1934 MM Calendar Tells a Story

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A copy of the '34 MM calendar, featuring Lea Norgard.

Dan Shima, Eldridge, Iowa, has been collecting Minneapolis-Moline memorabilia and tractors for a long time. But last summer, when he met Lea Norgard, the original Minneapolis-Moline calendar girl of 1934, he ran into someone who had something special.

An experienced collector of all things produced by Minneapolis-Moline, Dan was in his element when he attended the third annual show put on by the Minnesota chapter of the Minneapolis-Moline Collectors Club at Rockford, Minn. The show is unique because of its location outside of Minneapolis, where MM tractors were built. The event is billed as an annual reunion for Minneapolis-Moline employees.

“It is our club,” Dan says, “but they promote it as an employees’ reunion to get as many retired employees to come as they can.”

It was a big weekend for Dan.

“I killed three birds with one stone,” he says. “I went to an MM sale which Kurt Aumann did for collectors’ members, I visited my daughter on Saturday night, and I went to the show on Sunday!”

What he didn’t count on was meeting a real-life Minneapolis-Moline calendar girl.

“I was at one end of the building, looking at members’ displays,” Dan says, “when one of my good friends came running to me and told me she had someone I had to meet.”

That someone was Lea Norgard. Dan’s friend, Phyllis Erickson, had heard that Lea and her husband, Knute (“Kay”) Norgard, were at the show with Lea’s copy of the original 1934 calendar.

The calendar, like most MM calendars, shows a Model KT in a farm scene. The KT had been “spit-shined like at the big farm shows” for the photo shoot, Dan says.

“The hubcaps are chrome, the straps that hold the gas tank are chrome, and the air breather is also chrome,” he says.

And a youthful Lea Norgard shone just as brightly. Full of an unmistakable rural exuberance, she stands proudly on the back of a Model KT – one of the first Minneapolis-Molines on rubber – clad in a simple but flowing gown, waving an MM banner.

Now 87, Lea recalls the photo shoot as a happy accident, a case of being in the right place at the right time. The calendar broke new ground: although later MM ads routinely included “Miss Minnie Moline”, Lea says it was her understanding that she was the first woman to be photographed on the tractor for official company use. But her involvement may also have been the result of her being ahead of her time: unlike most young women of that day, she knew how to drive. In fact, she had driven that very tractor in a parade put on by the city of Minneapolis as part of President Franklin Roosevelt’s National Recovery Act promoting American business. Lea worked in Minneapolis-Moline offices for six years. “She started in the spring of 1930 and worked until 1936,” Dan says. “She quit MM because she wanted to get married, and at that time, a lady couldn’t work at MM after she was married. I think that  was because, just coming out of the Depression, if a girl was working, a man with a family couldn’t hold a job.”

As Dan and the Norgards visited, he asked if the couple had an extra copy of Lea’s calendar that they would sell. At first, the answer was “no”. But as they continued visiting, Kay said they did have an extra calendar. Lea added that it was in bad shape and no one would want it. Dan the Collector just laughed.

“I told her anything is better than nothing,” he recalls. The Norgards invited Dan over to see the calendar the next day.

“It was not in perfect shape,” he says, “but it is legible. Kay had said it was in the basement in a roll, so I expected it to be musty, but it wasn’t. It’s just a little faded, and well darkened.”

He bought the calendar, and got a bonus: an 8×10 of the actual photograph that was used on the calendar, minus the banner, which was added by the art department (to see a copy of the photo, click here).

To some, such memorabilia is little more than paper, a curiosity from another time. For Dan, though, it brings the past to life. Such is the case with his 65-year-old calendar, which tells not just the days of the week in 1934, but also something about the life of a young woman in a time long since past. FC

Cindy Ladage is a freelance writer based in Virden, III.

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