Interviewee: James Hand, F.H. Slim Holiman, Jere Nash
Interviewer: William Cash
Date: July 3, 1974
WC: This is William Cash of Delta State University talking to Mr. James Hand, Mr. F.H. Slim Holiman and Mr. Jere Nash. This is the 3rd of July, 1974. We’re at the Delta Implement Company in Greenville, Mississippi.
WC: Mr. Hand, you were talking in terms of the changes that took place in the early New Deal concerning the consolidation or breaking down of farms and how it would tie-in with mechanization. Would you comment for the purpose of the tape on this?
J.H.: Well, the worst of the agricultural depression followed the 1929 national depression. Although, the agricultural depression had really started in 1920 in cotton, in particular when the price went down so violently. In the new Deal days of President Roosevelt, they had difficulty with the total economy and wanted to make means of livelihood available to a lot of people who were unemployed or underemployed. One of the ideas they had was bringing people into the Delta area and dividing the plantations into small family sized operations in limited acreage, probably 40-60 acres for a family. But, their method of production would be what we call subsistence type. They would be doing mostly garden work as a means of livelihood, and then the small production for sales purpose. These units were made to fit the interested purchaser, fit his family composition. If he worked for a period of years on this more or less subsistence type, his family make-up might change he might not have as much productive labor as he had when he originally settled there. As he got older, maybe the owner died, but so many circumstances changed that the original purchaser might come to the point where he wanted to dispose of his unit. His neighbor’s changes might have been in the other direction. He was becoming more efficient and more prosperous, and he wanted more acreage to have amore economic productive unit. So, he would buy that. So, we’ve seen them come from these smaller SA and FHA units that the government set up with the idea a big social program to start with. Those people have gotten into these more economic, larger operating units so that they’re able to use the most efficient machines, and as I mentioned, these small operators would perhaps by – were able to buy their basic productive machines. But, for some of the more expensive harvesting equipment such as the cotton piker and the grain combine, he wasn’t justified I buying and owning on of these big units for his own use. So, he might buy one with the idea of doing custom work for his neighbor, or he and his neighbor might own one of these things cooperatively. Another effort that the government made, and some of the social organizations, including maybe the YMCA, was in what they call co-operative farms at that time – cooperative ownership and a community productive effort. Thos things lasted a very short time.
WC: In other words, actually consolidation, either consolidation or cooperation permit the mechanization of what were small farms and , of course, as mentioned by Mr. Nash earlier, when you can save 50 man hours, this is absolutely necessary in this day of competition, cotton for example competing with other fibers. Have you noted any change, for example, with the increase production of beans and the advent of rice here in the Mississippi Delta, of course this traditionally is know as cotton section. Would this have had any impact on the mechanization program, or did you simply come up with those machines necessary for those other products?
JH: Soybeans, in particular you have reference to?
WC: Right, sir.
JH: Well, of course in the tenant-mule days, their efforts were primarily in the production of cotton. And, the plantation itself would make the effort to produce the feed for the livestock. But, very few of them ever accomplished that. And, so they brought the hay from east Mississippi, the Johnson Grass hay and spread the seed all over this country, and some people would try to produce alfalfa as a different enterprise, you know, to supply the local need, but the feed producing effort was not complete. They never did do it, very few, none that I know of, never did that job. They always bought it from somewhere else, the corn from Iowa and the hay from east Mississippi. The planters in the area began in the early machine days to diversify into other crops, and the other crops were primarily, I think, oats in the beginning, very little wheat, but soybeans had been introduced into the country from China. Probably, maybe in the teens, and in the late twenties I think we had the variety of soybeans that Slim Holiman mentioned, Laredo, which was planted broadcast, and it was a viney type of bean and because of that , it wasn’t well adapted to the combine. The vines made it very difficult to combine, but with the researching that had been going on all the time at the experiment station s and the college, they adapted varieties of soybeans that did land themselves to satisfactory machine harvesting. Now these varieties fit each latitude, and they fit with the country going east and west because of the seasonal differences, but they also developed a type of bean that could be planted in rows, and they improved these types of beans so they did not shatter as badly and they were different maturities so that the combing would have a longer period for harvesting and more efficiency because of its longer utilization. So now we do have every satisfactory varieties of soybeans and the productivity has gone up tremendously. One of the things that discouraged getting into soybeans for long, especially into what we call the new ground areas, the cleared land that has been brought into production since the depression., was the fat that we did not have the machines that could economically clear the land, nor died we have the power of tractors and adaptable plowing attachment to handle this heavier soil, you see. This timber grew on much heavier soil. So, it eventually had to be cleared enough, and the roots and trees eliminated before you could get in with machine operations on a satisfactory basis. But, tremendous amounts of acreage have been brought into soybean production that could not be prior to these changed in the availability of machines to clear land and to produce the crops on it.
