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 North Manchester, Indiana

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Source: NMHS Newsletter Nov 1995

John Deere Comes to North Manchester

by Rex Reahard

Jay asked me to tell you about the Reahards and the John Deere business in North Manchester, and the many changes that have taken place in farming in the time we were in business from 1936 to 1957. This period of time was when horse power farming was rapidly changing to power farming and John Deere became a household name in the farming industry.

First, I want to introduce you to the Reahard family and then tell how they got involved with John Deere. But before I go any further, I want to answer a question I've been asked many times: "Who is Catherine Reahard whose tombstone is on the Historical Society's Memorial Wall in the Halderman Cemetery?" Catherine Bair was the first wife of John F. Reahard who came to young North Manchester in 1838 - a pioneer! They were married in 1851 and had five children. Their oldest son was Franklin, my grandfather.
As I start my story, I want to call your attention to two adages in this story; namely, l. Sometimes it isn't what you know but who you know to get ahead, and 2. what goes around comes around. I'm sure they are familiar to you, so see if you can pick them out in this story.When John F. Reahard came to No. Manchester in 1838 he was ten years old. He took jobs with men and moved freight (the Movers) from Lagro to the new town of No. Manchester. Over a period of time he was able to save enough money to buy a team and wagon of his own. By 1860 he was able to buy a farm 1/2 mile west of the Bolivar bridge where he, his wife Catherine and their five children (four boys and a girl) started farming. Catherine died in 1867 and John F. later married Sarah Lautzenhiser. From that marriage three children were born. John F. died in 1914 at the age of 86.

Our story now continues with my grandfather, Franklin Reahard. He was born in 1853 and in 1874 he married Ellen Cripe. They had three children, one of whom was Dan Reahard. Ellen died in 1882 and in 1883 Franklin married Sarah Royer. From this marriage there were four children, my father being the second born. After his first marriage, Franklin started farming where the Highland Hills Golf course is now on Highway 15. Because of the hilly land, he sold that farm and purchased the one just south of it.
In June of 1896 tragedy struck. Franklin Reahard hitched his team of horses to a wagon loaded with produce to be taken to Wabash. At the time there was no bridge across the river. One either had to ford the river or travel three miles to the east to the Rey bridge. While in Wabash, the weather was fine, however in the north east a heavy rain had fallen which caused to river to rise very fast. Coming home quite late in the day, he was not aware of this and in attempting to again ford the river, he was swept away and drowned. My father was eight years old at the time.

After my grandfather Franklin died, my grandmother, Sarah decided to sell the farm and she bought a house and moved her family to Roann. My father, Russell (Rick) got jobs working for farmers in the area and clerking at the Baber General Store in Roann. Two very important things happened while clerking at the General Store which changed his life. First was when he met a man by the name of Charles Moreland who on occasion stopped at the store to sell items of Hardware. One of those items was the John Deere Walking Plow, another was the John Deere Two Horse Riding One Row Corn Cultivator. There was also a John Deere gas engine used to pump water. This was the introduction of John Deere items to this area.

The second was that this is where he met my mother when she came in one day to make a purchase. Soon love dominated the scene and they were married December 25, 1911 and moved to a farm south of Akron, Indiana where my father not only farmed but found time to attend an auctioneering school at Bluffton, Ind. My sister, brother and I were all born in Akron.
In 1928 my father learned that an IHC dealer in Peru needed a salesman and he applied and was hired for the job. In 1934 Dad learned that the North Manchester IHC dealer had died and his son-in-law was running the business and needed an experienced salesman. With Dad's previous experience he was immediately hired when he applied.

It is customary for farm machinery salesmen to go to the state fair and look at the new equipment the companies are introducing to the farmers for the next year. In 1934 while walking through the John Deere machinery display, Dad happened to see his old friend, Charlie Moreland who, 25 years before called on the Baber General Store in Roann. In that period of time, Charlie had been promoted to Vice-President and General Manager of the John Deere Plow Co. in charge of the Indiana and Kentucky areas. After the small talk and catching up on the past, Charley got serious and asked Dad to start a John Deere dealership in North Manchester. So when he came home, he discussed it with the family and the family approved it.

So John Deere came to North Manchester. We started the business in 1934 where ONE WORLD HANDCRAFTS is now.
Our first inventory was a John Deere "A" tractor on steel wheels and a John Deere "B" tractor on lug wheels. Incidentally, these tractors had only two cylinders. We also got a two bottom plow and a one bottom plow. The two bottom was pulled behind the JD "A" and the one bottom behind the JD "B".

This inventory also included a 7 foot disc harrow, a three section drag harrow, a three section spring tooth harrow and two 999 corn planters. A few repair parts were also added to this inventory. If we needed anything else, we could drive to Ft. Wayne to the John Deere Warehouse.

The first year we sold three tractors - a JD "B" and two JD "A"s - steel wheels, of course. Tractors with rubber tires were unheard of until 1938 when Sears sold a rubber tired tractor in this area called a GRAHAM BRADLEY. This tractor, ordinarily on steel wheels, would pull a 2-bottom plow, but with rubber tires, it could pull a 3-bottom plow. By 1940 all tractors had rubber tires unless it was a special order.

