623 Columbia Drive, Marietta, Georgia
I am submitting a bit of factual matter concerning the great plowing contests. Incidentally, the caption for RobertE. Lee's little Russell and the wood train in the last edition should properly have been accredited to his granddaughter, Mrs. Annie Lee Day, who furnished the picture and a bit of story. I just sent in the picture and found you a new subscriber, is all. And it was a mighty fine job you did at reproducing the picture. Well, here goes . . .
These contests do not appear to have received much attention through the pages of our traction engine hobby magazines. Yet, while they are held once each year in some selected part of the United States, they do offer an excellent opportunity to combine with a good steam threshing showoff, since very large crowds of people from all over North America and some foreign countries attend. Actually, these contests are more than simple plowing events, for they reveal the results of studies by the U. S. Dept. of Agriculture and many other agencies in an effort to combat soil erosion and loss of fertility because of non-rotation of crops, non-replenishment of various soil elements through rest, cover crops, etc.
'Plowtown, U.S.A.' stems from its beginning in a regional contest first held in 1939 by Herb Plambeck, farm service director of radio station WHO in Des Moines, Iowa. The sequence was interrupted by World War II but was resumed when it became linked with national soil conservation conferences in 1946. The event is now staged under the auspices of the National Association of Soil Conservation Districts, representing 2900 conservation districts throughout the United States, with headquarters in Washington, D. C.
Each year, in advance of course, NASCD sets the rules and selects the site for the coming event. This is done from the standpoint of area improvement, agricultural potentiality, national need, etc. The 1960 event was staged at the 540-acre farm of Mr. Burton Ode, near Sioux Falls, South Dakota. This section of the country was near the upper stem of the 'Dust Bowl' of the 30's and well do I remember the havoc wrought upon the dried-out farm lands that were blown out into the middle of the Atlantic Ocean each summer, while the grasshopper pestilence got down to eating paint off houses and finally cannibalism after they had stripped every green and grey thing in that part of the country. The pestilence was so bad, with even trees suffering, that many farmers were compelled to construct a crawling entrance into but one door of their homes. These were made of gunny sacks over steel arches and resembled the entrance of an eskimo igloo. When I left those parts in 1933, after dust had drifted completely over fences and farm buildings like big snow storms, I never expected to see nor hear of a green thing growing again in what had once been the bread basket of the United States, the Red River Valley. However, through governmental aid dams were constructed, windbreak trees were planted and watered, and a great program of soil conservation study was put under way. The monument to the success of this program stands in the great recovery made and the bumper crops now again reported.
So the spectacular event has grown in size from that which numbered only a few hundred in attendance at first, to the record crowd of over 160,000 during the show-time of Sept. 21 to 23 inclusive. But it is indicated that over two years went into the planning of this single event. After selection of the site, sponsors were sought for the various phases of the works. One of these was the farm radio broadcasting station WNAX at nearby Yankton, which was assisted by the Sioux Palls Chamber of commerce and the South Dakota Association of Soil Conservation Districts. Many machinery firms spent approximately $250,000 setting up exhibits worth over five million dollars. To be counted with these was Republic Steel, which gave away 5 tons of farm-help brochures and 16,000 wire splicers for a total of about $17,000; I-H utilized 20 men for nine days to set up tents and exhibits on over a dozen lots in the 100-acre display, and before one of its grandstands which had a seating capacity of 1800 it conducted five shows daily, the finale of which consisted of eight baby crawlers doing a square dance backed by a country music band. This part of the show was narrated by Jim Hill, MC from WCCO in Minneapolis. Ford Motor also spent approximately $15,000 on 12 out of 122 lots in the exhibits. Each lot was 40 ft. by 100 ft. and rented for $180. In addition, there were numerous smaller lots for little exhibits, and also 25 machine demonstration lots each 60 ft. by 500ft., which rented for $360. A total of 82 exhibits was signed.
