KECK GONNERMAN HISTORY

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Arnold Pierson
A nice picture taken at the A. J. Smith Farm in Little Falls, Minnesota. Courtesy of Arnold Pierson, 416-3rd Street S. W., Little Falls, Minnesota 56345.

Sr. R. R. 1, Box 10, Mt. Vernon, Indiana 47620.

Keck-Gonnerman Co., Mt. Vernon, Indiana, for three-quarters of a
century was a dominant figure in American industry in the field of
manufacture, sales and servicing of mobile steam engines and grain
threshers marketed under the trade-mark ‘Kay-Gee’.

Location of the firm from its inception until it was sold was in
Mt. Vernon, but its sales extended over grain belts in both the
United States and Canada. At the peak of its operation, it had the
largest payroll in the Mt. Vernon area with more than 200 male
employees. Moreover, 85 per cent of these employees were skilled
workmen.

The firm had branches in St. Louis, Mo., Peoria, Ill., and
Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. Threshers bearing the ‘Kay-Gee’
stamp of excellence were exported to Cuba to thresh rice. When
grain combining developed, the Mt. Vernon firm manufactured
thresher bodies that were converted by small manufacturers into
soybean combines in Michigan and rice combines in California. In
the early 1940s, Keck-Gonnerman distributed Allis-Chalmers farm
implements and the Ann Arbor baler, the first successful self-tying
baler, to dealerships in Indiana, Illinois, Missouri and Kentucky.
In the same period, thousands of ‘Kay-Gee’ straw walkers
and straw spreaders for operation with combines were built at the
Mt. Vernon manufacturing plant.

The varied and efficient skills represented in the firm’s
employees produced sizable income for Keck-Gonnerman in the
manufacture of mining machinery, begun in 1904. Before the
installation of boat building and boat servicing facilities in
large number along the Ohio River, inland water transportation
firms found the Mt. Vernon industry capable of making parts for and
repairing marine equipment and ‘Kay-Gee’ machine shops
hummed with their contribution to the expanding traffic along
Midwestern waterways. Keck-Gonnerman even devoted several years
effort to make a tungnut picker or gatherer for tungnut plantations
in the Southland.

But it was in the manufacture of mobile steam engines and
threshers (called ‘separators’ by many users) that
‘Kay-Gee’ achieved its peak operation and continental
reputation.

In the Canadian wheat belt a total of 2,210 threshing machines
of all makes were purchased in 1952. The number dropped to 701 in
1953. With the realization that the market for mobile steam engines
and threshing machines was rapidly dwindling, Keck-Gonnerman Co.
was sold in 1953 to two engineers, Harrison and Spencer, from
California who hoped to develop the manufacture of new equipment to
fit into the changing farming pattern.

Keck-Gonnerman, which exerted such a tremendous influence on
agricultural operations over all of North America and on the
economy of the Mt. Vernon area, was the outgrowth of a small
foundry established in Mt. Vernon in 1873 by John C. Woody and
Winfield Woody. John Keck, Mt. Vernon, entered the firm in 1877
when he purchased the interest of Winfield Woody upon Woody’s
death. Because of illness, John C. Woody retired in 1880 and his
interest was purchased by John Onk, Louisville, Ky., and the firm
of Keck & Onk made preparations to manufacture hollow ware.
This program ended when Mr. Onk returned to Louisville and William
Gonnerman and Henry Kuebler, both of Mt. Vernon, each purchased a
one-third interest in the business and the firm name was changed to
Keck-Gonnerman Co. The manufacture of engines, threshers, and
portable sawmills began in 1884.

Louis H. Keck, also a resident of Mt. Vernon and a brother of
John Keck, entered the firm in 1885 by buying the interest of Mr.
Luebler. In 1901, the manufacturing establishment was incorporated
as Keck-Gonnerman Co. The corporation had authorized capital of
$201,000 and the following officers: John Keck, president; William
Gonner-man, vice-president; and Louis H. Keck, secretary-treasurer.
John Keck was in charge of purchases and sales; Mr. Gon-nerman,
manufacturing; and Louis H. Keck, finances and office
management.

As the years passed, sons of the original officers joined their
fathers in the industry. Franck L. Keck, son of John Keck, William
H. Gonnerman, son of William Gonnerman, and Louis D. Keck and
Robert A. Keck, sons of Louis H. Keck, were associated with the
firm for many years. With the advent of the automobile, Grover C.
Keck, another son of John Keck, was assigned the operation of
Keck-Gonnerman Co.’s new Automotive Department. It was this
department that later became Keck Motor Co. with Grover C. Keck as
its head. It is now one of the oldest Ford Motor Company sales and
service firms in the Midwest. In 1937, officers of Keck-Gonnerman
Co. were John Keck, president; William Gonnerman, vice president;
Franck L. Keck, vice president; William H. Gonnerman,
secretary-treasurer; Louis D. Keck, assistant secretary-treasurer;
and Robert A. Keck, sales manager. Lloyd Quinn, currently the head
of Quinn Paint & Glass, Mt. Vernon, entered the employ of
Keck-Gonnerman Co. in 1937 as a bookkeeper and following World War
II became sales manager.

Chronological ‘first’ of Keck-Gonnerman Co. were:

First steam engine and thresher built in 1884.

First kerosene tractor, a two-cylinder model, built in 1918.

First tractor-size separator built in 1921.

First steel separator built in 1926.

First four-cylinder ‘Kay-Gee’ tractors built in 1928:
18-35 with a Buda motor; 25-50 with a Waukesha motor; and 30-60
with a LeRoi motor.

(The last ‘Kay-Gee’ steam engine was built in 1930 with
a 19 hp engine on a 22 hp boiler).

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