JN: I might add, Mr. Hand, that in the plantations the cotton is more or less, this day and time, planted on the best land. The beans are planted on land that is not too adaptable for cotton. Now, we’ve gotten, I believe, last year the Mississippi Delta average was about 25 bushels of beans per acre, and I’d say in the last 20 years that was up from 10 bushels per acre. And, as Mr. Hand has mentioned, the development of better equipment to harvest beans and the Experiment Station developing a better type of bean, properly harvested won’t shatter as the combine hits the bean, in dry weather they will shatter badly. It won’t get on the combine platform.
F.H.: I’d like to just add this in there about the land clearing. As you all remember we used to just go out there with men and cross-cut saws, and cut the trees, have log rollings, and burn them, leave the stumps and you plow around these stumps until they rooted out in about 10 years. And later on they started to blowing stumps with dynamite, but in the last 15-20 years, they’ve used heavy crawling tractors that would push the whole tree down and push the roots out and pile it and burn it, and then they have heavy sub-soilers or chisel-plows, they would go in there and pull the roots out. And, you could put a forest – a piece of timberland in cultivation now and have it practically root-free, stump-free in two or three seasons where it used to take 10 to fifteen, and by eliminating all of this with heavy equipment, pulling these heavy discs and rooters through this soil and pushing the stumps, you can get a piece of land in cultivation in a much quicker time. Now, they used to in the old days by hand labor cutting it with saws and blades.
J.H.: In the area 20 miles south of Rolling Fork, where there are woodlands as part of the acreage of a plantation, we have found rows in the woods that had grown mature timber by the early teens of this century, showing that the people of long ago had made an effort to clear land that they later found out that was not desirable for this kind of crops that they were trying to grow so it grew up in the sprouts that turned into trees, but the old rows that they originally tried to plant crops on are still in that timberland. At least tow timber crops have been harvested – matured; hardwood trees have been harvested on them since it had been in cultivation.
W.C.: Now, in the area of rice machines, have you had great changes that took place there? And, of course now, my knowledge of rice goes all the way back to Colonial days as an important cash crop, but so far as Mississippi, it’s comparatively recent, and I suppose just certain counties here in Mississippi Delta even attempt to grow rice, but you do handle rice equipment?
F.H.: Yes, a regular grain machine that we normally call a grain machine for oats, wheat, barley and grains of that type, has been very easily adapted to rice. And for the simple reason that they have gone to high clearance and bigger tires with big lugs on the tires that would go through water. The basic difference in a grain machine and a rice machine is the high clearance and the lower gear ratio and big flotation rubber tires with deep cleated lugs that have effective traction that will get through the rice fields, and you harvest rice in about fourteen to twenty percent moisture content, even though there’s water in there, but these machines have enough flotation that they will go through it and harvest the rice.
J.H.: The rice came into the Delta, I don’t know just exactly what year, but it’s probably in the late thirties or early forties, would that be about right?
F.H.: About the early forties.
J.H.: At that time, when rice acres were under allocation, of course very little of it was, well, none of it was in Mississippi. But, at some point, probably during World War II, they needed some more production, and they allocated 50,000 acres to the Mississippi Delta, if I recall. That needs checking on. But, most of that went to Bolivar County, and your highest development of rice production has been in Bolivar County, and you can get a lot of factual information about that right there at home.
W.C.: I was just going to question the counties involved. Now, of the Delta Implement system, I would imagine Planters Equipment in Cleveland would deal more with the rice.
J.H.: That’s right.
W.C.: I heard it mentioned several years ago that there were about fifteen million dollars worth of rice per year grown in Bolivar County.
J.H.: It had the majority of the rice acreage on the Delta as long as it was under allocation, but under the world demand for foodstuffs in the last two years, this restriction of allocation has been removed so anybody who wants to get into it can get in and plant just as much as he wants to.
W.C.: So, it’s possible even, and you mentioned and certainly we all hate to mention, but the south Delta sections continues to have the water problems, possibly rice might be a better solution there in some cases than cotton. Could you characterize your mechanized problems and solutions pretty much along this line: In some cases the farmer presents the problem to International Harvester, and they try to develop what is necessary? In other cased International Harvester says I have this machine for you if you can come up with a type of product here whether it be the soybean or what. So it’s, as we mentioned earlier, a really cooperative project but yet it’s continual education, isn’t it?
F.H.: As the demand grows for a different type of machine, Harvester, along with their engineers will develop, or help you develop, a particular machine.
W.C.: In other words the cotton picker came in as a necessity because it was the only non-mechanized part of the farming operation and yet a very significant part, right? You had to get it in, the harvest was that significant?
F.H.: As soon as there was a demand for a cotton picker, the harvester Company go right to work and got one that would pick cotton and work.
J.H.: They anticipated the demand, by a long period of time, as Mr. Holiman has mentioned, by purchasing this original Price-Campbell patent. So, they are in research and to the extent of millions of dollars a year just probing possibilities and proving them.
