Since this chapter is going to cover a long period of time, I think I should describe the Company and some of the key players. Maulhardt Equipment was a International `Harvester ( IH ) dealer, selling farm ( FE ) and construction equipment ( CE ) and motor trucks ( MT ). We also sold Frostmaster electric wind machines, as well as many so-called "shortline" products. In other words, equipment made by small manufacturers that did not have their own dealer networks. There was also a paint and hardware department.
The Co. was family owned, with John B. Maulhardt as General Manager. Cecil Edwards managed CE and FE sales, "Bud" Pfeiler managed MT sales, Lew Friedlein managed the parts dept, and Norman Frost managed the service dept. Norman supervised the various foremen of the tractor, truck, blacksmith and welding, and paint-shops. On my first day of work I reported to Bill Bass, foreman of the tractor shop. If I remember correctly, my pay as a mechanic was $1.80 per hour. After a short waiting period, I got medical insurance for the whole family, which was something new for us. I just remembered that I had to get a Social Security card. I had never needed one until then. The very first thing I had to learn was how to punch a time card! I punched in and out of every job I did. Some days I did so many small jobs that I needed two cards!
By this time, my brother Tommy had been working in the shop for about three years. As in all things, Tommy had learned his craft quickly and well. He had become sort of the designated mechanic for the large TD-24, a bulldozer tractor used for earthmoving. Since most of his work was in the field, rather than the shop, he drove a shop truck to and from work. That made it possible for him to go to or from home to job without going to the shop. On the days that he went to the shop in the morning I rode with him, since the only vehicle we had was the family car. It didnít always work out to go home with him, so on those days I called Barbara to pick me up in Camarillo, where several people that I knew could drop me off. Of course I drove the car sometimes, when Barb didnít need it.
I had a few tools, and Norm advised that I buy more only as I needed them, rather than rushing into getting a complete set. I donít know if this was standard advice, or whether he knew something he wasnít telling me. Anyway, after a couple of weeks of doing odd jobs, helping other mechanics, Bill Bass put me in what was called the Unit Room. The man who had been working there had left to take another job. Bill had also worked that job before becoming tractor foreman. So, he took me under his wing to teach me the ropes.
The Unit Room was next to the shop office, totally enclosed, with glass windows on two sides. The reason it was enclosed was because we needed a sort of sanitary, if not sterile, environment to do testing and repair work on diesel injection pumps and injection nozzles. Those things were built with so much precision that the least amount of dirt could cause early failure. Besides injection equipment, I worked on magnetos, starters, generators, carburetors, and small engines. We sold Briggs and Stratton, Wisconsin, and Homelite products, so I had lots of the small engine work.
When a tractor or truck came in for engine work, the mechanics would bring me some of the "Units" to be tested and or repaired. I had a test stand for diesel injection pumps and injector nozzles, and another stand to check generators and magnetos. There was also a tester for starter and generator armatures, and a small lathe for turning the commutators on the armatures. Also a set of electric magnets to recharge the magnets in a magneto. About half of my work was brought in by the customers themselves, so that meant that I started to get acquainted with lots of people.
Normís advice about tools turned out to be good. The work I was doing didnít require the wide range of tools that the general mechanics needed. I bought a few things from our hardware dept, and also a few things from the traveling Snap On dealer. He came around about once a month, or maybe twice. His truck was a veritable "Candy Store". It was filled with every tool you could imagine, and a few you could not! One of the things that I bought was the red toolbox that sits on my workbench to this day, filled with goodies!
Every time a new job came in, Bill would walk and talk me through it. It didnít take too long to become proficient on most things. We worked by the hour, not "flat rate", but the customer was charged flat rate on most of the things that I did. That meant that I was expected to be able to do those jobs in that length of time, or less. It didnít take long for me to figure out that I could not spend ten minutes at the parts counter and still do a half hour job in a half hour. Since most of my work was on one model of IH magneto, and all the electrical components were Delco, I got permission from Bill to have my own stock of parts for those items. I got what I needed, and charged them to "shop supplies". Then when I had used them, I found a less busy time to go to the counter to replace them, charging the replacements to the customer. This was especially helpful on those occasions when the customer was waiting for his work to be done. Another way to shorten my time at the parts counter was to simply give a list of parts to the parts man (I soon memorized most of the part numbers), tell him which work order to charge them to, and pick them up later.
Starters, generators and magnetos got to be routine. I could almost do them in my sleep. Stripping down a Briggs-Stratton engine could also be done in just a few minutes. Usually I ground the valves and seats, put in a set of rings, and replaced the points and condenser under the flywheel. I couldnít spend much time on this, because a new replacement engine was available at the parts counter for less than a hundred dollars. Wisconsin engines took longer, but they were a more expensive engine, and were built in such a way that they could be restored to almost new condition.
