The Lindeman Influence on the Crawler Market

Four Brothers created a thriving enterprise in Yakima, Washington, that played a role in propelling industry leader Deere & Co. into the crawler market.

article image
courtesy by
Jesse G. Lindeman.

The story of four brothers from Iowa is almost unbelievable today. Led by the eldest, the four created a thriving enterprise in Yakima, Washington, that played a role in propelling industry leader Deere & Co. into the crawler market.

Jesse G. Lindeman and his three brothers – Harry, Ross and Joseph – are noted for designing, manufacturing and selling agricultural equipment specialized for Pacific Northwest orchards. Jesse, the oldest (and the principal brother), was a gifted natural engineer who brought his brothers into his businesses.

Jesse Lindeman’s most famous and enduring venture was Lindeman Power Equipment Co. of Yakima, Washington, which operated between 1923 and 1947 and is noted for the influence it had on Deere & Co. and that company’s products.

Developing products for agricultural market

Following the end of World War I, Jesse Lindeman was mustered out of the U.S. Army in 1919. Returning home to his Cass County, Iowa, family farm, Jesse decided that farming was not for him. During a visit to his uncle, Gus Lindeman in Ellensburg, Washington, he found work in nearby Yakima as a salesman for Rovig Lumber Co., starting in January 1920.

In addition to lumber, Rovig handled trucks and farm implements, including the Moline Plow line, which included the Moline Universal tractor. The tractor was not, however, appropriate for use in the region’s orchards, because it was too tall to allow close access to the trees.

In the orchards, Jesse saw the need for a ditching machine and proceeded to design and build one. The first model was horse-drawn but it was later modified for use with a tractor. Improvements followed, including addition of a packing wheel to repack the ditch bottom as the machine advanced. The final improvement was addition of a mechanical lift to bring the discs out of the ground.

Jesse’s next endeavor was a side-extension disc that could be pulled through apple orchard rows by a tractor. The hitch was designed so that while the tractor went down the middle of the row, the disc extended under the branches on both sides for cultivation. It could be adjusted for varied row widths, or for just one side.

Launch of the Lindeman line

By 1921, things were going well for Jesse and he invited his brother, Harry, to join him at Rovig Lumber. Harry made the move in April of that year. Although Rovig was prospering, the owners decided to close the business in 1922. Their $4,000 inventory was put on the auction block; the Lindeman brothers bought it for $158.

The Rovig closure launched the Lindemans into business. They rented a building and started their own manufacturing and retail farm machinery business. Jesse traveled to Spokane, where he secured a Holt crawler tractor dealership from the branch house there. The fledgling company was named Holt Tractor Agency.

In that era, crawler tractors were popular in the Northwest for both orchard and logging work. The Lindeman brothers battled a local Best dealer for crawler sales, but most of their income came from the disc harrows they manufactured. Reflecting the strength of that product, they changed their company’s name to Lindeman Bros. Power Equipment Co.

Looking for solid quality, Lindemans become dealers for Deere & Co.

In 1925, Best and Holt merged to form Caterpillar. Rather than have competing dealerships in one location, Caterpillar severed ties with the Lindemans and allowed an existing Best dealership to continue under the new name. Undaunted, Jesse secured a Cletrac franchise from Cleveland Tractor Co. and invited brother Ross into the venture.

The Lindemans expanded their operation, selling a brush rake, a fruit-hauling trailer and a line of sprayers. They also became dealers for Mack trucks. At the same time, they opened a branch house in Wenatchee, Washington, which brother Harry managed.

In 1930, the Lindemans were consumed by quality issues in new Cletrac models and found themselves spending an inordinate amount of time handling complaints. Because they had adequate traction without deep lugs, which could damage tree roots, crawler tractors were popular in fruit groves. But as rubber tires for wheel tractors became available, the Lindemans dropped Cletrac and took on a John Deere dealership.

The standard John Deere GP tractor proved a good match for orchard work, but the orchards were not good for the GP. There were too many protrusions that became entangled with low branches. To correct deficiencies like that, the Lindemans lowered the frame, rerouted the exhaust, lowered the seat and steering wheel, and made fairings for other items, such as the large back wheels. John Deere took note of their activities and adopted them into what became the company’s Model GPO.

In the spring of 1930, Harry Lindeman bought a new car and made a sales trip into Canada. Returning on a cold, rainy day near Chelan, Washington, Harry’s car slid off a steep embankment and Harry died in the crash.

Demonstration seals the deal

In 1932, Jesse tried putting a track undercarriage on a John Deere tractor. Using a set of tracks from a Best 30 and a John Deere Model D for his experiment, he casted components to replace the wheels with the necessary adapters and included clutches and brakes for each side. The conversion worked well enough that he built and sold four more.