F.H.: It would be an education to anybody if you could get into their research operation at Hinsdale, Illinois, which is ten miles west of Chicago. It’s been several years since I’ve been up there, but it is enormous. They have an experimental farm up there, and of course they’re not only in farming, they’re in solar system engines and all that kind of stuff. But they’ve go a lot of stuff up there that we probably will never live to see, that’s being built now. But they’ll build machines and work with them four or five years sometime and then abandon them if they four out that they weren’t the right road they wanted to go. They send lots of money on research as well as all the other manufacturers.
J.H.: Just one of the things in that connection that’s being done at the Experiment Station out here with cooperation from the manufacturer is solid planted cotton harvested with a combine. And, they’re even going so far as to try to have a gin stand on top of the cotton combine. So, folks are looking ahead, I mean, they don’t wait for the demand. They start to create machines that will make a demand.
F.H.: People used to make a remark, well that won’t work; they might as well to quit that. People just better quit saying that because it may work, I don’t know. Like these farmers call us up, it won’t work. We’ve got to make it work. You don’t go out there and tell them we can’t make it work. We have to go out there and put it to work. Well, International Harvester built their first traction engine in 1907. That was merely a one-cylinder stationary engine mounted on four wheels. Then that tractor worked for quite a while until about 1912 and they came out with a two-cylinder tractor, know as a Titan. But, when they really got in the tractor business was in about 1920 when they came out with the 10-20 and the 15-30 series of tractors. That was when tractors began in this area. In 1924 International Harvester introduced the first row-crop tractor in the United States, known as the Farmall. This tractor was a wide tread with the tricycle front, and would straddle two rows and was equipped with two-row farming equipment, such as the two-row planter or two-row cultivator. This was actually the first time that any cultivating had been done with tractors. We used two row equipment quite extensively until 1928, when we began experimenting with four-row equipment. In three or four years, we had quite a few users that had gone to the four-row equipment. And, we continued using the four-row equipment on past World War II, then we went into six-row equipment and of course, now, we are using eight-row equipment, and in some cases people are running twelve-row equipment. As we progress from two-row equipment on up through the eight-row or twelve-row equipment, naturally it has required more horsepower, and we have gone from approximately eighteen horsepower drawbar, to a hundred and fifty horsepower drawbar now.
This is William Cash of Delta State University. Today is the 3rd of July 1974, and we’re having a conference type discussion with Mr. James Hand, Mr. F.H. “Slim” Holiman and Mr. Jere Nash. We’re located at the Delta Implement Company in Greenville, and today’s topic will be a discussion in the general area of agriculture, but more specifically in the area of mechanization. We have in our group three people who were in with the original conception of mechanized farming in the Mississippi Delta and certainly they are well qualified to talk on this subject.
W.C.: Mr. Hand, you might give us a brief background here.
J.H.: In general, t he beginning of the mechanization, the greatest step in mechanization was in the lower Delta. In 1920, the agricultural depression began in the case of cotton, why it was quite tragic, in as much as it caused practically every farmer in this Delta country to be almost insolvent. He had very difficult times financially due to the price. Another thing as far as the lower Delta is concerned was the fact that we were affected by backwater which came out of the Mississippi River due to the lack of completion of the Mississippi River levee system. This backwater would cover the farmland and sometimes would remain on it rather late, and it was difficult to maintain the tenants, they couldn’t be happy with a poor prospect for a crop. Another thing was, as Mr. Nash has mentioned in a written statement we have here, that the labor after World War I had begun to go to some of the industrial centers for common labor, and most of that came out of these areas where the conditions were the most unfavorable. And another situation was the fact that during these backwaters, the upper Delta was still protected and they were able to go on in the tenant-mule farm operation in a normal way, and part of their labor had gone to industry so they would come down and get labor out of the lower Delta. From Issaquena County in particular, Mr. Nash will remember when there was hardly an operation in Issaquena County. Everything was growing up in weeds and sprouts and over in Sharkey County it was almost as bad, but they stayed there longer because of the transportation system that afforded the services for a desirable type of levee. But the beginning was really, so fare as the Delta is concerned, was probably after this 1920 situation. There had been a little effort to use tractors, four –wheel tractors, to do plowing, we’ll call that flat-breaking and disk-harrowing and peg-harrowing, those things began in the early twenties. They weren’t too commonly accepted. In 1924, we became interested in mechanization due to the fact that the International Harvester company had developed some machines that were advanced and was working toward complete mechanization. So at that time Mr. Nash, who was an employee of the Harvester Company came down to visit Mr. Jim Gibbs and myself and we forthwith signed a contract with International Harvester Company, a dealership contract with them, at Rolling Fork. That was in 1924, was it not, Jere?
J.H.: So, the first equipment we got was a few four-wheel tractors, but most of the machines that we were interested in were mule-drawn equipment like the on row planters and the turning plows and the middle busters and mowing machines. I guess we made a living selling the sickles for mowing machine blades, is that right Slim?