I worked on a few Homelite engines, and learned to hate them! I think the problem was that I didnít really know what I was doing. I would have been OK with them if I had been given a day or two of real training. At that time there were so few of them being sold that training a mechanic to work on them wasnít all that important. Later, when I was selling them, I learned to love them, and we sold so many that a mechanic was trained to take care of them.
The job that took the most time was rebuilding a diesel injection pump. They had many parts; many of them enclosed in a cast iron case. Everything had to be done in exact sequence if you expected to get all the parts back inside. I did quite a few of these, as they were causing problems in the field. Harvester had come out with an improvement kit to remedy the problems, and that was what I was installing in the pumps that came in.
A short history of injection pumps used by IH might be interesting to some of you. The first diesel crawler tractor they made had a huge cast iron pump and governor. Governors were built into all the pumps. I was given one of them to work on. Parts were hard to get, so Bill helped me patch it up so that it would work, then he sent me up into the Santa Monica Mountains somewhere to put it back on the tractor, a very old TD-40. The pump was so heavy that it was absolutely all I could do to get it out of the truck and mounted on the tractor by myself. The tractor seemed to run fine, so I guess allís well that ends well! I was glad to get back to the shop! Some of those old tractors had been fitted with adapters for mounting newer, smaller pumps.
The next series of tractors used American Bosch Injection pumps, some with aluminum cases, and some with cast iron cases. The cast iron, in particular, was very trouble free, and very easy to work on. It had a plunger for each cylinder that could be easily replaced one at a time. The governor was contained in a housing bolted to the back of the pump, so it could be worked on separately.
Next, for some reason, Harvester started building their own pumps again. These pumps made the engines perform better, and the governors were more responsive, but they also needed more maintenance. They used only one plunger for four cylinders, with a distributor block and valves to direct the fuel to one cylinder at a time. This pump was about ten inches long, and weighed maybe 20 pounds.
When they came out with the newer tractors with six cylinder engines, they had yet another IH pump of a totally different design. It gave very good engine performance, and of all the tractors that I sold, I was never aware of any problems. However, I did hear that there were isolated cases where the pump froze up, causing the drive shaft to break at the drive gear, causing all sorts of collateral damage to the engine. I later owned a TD-9B that had a Roosa-Master rotary pump. It worked wonderfully well, and the whole thing was about the size of a large grapefruit!
The man that had done this job before me was a good friend of Tommyís, Bob Bangs, so I got acquainted with him. He was working in a parts store and shop in Ventura, doing the same work that I was doing. He gave me some pointers on a few things. At his suggestion I started spray painting everything that I worked on. (not the engines) Since everything was either black or red, I only needed two cans of spray paint. I think that painting did give the impression of a professional job, even though it didnít make anything work better!
During that first winter that I worked in the shop, Tom brought up the UD-18 pump engine from San Telmo to be overhauled. Tommy, Bob Bangs, and I did that job in the evenings, on our own time. We had to clear this with Norman, as we used the shop and some of the shop equipment. We installed sleeves and pistons, crankshaft bearings, and ground the valves. I also checked the injection system, starter, generator, and magneto.
Sometimes, when my work was slow, Bill put me in another area of the shop that was set aside for working on cylinder heads. I learned to strip down the heads, grind the valves and valve seats, replace the valve guides if needed, then assemble everything, ready to put back on the truck or tractor engine.
When I first went to work in the shop, I was introduced to a custom, or ritual, that was totally foreign to me; the morning and afternoon coffee break! At first, since I was not drinking coffee, I worked through the break. A few of the others sort of chided me for that, saying that I made them look bad. So, I learned to drink coffee again, and eat doughnuts, which I really did not need. After a few months, I began to notice that I had a bad headache every weekend. It finally came to me that it was because I was not drinking coffee at home, even though Barbara made it for herself every day. Coffee at home on the weekends took care of that problem!
One of the brands that we sold was Essex. They made concrete mixers, plaster mixers, rollers and emulsion sprayers, that I know of. All of these things had Wisconsin engines. One day a plaster mixer came in to be repaired. There was poor communication some where, because I rebuilt the engine, then later was told that the gearbox was bad. To test to see if the gears were stripped, I jammed a heavy bar in the tub and gently engaged the clutch. The bar came flying across the edge of the tub, and hit me on the side of my face. It hurt a bunch, but I was able to finish the day, which happened to be the day before Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving Day was misery! I could hardly eat anything, and my mouth was bleeding inside. On Friday I went back to work, but took off early to see our dentist, Dr. Baldwin, in Fillmore. He told me that I had broken my lower jaw, but only on one side. He explained that many times the jaw had to be wired closed in order to heal, which created the problem of not being able to eat for six weeks, and also put me in danger of choking if I got sick. Fortunately for me, the break was not that bad. He fashioned a splint from heavy steel wire, then fastened that to my jaw with more wire. I was able to eat soft food by chewing on the other side. He wanted to see me once or twice a week, and volunteered to keep the office open late on those days, so that I would not have to miss any time at work. Do they make dentists like that anymore? In due time, my jaw healed, and I didnít lose any teeth, or any work! Incidentally, that bar is also still in my shop!
