From Thresherman to Insurance Executive
Picture at left is Mr. Hovetter as General Manager of the Pennsylvania Threshermen & Farmers Insurance Company. At right is Mr. Hovetter in retirement at 95 years, at his home at Walnut Bottom, Pennsylvania. Courtesy of W. J. Eshleman, 722 East End Ave.,
722 East End Avenue, Lancaster, Pa. 17602.
There is no doubt that the stories published today concerning the building of the nation by its sturdy sons of yesterday, will serve as the archives of tomorrow. And let us hope that the coming generation may find herein an example in a still glowing spark, by which they may be able to find their way out of the current wilderness of bureaucracy, and depend upon their own ingenuity, sound judgment, and self-support for the betterment and benefit of all concerned.
As the roll is called of the names of the men who have been responsible for keeping the American food production apace with the increase in population, Mr. William F. Hovetter must certainly be included. I know of no better example than he to those who lament that they never had a chance, and sometimes declare that they do not believe in the work ethic, and since they are not responsible for being born, the government owes them a living.
Well, let us see how one man made the most of his opportunities. On January 20, 1881, Mr. William F. Hovetter was born in Cumberland County, Pa. His grandfather was a native of Holland, and his father was a thresherman and saw miller. When Mr. Hovetter was two years of age his mother died, and his father cared for him as best he could since he still had to earn a living. Sometimes the father had a housekeeper, and sometimes not. The consequence was that from age two Mr. Hovetter very often accompanied his father over the country on his various business trips.
In the year 1884 the elder Hovetter purchased from Frick Co. in Waynesboro, Pa., a 10 hp Frick traction engine bearing Serial #3610. This engine served him well until 1901.
By 1893 the elder Hovetter had two threshing rigs in operation and William was twelve years old. Unfortunately, the father met with an accident, and was compelled to carry his arm in a sling. Well, the threshing must go on, so young William was called upon to operate one of the rigs under his father's supervision. Due to his youthful stature it was necessary for him to stand on a soap box under the steering wheel in order to run the engine which pulled the thresher on the road. Thus at twelve years of age William F. Hovetter was compelled to quit school while in the sixth grade.
The elder Hovetter had a preference for Frick engines, and, naturally made trips to the Frick shop in Waynesboro, accompanied by his son William, who made his way around the shop and at the same time made friends. He learned to know Oliver, Ezra, and Fred Frick and well remembers their father, George Frick who founded the company.
As the years moved on so did the ability, experience and maturity of Will Hovetter, who was now being referred to as Bill, and so he remains today. As his father aged, the son took over the rigs and now was owner of his father's business. He had not been forgotten by Frick Co. who discovered they needed a service man in the Carlisle area, and called on him to come to see them. They offered him the position, which he refused to accept, because of his own rig and investment.
Frick Co. well knew Bill Hovetter's abilities and brought pressure to bear for him to come to Waynesboro as a service man. Eventually he agreed but only until June 1, when he would be ready to move out on the road to thresh. Once during lunch hour at the shop, he overheard a conversation from the office that his neighbor, Lawyer Sharp of Chambersburg, was in need of a new steam engine. He took a sales pad, called on Lawyer Sharp and made his first sale in 1909. He was now in more demand than ever by Frick Co.
Mr. Hovetter's threshing run generally started around July 6, and after threshing over 100 farms the season ended around January 9. He charged the farmer $1.02 per bushel to thresh oats and $1.03 for wheat. He paid his crew with the rig $1.25 per day, which was higher than average wages. Many times the day started at 4 a.m. and closed down at 10 p.m. except Saturday, when the rig shut down promptly at 5 p.m.
In addition to threshing, Mr. Hovetter hulled clover seed. His pay was by the ancient method of tolling, which consisted of Mr. Hovetter taking a bushel of clover-seed for every seven bushels hulled and cleaned for the farmer. This method of tolling was used by many of the old grist millers, when they made flour for the farmer.
Although Mr. Hovetter always used Frick engines, his threshers consisted of Frick, Buffalo-Pitts, Aultman-Taylor, and Peerless.
Frick Co. not being satisfied with the off season threshing time that Mr. Hovetter was able to give, prevailed upon him to sell his rigs. This he agreed to do and in 1910 went on full time with Frick Co. He was soon made a Branch Manager, and sent to Harrisburg to open a Frick Branch at 75 South Tenth St. His territory reached from Tyrone, Pa. on the north, to the Md.-Va. border on the south and from the Atlantic Ocean on the east to Shippensburg, Pa. on the west. He became most successful with the Frick line. On one occasion he sold six 9 x 10 Frick traction engines to the Sun Oil Co. at Marcus Hook, Pa. He was sent to southern U.S. to introduce the Frick rice thresher. Wherever a new machine or a tough problem was to be solved, Mr. Hovetter was dispatched.
