Tractors were a game changer back in 1916. While they were revolutionizing farming, tractor manufacturing facilities were recognized by many to offer long term economic benefits to communities as well as investors. This article is about what these new machines were meaning to farmers and the general population.
Some notion of the outlook for the farm tractor, as seen by La Crosse business men engaged in its manufacture, may be gathered from the action of these gentlemen in capitalizing the La Crosse Tractor company, which took over a $200,000 corporation, for a million and a half, a sum seven and one-half times the original investment.
La Crosse has enjoyed considerable growth in an industrial way, and many strong factories are in operation here. However, the hope that there might come to us some industry of vast proportions that might mean as much to La Crosse as the Buick automobile factory means to Flint, Michigan, or the National Cash Register company factory means to Dayton, Ohio, has not been indulged with any abiding faith. The reason is that while at present La Crosse enjoys fair average conditions for manufacturing it does not present such exceptional advantages as would be calculated of themselves to attract the very largest type of industries. If such an industry is to come to this city it must deal with a product that can be manufactured about as well in one city as in another, which leaves the thing largely a matter of luck.
A Turn of Fortune
Perhaps to the mere chance that the Sta-rite Engine company engaged in the manufacture of farm tractors may be credited the coming to La Crosse of that mythical thing for which its people have hoped - a great industry that shall carry the name of the Gateway City into every farming county in the nation.
The factories that get the jump on the business of manufacturing farm tractors seem to have a great future. This industry now occupies relatively the same position that the automobile industry occupied some ten years ago, and its possibilities may fairly be measured by the development and expansion of the latter industry to its present stupendous portions.
The farm tractor is now recognized by the American farmer as an essential to progressive farming. Its reputation is made. There are some seven million farmers in the United States. Of these somewhere near three millions own farm properties that warrant the use of light tractors. To date not more than 70,000 are supplied, and of the nearly three million remaining probably every one expects to buy a tractor. This gives an idea of the volume of business to begin with, and that volume is multiplied by the fact that the life of these machines is not eternal and that by the time the territory is well supplied there will be a demand for new machines to replace those that have been worn out.
An illustration of the reason why the farmer has turned so eagerly to the tractor may be gathered from a few statistics. It has been demonstrated that the tractor will plow and disc a given field in one-half the time required with horses. Since its operation is much cheaper than that of horses the saving is better than fifty per cent and the farmer is given leisure for other things. But that represents a small part of the advantage only, for it is in crop maturity and crop saving that the great profit exists. The tractor permits the ground to be prepared early and quickly: this permits also of early cropping and threshing. In this way there is the thorough development of the crop, and it is all harvested. The loss through crop immaturity and late harvesting and threshing thus obviated is figured in millions.
Buying a tractor is not a hardship to the farmer, and he knows it. There are in the United States some twenty-five million horses and mules valued at about three billion dollars and in effect buying a tractor is merely a trade. A farmer who has eight horses sells four of them to buy a tractor. He gains not only
by the cheaper operation, but by a land economy. It is estimated that it takes five acres of ground to keep a horse. By selling four horses he saves the product of twenty acres of his farm, which is equivalent to having twenty additional acres given to him.
"Farm Implements," a widely circulated journal published in Minneapolis, says that while the number of tractors now (early in 1916) in use is estimated at 40,000, it is confidently expected that 30,000 tractors will be sold during 1916. (Of this latter 30,000 tractors the La Crosse concern contributed over 600). When it is considered that the tractor first came into use eighteen years ago, it becomes significant that the 1916 sales of approximately 30,000 amounted to seventy-five percent of the total sales for eighteen years prior thereto. With 40,000 machines sold, and 2,700,000 farms with and acreage of one hundred or more acres to supply, "Farm Implements" considers the prospects of the business as "almost unlimited".
"Farm Implements" continues:
"In connection with the estimated number of work animals in the United States, and their value, another item of immediate interest is the cost of maintaining that immense number of animals engaged in farm work.
"This is placed at approximately $1,500,000,000 annually - a sum equal to one-half the value of the livestock. This means that each two years the total value of work animals on farms in the country is consumed in the form of feed. As the tractor does not require feed, and consumes fuel only when in operation, the maintenance cost is a powerful argument in favor of the substitution of tractor power for animal power on the farm."