Rare Treasures Heritage Hall Museum

Unique antique farm equipment reminder of South Dakota history at Heritage Hall Museum


| November 2010



Avery Farm and City tractor

As far back as the 1920s, students at Freeman (S.D.) Junior College and Freeman Academy began collecting and displaying rocks and fossils to launch what was then known as a “museum of geology and mineralogy.” Over the years, other locally significant relics – including pieces of rare, antique farm equipment – were collected. It was the beginning of what would become Heritage Hall Museum Complex in Freeman.
“In the 1930s, local farmer and taxidermist Carl Kaufmann started bringing home gas engines and small items he thought were important to Freeman’s history,” says curator Russ Waltner. “When his collection outgrew the room he had, supporters of the college began talking about housing artifacts on the grounds here. In the end, though, all of Carl’s collection ended up in Newton, Kan., at Bethel College. After that happened and so many artifacts related to our local history were shipped away, the idea of establishing a museum here grew stronger.”
Perhaps inspired by early settlers who demonstrated a strong sense of community, local residents invested time and money in the museum. A 100- by 150-foot steel building was constructed in 1974. The facility includes a climate-controlled room housing a historical library and archives. A second steel building was erected in 1998 to hold the museum’s collection of agricultural machinery.
“We’ll probably be talking about more expansion in the near future,” says museum board member Kevin Albrecht. “Several historic buildings are part of our museum. We have a blacksmith shop from a nearby town that needs some repair. It’s likely that we’ll move it inside a museum building in order to preserve it. It’s never been anything except a blacksmith shop, so it’s a pretty unique building.”

The Farm and City tractor The 1909 Avery Farm and City tractor displayed at Heritage Hall looks more like a truck than a tractor – but the progressive hybrid nonetheless represents the company’s entry into tractor manufacture. Founded by brothers Cyrus and Robert Avery in 1874, the Avery company got its start in Peoria, Ill., building cultivators and planters. By 1891 Avery was building steam traction engines.
Produced from 1909-14, Avery’s Farm and City tractor was designed to perform in the field as well as haul crops to market. It had a 4-cylinder front-mounted gas engine, and the chassis would accommodate a truck, tight box or rack. The Avery could pull four 14-in. plows, a drag or scraper, farm wagons and other vehicles. It sold for $2,500 ($58,950 in today’s terms).
The tractor’s steel-rimmed wheels were studded with 2-inch hardwood plugs, delivering traction as well as what a news account of the day referred to as a “smooth, silent ride” on paved streets. “These plugs will wear for a great many years and can be renewed at very slight expense,” noted an article in Engineering and Contracting, an industry publication of the day. “Thus it is called a city tractor as well as a farm tractor, because it can run in the city without damage to the paved streets.”
The 4,600-lb. tractor had a hauling capacity of 3 tons. It traveled at speeds of 10-12 mph and was said to be capable of “Climbing the steepest grades with its loads.” A belt pulley could be used to shell corn, run a small thresher, pump water, saw wood, bale hay and perform other functions on the average farm.

Mogul brightened farm house The museum’s 1917 International Harvester Mogul stationary engine played a significant role on the farm in the era before rural electrification. The 4-6 hp hopper-cooled sideshaft engine was used in the basement of the John J. Waltner home, rural Freeman, to charge batteries that powered lights in the family’s rural home.
Portable Mogul hopper-cooled and tank-cooled engines were indispensable on the farmstead of the early 1900s. The 1911 Chicago Daily News Almanac and Year Book described the IHC gasoline engine as “a modern-day Columbus. It is re-discovering America, opening up new avenues of opportunity, making possible new economies and improvements, abolishing the back-breaking drudgeries which drive young men and women from the farm, and setting a new standard of comfort for rural life in America.”
The Mogul was particularly prized for its fuel economy. An article in a 1917 issue of Tractor and Gas Engine Review noted that a 4 hp Mogul kerosene engine required about 5 gallons of fuel to run at full capacity for 10 hours. “Five gallons of gasoline cost close to $1,” the writer calculated. “The same amount of kerosene costs only 40 cents or so. The larger your engine and the more you use it, the more a Mogul kerosene engine saves you.”

Thresher designed for small farm An all-wood Belle City threshing machine, loaned to the museum by Parker, S.D., collector Mylo Preheim, is at the heart of the museum’s collection of antique farm equipment. Based in Racine, Wis., Belle City began producing threshing machines, feed cutters and other farm equipment in the 1890s. International Harvester added Belle City threshers to its line in 1909.
Belle City built threshers in five sizes (from 16 by 24 inches to 32 by 40 inches). Standard attachments included hand feed, self feeder, folding stacker, blower, short elevator and bagger, grain elevator with long swinging spout, weigher and bagger with cross conveyor or swinging spout. The Belle City could be powered by a stationary engine, tractor or horse power.
A compact unit, the Belle City was well-suited for the small to mid-size farm. “Very little help is required to operate the Belle City thresher,” boasted company promotional materials. “You and your boys or your hired help can handle it very satisfactorily. You do not have to pay for additional help, or pay back in work to your neighbors the assistance that you must call upon them to give you when large crews do your threshing. The work for your wife is not increased (you know how well your wife likes to cook for threshers), and you are not eaten out of house and home.” FC

For more information: Heritage Hall Museum, 748 S. Main St., Freeman, SD 57029; (605) 925-4237; online at www.freemanmuseum.org; e-mail: info@freemanmuseum.org. Museum open Memorial Day through Labor Day, Tuesday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.; Sunday, 1 to 4:30 p.m.; and by appointment. To arrange group tours, call in advance.

Loretta Sorensen is a lifelong resident of southeast South Dakota. She and her husband farm with Belgian draft horses and collect vintage farm equipment. E-mail her at
sorensenlms@gmail.com.