Toward the end of my time in the shop, Bill arranged for me to go to a series of training classes conducted by a representative of Carter Carburetors. The classes were in the evening, once or twice a week, and held in the shop where my new friend, Bob Bangs worked. We usually had dinner together before class. About the only thing I remember from the class was what the instructor told us the first night. That was that we should always check all the other possible reasons for an engine not running as it should. Most problems diagnosed as carburation turned out to be something else. This sort of went along with Normanís favorite advice; always check the easy things first! I have passed this advice on to some of you, but as is the case with advice, it is much easier to give than to take, even when you give it to yourself! There have been more than a few times when I made lots of work for myself by not heeding my own advice!
In Feb. or March of the following year I was eating lunch in the upstairs room that served as a sort of mechanics lounge. It was just a room with a long table and chairs. Cecil Edwards came in and suggested that I bring my lunch to his office, so that we could talk. He told me that one of his two salesmen had left to start his own sales business. He asked me if I would be interested in the job. Naturally, I was quite surprised, and I guess I will never know why the job was offered to me. We talked about the pay scale and other things. I told him that I was interested, but that I would like to think about it for a day or two. The guaranteed pay would be less than I was making, but the opportunity was there to make more. Cecil went over what the salesmen had been making in the past, and it seemed like something I should try. Barbara and I talked it over, and, as always, she encouraged me to go for it, saying that she could tighten the budget a little more for a while if necessary. I also talked to Norman about it. He said whatever I decided was fine, but cautioned me not to forget my friends in the shop once I was working out of the front office! This advice I took to heart. For as long as I worked as a salesman, I went once or twice a week to have coffee and keep in touch with my friends in the shop. Of course there was another reason to visit the shop. That was to check to see which of my customers had tractors being worked on, so that I might talk them into trading for a new one.
One very nice thing about the Unit Room job was that it was all bench work; no lying on my back or leaning over to reach deep inside of things. Those nine or ten months in the shop were good for me. I learned lots of things that would be useful later on, got acquainted with some of my future customers, and, most importantly, gained a little confidence in myself.
My new job paid $300.00 per month, with no commissions for the first three months, then $250 per month plus commissions. My commission was 2% of the gross sale on new equipment, and 4% on used. Since I was to work mostly on the road, or more correctly, in the field, I was furnished with a Company pickup to drive, including taking it home at night. That meant that we were a two-car family. Cecil gave me catalogues, price books, and literature to hand out. Oh yes, he also gave me an order pad, just in case! I shared an office with the other FE salesman, Hank Swain. After a couple of days familiarizing myself with what I would be selling, and learning to read the price book, I ventured out into the world.
Maybe the telling of this story will be easier if I give a brief rundown of the tractors that I would be selling, by model, along with succeeding models of the same size, starting with the smallest. A "D" in the Model Number indicates a diesel engine.
T-6, TD-6, TD-6 61 series TD-6 62 series. Horsepower range- 35to 45.
TD-9, TD-9 91 series TD-9 92 series, TD-9B. 45 to 65
TD-14A, TD-14 141 series, TD-14 142 series, TD-15A, TD-15 150 series. 65 to 80
TD-18A, TD-18 181 series. 80 to 100
Sometime in the early 1960ís we also got some smaller crawlers:
T-340, TD-340, T-4, T-5, and TD-5. 20 to 30
Row Crop Tractors- Farmall:
Farmall Cub. 15
Farmall Super A, 100,140. 20
Farmall Super C, 200, 240, 404. 25 to 30
Farmall Super H, 300, 340, 350, 504, 504D. 30 to 40
Farmall Super M, 400, 450, 560D, 656D. 40 to 60
Farmall 706D, 60
Farmall 806D 80
Farmall 1206D 100
240, 404 25 to 30
B275, B275D, 414, 414D 30 to 35
300, 330, 350 30 to40
In the early sixties IH started making a garden tractor, called a Cub Cadet. It came in 7, 10 and 12 horsepower. The transmission and rear axle were modifications of those used on the larger Cub tractors, which meant that they would last forever, and beyond, in this smaller tractor. The engines were Kohler, with electric starting optional. At first I looked on them as toys, more of a nuisance than anything else. In time they came to be a nice source of income. IH was the first major Farm Equipment Company to build a garden tractor, so that meant we had instant brand recognition, and a ready market. Also, the sale of a garden tractor almost never involved a trade-in!
When I first started calling on people, the natural place seemed to be in Simi Valley, where I knew most of the farmers. From there I worked my way down through Moorpark and Somis, Camarrillo and Oxnard. In those first weeks I learned one lesson quickly. Making cold calls to a manís home was not a good idea! I needed to find the customer in the field, in his shop or headquarters, or in the coffee shop. They were always willing to talk at work, or in the coffee shop, but at home they really did not want to be disturbed, unless they had asked you to come.