Massey-Ferguson of Ontario, Canada, spent about $20,000 which included a show featuring Tex Ritter for entertainment. This portion was planned eighteen months in advance. This firm also bought many tons of corncobs from local farmers to afford a more pleasant walkway over the rain-soaked ground. Yes, the rains hit this event pretty hard, too. Deere & Company used five lots for display, and exhibited their new line of four and six-cylinder engines, a breakaway from the long run of twin-cylindered jobs manufactured since the end of WW1, a long record indeed. Incidentally, this new line was unveiled a few weeks prior in Dallas, and Deere spent 2 million flying their 5000 dealers down to that event. Allis-Chalmers found considerable farmer interest in their new picker-sheller for corn, a rather expensive sort of combine. This exhibit cost some $4,000, but did not apparently include one of their new experimental electric tractors which derives its energy from petroleum fuels without combustion. One of the heaviest spenders was my old employer, J. I. Case, which spent about $30,000 on the show; over $3,000 in signs and educational displays alone. However, they were not exhibiting current lines of the same type of machinery that I took for granted back in the last days of Steam. They built their last steam engine, an Eighty as I recall, four years after I left Racine to belatedly attend University.
Whether it may be classed as entertainment or not, an added attraction to the event this year was the attendance of both Presidential aspirants, each of whom made an address before the large crowds. Likely one of these persons will have been elected ere you read this mention in The Album. While it may be remarked in passing, the information as to how much they promised to the farmers is not at hand so this is left to your surmise. The Governor of the state also attended and rendered an oration.
But the import of the plowing event soars to new highs as the winners of both level land and contour plowing contests will be flown to France during 1961 by radio station WNAX in order that they may enter international competition. Other problems involved in this gigantic and gala event included: a million-dollar liability insurance policy costing $1000 (beside the individual exhibitor policies; obtaining a release from the railway company for a crossing between parking fields; stepping up a county paving job to take care of the anticipated traffic; special power and telephone line extensions; a tanker water supply and personal conveniences; legal contracts with the farm owner, etc. Champlin Oil and Refining Company of Fort Worth supplied test fuels and lubricants and also trash collectors made from oil drums. Glamor even reared its pretty head in the contest for a 'Queen of the Furrow' finalists of which competed during the Plowtown show. The success of the entire event was quite evident as evinced in the remark of one farmer to his young son, 'Laddie, three days here is worth six months at school.'
May these events grow to include more of our historic elements. What a picture would three of the old IHC 45's make with their fifty bottoms, or what we would be most tickled to see, an old Reeves or 110 Case with 14 bottoms, a set of harrows, seeder, and packer, going right down the virgin prairie! Those great happenings have all gone to the seed of romance.
By L. J. MANN, Otterbein, Indiana
A unique 'Concert' of steam whistles from past steam-boats, trains, industrial plants and other sources, was the feature of the second annual Schweizer (native of Switzerland) Fest held in Tell City, Indiana, Monday night, August 1st. Arranged by Bert Fenn, vice-president of the Tell City Historical Society and also vice-president of the Tell City Chair Co., the whistles were blown on the roof of the Chair Company factory, whose boilers supplied the steam.
Of special interest to visiting river-men were the steam-boat whistles that had been loaned for the occasion. Prominent among them was the whistle from the St. Louis and New Orleans Anchor Line Steamer 'Gold Dust? a large single-chime brass whistle, with a bell 24 inches high by 7 inches in diameter. The Gold Dust is the vessel on which Mark Twain made a trip from St. Louis to Vicksburg, in 1882, commemorating his return to the river after an absence of 21 years and which he described in 'Life on the Mississippi'
These whistles were loaned by museums, libraries, and collectors. You were to bring your tape recorder and make a record of this event. Programs were given out so that you had a complete description of where each whistle came from. The concert was at 5:00 p.m. and you did not have to be close to hear it!
Probably the biggest whistle was a wildcat whistle from the Langstaff Planning Mill, Paducah, Kentucky, which had a bell 30 inches long and 9 inches in diameter. The plunger travels 20 inches.
There were several towboat whistles and eight whistles from steam locomotives. Mr. and Mrs. Leonard Mann, Otterbein, Indiana, were among the steam enthusiasts who journeyed to this event on the Ohio River.
The Darke-County Steam Thresher Association, Inc., held their Annual Meeting and the following officers were re-elected. Sylvester B. Ditmer, President; Charley E. Ditmer, VicePresident; Mildred Ary, Secretary; Harold Ary, Treasurer. The following directors are: Homer Holp, Asa Humston, Clark Davidson, Arthur Heiland, Elmer Egbert, Hugh Hartzell and Roscoe Shiverdecker. It was decided at this meeting to hold their 1961 Reunion, July 21, 22 & 23, on the Harvey Estey Farm, 1 miles east of Greenville, Ohio, on State Route 71. For further information, contact Mr. S. B. Ditmer, 318 Hart Avenue, Greenville, Ohio, or Mildred Ary, R.R.1, Union City, Indiana.