saving, money-making machines; and a refusal to do so should be sufficient reason for withholding their patronage from those who persist in the use of these old grain-wasting, time-losing, money-losing machines.'

Simmons 'She is 'Queen of the Tribe,' and knocks the old endless apron and all other makes of machines I ever heard of into a 'cocked hat.' I can just make her do anything in the line of threshing grain or seeds, except to crack and break it, and that she won't do; that's settled. Next to my wife and babies I prize that thresher most. She has made me a little farm, built me a comfortable house and barn, and has won for me the warm thanks of the farmers because with it I have threshed, cleaned, and saved all their grain and seed which they worked so hard to raise. Why Jones! just look at her, is it any wonder the women are in love with her? I tell you Jones, she is a 'woman's rights' machine, and don't keep them cooking and baking and stewing a whole week over a hot cook stove, to feed a lot of hungry men, when the same job can be done in a day. When I was running the old endless apron thresher, the women looked as sour as a 'pickle keg' when I came around to do their threshing for them; but since I have the 'Starved Rooster' they look happy, and give me a welcome when I come, that you would think it was only to be a picnic. Why, the very girls are all partial to the boys that help me run my machine. Now come here, Jones, and I will show you how she does it. You see, to commence with, she has a heavier and better cylinder than other machines; the spikes are better arranged and more of them, so that every grain is knocked out of the head to start with; the concaves are grated, so that separation begins at the cylinder, what grain passes through concaves is carried back to the sieves, and what passes through with the straw is sifted out by the agitating fingers or rakes, of which there are, as you see, seven sets worked by these adjustable cams; if you want more agitation in the straw (which you always need in damp grain) all you have to do is to tighten up these cam straps, that raises the fingers higher and gives all the motion necessary to thoroughly separate the grain from the straw before it reaches the rear of the machine. Now, look here, Jones: You see the upper conveyor is all slat-work, so the grain falls through into the lower conveyor (which has a solid bottom) and is carried back and delivered into the sieves, where there is over 12 feet of sieve surface to clean over. Now add to these things the advantage (gained over other makes of threshers) of this over blast fan, and it makes the saving and cleaning of the grain or seed thorough and perfect. Here is another nice contrivance, a lever called the 'belt- tightener' with which to tighten the belts; this saves the time and trouble of cutting and sewing belts. Here, too, is the concave adjuster with which you raise or lower the concaves; you will readily see, from the peculiar construction of this machine, that there is no possibility of litterings, which is not the case with other machines, which take from one to two hours to clean up. Say, Robinson! did you explain the clover huller attachment to Jones?'

Robinson 'Why no! I forgot about it. Strange, too, that I should not think of it when you done the finest job of hulling ever done in my barn!'

Simmons 'I tell you, Mr. Jones, the Allonas Clover Hulling Attachment is one of the greatest inventions of this age. In 15 minutes I can change my Aultman & Taylor thresher to a perfect clover huller, and I can hull two bushels of clover seed while the best double-cylinder huller in America hulls one, and clean it so perfectly that the seed will always bring the highest price in the market. No need of running it through a fanning mill, for it will be thoroughly cleaned when it comes from my machine.'

Jones 'Now, Simmons, you don't pretend to tell me that you can hull clover seed on a threshing machine? That's spreading the thing on a little too thick.'

Simmons 'Yes, sir, I do pretend to say that I can do that very thing, and as 'proof of the pudding is in eating of it' if you will just step here to this granary, I will prove to you that I have only told you the facts. Right here in this bin is 60 bushels of clover seed hulled in one day from a 20-acre field, and hulled, too, by that same 'Starved Rooster' machine that you have been looking at.'

Jones 'Simmons, you don't mean to say that you hulled 60 bushels of that seed in one day and on your threshing machine? Why, that is the cleanest seed I have ever seen. I would like to know how you hull clover seed on a threshing machine, and do such work at that.'

Simmons 'That's what I mean to say, John Jones, I can hull 80 bushels of clover seed on that 'Starved Rooster' machine with my Allonas Hulling Attachment and clean it just as well as this in my bin; and now I'll show you how it's done; you see this shelf is a hulling concave; I just drop this at the rear of the cylinder, and bolt it fast to the post of the cylinder frame; then this solid concave I drop in next, the same as you would any concave; with these little bars of iron I close up the cracks between the concaves, and also the grate work in the two threshing concaves, which I use in the front. I then put the grain board in the proper place, change my riddles, shutting off the draft in the windmill, using just enough to clean the seed thoroughly, and then I am ready for business. You see that it is only the work of a few minutes to make the change, and that here is another saving to the farmer. The same machine threshes perfectly, and without waste, your wheat, oats, barley, Hungarian timothy, flax and clover seed, without pulling stakes, and of course without the loss of time and annoyance of having a second machine and another threshing spree.'2

Other Kinds of Advertisements

Frequent use was made of a variety of publications. The one nearest at hand was the newspapers. During several months of each year the newspaper carried a half and full-page advertisements of Aultman & Taylor machinery. The pictures in those advertisements were accompanied by statements or explanations that suggested the outstanding features of the machinery. Advertisements also appeared in the American Thresherman and many of the farm journals.

