Mansfield That Was reprinted from the News Journal of Mansfield, Ohio

By Staff
article image
Willard F. James
Courtesy of Willard F. James, R.R. 3, 602 S. Jefferson Street, Mahomet, Illinois 61853.


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

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

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

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

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

‘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

The Martin Steel Corp. on Longview Avenue makes prefabricated
metal buildings for farm use.

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