Another salesman, Hank Swain, worked all the area north of the Santa Clara River,. I worked south of the river. After a few weeks, a third salesman, Everett Titsworth, was hired to work the same territory that I was working. I didnít like this arrangement even a little bit! Soon enough I was able to convince the boss that it was not efficient for us to be traveling the same roads, calling on the same people. Also, it was confusing to the customers. The end result was that we divided the territory. I ended up with Simi, Moorpark, Somis, Las Posas, and El Rio. I suspected that mine was going to be the least productive area, but I was willing to accept that in return for having it all to myself.
Starting the second month, I was making enough sales that Cecil offered to put me on commission from that month on. That sounded good to me, so I went for it.
When we moved back to Simi, Barbara and I planned to build a house on a one-acre lot that Alan created for us on the Sinaloa Ranch. Somewhere along the line Al suggested that we buy the folks house, as they had no plans to return to Simi. It had been for sale off and on before we moved into it. This seemed like a good idea, and we worked out a payment plan that we could handle. At the end of my first year at Maulhardtís, I got a one-week vacation. After the second year, I got two weeks off. I used that time to start remodeling the house. I started with the kitchen. We set up our gas stove in the back porch area, and used the laundry tubs for washing the dishes. I took out all the cabinets, and part of the wall between the kitchen and dining room. The 30-inch door opening was sealed up and replaced by a much wider opening without a door at the opposite end of the wall. I had bought a small De Walt radial arm saw for the project, and I used that to build new cabinets. I hired someone to do a little plastering, and an electrician to put in wiring for a rangetop and built-in oven. By the end of my vacation I had done all the major work, but there remained lots of things to do before Barb was back in her new kitchen. This remodeling of the house was to occupy most of my spare time for years to come. In fact, at times, it seems to have been my lifeís work! Iím still at it!
At work, I was getting acquainted with more and more people, and getting more comfortable and confident. During the summer and fall I sold quite a few wind machines, to be installed before the winter frosts. I also sold several tractors, and some hay balers. We did a brisk business in hay balers for several years. Up until a few years previous, hay baling had been a very labor-intensive operation. When I was a boy, the balers were stationary, with the hay delivered to them with teams of horses or mules, then fed into the baler by two men on the ground and one on a platform on the baler. This man fed the hay into the bale chamber, timing the strokes of his pitchfork to match the strokes of a plunger that pushed the hay down into the chamber. This plunger was called a "Chinaman". "Feeding the Chinaman" called for a good deal of coordination and endurance. One man fed the wires into the baler; another tied the wires on the other side of the baler. One or two more stacked the bales. It was a major, community project. The first improvement was to put a pickup device on the baler, so that it could move through the field, picking up the windrowed hay as it went. After that, an automatic string feed and knotter were added. Later still, the automatic wire feed and knotter. Harvester had just come out with a very good, dependable two-wire baler, and there was a good market for them. Most of the balers that I sold were used to bale oat hay. Later I sold a few for alfalfa, but those were all outside the Oxnard area. Those first balers, Model 55-W, would pay for themselves faster than any other machine that I ever sold. They sold for about $3000. Put any old tractor in front to pull it, and it would bale fifty tons, or more per day, at $12.00 per ton. Of course it was not as easy as that. The hay had to be mowed and raked, then baled in the cool hours of the day and night. Nevertheless, a diligent operator could pay for his baler and make a good profit in a season that only lasted about two or three months.
An automatic baler is, by nature, somewhat temperamental. Many things happen rapidly, and in sequence. All of our balers had long, curved "needles" that threaded the wire up through slots in the plunger when the bale had reached the desired length. The wire was fed from two spools. The two ends of the wire were laid over a hook that then rotated three times to twist the wires into a secure knot. The running end of the wire was then cut and secured, and the needles withdrawn. All of this happened as the plunger was at the end of itís stroke. The 55-W ran at 48 strokes per minute. The later models at 60 strokes, and the three-wire baler at 70. We were told that the entire twisting and cutting operation happened in 1/300th of a second. I only know that if you walked alongside the baler, you could hear this happen, but you could not see it!
The sales department employed a wonderfully interesting and capable man named Bill Cummings, nicknamed "Baler Bill". He always went out to train the buyers, and or operators of hay balerson how to keep the machines running. The most critical adjustment, of course, was the tying mechanism. I went out with Bill many, many times over the years to work on balers and other things. On one of those first times with him, I asked where his tools were. "On the floor, under your feet" was his response. All I saw was a large hammer, a very large screwdriver, and the largest pair of pliers I had ever seen. Over time I came to believe that Bill could repair any machine that had ever been built, with only those three tools. One of the proudest days of my life came several years later, when I was able to diagnose a problem of broken wires on a three-wire baler before Bill did! I canít tell you how many times I took him out to fix a problem with a new machine or tractor. He was always able to solve the problem, then when I asked him what had caused the problem in the first place, he would just shrug his shoulders, roll his eyes and say "itís just one of them things". "Itís just one of them things" became a part of my vocabulary for a number of years. When you think about it, itís not such a bad answer to lots of lifeís problems. We donít always know why things happen; we just have to fix them the best we can.
