Born in 1915, the same year his father bought an International Harvester Co. dealership in Mt. Vernon, South Dakota, Wally Scott does not remember a time when he didn’t work at the dealership. “I was there from the time I was knee-high to a grasshopper,” he says.
So he was in good company at a reunion of South Dakota International Harvester dealers and sales reps held in conjunction with the Red Power Round Up (RPRU) in Huron in June. “It was the first reunion of dealers and reps here in 25 years,” Show Chairman Steve Masat says, “and the first time a reunion was held as part of a Round Up.”
At 99, Wally was the dean of the group. Born just 13 years after International was formed, he has seen almost unimaginable change in the industry. “There’s been a lot of positives and negatives over the years,” he admits, “but there’s always been more positives.”
Lewis E. Scott was just 25 when he purchased Helgerson Implement Co. in Mt. Vernon in 1915. As World War I ended, the farm economy went into a nose dive. “People had borrowed too much,” Wally says. “Then Dad got a call from the depot that a carload of 21 or 22 Titan tractors had arrived. But he hadn’t ordered those tractors. So he called the district manager to ask what to do. He told Dad to unload the tractors and said, ‘Don’t worry; I’ll take care of it.’”
Six months later, with the tractors still sitting in limbo, invoices from the parent company began to accumulate. Lewis gassed up the Buick and drove to Sioux Falls to meet face to face with the district manager. Decades later, details of the meeting are as clear in Wally’s mind as the first time his father spoke of them.
“You told me you’d take care of this,” Lewis said to the man. “Yes,” the district manager said, “that’s what I told everybody. But they’re yours. You’d better pay for them.”
The dealer’s price for a Titan was about $900. But it might as well have been $9,000. “Dad had no money for those tractors,” Wally says. Lewis was forced to mortgage his farm to pay for the Titans. From then on, his counsel to all who’d listen was a hard-learned lesson. “Have a little and have it paid for,” Wally recited. “Don’t get out on a limb like me.”
The Agricultural Depression of the 1920s was merely the opening salvo for Lewis and his young family. As the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl tightened their grip on rural America, the Scotts found a way to hang on. “Those were tough years,” Wally says. “You just had to fight to keep your head above water in those years.” Arrival of World War II did nothing to ease matters. New equipment was unavailable; labor was scarce.
Wally joined his father as a partner in the dealership in 1936. In 1962, Wally applied for an International dealership in nearby Mitchell; he made the move later that year. The family operated both dealerships until 1965 when Lewis died; then the Mt. Vernon location was closed. “If it hadn’t been for Gladys, my sweetheart of 70 years, we wouldn’t be in Mitchell,” Wally says, recalling his late wife. “She always encouraged us to keep going.”
Wally’s sons, Bob and John, joined the dealership in 1963 and 1974 respectively. Bob’s son Chris now represents the fourth generation of the family to work at the dealership; he joined the operation in 1994. By then, what is now known as Scott Supply Co. was a long way from the days when a team of horses was accepted as a down payment for a Farmall Regular.
Even now, Wally keeps a close eye on it all. Every other week or so, all summer long, he mows 10 or 12 acres around the dealership. “I like to have something to do,” he says. “It keeps me out of mischief.” FC
Want more from the 2014 Red Power Round Up? Read Red Power Round Up Features International Harvester.