Monday, May 8, 2017

Coupon-Cutting Thursday II: Sweet Deals on a Track-Pull Tractor

One advantage of living in the early 20th century is you didn't need to go far to test-drive a tractor. Forget all those Internet-based car sales places that will bring a beige sedan for you to test drive at home; back in the 'teens, you could go down the block and test out a tractor at a local ranch.

November 3, 1916 San Jose Mercury Herald

Here, for example, is an ad from a November, 1916 issue of the Mercury Herald, highlighting upcoming demonstrations of the Bean Track-Pull Tractor:
  • November 3 at W. P. Lyon's orchard in Edenvale
  • the next day at Mrs. Post's ranch on McLaughlin Ave.,
  • the Flickinger orchard on Berryessa Road on the 6th,
  • November 7 at the Dutard ranch in Campbell ("Junction Santa Clara-Los Gatos Road with Payne Ave.", better known today as "that strip mall with the Togo's"),
  • F. E. Goodrich's ranch in Cupertino on the 9th,
  • the Thompson Ranch on El Camino near Santa Clara on the 10th, and
  • A. W. Ehrhorn's ranch in Mountain View, "just beyond the school buildings own November 10.

And place your order early, for there's only a limited number available for Santa Clara County. The Track-Pull was going for a thrifty $930, or $20 more for an installment plan - $50 down, $455 on delivery, and the remainder paid within a year. That's a sweet price for a tiny tractor, and with luck, you'd even be able to drive it around William Lyons' ranch to convince yourself it's just the right thing for the modern fruit ranch.

The Mercury Herald even did a three-column piece on the Track-Pull on November 1, 1916, interviewing the company general manager, J.D. Crummey ("he is enthusiastic over the possibilities of the tractor field and the new machine which his firm is now making... no machine has yet been put on the market that fills the requirements of the orchard and vineyard conditions in the west.") "It is the first tractor that drives as a horse pulls, and hence is able to do what is impossible with other tractors." Crummey also pointed out that the demonstrations were only the beginning, and would be repeated at fruit grower conventions in Napa, Davis, and Fresno in upcoming months.

Bean Spray Pump claimed to have sold $400,000 in tractors that first year, and $700,000 the next - meaning that at least a thousand of the Track-Pulls should have been clattering around orchards and small farms across the nation.

Machinists Needed. December 23, 1916 San Jose Mercury Herald.

And if your yard isn't big enough for a Track-Pull -- and ours certainly isn't -- there's some other ads to check out as well. Two days before Christmas, 1916, you would have found the Bean Spray Pump Company advertising for machinists to come build the beasts:

On account of the demand for Bean Track PULL Tractors, we find it necessary to increase our factory force, and also to run most of our machines nights. We therefore invite application for positions from the following trades: Expert Machinists, Tool Makers, Good Lathe Hands, Milling Machine Hands, and Experienced Drill Press Hands.

And there still wasn't enough labor for all the tractors that needed to be built. An ad in the December 20, 1916 San Jose Mercury Herald declared "Our entire output for all of January and up to February 10 is already taken", so a fair number of orchardists were going to be disappointed when they didn't find Track-Pulls under the tree at Christmas. Crummey noted in the San Jose Mercury article that a second plant in Lansing, Michigan would start producing the tractor in May, 1917. Even if Crummey was exporting jobs out of California, he noted "the Lansing factory is entirely owned by Santa Clara County stockholders, so that all profits from there return to this community."

Now, this may all seem quaint - tractor demos, comparisons to horses, and questions of exporting Santa Clara county jobs to the quite-dubious midwest. But other tidbits remind us how much things aren't that different from today. An Ebay seller was recently selling the program from the June, 1917 Bean Spray Pump Company's employee dinner.

Now, the menu has its own little surprises - the dinner started out with fruit cocktail, for example, which seems like the most San Jose way to start an employee dinner I can think of.

But the list of speeches looked awfully familiar for an all-hands meeting at any high-tech company. They led off with an outside speaker. The evening led off with Ernest Richmond, formerly of the J.K. Armsby Company, and just recently the founder of his own dried-fruit company which he would soon merge to form Richmond-Chase. As an outsider, his speech title - "Loyalty" suggests something motherhood-and-apple-pie as a soft opening. There needed to be something about the key company strength of manufacturing; H. C. Lisle spoke about "Our Factory in Lansing, Michigan". H. C. Lassen spoke for the sales force. The remote offices - Los Angeles and Fresno - had their boosters reminding the head office folks that there was more to the company than San Jose. H. L. Austin and J. H. Delaney talked about future plans, improvements, and new investments. J. D. Crummey's talk on "What We Are and What We Stand For" was a classic leadership talk.

And right in the middle of it was the talk on the crazy new product that might change the company. J. H. McCollough, one of the Track-Pull tractor startup guys, spoke on "Our Tractor". He surely sold everyone in the room on how the Track-Pull would pull Bean Spray into a new and profitable business. I'm sure he had PowerPoint slides of happy Track-Pull owners rolling around their orchards, and I'm sure he had some graphs of sales showing the hockey stick growth curves so familiar to Silicon Valley types. He probably even raised the point that the tiny Track-Pulls would change the economics of small farms and bring prosperity to every corner of the nation, and put up a photo of a smiling child in an orchard.

And we know how that talk went because anyone who's been in Silicon Valley for any length of time has heard that talk and that dream. Sometimes, it even came true. The Track-Pull tractor may not have been a home run or game changer for the Bean Spray Pump Company, but it's a nice reminder that this crazy place isn't that different from the Santa Clara of 1917.


  1. The MN was not a newspaper entity at that time. Either the Mercury-Herald or the Evening News

  2. Fixed - thanks for spotting that, Ken! I'll need to search some old issues of the San Jose Evening News to see if the Mercury Herald had a cute nickname like today's "Murky News".