Collectors Envision David Bradley Museum

By Staff
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David Bradley 'pocket annual' given to visitors to the 1893 Worlds Columbian Exposition in Chicago before the firm opened its manufacturing works in Bradley, Ill. In this era, the firm had a farm equipment catalogue of more than 200 pages.
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A David Bradley equipment wrench repainted by Bob Simpson.
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Illustration from an 1896 David Bradley implement instruction sheet part of Bob Simpson's collection.

Reprinted with permission, this article originally appeared in
the March 10, 1996 Kankakee [Illinois] Journal. It was sent to us
by Robert Simpson, 442 N. Michigan Ave., Bradley, IL 60915.

Relics of the age of manufacturing of iron-wheeled agricultural
implements at David Bradley Manufacturing Company were returned to
the area this week, where collectors hope to create a museum
dedicated to the firm that gave its name to the town known as North
Kankakee.

George Bingley, formerly vice president of engineering for the
Roper Outdoor Products Division that succeeded David Bradley,
arranged the return of several pieces of equipment made in
Bradley:

A vintage 1933 Handiman Garden Tractor (pictured at right),

Two horse-drawn 14-inch steel beam walk-behind plows from
1930,

Two suburban riding garden tractors and mowers produced at the
Bradley plant in the 1960s by the Roper Corp., and

A 1965 Roper-built garden tractor.

The equipment was sent home from Orangeburg, South Carolina,
from the American Lawn Products Company, which purchased Roper
Outdoor Products after its move to South Carolina in 1982.

The agreement to loan whatever Bradley-built relics remained to
a David Bradley Museum here came from Dan Neilson, the general
manager of American Lawn, whom Bingley had hired as a
fresh-from-college engineer years ago at the Bradley plant.
Assisting was Dick Franklin, another American Lawn engineer, who
once worked for Bingley here.

George Bingley, left, and Bob Simpson pose with the 1933
Handiman Garden Tractor manufactured at the David Bradley plant in
the town that changed its name from North Kankakee to Bradley to
match its major employer. Both self-admittedly obsessed with
restoration of old farm equipment and the history of the Bradley
manufacturing firm, they hope to help create a David Bradley
Museum.

Neilson asked Franklin to search for any equipment from the old
Bradley factory showroom and they agreed to loan whatever remained
to help start a David Bradley Museum.

The museum possibility has been discussed for some time by
members of Thee Olde Time Farm Show organization, which conducts
annual antique farm equipment expositions and demonstrations at the
Perry Farm at Bradley every summer.

The group hopes the museum can be located on the Perry Farm
grounds, say Bingley, secretary of the group, and Bob Simpson of
Bradley, a board member who is working with him toward the museum
goal.

Both are admittedly obsessed by restoring old David Bradley
equipment and collecting memorabilia of the firm that located at
Bradley in 1895 and operated under the name David Bradley there
until 1964.

So closely tied was the firm to the town that the village was
renamed for it. The town’s early leaders changed the name from
North Kankakee to Bradley City, then just Bradley, to demonstrate
their serious interest in the firm to its owner, David Bradley. The
firm’s move there saved the town from financial ruin. About 87
years later, its successor Roper Corporation would later help
create an economic and employment crisis here by moving its Bradley
and Kankakee factories south. Roper stock tripled in value in the
year after those early ’80s plant closing moves, but hundreds
of employees were jettisoned here.

Thousands of men and women worked in the Bradley factory in its
near century of operation here, manufacturing hundreds of different
kinds of farm machines and later lawn and garden tractors, chain
saws, tables and chairs, and other products in the years the
company built products almost exclusively for Sears. The 1940s
brought production of armaments to fight World War II, which the
museum promoters also hope to emphasize.

Few of the oldest machines remain though Bradley produced
abundant types and numbers. A catalogue from the 1890s runs to 212
pages of plows, harrows, cultivators, hay rakes and balers, manure
spreaders and much more.

Bingley, who now operates an engineering consulting firm from
his rural Kankakee home, says the old showroom at Bradley contained
much more than has been located by his old friends at American Lawn
Products. ‘Who knows what happened to it between about 1980 and
now,’ he said. ‘I know there was a lot more that was either
discarded or put into someone’s family room fine old beams and
historic photos.’

Likewise, most of the archives of the factory are gone. Those
that were saved from the incinerator or the landfill were rescued
by Bob Simpson, who now operates a David Bradley Collector’s
clearinghouse when he’s not working on a D-B restoration
project.

Simpson, formerly a quality control employee of another firm
that fled south A. O. Smith said he heard that the archives were
being thrown out, but only in time to save only one file cabinet
full of material. Bingley said there were at least 20 cabinets full
of old records when the firm moved, plus ‘all the old drawings
that were still in my vault.’

Still, Simpson saved a treasure trove of old documents, dating
to the late 1800s and including old instruction sheets, catalogs,
an almanac given away in the 1893 World Columbian Exposition, and
much more. ‘It was going to be burned,’ he said. ‘I
heard about it and just went over there and picked it up.’

Simpson says it’s probably as complete a collection as
exists for an historic age implement producer.

‘When I retired, I started cataloging it and it has become
an obsession,’ he said.

There’s plenty of interest in it, as well. ‘I get two or
three calls a week,’ he said, ‘and as many
letters.’

The collectors hope that interest will help when it comes time
to create the museum.

Those who would like to help or to loan or donate material or
equipment may call Simpson at 932-7531 or Bingley at 937-4257.

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