FALL-DER-ALL in Froelich, Iowa

By Staff
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Ken David with his Oil City engine.
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The general store in Froelich.

PO Box 432 Eitzen, Minnesota 55931-0432

The plaque on the monument beside the flag pole says:

In this village John Froelich built the first gasoline tractor
that propelled itself backward as well as forward. Far-reaching in
its effect on modern agricultural history, it moved out of this
village and into the world in 1892.

Later that year Mr. Froelich joined with others in organizing
The Waterloo Gasoline Traction Engine Company which later became
the John Deere Tractor Company.

The brochure put out by the Froelich Foundation states that the
village was settled in the early 1870s at the point where the
narrow gauge railroad crossed the old military road that ran from
Fort Crawford to Fort Atkinson. The first building was a creamery.
There is a windmill at the site now. It could be over the old
creamery well. The Creamery was short lived. The building was moved
to where the monument now stands and became a grocery store. One
story has it that it became the blacksmith shop when the Froelichs
built the present store building now called Burlingame’s.

Apparently, because of the railroad, the village prospered with
the store, blacksmith shop and other businesses and homes. At one
time, Froelich had a population of fifty or more. According to the
Foundation’s brochure, it was Froelich’s traction engine
invention in 1892 that gave the village its ‘claim to
fame.’ Storekeeper Lon Burlingame, and the archives at the John
Deere tractor Company in Waterloo, have helped verify the facts of
local history.

The literature points out the irony that the technology John
Froelich began to perfect would lead to the decline of the village
named after his family. Froelich, with its many historic memories,
now has a population of eighteen. Tourism is the only business.

A great deal of credit is due to the foundation and others for
rescuing the store building from being wrecked and for preserving a
very important part of our agricultural history that was very
nearly lost. The Froelich Foundation is a non-profit organization
established over ten years ago. The members have set a goal of
preserving the heritage of the village.

Because of the incendiary nature of the sparks from early train
engines, Froelich’s covered their store, which also served as a
depot, with sheet metal. Today the ‘iron clad store’ is a
museum open daily from eleven in the morning until five in the
afternoon, except Wednesday, from Memorial Day through the annual
‘Fall-Der-All’ celebration held the first full weekend in
October. The museum is full of items of historical interest,
including many tractor history pictures and other memorabilia. In
the back room is a replica of Mr. Froelich’s tractor. It was
last run on its own power in the centennial of its invention in
1992.

Mr. Milton J. Meier, who works in the store a a volunteer,
relates that his father, John D. Meier, was a personal friend of
John Froelich. He remembered that when the machine was first tried
out, it did not have the reverse gear that added so much to its
fame. No doubt reverse gear technology was rare in 1892. The steam
engines of the day would run equally well in either direction. The
rotation of most machines could be changed by running the drive
belt either straight or twisted. Froelich deserves the recognition
he has received as a mechanic and inventor. Among other things, he
developed was a washing machine, a dish washer and dryer, and a
corn picker. He also mounted a gas engine on his well drilling
machine. The well driller was, in fact, the forerunner of the
tractor. It was not built to do field work, but was intended for
threshing, and towing the threshing machine from job to job.

Besides the general store museum, the Froelich Historic Site has
a restored one-room school that dates back to 1866. It was moved
from its original site before the 1992 annual celebration. The
writing on the blackboard is still there from 1906. There is also a
black smith shop in the plans for the future. They already have
many of the tools of the trade. Both the store and the school have
easy access for the handicapped.

The ‘Fall-Der-All’ is the annual event that ends the
season in Froelich. The flea markets and, of course, the museum and
school are open. There is a very interesting video about the Model
D John Deere, as well as displays of early farm tools and
implements. There are antique tractors, engines and model steam and
gas engines.

One of the very interesting features in the show is Ken
David’s hybrid Oil City engine. Ken has his restoration shop in
Froelich. He likes Waterloo Boy engines and has about fifteen
engines besides the Oil City. This engine has no timing gears or
accessory parts. There is only the piston connection rod and
crankshaft. Ken very modestly says he does not understand how it
works. It appears to be a two cycle engine, but it fires regularly
every other revolution and runs all day during Fall-Der-All. It is
obvious Ken knows how to make it percolate. The ignition is by hot
tube that is kept hot with a gas flame. The gas fuel is fed into
the cylinder behind the piston with no visible carburetor or mixer
of any kind. The cooling water in the barrel gets pretty warm
without benefit of a water pump. The engine speed is constant
without any sign of a governor.

The Froelich Foundation does not intend to keep their museum and
annual show as one of Iowa’s best kept secrets. They welcome
visitors and publicity. This writer was treated very cordaily at
the show. The Foundation la dies furnished excellent lunch, and
there was homemade ice cream avail able on the grounds.

In the future, the group hopes to continue to see their numbers
and the show grow. They will increase the advertising as their
budget allows.

Include a visit to Froelich in your 1998 travel plans. The
village is located on Highways 18 and 52, south of Monona, Iowa.
The mailing address is: Froelich Foundation, Box 368, Monona, Iowa
52159.

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