F.H.: A lot of hay machinery.
J.H.: The hay machinery was quite important at that particular time, and we sold the mowers, the rakes, the balers, and things of that classification. In 1924, when we opened, we got the first of what we call the general purpose farm tractors. The International Harvester Company called it the Farmall tractor. It came in the fall and it wasn’t ready to use in the field, of course, until the following year. But, there was some effort, to utilize the full capabilities of this general purpose tractor, which would be one that would prepare the land, seed-bed wise, plant it, and then cultivate it. A few years later, the cotton picker was being developed and came into use, Slim can tell us more about that a little bit later. But, one of the complicating circumstances of mechanization was that suppose you developed the cotton picker, which it came into the picture, you still had the hand hoeing jobs to be done, so you would need the same amount of labor to do the hoeing that you would need to do the picking. That was one of the complications of mechanization as well. Of course, that part wasn’t really settled until they got the chemicals in just recent years. At one point after our people had adapted to planting with the general purpose tractor, they would plant cotton seed thickly in the drill, and then to help the hoeing operation, they would cultivate crossways as well as with the direction of the rows. This eliminated a lot of the hoeing, as a matter of fact, in my own experience, our records show that we were able to hoe cotton for about one and a half man days for a season, which was a tremendous advancement over the old requirement in the man and mule tenant system.
W.C.: Could I question one thing here? On terminology, you use the term Farmall, now later on we use International Harvester. Is the Farmall just the tractor?
J.H.: The Farmall was a model of the International Harvester tractors. It was the general-purpose tractor. Now, were you about ready to get into the types of equipment that were being used prior to mechanization and then as we grew into mechanization, Mr. Nash I think could carry on on that.
J.N.: Well, we were using the one-half row double shovel of the gu whip type, a five-two cultivator for many years, and we came along with the two mule cultivators which was also a procedure to educate our farmers and day laborers to operate and then we came along with the four mule two row riding cultivators. In the beginning of our Farmall tractor some of our farmers preferred to pull that behind the Farmall tractor, because the labor had been accustomed to using it with four mules, a two row riding cultivator which was very good indeed. And then later, or at the same time, we had the two-row mounted cultivator for the Farmall tractor. We used that through the middle twenties until about 1928 and we came out with the four row cultivator and the four-row planter. And then in the early thirties the rubber tire people produced a tire that we could loose, a rubber tire for the Farmall Tractor, for front and rear, which really put us in business. It handled the four-row equipment, because with the steel lugs and the four-row equipment and some sandy land why you get stuck. And, your rubber tires help this no end. And then we continued through the thirties with the four row equipment. Course we had the two-row middle buster, along with the two-row cultivators to make your rows with and make your ??. Now you see through the thirties from 5¢ cotton to 1936 we had 16¢ cotton and in 1937 we had 8 1/2¢ cotton, and then of course as Mr. Hand mentioned, we were mechanized as far as up to picking and then we didn’t have the labor to pick it to start with. I few could get it out of South Mississippi or other places (costing from $50 to $65 a bale to pick the cotton) and then in 1942 the Harvester Company came out with the one row cotton picker.
J.H.: May I say that Mr. Nash mentioned the fact that they got pickers out of South Mississippi. Contractors would bring labor into the area to pick by hand. A great many people from Texas would bring the Mexicans in to the area to pick by hand. How did that last Jere?
J.N.: All through the thirties, and into the forties.
W.C.: Well, indeed, actually, the story is more than mechanization, it’s also specialization. You had to specialize because as mentioned earlier you had to have something here to do the hoeing or something to do the picking yet you couldn’t go all the way in a total mechanized fashion.
J.N.: I might say, as Mr. hand has said, the beginning was in 1924 for the whole procedure. From 1924 through two-row and four row planting and cultivating through the cotton picker was strictly an educational program that the dealers had to get up a program and have meeting s for farmers to go into this problem. Mr. Aldridge made several trips to Clarksdale, and some other areas making talks to farmers about mechanization with Farmall tractors. We do have a film on mechanization, that was made in about 1942 or 1943.
J.H.: 16 millimeter movie.
W.C.: One general impression that most people have and I rather suspect that you gentlemen would probably have information to refute impression, is that the tractor drove the labor off the land. Is this a true assertion or what is the story?
J.N.: It couldn’t be further from the truth. Any step in mechanization was needed years before we had proper equipment to do the job. As Mr. Hand mentioned, in the south Delta, the overflow of the backwater of 1922, 1927 overflow, and the backwater of 1928 and 1929 and the backwater of 1937 was the main reason for so many of the tenants leaving that part of the area.
J.H.: As long as the producer could get a tenant family, he wasn’t interested in mechanization. I might say at this point that from 1924 until the middle thirties, you could start from Greenville, Mississippi either on 61 highway or number 1 highway and drive to Vicksburg, and from 25 to 75 percent of the land in this fertile, alluvial Delta country was idle for the lack of labor to farm it. Of course, financing had a lot to do with it too.
