The following history; is excerpted from an unpublished manuscript titled History of Town 3 S. Range 4 W. and Vicinity, written in 1951 by John H. Weber of Ferdinand, Indiana. The manuscript was sent to us by Jerry Kitten, Rt 2, Box 6, Slaton, Texas 79364
Mr. and Mrs. Florenz J. Kitten, Sr. on April 29,1902. Florenz J. Kitten Sr., born October 25, 1840 in Germany, died March 22, 1920 in Ferdinand, Indiana. His wife, Katherina Leigers Kitten was born June 1, 1850 and died May 6, 1829
Florenz J. Kitten, Sr., a son of Henry and Theresia Heeke Kitten, was born in Germany October 25, 1840. His father, who was a maker of wooden shoes, came with his family to Dubois County in 1850 and settled on a farm northwest of Ferdinand, Indiana, now owned by Fred Hoffman. Here Florenz grew up and received his education in the Indian Creek School, located on a farm now owned by Valentine Fleig. On the Kitten farm was one of the old time upright water powered saw mills. It was located on the Hunley Creek 100 feet south of the steel bridge, southwest of Steel Bridge Station on the Ferdinand Railroad. Florenz took a great deal of interest in the mill and sometimes operated it. He left the farm when he was 19 years of age and took up carpenter work, which he followed until 1868, when he married Miss Katherina Ligers. A son, Joseph F. Kitten, was born to them July 9, 1870. In 1868 he built a home for himself and his bride but he also built a machine shop in his home and began to make threshing machines. After several unsuccessful attempts to use wind power to run the house shop, a wire cable was stretched across Indiana Street to Peter Mueller's mill. From this steam operated flour mill the house shop was run with steam by remote control. The first Kitten separator was tried out on the Gerhard Auffart farm. This separator and the first portable Kitten engine was sold to Fidelius Jerger and Michael Egler, who used the Ferdinand-made machinery with much success.
As his business increased, he built a shop and then added to it from time to time until it took on the present form, size and importance. A foundry was built in connection with the main shop. In 1882, he commenced the manufacture of traction engines and in 1885 he had built three of them.
The Kitten machines were invented and manufactured especially for this community but were also successfully used in other states.
In 1882, John Ritter of Mariah Hill, George Smith and John Braunecker of St. Henry reported that they had threshed 112 crops with a Kitten separator. The average income per crop was $20 and a total income for the 1882 season was $2240.
In 1883, John Baeunlein and Senninger Kleuh, threshermen of near the Spencer County line, reported that they experimented to hull clover with a Kitten separator on the Joseph Denning farm. They successfully hulled 24 bushels but the Victor clover hullers came into Dubois County at that time and the Kitten separators were not often used to hull clover. One of the first Victor hullers were sold to Frank Klee, H. Winkenhoefer and H. Hastedt of Huntingburg. Behrens Bros, and Herman Beckmann were the first agents for the Victor clover hullers.
In 1901, Albert Homey bought a new Kitten separator from Florenz J. Kitten of Ferdinand. Henry Dufendach, a pioneer businessman of Huntingburg owned a farm southeast of Huntingburg, east of the Dubois County Fairgrounds. Mr. Homey was engaged to thresh the wheat on that farm and to try out his new famous Kitten separator. Mr. Dufendach invited a few of his personal friends to be present on that occasion. One of his guests was the Hon. Ernest W. Pickhardt, editor of the Huntingburgh Signal and publisher of the Huntingburgh News, who has preserved Mr. Dufendach's story in the files of the Signal. The new Kitten separator was doing good work under the able management of Mr. Homey, and everyone was in a happy mood. Soon Mrs. Dufendach and other ladies were ready to serve lunch to the workers and visitors. The fine lunch and the successful operation of the separator put 'Uncle Henry' in a reminiscent mood and he related a brief history of pioneer threshermen and threshing machines. He said that about 45 years ago (1856) the first thresh machine was brought into that community by Capt. J.J. Alles of Celestine and a man by the name of Flemming and was operated on the farm of Ben Niehaus, then County Commissioner, west of Huntingburg. Almost an entire week was required to thresh Commissioner Niehaus' crop. The thresh machine was a 'Groundhog.' It would knock the grain out of its shucks but they had to be followed with a windmill to separate the wheat from the chaff. The Groundhog was therefore called a thresher but not a separator.
