Courtesy of Willard F. James, R.R. 3, 602 S. Jefferson Street, Mahomet, Illinois 61853.
THE AULTMAN &TAYLOR MACHINERY COMPANY
Mansfield's industrial life has been closely associated with the farming industry almost since the city was founded.
There were good reasons for the city's fine reputation as a manufacturer of flour, harvesting equipment and other farm equipment. Mansfield is located in a rich farming area. The railroad facilities, necessary to the success of a farm machinery maker, were good, and there was an adequate supply of hardwood nearby.
Over a period of more than 80 years, Mansfield was a leading producer of steam engines, harvesting equipment and machinery for cultivating the soil.
Soon after Mansfield and Richland County were founded there were mills turning out flour and cornmeal. These mills were located along the larger streams because they were powered by huge water wheels. When steam power became popular, these mills were increased in size and output. The development of steam power also opened the way for new industries which produced steam engines.
One of the first of these large industrial plants here was the Mansfield Machine Works on North Main Street. The plant, founded around 1840, turned out steam engines and mill equipment. As the firm grew, it moved to more spacious quarters on North Diamond Street.
Shortly after the Civil War, the firm was acquired by a group of Mansfield business leaders. Z. S. Stocking became president of the company in the 1870's. The plant then was turning out steam engines, sawmill equipment, plows and turbine water wheels. Business was so brisk that the firm had trouble keeping up with the demand for its products.
Shortly after the Civil War ended, C. Aultman of Canton and Henry H. Taylor of Chicago got together and decided to make a better threshing machine in Mansfield. Their thresher would be the vibrator type which shook the grain from the chaff and blew the straw into a stack near the thresher.
During the late 1800's and well into this century, straw stacks, as they were called, were farm landmarks throughout the Midwest in the summer. The straw was used for bedding for farm animals and as mulch in the lawn and garden. Sometimes the huge pile of straw served as protection for livestock in a storm.
Along with the big threshing machine, the Aultman and Taylor firm manufactured a steam engine that was one of the best available. These steam monsters were often seen along country roads in summer, pulling the thresher from one farm to the next.
Since a thresher outfit could be pretty costly, farmers sometimes banded together and purchased the equipment to enable them to get their wheat, oats and barley harvested at little cost. This group of farm operators was known as the threshing ring. Wives of the thresher owners had a big part in the harvest operations. They followed their husbands and the thresher from farm to farm and prepared those famous threshing dinners.
The Aultman and Taylor firm prospered and soon became Mansfield's largest employer with nearly a thousand workers. A few of those employees are still living in the Mansfield area.
The big engines bearing the familiar Aultman and Taylor starved-rooster trademark were being shipped to all parts of the nation and some went to other countries. That trademark showed a straggly chicken which was supposed to have been hungry because it got its feed from an Aultman and Taylor strawstack. The inference was that the thresher left very little grain in the straw.
By 1878 the Mansfield Aultman and Taylor plant was among the largest in the world for the manufacturer of threshers and steam traction engines. The firm's warehouse off North Diamond Street was 252-feet long and 90-feet wide, making it one of the largest frame structures in the nation at that time. The company's offices were in a frame structure on an elevation west of North Main Street and not far from Touby's Run.
The Aultman and Taylor plant used a tremendous amount of raw materials annually in the manufacture of its heavy equipment. As an example, it used 300 cars of coal, more than 500 carloads of lumber and other wood products, 326 cars of steel products and eight carloads of oil and varnish. The raw materials alone would have required a freight train more than 15 miles long to transport to the factory.
With the introduction of the motorized tractor and then the combine, farming operations began to change drastically. The familiar steam engine and thresher were on their way out. The plant here was not equipped to produce the newer farm equipment, and it began to experience problems.
By the 1920's, the gas tractors were numerous and combines were being widely used in the Western states where much of the wheat is produced.
Instead of binders which cut the wheat to be built into shocks to dry, the grain was permitted to ripen in the field and then the combines moved in to thresh it. The straw was scattered over the field instead of being built into a stack.
The familiar shocks of corn began to disappear. Combines were used to cut and shell the corn in the fall after the stalks and ears were dry in the field. The old shredders were becoming scarce.
The Amish farmers still use steam power and the threshers to harvest their grain, but most farmers have turned to the more modern equipment.
Since the Mansfield Aultman and Taylor plant was having trouble keeping pace, its employment dropped and there was trouble ahead. The firm was sold to an Indiana manufacturer in the 1920's and operations were moved out of Mansfield.
Another large Mansfield maker of farm equipment, the Roderick Lean Manufacturing Co., later Farm Tools, lasted several years longer. That company was moved here from Canada in 1874, and for a number of years it was among the city's large employers. It made harrows, plows, and other cultivating equipment in a large plant on Park Avenue East, not far from the Pennsylvania Railroad.
The Roderick Lean firm also ran into trouble in the 1920's and was placed in receivership in 1926. The plant was taken over by the Vulcan Plow Co. of Evansville, Indiana, its largest creditor. The plant here continued to operate under the Farm Tools name and did well for a time. Plows to be used with Ford tractors were made here. A change in the design of the Ford Ferguson plows meant problems for the Mansfield plant which would have to modernize at considerable expense. The plant was sold in 1948 to Schott Bros., Ohio financiers, and closed in the 1950's after 81 years in Mansfield.
'This is a Gaar Scott 12 HP that my father, Moses James, bought used in 1892his first engine. He threshed and shelled corn from then until 1941 in the vicinity of Mansfield and Mahomet, Illinois. He bought the engine used, had the boiler extended and I don't know what else but got it up to 15 HP. I wonder if anyone can tell me about when this engine was built. I have the order he signed for it dated August 31, 1892.'
So Mansfield's large farm equipment makers fell victims to the changing times and the trend to mergers, much as many of the smaller automakers did.
But Mansfield still makes buildings and equipment for farmers. A part of the former Farm Tools plant on Park Avenue East now is occupied by Moritz Inc., makers of farm trailers, livestock feeders and metal farm structures, or horse barns.
Frank Moritz, who heads the firm, said the trailers are used for transporting horses and other livestock. The feeders are placed in fields and barn lots and filled with hay. The small barns are used to house livestock. The Moritz firm employment ranges from 30 to 50.
The Martin Steel Corp. on Longview Avenue makes prefabricated metal buildings for farm use.