J.H.: And, Jere, one of the ways that the dealers, we as dealers persisted in the transition to mechanization was to trade the producer out of his mules. Would you develop that?
J.N.: Well, of course then too I might inject at this point, the banks and your crop production companies frowned on mechanization. A farmer that went into mechanization, had a problem getting financed. Does that answer your question?
J.H.: I was thinking about out getting into the mule business. In order to relieve the…
W.C.: In other words the mule, in spite of the fact that there was a need for the tractor to start with, for total and full mechanization, actually the mule wound in as part of the competition.. you didn’t drive the mule off, as a matter of fact, he just became obsolete, right?
J.H.: And then he’ll explain how we traded for them as part of our selling.
J.N.: We traded for mules at each of our locations. We had a mule lot and we’d trade for oats and hay to feed them as down payment on a tractor.
F.H.: I might mention right here, talking about this land after it was all grown up in the lower Delta, the tractor was very essential in reclaiming this land because it had so much more power than, say a team of four mules to a harrow, and the tractor could, in those days, we were preparing from twenty to twenty five acres of land a day with a Farmall tractor reclaiming this flooded land, where you could d not hardly reclaim it in time with mules in time to plant it in cotton, soybeans or corn, mostly corn in those days.
J.H.: One of the ways that the wider distribution of machines was accomplished was in the late twenties the agricultural depression, which had begun in 1920 and was a cause of the Great Depression of 1929, had already affected this area, and I guess it was about 1929 when the Harvester Company allowed us to sell farm equipment with no down payment. Was that the practice?
J.N.: Right at the beginning of the Depression, yes 1930 or maybe 1931.
J.H.: About 1930 they allowed us to sell with no cash payment for a full system of mechanization. And we got in some trouble and they did too.
W.C.: You probably made some life long customers though, that way, too.
J.N.: Well, our company had very few problems in selling with no down payment. Now, some of the other areas did have problems.
J.H.: I recall one operation in Issaquena County below Mayersville, we are farming part of that same land now, a partnership bought six complete outfits to farm some very desirable land down there in this weed and sprout country, and they got their equipment with no down payment, and they weren’t successful so the Harvester Company had to repossess it. Well, part of the story is the fact that some people had bought some very desirable property near Rolling Fork, the county agent was one of them that was involved and one of the older planters there, and they bought this equipment for a very minimum price as well as a cash payment. They had made a production loan of $6,000 to farm fourteen hundred acres of land and part of that ($1,500) was used to pay for this six tractor out fit that had been repossessed. Thos people were good operators and times were beginning to change, so they would up with one of the most efficient operations anywhere in Sharkey county and they prospered.
J.N.: I might add as Mr. Holiman and Mr. Hand have both said – we might take for instance some of the plantations that we operate. Mr. Hand knew these lands very well. We had looked at one or two other plantations to buy, and the weeds and the sprouts and plum bushes were so tall we couldn’t tell whether it was buckshot land, sand land, or what it was, or how the drainage was so we didn’t buy it, and it was some of the best land in the Delta. Maybe only a mile or two from the property we already owned, and the property we bought, you couldn’t tell the weed and the cockleburs and other vegetation was tall as we were, on the property, and all of it, 90% of it, was lying idle. That was in 1930.
W.C.: You mention the necessity to educate the farmers. Now, you mention also buying plantations, in other words you have to be in there, you have to demonstrate this, really as a part and parcel to the selling mechanized equipment, right?
J.N.: Well, we did. We had barbeques and busses and transportation to bring a number of farmers from Mississippi County, Arkansas and the north Delta to the plantations that we operate right south of Rollin Fork. Is that about right, Mr. Hand?
J.H.: Well, Mr. Nash, I think really, we made two efforts in getting into farm production ourselves. I think principally, in order for us to demonstrate the value of the machines, especially the trade in machines that we’ve gotten from people who had gotten enough use out of them and they wanted to replace them. They would trade those in to us and it would be helpful if we could demonstrate that those things were profitably productive. Among other things, Mr. Nash made trades on a rental basis of them below Greenville here, where we got into some partnership operations, one illustration in Sharkey County was that one of the planters, who was president of a bank in Rolling Fork, had repossessed a piece of property, and this planter thought that if we would supply the equipment to operate this four or five hundred acres that he would furnish the see and the fertilizer and that we would borrow what they called a seed loan at that time, a government deal, I think you could borrow about eight hundred dollars or maybe it might have been four hundred, I think it was four hundred dollars. So, we attempted to make a crop on that basis. The Delta Implement Company supplied all of the equipment. It was all used equipment. We made the crop alright and we paid Delta Implement Company some rental on the equipment, and I think maybe the farmer whom I mentioned may have gotten a hundred and eighty five dollars for his half of it and we to a hundred and eight five dollars for our part of it. That was a farming operation, but we were getting experience at that time. Then Mr. Nash had association with some of the insurance company representatives around who would mention to him the availability of property and we go into some operations further on down. Now, this place that I mentioned, operated by the see land and the planter as a partner, later, we bought the thing because the bank in Vicksburg had repossessed the land because the bank in Rolling Fork had gone broke, so we bought that place on very favorable terms.