Word got back to Deere headquarters in Moline, Illinois, where Charles Deere Wiman was company president. The great-grandson of John Deere, Wiman had been elevated to the presidency in 1928 at age 35. A man of vision, he was interested in extending and improving Deere’s product offerings. When he heard of the Lindeman’s crawler conversion, he asked that a unit be sent to Moline for demonstration.

Not only was one sent forthwith, but Jesse came with it. On a raw and rainy fall day, Jesse drove the Model D crawler conversion into a soggy field. He spun it around, drove it back and forth over a log, and demonstrated its pulling power on the soft ground. Wiman was ecstatic. When the demonstration was over, Lindeman and Wiman retired to Wiman’s office, where they kicked of their wet shoes and put their feet on a radiator. “There I was,” Lindeman recalled later, “just a little dealer, warming my feet with the top man at John Deere!”

After enthusiastically discussing the demonstration, Wiman suggested that a conversion be made of Deere’s Model GPO, rather than the Model D, since the GPO was already configured for orchard duty. The Lindemans manufactured and sold about 26 conversions before GPO production ended in 1934.

Conversions and kits target fruit growers, loggers and construction

Replacing the GP/GPO, in 1934, Deere & Co. launched the Model A all-purpose tractor. Meanwhile, Deere’s new, smaller Model B was waiting in the wings, ready for introduction in 1935. Consistent with the company’s strategy to produce whatever the farmer needed, Deere also launched a standard-tread, or “regular” Model B, the BR, an industrial version, the BI, and an orchard version, the BO.

Plans called for Deere to provide the Lindeman company with BO and BR chassis (minus the wheels) for conversion to track. The Lindemans would then market the finished product to fruit growers, loggers and construction companies. Joining the operation in 1934, another Lindeman brother, Joe, proved particularly adept at field service work.

While the Lindeman brothers continued to build and sell crawler versions of Deere’s Model B, they also made and sold conversion kits to owners of wheeled Model B tractors. Still, most of their business came from sale of sprayers, trailers, discs and trenchers.

Jesse designed a two-way (or roll-over) field plow for the new (in 1939) Ford-Ferguson tractor. It was unique in that when it was raised, the plow automatically tripped itself and rolled over, ready for the next furrow. Harry Ferguson, who oversaw marketing the tractor and providing implements for it, was so impressed with Jesse’s plow that he ordered 10,000 of them.

Post-war transition

With the onset of World War II, both Deere and Lindeman diverted production for the war effort. Deere made P-47 tail wheel assemblies; the Lindemans made track parts for the Navy’s LVT (Landing Vehicle, Tracked) “Water Buffalo,” an armored amphibious warfare landing craft.

Though Deere’s tractor production was virtually shut down during the war, the War Production Board gave special dispensation for production of 1,000 orchard crawlers. Lindeman had to order 500 at a time, which Deere shipped by rail on a piecemeal basis. The Lindemans had by then added a rail spur into their factory. Deere loaded 30 Model B chassis on one box car.

In the immediate post-war years, the Lindemans’ business boomed. Jesse even designed a hydraulic system add-on and a tool bar for Caterpillar. In 1946, Deere announced that the Model B would be replaced by the new Model M and asked if Jesse would be interested in designing a crawler conversion for it. “Yes, of course,” he responded. “Send a chassis.”

In November, Charles Wiman visited the Lindemans in Yakima to view the Model M conversion. At the end of the demonstration, Wiman made an offer to buy Lindeman Power Equipment Co. After consulting with his brothers, Jesse Lindeman countered with a proposal that pulled the two-way plow and a proprietary hops picker out of the deal. Wiman agreed; Deere & Co. took over on Jan. 1, 1947. Jesse and Joe went on to start Northwest Equipment Co. Ross Lindeman left to operate a fruit ranch; he died suddenly, at age 45, later that year.

Jesse Lindeman and his wife, Jane, moved briefly to Moline where Jesse was to head up a Deere development department, but the couple soon returned to Yakima. Jesse continued to work for Deere, designing a tool bar, known as the Yakima hitch, for use on Deere Models A, B and G tractors. Joe handled day-to-day operations at Northwest Equipment Co. until his death in 1982.

Jesse, a brilliant engineer and journeyman pattern-maker who was constantly thinking of ways to make machinery more efficient and easier to operate, died in 1992 at age 92. FC

After 36 years in the aircraft industry, Bob Pripps returned to his first love and began writing about tractors. He has authored some 30 books on the subject and several magazine articles. Pripps has a maple syrup farm near Park Falls, Wisconsin. In harvesting the maple sap, he relies on a Ford Jubilee and a Massey Ferguson 85.

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