Bill also handled the installation and service of the wind machines that we sold. During the winter he stayed close to a phone for a couple of hours in the morning, to take calls from customers. Then he and his helper would go out to do any repairs that were needed. He also had a radiophone in his pickup. Because of this relationship with existing customers, he would usually be the first one they contacted if they needed more machines, or if one of their neighbors needed machines. Because of that I always kept in close touch with him. When he had a lead for me, we always went together to call on the customer. Over the years, I spent more time with Bill than with anyone else in the organization. It was time well spent!
A quick mental inventory tells me that I sold 50 or 60, maybe more, wind machines, new and used. As orchards were abandoned in favor of other types of farming, or other development, we bought lots of used machines. At some point, Frostmaster went out of business, and all we had to sell were used machines.
For some of the machines I sold in Simi Valley, I offered to pay Dan, and I think David, a flat rate to dig the holes for the concrete to set the machines on. They have their own stories to tell of those experiences. Dan insists that digging those wind machine holes played a major role in his decision to become an engineer!
I think that the first wind machine sale I made was also the easiest. I was on my way to the office when I noticed two men working on a pump engine along side the road. I stopped to introduce myself and chat for a few minutes. The men were Joe and John Friedrich. After a few minutes, Joe asked me to bring him a set of points and condenser for the old IH engine they were working on, saying he would make it worth my while. We were only a couple of miles from the store, so I said that I would be glad to do it for him. When I got back with the parts, Joe told me that they were ready to put wind machines in the young lemon orchard across the street. "Take a look at it, and tell us what we need, and write up an order". Well, I hustled back to the store to get Bill to go with me to look at the orchard. He explained that Friedrichs had been planting lemons and buying wind machines for several years, and this purchase was sort of automatic. He also told me that the Friedrichs were cousins of the Maulhardts. Anyway, an order is an order. I think they bought two machines that year and two more the following year.
The largest single sale of wind machines that I made, or anyone else in the Co. made, was for 17 machines to cover an entire ranch east of Santa Paula. Iím a little ahead of myself here. By that time I was the only salesman, covering the entire county. I remember that at that time I was in the process of buying a used Mercury from my brother-in-law, John Wilson. My commission paid for the car!
Since my territory was rather small, I decided to see what I could scrape up in San Fernando Valley. There was still a good deal of farming there at that time. I called on lots of people, and gave out lots of business cards. One place that I stopped, I found a "shade tree mechanic" working on a tractor. He just worked out of his pickup, and I found out over time that he took care of many farmers in the area. He asked me for several cards, saying that occasionally one of his customers asked his advice about buying a new tractor. He did send some customers my way. Iím not sure how many. The Valley was sort of a no-mans-land, as some of the farmers did business with Maulhardt, some with Funder Equipment, the IH dealer in Gardena, and some few with the dealer in Lancaster. A man named Jeske was the salesman for Funder. I ran into him once or twice in the Valley, and once in the Oxnard area. Many of his Gardena area customers were being crowded out, and moving to Oxnard, so he followed them. He struck me as a most disagreeable person. Needless to say, we were not buddies!
One day a man named Pete Raagaard came into the store and asked for me by name. I had never met him, so obviously someone referred him to me. He lived in the Valley and grew Gladiolas for sale in the wholesale market, and also for the bulbs. He owned a Farmall Cub, and wanted to buy a larger F-140 with cultivator. When I delivered it to his home, he mentioned that my "pal" Jeske lived only three houses down the street from him. Obviously, he shared my opinion of Jeske. Pete later rented ground near Oxnard, and bought a small T-4 crawler from me, also some implements. Later still, he bought a new truck from me. (By then I had permission to sell trucks to my farm customers).
I also sold an F-140 to Vargas Brothers in Canoga Park. We dickered over the price for a long time. They were talking to each other in Spanish, and I didnít let on that I understood what they were saying. It was getting toward lunchtime, and they asked me to come back after lunch to resume negotiations. Of course I heard them agree among themselves to go ahead with the deal if I did not come down on the price after lunch. Well, naturally, I stuck to my price after lunch, and we all signed the order. When the deal was closed, I thanked them in Spanish. Imagine their surprise! They took it all in good humor, and a few years later they bought a used D-2 Cat from me.
