PART XXVII MONTANA FARMING CORP.
Courtesy of Thomas M. Jensen, 559 Sheldon Road, Palmyra, New York 14522
Rt. 4, Huntington, Ind. 46750.
For some time I have been working on the story of the Montana Farming Corp. operated by the late Thomas Campbell. My trouble is that many who once worked for or had any connection with it are now gone out of the picture. I want to give credit to Harold R. Aslakson of Sheyenne N.D. who worked on the unit at Popular in 1920. Also Edward A. Yeater of Winslow, Ark., who lived at Popular at the time of its operation there.
The Montana Farming Corp. was founded and managed by Thos. Campbell and was based on a $2,000,000 loan from the J. P. Morgan bank of New York City. Evidently Campbell knew his way around because it was a big operation from the first and was well financed.
Two 10,000 acre units were at Popular Mont, and were really north of Brouckton. It started in World War I with horsepower and changed to tractor power about 1919. A unit was 10,000 acres each with its own foreman and bosses. Each unit had its own blacksmith shop, bunk house and dining hall, all on skids so they could be moved. Three other units were at Hardin, two units of grain, mostly wheat and a grass unit for cattle. This was on land leased from the Crow Indian Reservation. I might say right here that Campbell started out to show the world how to raise wheat in a big way and he loved publicity and thrived on notoriety. He was written up in all the farm papers as well as national magazines such as The Country Gentlemen, etc. No where can I find out how successful he was from the dollar standpoint and whether it paid out. Remember he was farming marginal land, with rainfall from ten to fifteen inches a year. Most of it was broken for the first time and no doubt some of it should have been left in grass. Yields were never mentioned and failures were never recorded. Farming then was not what it is today. Complete failures were not unusual. In 1923 when I was in Mont. and North Dakota lots of wheat yielded from four to ten bushels per acre depending upon the moisture. I saw grain drills following the plow without any smoothing or preparation at all. Lots of the wheat never was covered and consequently affected the yields. Campbell featured big acreage and did everything as big as he could. Few implements were big enough. He hired a mechanic by the name of Punk Taylor who designed and built a lot of them big enough for use.
Harold Alskson tells of their plowing and drilling six hundred and forty acres of flax in one day. Twelve 30-60 Aultman Taylor tractors each pulling ten plows were followed by three smaller Case tractors each pulling three grain drills did the whole thing in one day, starting at three a.m. and running straight through to nine p.m. They never stopped all day, refueled the tractors and filled the grain drills on the go. Sandwiches and coffee were brought to the field. The field was four miles long and that Flax was never harvested due to an extra dry year. I do not know how long the operation at Popular lasted, but Ted Worral at Loma thought till about 1942 or a little later.
At first, the grain was threshed. In 1924 they established some sort of a record. They were using a 60'
Made in about I9I5 32 Volt
Net Cash, f.o.b. works, Port Clinton, Ohio, with sight draft attached to bill of lading.
Cbese prices supercede all former lists
[All orders for electric plants and marine engines are to be made on our Standard Order Blanks supplied with catalog.]
Standard Matthews Automatic, and Hand-Control Home Lighting and Power Plants.
50-Light Full Automatic, complete with following equipment:
1 -cylinder, 4-cycle engine, General Electric Company 1 kw. generator, Multipolar type. Main sub-base and radiator. Magneto.
Model H. Schebler carburetor. Complete automatic oiling system. Automatic water system. Automatic switchboard mounted in sub-base.
This ad was taken from a Popular Mechanics magazine about 1915. It shows a 32 volt light plant made by the Mathews Boat Company, Port Clinton, Ohio. I hope this ad will shed a little light for those of you that have a unit like this. [Thanks to Popular Mechanics for permission to use material - Anna Mae]
Referring to the Plix that appeared on page 22 in the March-April  issue of GEM, I received several letters from collectors that have Plix light plants. I should have known it was off a light plant with the light bulb on the emblem. Following is some information I received: generator made by General Electric Company, Schenectady, New York, RPM-1250, 31.25 volts, engine made by Mathews of Sandusky, Ohio. It is about 1-1/2 H.P., made in about 1928 or 1929. My thanks go to Ellsworth Wetland, Harry M. Epler, Freddy M. Andersen and others.
Sattley sold by Montgomery Ward and Company in the 1920s, air-cooled 1-1/2 HP 4 cyc. No. C80692, 2-3/4 X 3-1/4, Wico Type FGM #002841. Water hopper cooled 1-1/2 HP, 4 cyc. #65396, hit and miss, RPM 550, Wico EK, in good running condition.
Four Maytags - #23623 upright, 1/2 HP, battery ignition; #164121 horizontal, 3/4 HP, one main bearing; #491586 horizontal, #92, 3/4 HP, two main bearings; #120903X twin cylinder, #72D, 1 HP, all in good running condition.
My husband started this project in April of '75 and completed it in August '75. It is built from a New Way gas engine from Lansing, Michigan. It contains two transmissions, and other odds and ends, chain driven, The back wheels were originally off a hay rake to which he bolted rubber. He plans on driving it in the Area Parades this summer. Surprise, Harold!!
