PO. Box 3120 Deer Park, Maryland 21550
The Arthurdale Farm Equipment Corporation was incorporated in the state of West Virginia in June, 1938, with a perpetual charter. The purpose of this corporation was to manufacture, assemble, distribute, and sell agricultural machinery, equipment, and tools of all kinds. The firm's principal office and place of operation was located at the Arthurdale Homesteads, Arthur-dale, Preston County, West Virginia.
The Village of Arthurdale, West Virginia, was a newly created community, being the first of about 180 such developments that were ultimately created in the early mid-1930s, through various government agencies as part of the federal government's 'New Deal' program. This program was to create needed housing and employment opportunities for American citizens so affected by the lasting results of the country's woes of the 'Great Depression.' The majority of those created communities were newly designed and constructed to be modern, attractive, and functional for their residents. The residents, chosen from application listings of out-of-work citizens, would also have livelihood opportunities in newly created manufacturing or agricultural type industries, built within or about these same communities. It was hoped by some in the government at that time, that the success of these created communities with their own employment opportunities would lead to expansion of this idea by the private business sector as a way out of the time's depressed economic conditions. There were also others who felt these developments or projects to be a waste of government money, as well as being unfair competition for existing established industries which were struggling to rebound from the economic depression. Then, as now, there were two opposing views of any government program.
In the early part of 1938, the Board of Directors of the Co-Operative Manufacturing Company, a Michigan firm, had made a formal proposal to both the federal government and the Arthurdale Association of Arthurdale, West Virginia, for the creation of an agricultural equipment manufacturing facility, to build the Co-Op brand farm tractor, at the Arthurdale Homesteads location. Under this proposal, the Arthurdale Association would furnish the necessary factory site, then would build and equip a suitable building for the intended purposes, being able to borrow any needed funding from the federal government in order to fully complete this factory project in a timely matter. This tractor factory would provide employment opportunities for present and additional residents of the Arthurdale Homesteads Development. One of the agreement's provisions was that Arthurdale residents would be the chief source of employees for the tractor factory.
Upon the acceptance of the Co-Operative Manufacturing Company's proposal by all parties involved, the Arthurdale Farm Equipment Corporation was formally organized in June, 1930. The firm's organizers were the same individuals as those involved with the leadership of the Arthurdale Association. On July 11, 1938, the Arthur-dale Farm Equipment Corporation also formally agreed to the Co-Operative Manufacturing Company's proposal for the tractor factory, and on that same date made agreement with American Co-Operatives, Incorporated, another Michigan firm, to completely manage, supervise, and direct all the operations of the Arthurdale Farm Equipment Corporation's factory.
Once these arrangements had been completed, the Arthurdale Association then leased the Arthurdale Farm Equipment Corporation (AFEC) a factory site just slightly over three acres in size, that was located at the edge of Arthur-dale, West Virginia, along the Morgan-town and Kingwood Branchline of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Company. In November 1938, the Arthur-dale Association made the necessary agreements with this railroad company for the construction of a railroad sidetrack to serve the AFEC factory. Over this railway line came all the required materials needed by the AFEC factory, and by which the completed Co-Op tractors were shipped to their buyers.
The capital stock issue of $200,000.00 of the AFEC was used to acquire an inventory of raw materials and to fund the start-up expenses of the factory. Another of the agreements within Co-Operative Manufacturing's proposal was that the Arthurdale Association would acquire and eventually own all of the AFEC stock issue. Money to build the factory structure, its site improvement, and other such needs, was borrowed by the Arthurdale Association from the government, through the Department of Agriculture.
To repay the funding and borrowed money used to build, equip, and begin factory operation, the Arthurdale Farm Equipment's lease agreement for its factory was so arranged that its annual rent payments would amortize in equal installments the unpaid balance of all the borrowed funding, plus an interest payment. This annual payment was to be further paid to the Arthurdale Association in such amounts and scheduled to allow the Association to meet its government loan commitments. There was an option for AFEC to pre-pay its indebtedness, if so desired. This lease rental agreement began upon the day the AFEC factory was fully completed, equipped, and ready for its operation, and would exist for a period of 45 years. The factory's lease was then further renewable by AFEC for an additional time period of 20 years, with the rental for this additional time to be negotiated at that time's arrival.
Site preparation for the AFEC factory, which would adjoin two other already existing factories at Arthurdale Homesteads, began in 1938. Its preparation, as well as the design of the factory's structure and its equipment, was under the supervision of American Co-Operative, Inc. Their representatives and factory management lived in nearby Reedsville, West Virginia, just up the highway a very short distance from the Arthurdale site.
The factory building was completed in the following year of 1939, ready for its final necessary equipment and machinery to be installed. Strangely in 1939, the AFEC factory and its site, and the two other factories located at Arthurdale, were transferred from the county taxing district that Arthurdale Homesteads existed in, into the taxing district of Reedsville, West Virginia, a municipality. Perhaps this was to allow these three factories to enjoy the benefits that the town of Reedsville provided, such as fire and police protection, but whatever the reason, the AFEC factory thus became officially located in Reedsville, West Virginia, though the address continued to be Arthurdale.