Circulars, catalogs and similar materials in great quantities were sent out through the mails. For example, in January of 1892 Aultman & Taylor mailed the largest quantity of material ever sent out by one firm in Mansfield. They sent during that month 540,000 pieces of mail. It was decided that such a vast number of pieces of mail seriously interfered with the usual routine in the Post Office, since the quarters were cramped. So a method of handling that vast quantity of mail was adopted by the postmaster and the mail clerks:

The wrappers for the circulars were brought to the Post Office and canceled, after which the circulars were enclosed in the wrappers. To avoid delaying sending them through the Mansfield Post Office again, the postal clerks who laid over at Crestline went to the Aultman & Taylor office and sorted them into states preparatory to taking them directly to the train. It was assumed that this way of handling such a large bulk of mail was perfectly legal.3

Another means of advertising was by the exhibition of Aultman & Taylor machinery. The company showed its equipment at the state and county fairs, as well as the great world's fairs. At many of those expositions the company won gold medals for its machinery.

A number of the companies devised stunts for the demonstration of traction engines. The author recalls a rather simple stunt that the Aultman & Taylor people used in demonstrating their engines at the fairs. The steering chains of the engine were so adjusted that, when the engineer turned the front wheels in toward the boiler, the engine would move continuously in a circle. From time to time the engineer would check the water and throw a few shovels of coal into the firebox, and then he would leap off the platform while the engine would continue to move in a circle without an engineer. There was usually a crowd of fair-goers standing nearby gawking at that engine without an engineer. By the time the fair came to an end, the engine had dug a furrow or ditch eight or 10 inches deep.

Merchants have often made use of a lottery to advertise their business. This is illustrated by the involvement of the Aultman & Taylor Company in such a deal. The company sold a thresher to a local merchant and entered into an agreement to have the thresher given away to a customer. On Dec. 1, 1883, the firm sold a separator to Schonfield and Frederick, who were merchants in Mansfield. That separator was built especially for the company's exhibition at the world's fair.4 The company officials sold it much below cost, since it was their desire to have the separator somewhere near the factory. It was the most elegantly finished thresher they had ever built. The list price was $400, but they stated that they would not build another one like it for less than $700.

The merchants presented to each customer a guarantee ticket that on July 1, 1884, one of their customers would get the Aultman & Taylor thresher free of charge. Each edition of the newspapers for seven months carried a full-page advertisement of Schonfield and Frederick in which the customer was urged to purchase merchandise and was informed that along with his purchase he would be given a ticket for a chance on the Aultman & Taylor thresher. A picture of the thresher appeared with each advertisement. In this way, a product of the Aultman & Taylor Company was before the public from Dec. 1, 1883, to July 1, 1884, or a period of seven months.5

Another scheme had an appeal to those of musical inclinations. The company published songs for the organ and piano. The title of one such song was 'The Jolly Thresherman.' The title page was finely lithographed. At the center of the page was a portrait of the ideal young thresherman with scenes at dinner and at a dance. At the corners of the picture he was shown as a husband, father and patriot. It was claimed that the poetry was superior to that of the average sheet music of that day. The song was set to music from the famous popular opera H.M.S. Pinafore by Gilbert and Sullivan. It was advertised in several of the firm's publications and was sent free of charge to anyone who wrote to the company and requested a copy.

Through the use of newspapers, magazines, drama, trademark and other methods, the company succeeded in bringing its machinery to the attention of the farmer, the thresherman, and the general public.


1. Holbrook, Stewart. Machines of Plenty. New York: Macmillan, 1955. 112-15. This source gives a detailed description of the trappings of the Case special trains.
2. A Dialogue. Cleveland: Short and Foreman.
3.  The Sunday Shield, May 9, 1892.
4.  Rhode notes that Dr. Bixler's text contains a discrepancy. Dr. Bixler gives the dates as 1883 and 1884, but he cites a publication from 1880 (below). Logic demands that the date of the publication fall during or after 1884. Also, Dr. Bixler's manuscript states that the world's fair was held in St. Louis. The Louisiana Purchase Exposition took place there in 1904. Perhaps he had in mind the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia in 1876. The only other world's fair of any size occurring within a decade of Dr. Bixler's dates was the Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893.
5. Mansfield Herald, April 29, 1880.

Next issue in Chapter 15 : A detailed look at litigation and personnel in the Aultman & Taylor Company's later years, all in the March/April issue of Steam Traction.