Midwest Utilitor

| July/August 1989

One of the joys of a magazine like GEM is the sharing of information among individuals who may never meet each other, but nonetheless share a hobby. Frequently, subscribers send us ideas for stories or old manuals which might lead us to do some research. Charles Shelton of 1528 Cliftwood Drive, Clarksville, IN 47130 is one reader who sends us stories and photos and about a year ago, sent us a 1920 Midwest Utilitor manual, which got us started on this story. As we began, we found that another subscriber, Howard W. Andrews of 59 Buena Vista Avenue, Rumson, NJ 07760 had also sent us a 1920 Spare Parts Price List for the Utilitor. Additional information was furnished to us by the Indiana Historical Society and the Indianapolis Historic Preservation Commission.

The Utilitor was a garden tractor manufactured by the Midwest Engine Company of Indianapolis. The company's history begins with the life of Stoughton A. Fletcher, Jr., who was born October 25, 1831. He was the son of Calvin Fletcher, an early pioneer in the area, and first lawyer in Indianapolis. Stoughton Fletcher had eight brothers and all were raised on the farm, received fine educations and became successful in various occupations. Apparently Stoughton showed great aptitude for agriculture and agricultural machinery. In 1853, he became conductor on the Bellefontaine Railroad and rose to the rank of superintendent within two years. 'He not only understood cars, but locomotives and railroad machinery,' according to the 1884 History of Indianapolis and Marion County.''

After several years in the railroad business, Fletcher moved on to banking, then the gas company, of which he was president for ten years. 'In 1878 he, through various circumstances, became the head of the Atlas Engine-Works, where portable and Atlas-Corliss engines are turned out by nearly six hundred hands,' the History continues. 'Its business extends over the whole Union and to distant foreign lands, and is said to be the largest and best equipped concern of its kind west of the Alleghanies.'

According to the 1902 Journal Handbook of Indianapolis, the beginnings of what was to become Atlas Engine Works (the largest exclusive engine and boiler works in the world) in the city, were the project of the Indianapolis Car Manufacturing Company. 'In 1880 the policy of miscellaneous manufacturing on orders was abandoned and the company deter mined to devote itself exclusively to the manufacture of steam engines and boilers of standard types and sizes.

'This meant repetitive construction, with interchangeable parts; the manufacture of engines and boilers in lots, instead of one at a time, and the carrying of large stocks of manufactured merchandise, not only in Indianapolis, but at various distributing points. These methods of production and distribution, so common today, were then new in heavy machinery and they were supplemented by constant effort to produce better goods, to sell them for less money, and to increase the volume of the business.'

The company apparently grew and prospered until in 1902 it had approximately 1,500 employees, an enormous building and the equipment included 'not only every labor-saving and cost-saving device that can be applied to the manufacture of engines and boilers, but also very complete arrangements for the health and safety of the men employed.'


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