International Harvester to the Rescue in Wake of Tri-State Tornado of 1925

In the wake of the deadly Tri-State Tornado of 1925, International Harvester stood between farmers and crop failure.

| July 2013

When Farm Collector reader Bob Good, Harrison, Ark., read this article in a nearly 90-year-old farm magazine, the years fell away. “All the recent disasters — from the Joplin tornado to Superstorm Sandy — have been on our minds, or maybe on the hands of those who were able to assist in relief and rescue work,” he says. “When I came across this article, I thought it was timely enough to send to Farm Collector. Just a reminder, maybe, that they had storms, rescue missions and relief efforts nearly 90 years ago too — and more response than we might expect in 1925. It is also interesting to see a big company (International Harvester Co.) with a heart. Wonder what became of those 20-some tractors? Who finally footed the bill?”

With 695 deaths attributed to it, the Tri-State Tornado of 1925 remains the most deadly tornado in American history, one that wielded a lasting blow to Missouri, Illinois and Indiana.

The article appeared in the May 1925 issue of Farm Mechanics magazine. Written by young reporter Edward Jerome Dies, who went on to a noteworthy career in writing, ag marketing and public relations, the article describes an exceptional connection between the small farmer and the big manufacturer.

Part of southern Indiana was laid waste by the recent (March 18, 1925) tornado. Modern invention played a striking role in the staggering disaster that took a toll of nearly a thousand lives. First cries for succor came by radio. First medical aid went by airplane. First supplies were dispatched by motor truck, guided by messages that clattered in over tottering telegraph wires. Medical science attained a higher goal than ever before in history.

Hundreds of farmhouses had been swept away. In many instances nothing remained to mark the site except a cook stove or a farm implement. When survivors in the general district of Princeton had been properly housed and fed, a new and serious problem arose. Throughout this rich farming section spring work had just gotten well under way when the tornado struck. Farmers saw their storm-strewn fields in hideous ruin. Great numbers of farmers thereabout depend for a living solely upon melons or other truck crops.

Quick action only could save them from further ruin. They must get their crops in without delay or it would be too late. Farm horses were dead or injured. Harness was ripped and ruined. Hay and feed had been blown away. Before enough horses and equipment could be shipped in and the ground plowed it would be too late to plant the crops.

John Covert is the district supervisor of the Indiana Farm Bureau Relief. His heroic efforts in this stricken area will long be remembered. When he saw the plight of the melon and truck farmers he was for a time downcast. Then he found a way out.