Case separator with an eight foot extension on the feeder, fourteen bundle wagons and eight field pitchers and spike pitchers. In fourteen hours they threshed 4712 bushels of wheat. They used a 30-60 Aultman Taylor for power. Another place I read they used a 65 HP, Case steam engine. I don't know which is right. At one time they owned 27 30-60 Aultman tractors beside several smaller Case tractors and a couple of Caterpillar tractors.
They hauled the grain with a caterpillar tractor pulling twelve tank type wagons hauling 2000 bushels at a time to an elevator or rail siding, sometimes forty miles away.
About 1924 they started using a big Holt pull type combine. They took the tying mechanism off of the binder and hung four behind an Aultman Taylor tractor and put a side conveyor beside each binder, so each binder laid the loose grain on one windrow. Then with a hay-loader attached to a combine, the loose straw was elevated into the combine directly. This was a big deal and was widely advertised as a big labor saver/did away with a lot of horses and men as well.
If the grain was light they might use five or six binders. Later they were to combine standing grain.
In 1958 at Hardin they used fifty-one combines to thresh sixty one thousand bushels of wheat on one day for a group of visiting Russians who were in the U.S. studying our latest methods of raising wheat. This was no doubt one of Campbell's big days. Despite the similarity of soil and climate, the Russians were never able to anywhere near equal the U.S., even if they used American made equipment.
There were other big operators in Montana at the same time as Campbell. The Boyle land company owned a large acreage east of Great Falls and one time used two 110 HP Case steam engines, plus two big Reeves and a North steamer and separator.
In a 1925 Farm Mechanics Magazine Campbell claims he had put out 32,000 acres of wheat and expected to have out 65,000 in 1927. In another article he claimed he was farming over 100,000 acres.
Using a Caterpillar Tr., and 60 ft. of drill he drilled 150 acres a day. Using the caterpillar tractors and 50 ft. of disk he could disk 125 acres a day. and could plow disk and seed 30 acres a day.
When threshing, they hired bundle teams from nearby home-steaders. The biggest problem with raising wheat was the lack of moisture. Half of the land had to be kept in summer fallow each year. If they got fifteen inches of rainfall they usually got fifteen bushels of wheat; if they didn't have too many wind storms in the mean-while. In 1923 I saw irrigated wheat in the Yellowstone Valley make 40 - 50 bu. per acre. Back from the river on dry land it was from 6 to 15 bu. per acre. Flax was often grown on new ground, because it with stod dry ground better. Some flax straw was used in making binder twine to a small extent during World War I, but didn't last long.
I think I might add that they broke a lot of land that should never have been plowed, but should have been left for cattle grazing. In 1923 I was going south out of Rosebud and I met a man with a four horse team hauling wheat to market. I stopped and gave him a drink of fresh water and got his story. He had been in World War I and at its conclusion had been given a half section of land. It was dry land and twenty miles from any market. He was very discouraged, his wheat having made only six bushels per acre. He said that if he mortgaged all he had, it wouldn't give him enough money to get him home to Missouri where he came from. He said the land was no bargain.
During the 1930's there was depression and drought even in the corn belt. Today in Montana we have more soil conservation, weed control, better wheat's strip farming, field cultivators, etc. and have licked about everything, except the weather. Part of the land has reverted to cattle and wheat farming has been confined to the better soils. If Tom Campbell was to return today I think he would be satisfied with the change but he would miss the old 30-60 Aultman Taylors that he had depended upon for power.
General view of an old machine shop that used to make nuts and bolts around 1900-1910.
Shows the 3 HP Associated engine that originally belted up to the overhead pulley that ran the line
6 HP Watkins engine that powered a cold heading machine. I thought this might have an interesting sequence of pictures that shows that old engines can still be found in old abandoned shops, even in 1975.
This is what is left of a 1 3/4 HP Hercules. It was made by the Hercules Gas Engine Works of San Francisco, California. I have the bronze plate from this engine with a list of patent numbers and dates. The first is Patent #502,255 July 1893 and the last is Patent #605,335 June 1898. This is a real old-timer. I found this one half buried outside this machine shop. Serial number of this engine is 5603. I forgot to mention that this shop is located in Shelton, Connecticut, but the Watkins engine is now gone. [see other picture].
There are more and more engine collectors in Connecticut now - maybe some others will start contributing pictures.
As usual, G.E.M. is just great! I look forward to receiving each issue like a ten year old looks for Christmas.
My husband has become quite interested in gas engines in the past three years and now our son, who will be two years in November, is fascinated by them also. They both enjoy your magazine very much.
Enclosed is a snapshot of Charles as he 'works' on a 1918 International 1-1/2 HP engine.
Pictured are two monsters on their way to 27 annual Threshers and Antique Show at Culbertson, Montana. They are being hauled by Michels Trucking of Plenty wood. They made four trips, 50 miles one way - 200 miles all total for $50.00 to haul 20-40 Case and 'Old Nick' 25-50 Aultman - 14-28 Avery.
The rear tractor came from Swan River, Manitoba, Canada, and is owned by Vernon Hibbard of Minton Sask-on loan to The Old Tractor Club of Plenty wood, Montana. Courtesy of Andrew Michels, 402 Highland Avenue, Plentywood, Montana, 59254.