In later years the Frick rice thresher became popular in Cuba, but the shipments ended with the advent of Castro.
It is of passing interest to note here that he signed up George Sellers of Gap, Lancaster County, Pa., as a dealer to handle the Frick line. Adam Young and his son Arthur were employed there. Arthur was also a thresherman and owned an A very engine (still in operation at the Old Thresher-men's Reunion every summer at Kinzers).
The following year Arthur S. Young left the Sellers establishment and opened a shop at Kinzers, Pa. He was then signed up as a Frick Dealer by Bill Hovetter.
Hovetter continued to expand the Frick name by selling 18 steam engines in one year and Eclipsing' some competition. Out of 50 Frick salesmen in the U.S., Mr. Hovetter was never below sixth place. As a result of this he supervised the building of the first Frick Branch building at the site of 75 South 10th St., Harrisburg.
As the Industrial Revolution continued to go full steam ahead, new problems arose with the enactment of the 'Workmen's Compensation Law'. Now none of the current insurance companies would accept threshermen or saw-millers, because it was felt that these vocations were too hazardous. But the Pennsylvania threshermen and saw millers long accustomed to opposition and always ready to improvise, were not about to be defeated.
William F. Hovetter, Jacob A. Rose, F. R. Moyer, and Ira M. Hart met and discussed plans to organize their own insurance company to cover threshermen and saw millers. As they were all machinery men they agreed to start organization procedure, and so informed the Pa. Insurance Commissioner. Here they struck their first knot in the log of organization. Mr. Sam Mc-Collough, the Pennsylvania Insurance Commissioner, informed them that it would be necessary to post a bond of $50,000.00. In 1916 to these threshermen, this was an exorbitant sum of money for them to raise.
These resourceful men did not plan to have their businesses destroyed, and put forth a plan whereby they would ask each thresherman and saw miller in Pennsylvania to lend, on a note, whatever he could afford at 6% . In this manner they raised $35,000.00. Mr. McCollough said it was not enough but since they were all sincere and insistent, he would look the other way and approve it, so they could incorporate. All threshermen and saw millers were invited to Harrisburg and the Pennsylvania Threshermen and Farmers Insurance Company was incorporated in 1917. The first officers were:
Harry Kauffman, Millersville, Pa.- President William F. Hovetter, Walnut Bottom, Pa. - Vice-President Jacob Brubaker, Rohrerstown, Pa.- Treasurer Jacob A. Rose, Harrisburg, Pa. -Gen. Manager
The new headquarters consisted of 10 x 12 foot square office with one pine desk and a girl as stenographer. This was located at the Huber Branch at 19 South Tenth St., Harrisburg.
In due time all notes were paid and the new company could conform to the Workmen's Compensation Laws. Threshermen, sawmillers, and farmers, who refused defeat could now be covered by insurance.
In 1941 Mr. Jacob A. Rose died and Mr. William F. Hovetter was unanimously elected to be the new General Manager of the Pennsylvania Threshermen and Farmers' Mutual Casualty Co.
Mr. Hovetter's duties were such that it was necessary to devote full time to the Insurance Co., and upon accepting the new position he also tendered his resignation to Frick Co. as Branch Manager. When he assumed the new position in 1941, the young company had assets of $5,000,000. During his administration as General Manager, Bill Hovetter assumed the responsibility of building the new $1,000,000 insurance company headquarters building at 19th and Derry St., Harrisburg. Mr. Hovetter served as General Manager until 1956 when he tendered his resignation. The company assets then stood at $36,000,000. The company is known today as Pennsylvania National Mutual Casualty Insurance Company.
And so Mr. William F. Hovetter, with a 6th grade education, who has served on the board of Dauphin Deposit Trust Co. since 1953, and still retains his position on the bank board, can look back with satisfaction and pride at his successful accomplishments. At a hale and hearty 95 years he still lives in the stone house that he built at Walnut Bottom. He is surrounded by the homes of his daughter and two sons. The latter two are employed by the Insurance Company which their father helped to found.
Mr. Hovetter asks any of his old customers or business associates, who may read this, to drop him a card or letter. His address is William F. Hovetter, Walnut Bottom, Pa. 17266. And so we all wish you well, Mr. Hovetter.