Tractor Owner's Dilemma: 1917

Historic Photo

This historic photo comes from J. C. Allen and Son, Inc. of West Lafayette, Indiana, and is reprinted with permission.

J. C. Allen

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If you think You've got troubles, take a look back to wartime, when tractor owners and operators faced problems of shortages and delays that usually were tougher than those of peace time today.

Among our readers who lived through World War II are doubtless many who recall the effects of rationing on the civilian sector.

The same effect occurred during World War I, when the government cut back stringently on civilian supplies of fuel, and the call to the armed forces depleted manpower on the home front.

It was a Catch 22 kind of puzzle: How to produce more at the exact time that you were having trouble finding equipment to run, more fuel, and a way to get repairs done fast.

Here is a letter written by T. F. Finch, of Box Elder, Montana, to the state's Governor S. V. Stewart, dated May 18, 1917, which tells the story in plain words.

'Gov. S. V. Stewart' Helena, Montana

'My Dear Governor & C 'Can't you help us out just a little bit. Within sound of our farm there are twenty tractors and there is not one gallon of gasoline in Box Elder. There is one half dozen tractors standing still for the want of some small repair. One of our own tractors has been standing in the field all spring. We wired Helena for repairs and it was fourteen days before we received them. We run for about two hours and broke another small casting. We wired for it two weeks ago and have not received it yet. We [also] ordered a small repair for our automobile six weeks ago and have not received it yet and we need it badly every day.

'Now I tell you my dear Governor, that the farmer is as anxious as you, or the state, or the nation to get in all the crop we can and will say right here that we [are] being knocked out of the use of' one of our tractors and our auto. [It] will cut our crop short two hundred acres. We have in now between 500 and 600 acres and should have in 800 instead.

'Now we are not writing this for our own account. Could get two hundred men to back us up in this request in two hours if we had our car. Please see if you can't help us a little.

Yours truly, T. F. Finch'

(We found this letter in a book on Montana, while looking for material for Gas Engine Magazine, some years ago in the Helena Public Library. We regret that we cannot cite the title of the book, having failed to make note of it at the time (Gerry Lestz)