J.N.: In 1830 Cyrus Hall McCormick invented the reaper. A hundred years later the International Harvester Company, who was headed by the McCormicks, had already perfected the Farmall tractor, and the four-row cultivator and equipment. Going up to World War II, labor continued to leave the cotton country, going to the industrial areas of the North. Then the armed forces took some of our best young labor. Then, too, the cotton picker came in 1942 and one-row picker replaced fifty hand pickers. And later the two-row picker cam in 1956, which replaced a hundred pickers.
J.H.: Slim Holiman began working with the Harvester Company in 1925, and then became associated with Delta Implement Company in 1927. He is very well informed on all the phases of mechanization and its development in progress, but at this time I think it would be informative for him to speak on the development of the mechanical cotton picker.
F.H.: Mr. Hand, I’d just like to say that the first cotton picker, to everybody’s surprise was patented in 1854. of course, it was very crude and then in about 1890, Price Camel built a spindle-type machine. They had tried corkscrews and suction and everything up until that time. As I understand it, International Harvester bought Price Camel out in 1912 and started to spend a little more time and develop the cotton picker. In 1925, when I started work for Harvester, they brought an experimental machine to Mr. Oscar Bledsoe’s plantation at Shellmound, Mississippi. That was pulled by a 10-20 tractor and the cotton picker was mounted on a corn picker frame chassis, and we sacked the cotton. It did a very good job of picking, but they had not developed a means of digging or getting the cotton off of the spindles at that time. This type of machine went on, they experimented with it, and we had a machine similar to this in 1928 on Mr. Joe Aldridge’s place in Leland, and we were still having trouble digging. But, they went on with this pull-type machine and in 1938, the first mounted type machine was built and mounted on a Farmall – H tractor. This picker was given a number. Up until then none of the machines were numbered. They had what they called a QC number, which meant experimental. In 1938, they brought to the Delta a model HM10 picker mounted on an H tractor, and at about that time they came with a rubber doffer, to doff the cotton, which is still in use today and is very good. In 1942, they improved on this machine and I might say that the M-10 picker had a cleaning device on it to try to get the trash out of the cotton. But, it required so much horsepower that it was decided it would be better to let the gins do this cleaning. At about that time, Hobson, a big plantation in Clarksdale, cooperating with International Harvester had a gin company build a special cleaner for cleaning machine harvested cotton. In 1942, the Harvester Company eliminated the cleaner on our picker and designated the name as the M-12 picker. We sold this picker then in small qualities as the people were still migrating a lot of labor in here, and there was a lot of labor in the country because it required a lot of labor to make the crop and to hoe it. We didn’t have chemicals too much then, so they had labor to pick, but in 1948, was out biggest cotton picker year. It seams that the labor go to where they didn’t want to pick or something or left here and we came with the HM-12 picker. Now that picker was very successful and is still a very good picker and still a lot of the in use and it is still operating. This goes on until 1956 and they saw a demand for a two row picker and the first two-row picker was introduced in the fall of 1956 and at present we still are using two-row pickers. I would like to say that International Harvester has done all of the pioneering or experimental work on pickers, even though it’s a long drawn out process, most of the competitors that attempted to build a picker have picked up that patents that Harvester has run out or either changed and got a better item and discarded this and the other companies picked it up. As the cotton picker was improved, and the type of spindle and doffers were improved during the years, we were able to pick less trash in our cotton, and by the gins improving all along, we are able to pick cleaner cotton now, with a machine, than the had pickers picked.
J.H.: I came to the Delta in 1919 with my father. We came up to look at some plantations in Sharkey County with the idea of buying them. We bought some hardwood timber acreage instead and built a sawmill. The economy of lumber production was as bad as the cotton depression was in 1920, so when we got through with the manufacture of the timber that we had, we were in bad shape financially. In the meantime, Mr. Jim Gibbs, who had come to the Delta with us, as office manager, had gotten into the country store business, we’ll call it. We started with the commissary at the saw mill and went from there and he had put a lot of effort into general stores and also into a Texaco distributorship. So, when I finally wound up the bad lumber interlude, it occurred to me that the Delta was probably getting into shape for utilization for some of the machines that had begun to be developed, that would make more utilization of production machines possible in this area. So, I wrote a letter to the International Harvester Company district office in Memphis. Almost immediately, Mr. Nash and a fellow, Ed Berry, came down to Egremont, where one of our stores and our office was and immediately signed us up for a dealership franchise. And as I have already mentioned, Mr. Nash cooperated as an employee of International Harvester Company, because they had to be very effective in the assistance of promotion of the new machines. They had to know how to sell to us for customer needs, and in general they simply just had to be very knowledgeable in agriculture production by machine. So, Mr. Nash spent practically all of his time after we had begun to operate in our area. We started in Rolling Fork with a business called the Home Hardware Company. That was in 1924, I guess it must have been about August 1924. later, the next acquisition, I guess, was purchasing the dealership in Greenville from Anson Sheldon in what year, Jere?
