Farm Equipment Mastermind

Renowned salesman made his mark in farm equipment industry.

| September 2005

"Automobiles are a rich man's toy, not a stable base for a livelihood. But threshers and steam engines are a firm and practical business, because people will always want to eat bread and threshing machines will always be needed to harvest the wheat." Such was the advice Joe Tucker received after being laid off from Buick. Tucker took his brother-in-law's suggestion and went to work for Nichols & Shepard in Battle Creek, Mich., in November 1914.

In Tucker's case, it was solid advice. Tucker worked most of the next 50 years for tractor and implement manufacturers, and was known for his promotional expertise. But he was more than a flash in the pan. Tucker was the mastermind behind the Massey-Harris Harvest Brigade, a massive nation-wide plan designed to guarantee farmers new combines during World War II, when much equipment manufacture was suspended. New equipment was desperately needed to harvest crops critical to the war effort.

An ambitious young man

Joseph Maxwell Tucker was born in Calumet, Mich., on Dec. 6, 1891. At age 16, he went to work in the copper mines as a drill boy, delivering drills and dynamite to miners. He took night school courses in bookkeeping and shorthand, and got his first office job, working for George Bathrick, Nichols & Shepard sales manager. In 1917, Tucker was promoted to traffic manager.

By 1924, the farm economy was recovering from the Agriculture Depression that had started in mid-1920, but Nichols & Shepard was not satisfied with its revenues. A consultant recommended the company dismiss two branch managers; establish sales quotas based on the amount of grain grown in branch areas (rather than on the number of machines sold in previous years); and establish a branch office in Ohio. Tucker started 1925 as the manager of the new Columbus sales branch.

Four years later, on April 2, 1929, Nichols & Shepard merged with the Oliver Chilled Plow Works and the Hart-Parr Co., forming the Oliver Farm Equipment Co., a new full-line farm equipment company. (A month later, The American Seeding Machine Co. was added to the mix.) Joe Tucker was named assistant manager of Oliver's South Bend, Ind., branch, but soon after left Oliver, citing "confusion in the organization" resulting from the merger. Tucker settled into a new position as vice president and sales manager of Centaur Tractor Corp. of Greenwich, Ohio.

Back in the fold

In 1930, Oliver introduced three new models of tractors with vertical 4-cylinder engines, but held on to a dated concept - the old Hart-Parr-style tractor with horizontal engines. That commercial misstep, along with the arrival of the Great Depression, resulted in large amounts of unsold inventory and bank debt of almost $17 million at the end of that year. As a result, Oliver started 1931 with a new president and a corporate reorganization. One morning, a company leader called Tucker and invited him to stop by Oliver's offices the next time he was in Chicago. The dynamic and resourceful Tucker wasted no time. He persuaded a mail-plane pilot to let him sit on a sack of mail, and a few hours later, Tucker was in Chicago. By that afternoon, he again was an Oliver employee, and took over as manager of Oliver's Omaha branch in July 1931.