I followed the same routine with Primo Tapia and Sons, from Van Nuys, on the first sale I made to them. I had called on them several times, and finally got them to Oxnard to look at a new TD-6, 61 Series. This deal involved a trade-in. As we stood outside the store discussing the details, they too, were talking in Spanish, and I was looking puzzled. I knew that they had agreed to accept my deal if they couldnít get me down any more. Once again, after the order was signed, I spoke to them in Spanish. Their first reaction was surprise and dismay, then gales of laughter! Shortly after that I found eighty acres of ground in Simi Valley that they could rent. This pretty much cemented our friendship. For that ranch they bought an F-240 Farmall with cultivators. At that time, the only crop they grew was sweet corn. After Primo passed away one of the brothers, Feliz, became the spokesman and manager of the operation. I sold them two more new tractors, and two used tractors. Many years later, when I had to quit my own farming, Feliz bought one of my Farmalls from me. He sent his son to pick it up, in a truck that I had sold to Tapia Brothers years before. This was the grandson of my original customer, Primo. That made me feel rather old!
In more recent years, I have seen the name Tapia mentioned several times in various historical accounts of the Missionary days of California. I suspect that Primo was of that family, but it never occurred to me to ask.
All in all, I must have made more than twenty sales of new and used tractors and trucks, a hay baler, a forage harvester, and a wind machine to people that I first contacted in San Fernando Valley, even though some of these people had migrated to Ventura county or the Newhall area.
I canít put an exact time frame on this, but after a few years Hank Swain became ill, and was off work for quite a while. I was asked to follow up on any leads that came in from his customers. I sold two tractors for him before he came back to work. He was not at all well, and passed away after a couple of weeks back on the job. Now I was given all of the north side of the county as my territory. I had gone out with Hank several times in the past, so I was aquainted with some of his customers. I really admired Hank. He was very thorough at canvassing his territory, and obviously had the respect of his customers. I learned lots about selling from Hank during the time we worked together.
From time to time, we were sent to a sales seminar, put on by some hotshot, invariably a car salesman. The tactics that were advocated were not the least bit suited to my personality, nor were they appropriate for the farmers that I was dealing with. I learned much more from the various salesmen that I worked with over the years, and also some written material I was given. It seems to me that the one prime thing that a salesman must do is to show genuine interest in your customer, as a person, and in what he is doing in his work. The best way to do this is to ask questions, and listen to the answers! Since my entire background was in farming, I knew the questions to ask, and I was genuinely interested in the answers.
I worked with a number of salesmen over the years, both truck and equipment. Some were really good, and some not so good, some not too ethical. I think I learned a little something from each of them: some little thing that I could use within my own style and personality. The main lesson in all of this is that I could not become someone I was not. I think other people always know when they are talking to a phony, someone pretending to be sincere. Whatever success I had during my years as a salesman came from building a reputation for being honest and fair and helpful with everyone.
During the time that Cecil was my boss, he taught me the importance of knowing what I was selling. I learned that every tractor and piece of equipment had many options when ordered from the factory. For instance: Our most popular cultivating tractor at the time was the Farmall Super C. The major crops were planted on a variety of row spacings. Beans were 30", calling for 60" wheel spacing. Tomatoes were also 60". Vegetables and sugar beets were planted on 40" beds, calling for 80" wheel spacing. Since some of the tractors would require both spacings, it was important to be able to make that adjustment easily. The Super C came standard with 80" rear axles. The problem was that to reach 80", the wheels had to be "dished" out, and to go in to 60", they had to be "dished" in. That meant that the tractor had to be jacked up and the wheels swapped from side to side. The remedy to this problem was to order the tractor with 88" rear axles, which cost only about ten dollars when ordered from the factory. That way the wheels could slide from 60 to 80 without taking them off the tractor. The same held true for the wider adjustable front axle. For tractors that were to be used only for vegetables, many customers wanted a single front wheel, so that each furrow had a wheel running in it. This served to pack the soil evenly in each ditch, making irrigating easier. Also, a single front would turn much shorter at the end of the row.
Celery was a crop that was neither fish nor fowl, so to speak, as it didnít always fit either of the above row spacings. Some of it was planted on 24" centers. For this the growers could use either 48,72 or 96 inch wheel spacing. We were able to give them 96" on the rear by ordering a 100" rear axle, which had a longer housing, as well as longer shafts. A few of these tractors had been fitted with four rear wheels, spaced at 48 & 96 inches. The purpose was to spread the weight of large fertilizer hoppers over a larger area. I sold an F-404 configured that way several years later to Beardsley and Son, a commercial fertilizer dealer.
All that I learned from Cecil came in handy later, when he was given the job of selling Construction Equipment. Bud Pfeiler was moved over to become FE sales manager. Bud relied on me to "spec" all the tractors and equipment that we ordered, for stock or special order. Still later, Bud left to buy and run the IH dealership in Santa Barbara. This time Lew Friedlein became my manager. He, too, had me write all the specs.