John Weber, Sr., father of the writer, on a visit to Germany in 1876 observed a thresh machine at work on a German farm. The German farmer watched this then modern threshing machine with great pride. He was proud that they could show to an American, who had been a native of their community, how much progress had been made in Germany during his absence of 16 years. The German farmer said to my father, 'You have no such machines yet in America.' My father replied, 'Yes, we have thresh machines in America too. When you have finished threshing, your grain is still in the chaff but when we have finished our threshing, the wheat has been separated from the chaff and all ready to use, sell or store away.' The old German Landwirt laughed a scornful 'Ha! ha! ha!', turned his back and walked away. The German machine must have been a Groundhog or similar type thresher.
When the blowers were added to the American separators and straw could be blown on the stack, the American farmers thought that the last chapter had been written in the history of progress as far as wheat threshing was concerned. We must state however that not all were well pleased with 'Uncle Tom' the Farmers' Friend; that was the name of the patent for the blowers. The stacks were not as solid as those made by the improved self-stackers, when several men worked in the straw.
When the first blower used near Ferdinand was given a tryout and the strawstack was finished, it looked fine. One farmer remarked, 'The stack is not as solid as the ones made by the improved self-stacker.' The representative of the invention said, 'It's every bit as solid.' But when a man jumped on the straw stack, he disappeared in the straw. The most serious objection to the blowers on separators was that it blew a considerable amount of grain into the strawstack. A later invention on the threshing machines, the self-feeder, also was not readily accepted by many doubting Thomases.
The threshing machines or separators had their day and are now definitely on their way out. The combines, self propelled or tractor drawn, have not yet come up to all expectations and perhaps never will. Hulling clover with a combine seems to be a failure unless the straw can be put through a combine about three times and still with a loss of 10 percent of the valuable clover seed. If we ever get over this New Deal Inflation and prices will come down, it is doubtful if the small farmers can afford the expensive machines and the big repair bills. Then the American farmer may go back to the old separators if that is then possible. Most of the farmers who have combines say, 'No,' but time alone can tell.
FLORENZ C. KITTEN.
Florenz C. Kitten, Jr., son of Joseph and Sophia Kitten, was born May 1, 1866 on the Kitten homestead south of the present Steel Bridge Station on the Ferdinand Railroad. His grandfather, Henry Kitten, Sr., was a maker of wooden shoes by trade, and his father was also skilled in that trade but he turned his attention to farming. At an early date, Clement Hackmann, Sr., installed a water powered saw mill on Hunley Creek about 100 feet south of the steel bridge, west of Steel Bridge Station on the Ferdinand Railroad. It was one of the old fashioned up and down rippers and the mill was constructed almost entirely of wood.
Joseph Kitten purchased the land on which the mill was located and the Kittens operated the mill until 1880, when they ceased to operate the mill because the wooden cogwheels and other parts of the mill were badly in need of repairs.
Florencz C. Kitten, Jr., who was perhaps the last of the upright water power saw mills operators in Dubois County, was perhaps also the youngest operator. He operated the mill at the age of 14 and enjoys to talk about it. He said his Uncle Florenz J. Kitten, Sr., mechanic, inventor and owner of the F. Kitten Foundry and Machine Works at Ferdinand, often came to the mill to adjust and repair it. In speaking of the mill, he loved to recall how the latticed water catcher served as an excellent fish trap and that tubs full of big fish were a by-product of his labor. He also said that whenever he had an early start and worked late, he could saw 500 feet of lumber in one day. He said the price charged for sawing was 50 cents per 100 feet.
In February 1893, he was united in marriage to Katie Dall and this union was blessed with three childrenone boy, who died in infancy, and two daughters, Mary and Florentine. For many years, Mr. Kitten was employed in his uncle's machine works and then turned his attention to farming. He also bought Nebraska and Texas land for speculative purposes.
In the fall of 1904, his wife died and on September 19, 1905, he married Miss Francis Heidet, who died March 29, 1929.
After the death of his uncle, Florence J. Kitten, Sr., Florence C. Kitten became the weather observer in his community and the results are published in the Ferdinand News.