Business was slow the first three years, but auctioneering was good. There was no competition for auctioneers in the Manchester area except for Hank Auker at South Whitley. When Dad had a farm sale, he could pick up a lot of prospects for farm machinery sales from the bidders. Later, he would call on them and many times make a sale. However, they usually had something to trade in and that something would likely be a horse drawn item. The most difficult trade-in to handle and deal with was livestock - horses, cows, pigs and sometimes sheep. My uncle, John Reahard, dad's brother, who had a farm 2 1/2 miles southwest of Laketon, was a livestock dealer and would take them or help sell them. The Liberty Mills sale barn was very active at that time and much of the livestock was sold there. Farming up to the l940's was much like it is today in the Amish areas.

Most of the machinery that we sold was shipped by rail in box cars which we had to unload and warehouse until sold. Most of the farm equipment came in bundles wired together. We had to cut the wires, lay out the pieces, get out the set-up book and assemble each item.

In the early 40's horse drawn equipment was rapidly changing to tractor drawn equipment. John Deere came out with streamlined tractors on rubber tires and with electric starters and even lights. They had a complete line of equipment by now from buying out smaller companies such as VAN BRUNT GRAIN DRILLS, MANSUR CORN PLANTERS, DAINE HAY TOOLS, LETZ FEED GRINDERS, DEERING GRAIN BINDERS, etc. They also added combines and corn pickers.

In the l930's and the mid 40's the average farm in the N. Manchester area was 80 acres. If someone owned 160 acres, he was a big farmer. When WW II came, the farm equipment dealers were rationed. The Reahard Implement Co. was no exception. I remember getting a letter from the U.S. government stating "There will be no more steel allotted for Hammer Mills since enough hammers have already been produced." What a joke! Farmers use hammer mills to grind feed -- not to produce Hammers to pound nails. Also in 1942 a ceiling price was put on certain farm equipment such as tractors, combines, corn pickers and hay balers. These items were becoming scarce because of rationing and they were bringing such high prices at auctions that only the wealthy farmers could buy them. This presented big problems for auctioneers, including my dad. For example: If an auctioneer is selling a tractor with a ceiling price of $600 (set by O.P.A.) and several bidders are willing to give the $600, who gets the tractor? Some one suggested putting the names in a hat and letting them draw for it. The auctioneers tried that, but the state of Indiana -- back then -- said this was gambling, which was illegal.

So, the auctioneers got together and solved their problem. They would put an item that had no ceiling price such as a bale of hay or straw or even a straw hat in some cases and let the tractor bidders bid on the other item (the bale of hay, for example) and the one who bid the most got the tractor. A bale of hay in this situation could bring several hundred dollars. I remember my dad coming home and telling about selling a straw hat for $350.00. An auctioneer in the Plymouth Area defied the O.P.A and their ceiling price system. He spent a year in jail and paid a $1000. fine.

During the war the farm equipment business was slow, but you could notice one thing that the horse drawn equipment was either traded or set aside for power equipment. By this time the Reahard Implement Co. had made three moves since starting business. In 1938 we moved from downtown to the building now housing the Spyker Spreader Warehouse which is next to the Julia Felgar Real Estate office on West Main Street. In 1942 we bought a building at the corner of Main and First Street from the Percy Bunker estate.
Over the years John Deere has made many changes in its equipment and one early change in particular that I remember -- mostly for its advertisements - was the John Deere "H" tractor which came out in 1939. It pulled a one bottom 16" plow or a two bottom 12" plow and you could cultivate two rows of corn. Its advertising went like this: it costs the price of a load of bread or 11 cents to plow an acre of ground and the price of a 3 cent postage stamp to cultivate an acre of corn." Wouldn't we like to go back to those days?
In the early 50's farm machinery began to get bigger. John Deere came out with tractors that pulled four and five bottom plows; self propelled combines with 10' and 18' headers (that's how wide a swath it could cut) bigger grain drills; bigger disks; bigger planters, etc.

In the early 50's John Deere management changed also. My father's old friend Charley Moreland was given an early retirement; the warehouse in Ft. Wayne was closed and everything was moved to Indianapolis. New and younger men took over and the new management wanted the Dealers to carry more parts and employ a parts manager. They wanted a full time salesman as well as two mechanics in the shop. They made a survey of our sales area and then told us what we should stock. At first it was a suggestion, but as time passed, the suggestions became stronger and they began shipping equipment to us that we had not ordered. This caused quite a discussion at the monthly dealer meetings and a profitable dealership was no longer profitable. Incidentally, John Deere stock went from $16 to $32 in a two year time span.

In the spring of 1954 John Deere invited one person from each dealership to come to the tractor factory at Waterloo, Iowa to see the future tractors and equipment. My Dad being the senior member of the company made the trip. When he got back he said he couldn't believe what he saw --mainly tractors as big as locomotives, pulling equipment as wide as a highway around a field. He said these machines weren't ready for market yet, but they would be ready in four to five years. These are the big tractors and combines we see today on the farms.

In the fall of 1954 the John Deere area salesman (the blockman to us) stopped by as he usually did, only this time he asked us if we would be willing to close our store in No. Manchester and open one in Wabash. The main office was moving the dealerships to the county seats with one dealer to a county. In other words, they were getting ready for the big equipment about to come. After some discussion with the blockman, my father said, "We'll think about it". Over the coming weeks, I could tell that Dad was very discouraged and depressed. None of us wanted to go to Wabash. The only thing left was to sell the business, for the folks to retire and for me to find employment elsewhere.

On March 23, 1955, my father died from a stroke. He was 67 at the time. In order to settle the estate, the family decided to close the store. The process was started, and in 1957 it was completed. The Reahard Implement Company closed its doors. As for myself, I became a teacher at Lagro High School and at Northfield High School where I remained until I retired in l980.