Strangely enough, a grain drill was by far the most challenging to order. When I first went to work, we had several drills in stock. In fact, we were overstocked on drills, springtooth harrows, and peg harrows. It took several years to work through this inventory. Iím not sure, but I think that I was the only one that sold drills, since I had quite a few customers that grew hay and grain. When it came time to sell and order a new drill for a ranch in Santa Ynez, I was faced with a baffling array of choices. Donít ask how this customer ended up in our store; maybe because the dealer in Santa Barbara didnít know how to order one! For starters, drills came in widths from eight to fourteen feet. This was easy, twelve feet was universal in this part of the country. Then I had the choice of 15 or 16-inch wheels, with or without tires. Some customers preferred to put used tires on their drills, since they didnít work much of the time. Next we had the spacing between "openers", where the seed was placed into the ground. Once again, six-inch was standard for us. The openers themselves came in single disc, double disc, boot or runner. The openers could be in straight rank or zig zag rank. The seed hoppers could be fitted with "fluted" feed or "double run" feed. Then we had the choice of hydraulic lift or so called "power lift". Power lift referred to a mechanism driven by the ground wheels, to lift the tool out of the ground. Each choice in every category was available with each choice in all the other categories. Add to that the option of a grass seed attachment (to meter small seeds) and a fertilizer hopper. Using my past experience, some help from Bill Cummings and a Philadelphia Lawyer, I figured it out! A few days later, I discovered that ordering a drill was the easy part. To save on freight costs, all implements were shipped KD, or knocked down, so that they didnít take up so much space. I think that in todayís world the term KD has given way to "some assembly required". My drill arrived in at least 10,000 pieces, along with assembly instructions. Since the sales agreement called for delivery the next day, I was slightly panicked! The Sales Dept. employed a man that worked under Bill Cummingsí supervision. He did setup work, made deliveries, and whatever else was needed. Unfortunately, he had never put a drill together, and for some reason, Bill was not around. So, the two of us spent all day reading the manual and putting the drill together. After a few false moves, we got it done.
Nearly every new tractor sale involved a trade-in. At first I took someone from the shop, usually Norman, to help me make an appraisal of what it would cost to get the tractor ready to sell. Later on, I did this myself, then asked the shop for an estimate of the work needed. Then I talked to the sales manager, and looked at the records of past sales to determine what we could expect to sell the machine for. After a year or two, I had enough experience and confidence to make all these calculations in the field, without consulting anyone. Naturally, there were times that I talked to my boss, and even John Maulhardt before making a deal, to protect myself. Management gave me a tremendous amount of leeway about making my own deals. Of the hundreds of sales I made, they turned down only two. As it turned out, they were right on one, and I was right on the other. I made both of those sales later, and on the one that they were correct on, we allowed much less for the trade-in than I had originally offered, and we still got burned on it! On the other one, I gave the same for the trade a whole year later, but this time I had the trade sold before I made the deal.
All the used equipment was sold from "The Lot", about a half mile from the main store. Joe Branch had a small office there and handled used sales. We had some sort of sharing arrangement on commissions, so that I could send him customers, and he could get me to help close a deal, or possibly appraise another trade. The Company usually had all their profit tied up in used equipment, so keeping it moving was vital. At first I looked at selling used as a necessary distraction, but over time I came to see it as a source of profit for the Company, and income for me.
Gradually, from various people, I learned some of the psychology of buying and selling anything used. I went out to Newhall with Hank to talk to a man about trading a very old tractor for a newer one. I looked at his old tractor and saw a pile of junk. The tracks and sprockets were badly worn, the seat cushions demolished, etc. Meanwhile, Hank was telling the customer that he had obviously taken very good care of his tractor, and that he had a customer in Santa Paula that wanted just such a tractor. Then he offered less for it than I would have! After we got back in the pick-up, I said "Hank, you must have been looking at a different tractor than I was". He explained to me that there was no point in telling the man all the things that were wrong with his tractor, because he already knew all that; thatís why he wants to get rid of it. So, why not flatter him a little instead of making him think you are trying to steal it. Why not, indeed!
Bob Wilson, (no relation), took Bud Pfeilerís place as truck sales manager. He told me that he would rather sell a used truck than a new one. Then he went on to explain that when selling new, your cost was dictated by Harvester, and every dealer in the country had a truck just like it, even if it was a different make, so your competitors pretty much dictated the selling price, making it difficult to make a profit. A used truck, on the other hand, was unique. There was no other truck in the exact same condition. So, your profit was limited only by your own ability to buy it at the right price, and sell it at the right price. When I started looking at used sales in that light, I started to make better deals. I even bought outright some tractors and other things from farmers that were selling their ranches, and just needed to get rid of the equipment. I always had to clear these purchases with Lew, but we always did well on them. The parallel lesson here is that it is usually much easier to make an extra profit on the buying end than on the selling end. A person that has sold his lemon orchard for $10,000 per acre to a developer is not apt to quibble too much over whether he sells his old TD-6 for $1000 or $1500.