The Co-Op farm tractor was made (at that time) in three different models or sizes. The Co-Op Number One Model was a four-cylinder engine tractor. The Number Two and Number Three Co-Op Models were six-cylinder engine tractors of different sizes. While I've been unable to confirm it (and could stand be corrected), it appears that perhaps in the original discussions, the Arthurdale factory was to have built all three models of the Co-Op tractor. At some point later, the Arthurdale factory evolved into only the manufacture of the six-cylinder engine models, and still later, the factory made only the larger tractor, the Co-Op Number 3. The manufacture of the Co-Op Number 1 and Number 2 model tractors were each done at other factory locations in other statesapparently through similar arrangements that created the AFEC operation.
According to Mr. Robert Raitch, now a California resident, the Arthur-dale tractor factory was also to manufacture a cotton picker. I've not been able to learn if a cotton picker was ever actually manufactured in the AFEC factories, but it's intriguing to think of such a possibility in the Mountain State. Robert's father, Mr. Alexander John 'Jack' Raitch, was involved with the Arthurdale tractor factory in 1938-1939. Jack Raitch had previously been involved with the design and production of the first Silver King brand farm tractor model, and later the creation of the Graham-Bradley brand farm tractor, which was built by the Graham Brothers automobile firm and then sold through Sears & Roebuck Company for a brief period of time. Jack Raitch later went on to become involved in other tractor creation projects and eventually became associated with the Saturn booster rocket program, and was later a college professor. This man's life and work is deserving of its own article.
To date, I've been unable to locate any records or history of the Co-Op tractor production, or other possible machinery, at the AFEC factory. Such data has apparently either been long destroyed, or perhaps moved and lost among old records at some other location.
The time or date that actual tractor production ceased at the AFEC factory is also a mystery today. It had been my original understanding that the Co-Op tractor production by the AFEC facility ceased following the outbreak of World War II in December 1941, with the factory then converted over to war material production.
Mr. Paul Taylor of Arthurdale, West Virginia, states that the tractor production actually ceased prior to the outbreak of the war, due to job skill-level problems with many of the factory's employees. The AFEC plant could not manufacture the Co-Op tractor in a cost-efficient manner, able to meet production requirements and goals.
While the agreement for the factory's creation mandated that Arthurdale Homesteads residents would be given preference for employment in the tractor factory, there was also a clause that the factory did not have to employ any Arthurdale resident who was found unsuitable or untrainable for the skill levels involved with employee requirements. Many of the residents of Arthur-dale were unemployed bituminous coal miners who had lost both their jobs and housing as a result of the Great Depression. Prior to the startup of the AFEC operation, training classes and schools were organized and held for Arthurdale residents who wished to work in the tractor factory. Apparently, enough of the qualified workers later left the tractor factory for better wages in the reopening area coal mines during the beginning stages of World War II, and sufficient skilled replacement employees could not be obtained to keep the AFEC factory operating. Production of the Co-Op tractor ceased at Arthur-dale for the duration of the wartime. The former tractor factory, according to Mr. Taylor, produced aircraft bomber components 'til the war emergency was over.
Ownership of the Co-Op tractor rights changed during or at the end of the war. The production of the Co-Op brand farm tractor resumed after the war, but this production was done elsewhere, and none of the Co-Op tractors were manufactured at Arthurdale, West Virginia, following this resumption of manufacturing. The postwar Co-Op brand tractor was a different style or design of tractor from its prewar models. The Co-Op tractor would eventually be acquired by the Cockshutt Farm Equipment firm, and made into a part of the Cockshutt tractor line. This article will not go into further details of the postwar Co-Op tractor history since it was not produced at Arthurdale.
Following the end of World War II, the various structures and land parcels of the Arthurdale Homesteads were deeded over by the Arthurdale Association to the federal government, ending the affairs of the Association and the government's New Deal Program. The government, through its Federal Public Housing Commission, then sold the structures and land to private citizens, with many of the 'homesteaders' being able to acquire their dwellings at this time. The former AFEC factory and its site were transferred to the government in June 1946. A few days later, the AFEC factory and the other two former Arthurdale factories and other property were sold to a Maryland corporation for manufacturing use. Since 1946, the old AFEC facility has had other owners, with the ex-Co-Op tractor factory still standing today and currently in use for manufacturing industry purposes though not for the production of tractors or other farm machinery.
The writer of this article would welcome any additional information or other AFEC material, including corrections, from readers. Such material will be returned if so requested. It is the writer's hope that at a later time, a more complete and detailed history of the AFEC factory can be written.
Public Records of Preston County, West Virginia, located at the county's courthouse, Kingwood, West Virginia. Office of County Clerk:
1. Record of Incorporations - Book No. 3.
2. Various Deed Books, chiefly Books 199, 201, 242 & 243.
3. Land Books for 1937 through 1950.
Maps or Plates:
1. General Map of Preston County, West Virginia.
2. Arthurdale Homesteads, West Virginia.
3. Reedsville, West Virginia.
Personal letters to Author and/or interviews:
1. Robert Fultz of Clarksburg, West Virginia.
2. Robert Raitch of Los Angeles, California.
3. George Shaffer of Weston, West Virginia.
4. Paul Taylor of Arthurdale, West Virginia.
1. Co-Op tractor advertisements.
2. National Farm Machinery Co-operative advertisements.
3. Cockshutt tractor advertisements.
4. Unidentified and undated newspaper clippings about Arthurdale, West Virginia, in private collections.
5. The Dominion Post newspaper, Morgantown, West Virginia, July 10, 1994.
6. News and publicity brochures of the Arthurdale Heritage, Inc., Arthurdale, West Virginia 1994.