J.H.: And then the Harvester Company was rather insistent upon us branching further so we went into the facilities, service facilities at Hollandale, Leland, Shaw and Mr. Nash was, even though he was with the Harvester Company, was devoting his time to our service area. And, it wasn’t long until we needed him in the business, because he was such a big part of it, and Mr. Gibbs was first president and when he died in 1937, I guess, I was president for a while and then made Mr. Nash president because he was the one that was the most directly occupied in the management of these stores that we had come to possess or establish. I’d like for Mr. Nash to elaborate on this.
J.N.: I’d might say, Mr. Hand, that acquisition of these other locations, namely Yazoo City, Indianola, and Cleveland. During the early thirties and Depression, the dealers there had gotten in financial difficulties and Harvester Company had taken them over and asked us first to Yazoo City then in Indianola, and then in Cleveland, to come in and to establish the business. We called Yazoo City and Indianola, Delta Implement Company, and when we acquired the operation in Cleveland, it was the Planters Equipment Company, which we continued as Planter’s Equipment Company in Cleveland, Mississippi and also operated the six stores at that time. As Mr. Hand had already mentioned, Hollandale, Leland, and Shaw, which we finally saw fit and with the Harvester Company agreeing that we would close those operations because they were too close to the other bas of operations. Then we had the acquisitions of Blytheville, Arkansas, and Manila. Those dealers became financially involved, and we took them over. Then later, twenty-two years ago, we took Vicksburg over, so all of those seven locations that we acquired were through the difficulties financially with dealers already operating. They grew out of the operation of Egremont, Mississippi the dealership which was established there in 1924.
W.C.: How does Delta Implement Company rate so far as size and volume of sales within the International Harvester Company?
J.N.: Well, for a good many years, it was said that we were the largest dealer the Harvester Company had. Now, later some dealers in Texas, perhaps California perhaps were as large. Now I understand now that they’ve gone out of business. Somebody else has taken them over. Now where we stand today, I don’t know.
J.H.: This one in California got to be large in total sales, but their contracts included what we call industrial equipment, which at the time we did not have. Ours was all agricultural equipment, these in California did get into industrial equipment and a big part of their volume was in that connection. In our area, Harvester Company sold industrial equipment either directly or through other types of dealerships.
W.C.: Until recently I always though in terms of the harvester Company as just being basically tractors or cotton pickers. They’re now advertising quite a bit in the area of trucks, pick-ups, and quite often we forget that this is another area of their endeavor.
J.N.: About 40% of the Harvester’s business is in the area of motor trucks. Today, perhaps a little more in that area, and of course some – quite a volume of sales – would be in industrial equipment.
W.C.: I realize you have a complete line here, but is there any greater emphasis, for example, in Delta Implement Company in the area o cotton pickers? Would this be the major push, or would it be in the tractor line? Still, you’re not doing heavy industrial type machinery here with the Harvester people are you?
J.N.: It’s all agricultural machines which include all the power machines, such as tractors, tillage, planting, harvesting, cultivating, and picking, which covers the whole agricultural cycle all the way through, as well as trucks being included.
W.C.: Certainly, I am a non-farmer but I have a great appreciation for the farmer and Mr. Hand, you called this to my attention before and since you gentlemen are both in the business and the farming business, you could echo it. The old idea of a simple little fellow out here, maybe not needing to know too much, just enough to know how to scratch the soil and produce. Not quite the right assessment of the modern day farmer, is it? As a matter of fact, the modern day farmer has to be a businessman, a lawyer, a scientist, has to e pretty much…
J.H.: And let me say that a former superintendent of the Delta Branch Experiment Station at Stoneville, let me also repeat is the very outstanding cotton research experiment station in the world, this superintendent told me several years ago that the Delta farmer had to be on speaking terms with at least 20 basic sciences. Now, he wasn’t a trained scientist in all those, but he was utilizing the developments in each one of these sciences that had come through the researching of the college and the experiment station. So, it is quite a sophisticated industry and perhaps in the Delta there’s as much sophistication and productivity as there is anywhere in the world. We can be very, very proud of the kinds of farms that we do have. And one of the effects of this improvement has been to attract the younger generation as they come out of college or prepare otherwise, it has encouraged them to get into agricultural production in our area because it is such highly developed overall enterprise.
W.C.: And certainly from your position you can see both sides of it because you’re in the business side furnishing the farmer with something, you must know of some of his business dealings, legal dealings, and things of this type and yet in the actual production end yourself you understand the problems of the farmer. It’s certainly more complex than the old idea of getting out, seeking out a little subsistence living. This mass production – I admire the farmer because I think that he has to be a businessman, he has to be lawyer, he has to be a scientist, and he has to be many things in order to be successful.
