Tracking Roots of the Happy Farmer

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A dealer’s demonstration on the Seiler farm near La Crosse, Wis., Nov. 7, 1917. Following the event, dealers from 32 states placed orders for 2,327 machines totaling $2,262,000.
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Entrepreneur Albert Hirshheimer, founder of the La Crosse Tractor Co.

The Happy Farmer Tractor Co. was incorporated in 1915 in Minnesota.

In 1916, the La Crosse Tractor Co. was incorporated; in 1917 it merged with the Sta-Rite Engine Co. Manufacture of tractors was one of several enterprises founded by La Crosse businessman Albert Hirshheimer. According to Randy Reysen’s best guess, nearly 20,000 Happy Farmer tractors were built during a run from roughly 1916 to 1922 or ’23. “A lot of people are skeptical about that number,” he says, “because the tractor is such an oddball.”

Randy, though, has a different perspective. Blending interests in steel-wheeled tractors and history, he’s writing a book on the history of the La Crosse Tractor Co. Based on preliminary research, he’s confident the Happy Farmer was more than a regional product. “Hirshheimer knew his business,” Randy says. “He knew how to sell, and a lot of these tractors were sold for export.” Happy Farmers have been found throughout the U.S., as well as in France, South America and Great Britain.

La Crosse produced six models: Model A, Model B, Model F (a redesign of the Model B), Model G (the first of the line to have four wheels), Model H (the last of the line, resembling the Model G), and Model M, a line-drive tractor (and the only line-drive tractor ever tested in the Nebraska Tractor Test program). The line-drive feature was also available on the G and H models as a factory option.

Though the company promoted its tractors as being well built and reliable, actual use suggested something different. The Reysens’ Model B, for instance, had only one original gear section on either drive wheel, and it needed to be replaced. “That means that while this tractor was being used as a field tractor, no fewer than seven gear sections had been replaced,” Randy says.

Indeed, an old saying notes the two happiest days in a Happy Farmer owner’s life: the day he got the tractor and the day he got rid of it. “In parts of Wisconsin, farmers couldn’t even sell Happy Farmers back to the dealer,” Randy says. “The dealers wouldn’t take them in trade.” Consequently, many owners stockpiled Happy Farmers for parts. FC

Read about Marshal and Randy Reysen’s restored 1917 Happy Farmer 12-24 Model B: “Happy Days for Happy Farmer.”
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