Walls of the Baker basement office covered with reminders of a busy life
As the visitor picked up his hat and note book to bid the youthful Octogenartan goodbye, he causally handed him two pictures. One showed him as a younger man swinging a scythe at the Illinois Threshermen's picnic some thirty years earlier. The other was a recent portrait of M. M. Baker, director of a tractor company that got its start on 'hay burner' and steam power and rose to top rating in the world of off-road power of farm, logger, dirt mover and warrior.
'For three generations the men of our family had invariably chosen the legal profession or followed a military career,' began Mr. Baker. 'My observations did not indicate that either offered a very remunerative return at that time, which prompted me to seek means for a Evilhood other than planned for me by my elders. Farming, farm machinery, livestock and other outdoor activities offered an overwhelming interest. Following completion of my schooling I went to work for a local concern that sold steam traction engines, threshing machines and farm implements, which led to a position with the St. Louis branch of John Deere, who at that time sold through their dealers the same line of machinery with which I was familiar. I was later employed as District Representative in Illinois for P. P. Mast and Co., established manufacturers of a popular line. This contact with their dealers and customers on sales, service and promotional work afforded me a most valuable experience, when I needed experience very much, to supplement ambition. 'In 1896 I entered The Aultman Co., as an assistant to mid-western manager, Aaron O. Auten. My duties were varied, mostly sales, collections and secretarial services to the manager. Through a drastic change in the policy of Aultman Co., each of their branches was required to incorporate as independent organizations and continue under dealership contracts. The Chicago branch was incorporated as The Western Supply Co., with a capital of $30,000,00. I was elected as director and secretary.
Harry Holt, grand nephew of Benjamin Holt, says he understands this is the first tractor built by his famous great uncle. That would probably be about 1888, as Remington came down from Oregon that year and made a deal with Dan Best to build the Remington for the world outside Oregon. The big-hitch mule-train combines were slow and dangerous and the operators were yelling for steam power. One was used around the plant at Stockton for many years and was familiarly known as the 'Bass-Ackwards Engine'. From the collection of F. Hal Higgins
'The new organization took over the Chicago and Peria offices and inventories of machinery and parts and made settlement with Aultman and Co., in cash and renewable notes for the balance and proceeded to operate independently. Shipments thereafter to the new company were settled for under their dealership contract by notes, redeemable either by customers' three year paper, without recourse, or cash, according to the terms upon which the equipment was sold. If by notes, the settlement basis was thirty-five per cent from list price. If in cash an additional ten per cent was granted. This method of financing later proved to be disastrous to the Aultman Co., though profitable to their dealers.
'Mr. William H. Colean, manager of the Peoria branch and warehouse for several years, tendered his resignation to the new company in 1898. In association with others Mr. Colean organized The Colean Manufacturing Co., for the manufacture of a competitive line of traction engines and threshing machines and built a factory and office building in East Peoria. I came to Peoria in January, 1900, following Mr. Colean's resignation, to assume management of our Peoria, branch. My first undertaking was to acquire a term lease and purchase option on a four story warehouse building between the Rock Island tracks and the river. I then incorporated 'The Illinois Warehouse Co.'
'Our principal warehouse business was with implement and machinery concerns whose practice was to continue to manufacture during the out of season period and warehouse surplus stocks' at strategic points for re-shipment to dealers during the selling season. Peoria was the central point for a Wide territory and we had all of the transfer business we could handle, which also included repair stocks. By 1903 the financial plan employed by the Aultman Co., was not working out as planned and the appointment of a receiver followed. The Western Supply Company after their settlement with the receiver withdrew from this territory. I resigned my connection with them and I proceeded in 1904 to incorporate a dealership of my own under the name of M. M. Baker and Co., taking over all of the assets of the Western Supply Co., in Peoria. The receiver for Aultman Company turned over under a very liberal agreement a large inventory of machinery parts and equipment in Illinois, which with the cooperation of our local banks we were able to sell that year to good advantage.
Benjamin Holt poses with his first Caterpillar, a steam job built in his shop at Stockton in 1904, first trials early in 1905, and offered to the trade in 1908. Paul Weston, now retired and a prominent rancher, recalls how he took the first steam Holt Caterpillar out to the Holt ranch west of town and operated it all one winter through rain and mud to see what tracks could do that wheels couldn't before this first one was designed and built. From the collection of F. Hal Higgins
'When automobiles came into the picture we secured the Maxwell and Packard agencies and established the first automobile sales and service establishment in Peoria.