J.N.: Bill, I might add –acquisition of these additional operations I mentioned a while ago – I might have left the impression that we had accumulated a lot of capital in out business, which was not true. The only reason I could say is the Harvester Company realized, perhaps, that through Mr. Hand and Mr. Gibbs that we had the know-how and the honesty and integrity to acquire these places with very little capital, which we did, but we didn’t have it. I think Mr. Hand mentioned that a while ago, but it might lead you to believe we were financially well off, which certainly was not the case at all.
W.C.: Certainly, I think that that speaks well for Delta Implement, though, that International Harvester would put this trust in the company and would say, OK we have proven success here, let’s go with these people rather take a gamble on somebody else and I think that that’s certainly a compliment to Delta Implement Company.
J.N.: Well I might say in the first place, didn’t anybody else want them, cause it was not profitable during the depression years.
W.C.: Now, in your operations, do you, for example Mr. Holiman, do you have to go back and do what we’d call restudy, educational work at the main plant as to new products coming out?
F.H.: We get sales bulletins; illustrations of new machines, and once a year the Harvester Company will have an all day meeting in Memphis and have a display of all the new machines and will have a man that’s particularly well up on this machine to go over this machine with us. Each time they introduce a new machine, for instance, we have a line of lawn and garden tractors now. They will go into detail with that for us. We come out with any kind of new cultivator, they’ll completely go over that with us. We go through the factory and have a big display set up out side of the factory on balers, cotton pickers, cultivators, planters, whatever is coming out new. They’ll have all the dealers in the particular area to come in and we’ll spend a complete day going over features of these machines. In answer to you question, yes we do have to keep ourselves up to date on the machines.
W.C.: In other words, International Harvester is not only interested in educating the buying public, but they want to know what are the needs and they try to meet those needs and I would imagine they – it’s not so much an advertising campaign as it’s an educational campaign.
J.H.: Slim, the Harvester does have service schools for our service mechanics?
F.H.: That’s right.
J.H.: That true? Now, do they have any training type of sales program other than this one day idea?
F.H.: They have had on over in Georgia that you could spend two weeks over there. If we had hired a new salesman, we could send him over there for two weeks at Tifton, Georgia. Now right at this particular year, they’re not going to operate it this year, but they do have that sales program. Now, what we got last year, we got a machine over there, a little picture machine, and it has a film, and I used it yesterday selling a man a machine. We could put this film in this little cartridge in there and it gives every detail on this particular machine, and if a salesman would just – when they introduce a new machine, and we buy one of those cartridges, if he’ll just sit down and look at that film a couple of times, he’s right up to date on that. Course, that just basic training on one particular machine and that’s not field operating it. But, yes, we do have a very good – if a man is alert he can keep up with the features on any new machine that comes out if he’ll sit down and read the literature and look at it.
W.C.: Is there anything distinctive – Mr. Nash mentioned earlier on problem, now knowing whether it was buckshot land or not. Is there anything distinctive in the Delta land that you need to modify any of the Harvester equipment to really make it work better here in the Delta as opposed to non-Delta sections?
J.N.: Well I think one reason Harvester got its first volume of business was because they did make machines, I’d say planters, cultivators, middle-busters, and harrows for the Delta region, not the same type of equipment that they use in the valley in Texas or the Valley in California or the areas in your corn belt, Iowa, up in that area, the wheat country. It was more or less specialized equipment for the Mississippi Delta.
F.H.: Most of our four-row equipment was designed right here in Washington County. For instance, the first four-row planter that the Harvester Company sent went to Mr. Joe Aldridge’s place and we planted cotton with it down there. Then we developed a four-row cultivator and all of the four-row equipment – the first literature on any of the four-row equipment that we ever had, the pictures were made from the equipment off the plantations here in the Delta. In other words, basically our four – row equipment started here in Washington County on level land, because it would work on level land better than it would on hill sections.
J.H.: The first two and four row planers, which we use in this area, were capable of planting the cotton in drills, what we call solid drill, or they could plant in checks. These checks were hills of cotton the same distance apart as the rows of cotton were. These hills would drop, they were controlled by a chain with notches on it which would drop it accurately and enable the farmer to use his cultivator in either direction. They could either cultivate with the row or across the row, and he did both of course, and that was one of the methods of grass and weed control.
J.N.: Mr. Hand, I might add that this chain you mentioned that dripped the seed by the little knots on it was anchored at each end of the cotton field. It had to be changed every two row.
J.H.: Another development was perhaps one that was initiated locally – was after this effort required to plant cotton in checks, the producer figured out the method of planting solid in the drill and taking his cultivator and cultivating crosswise in order to accomplish the hills that were planted by the chain check planter.
END OF DOCUMENT