The 1921 Monmouth Efficiency A Farm Engine restored by Elam 'Rocky' Rockwell of Charlotte, Mich., represents one of many attempts by its original seller, the Monmouth Plow Co. of Illinois, to stay competitive in the marketplace as farming's horse-drawn era drew to a close.
'Monmouth started out as a plow company,' Rocky explained, 'but it ended up that all they had was dry goods.' And as far as Rocky can determine, Monmouth only sold engines the one year, 1921, and those engines were jobbed out to other manufacturers. His was made by the Nelson Brothers of Flint, Mich., which isn't far from Charlotte.
Rocky bought his Monmouth in November 1979 from a man who trades in engines near Ft. Wayne, Ind. 'He had something I could save,' Rocky recalled, 'so I bought it.'
Born and raised on a farm, Rocky is retired from a career with General Motors. He collects antique tractors, especially Internationals, and has several other engines, including a couple of Maytags (a single and a twin) and a complete Choremaster.
The Monmouth engine is a 1-3/4 hp Model 'N,' serial no. 17111. Several details caught Rocky's attention right off, tipping the balance in favor of its purchase. These included the spoked flywheels and the brass engine tag, the make-and-break igniter and the Webster tri-polar oscillating magneto.
'But it looked like a grease bucket,' he recalled, adding he had no knowledge of its earlier history. 'The magneto was shot, so I sent it with the igniter to Lightning Magneto in Ottertail, Minn., where Mitch Malcolm rebuilt it.'
The wrist pin was worn and a local machine shop helped him find a source of rods so he could fashion a new one. The weights had been broken sometime earlier and could not be successfully welded, but he managed to weld one back together well enough for Roy Covertt of Covertt Iron Works in Huntington Park, Calif., to cast new ones.
In preparation for repainting, he sandblasted about 99 percent of the engine and finished what was left with wire brushes before priming and painting. In the cracks and crevices, under a newer coat of red paint, he saw the engine's original color but it didn't strike a responsive chord.
'It was kind of a 'punkin' yellow,' he said, 'but I didn't want it that color.' Instead, he painted it his favorite, 'International red.'
All in all, it took about four months to get the engine running again; Rocky called the work 'a winter project.'
Later, for trucks on which to mount the restored machine -which only has to look pretty these days - Rocky bought a frame, wheels and axles at the Portland, Ind., show, and made the rest of the trucks at home.
Last year, when he was getting ready to go to the Red Power Round-up of International Harvester fans in southwest Iowa, he realized Monmouth, Ill., was only about 30 miles away, so after the round-up, he and his wife drove over to Monmouth. There, they found a treasure trove of information on the plow company at the public library.
'We spent four hours at the library,' Rocky said, remembering in particular help from a local historian who was able to produce newspaper clippings from the library's files that told the story of the firm. They also found historic drawings of the factory and foundry, and even some old-time company advertisements.
Rocky got copies of everything. 'The time spent there was well worth it to me,' he said, 'because information like that is hard to come by.'
The clippings from the library report that shortly after the founding of Monmouth Plow on Dec. 14, 1901, the firm had two 'thriving' plow factories, one at Canton and the other at Monmouth in what had been the home of Weir Plow Co.
Weir began business in 1871; in its wake, Monmouth was formed to manufacture a plow designed by W.T.M. Brunnemer, formerly of Weir. One other plow company, Pattee Plow, operated in the city at that time. According to columnist Ralph B. Eckley, writing in the 1980s for the Monmouth Review Atlas newspaper, the Monmouth Plow Co. made horse-drawn gang, sulky and walking plows; disc harrows, spike tooth harrows, cultivators, corn planters, fanning mills and hog catchers at least through World War I.
A Sept. 18, 1984, column on the company by Eckley notes, 'While the manufacture of plows was the main business at the start, the firm gradually began handling products other than those made in the factory, began selling by mail and later opened a good many stores in the area.
'The name was eventually changed to Brown-Lynch-Scott.'
As Brown-Lynch-Scott, the firm covered a mail-order territory described as 'extending from Illinois northwest to Montana and southwest to Oklahoma' and 70 percent of the sales were of merchandise manufactured elsewhere.
Rocky said he thought the switch to 'Brown-Lynch-Scott' was very telling with respect to the short-lived engine sales because the name change occurred in 1922, the year after plow sales began. Finally, according to the newspaper clips, in June 1972, the name was changed again, to Martha Brown, Ltd., to better reflect the status of the operation then, which was strictly the retail sale of women's clothing. Sometime in the 1980s, the firm reportedly closed completely.
Of Monmouth's one-year foray into engine sales, Rocky said, 'I'm sure it was just to test the waters. I've yet to see another one.' FC
For more information on Rocky Rockwell's Monmouth engine, or to let him know of the existence of other Monmouth engines or any Monmouth Plow Co. literature, write him at 1991 N. Bradley Rd., Charlotte, MI 48813.