Ken David with his Oil City engine.
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.