Another salesman I worked with for a few years was Lee Ritchie. He had worked for IH for a number of years in various jobs having to do with sales. For us he sold Construction Equipment. He taught me that even Harvester was flexible on price under certain conditions. His motto was "Iíd hate to think that I didnít get a better price simply because I failed to ask for it". Toward that end, I made it a point to get acquainted with the right people at the warehouse in Los Angeles. I tried to go down a couple of times a year and take a stroll through the warehouse. If I saw a tractor pushed back in a corner, gathering dust, chances were good that a deal was possible. The amount of dust was an indicator of how badly they wanted to sell it! The best time to get a deal, of course, was when there was a model change. For our purposes in Ventura County, some of the old models were better than the new ones. The newer TD-6, for example, was fine, but it had way more power than could be used in a lemon or orange orchard. IH always offered a rebate on the old tractors, even the ones we had in stock, but by offering to buy all the old TD-6s in the territory, we were able to negotiate an even better deal. I think we bought at least six of them, which was about two years supply. I sold them all, and the growers were glad to get them. At the same time, I was selling the newer models to those that could use the extra power.
One day I went out with Everett to deliver a used TD-9 to a customer of his near Oxnard. The tractor had a tool bar with two subsoiler shanks mounted on the back. The buyer was a young man named Bob Fowler. They were having trouble making the subsoilers go to the depth that Bob wanted. Finally, I pointed out that what was needed was more "suction" on the subsoiler points, which could be accomplished by adjusting the two turnbuckles between the tool bar and the draft arms. This did the trick, and Bob seemed to be impressed with my vast store of knowledge! He was to become a major player in my life a few years later.
I had another interesting experience with Everett. He had a customer who wanted a tractor that would operate in beach sand. He planned to contract with people owning beach homes for the removal of the sand that constantly drifted into yards, and covered streets and sidewalks. Everett sold him a 300 utility, with front loader and rear scraper. Four-wheel drive was not available at that time, so the tractor was equipped with the largest rear tires available. These tires were what we called "knobby" tread, like the ones we see working on golf courses. The idea was to keep the tractor from burying itself when the wheels started to spin. The man, wisely, agreed to buy the tractor only if it would work in the sand. When the tractor was ready to be delivered, I think that the entire sales force went along to see what would happen. I was there, Everett, of course, Lew, and Bill Cummings. When the tractor was unloaded, the proud owner got on and started out onto the beach. The tractor moved about five feet, then started to spin out. You can imagine the consternation, panic, and disappointment. While everyone was scratching their heads over the problem, I recalled a little bit of wisdom I had acquired while driving in Mexico. To operate in sand, one MUST use very low tire pressure. I walked over to one of the tires and pounded it with my fist. It was as hard as a rock! Rear tractor tires are supposed to carry only about 14 Lbs. of pressure. The problem was that tractors were always shipped from the factory with 50-60 lbs. pressure, to keep them from bouncing in transit. Whoever prepared the tractor for delivery was supposed to reduce the pressure, but didnít. As soon as the pressure was dropped to 14 lbs, the tractor took off, and worked as expected. The sale was completed. Our hero had saved the day once again!!!
At some point in the early sixties, Everett left Maulhardt to try his hand at buying and selling used equipment on his own. He was not successful at this, and I lost track of him after that. His departure left me as the only FE salesman for a number of years. That meant covering all of Ventura County, San Fernando Valley, and the Newhall-Santa Clarita area. That was a lot of area to cover, but having worked into it gradually made it possible. I confess that I didnít call on each and every farmer, only the ones that were easiest to find, or that, in my opinion, were the best prospects. Another thing that helped was to try to find a "bird dog" in every community. That is, someone that has his ear to the ground, and always seems to know which of his neighbors might be in the market for this or that.
Then, of course, there is the coffee shop. Surely every farm community in the country has at least one coffee shop where the local farmers meet to compare notes, and complain about how tough times are. There was always lots of complaining, and very little bragging. If someone was rather quiet, the chances were good that he was doing quite well! By learning where those coffee shops were, and the right time of day to be there, I could mingle with lots of customers, and gather lots of information. By far the most productive of those shops was the Somis Café. It was almost like a second office for me. Others included Margeís in Simi, Cactus Patch in Moorpark, Samboís in Camarillo, Airport Café in Santa Paula, and Saugus Café in Santa Clarita. Oxnard was a little different. I never really found a main gathering place. There was a little restaurant at the junction of the coast highway and Hueneme road where some locals went for lunch. Also Rollieís in downtown Oxnard. Some of the farmers on the west side of town met at a catering truck next to the airport at about nine in the morning. Then there was the Colonial House Coffee Shop, across the street from Maulhardtís. This made a handy place to take customers who came into the store on business.
A most embarrassing thing happened to me in that Coffee Shop. I wasnít going to put it in my story, but Terry and Katy insisted that it must be included. It was on the morning after the first night of the Watts Riot. I donít recall just what sparked the riot, but the Negroes of South Central Los Angeles went on a rampage. They broke windows, set fires and looted stores in the area for two days and nights. When I came into the store, Lew told me that some of my customers were waiting for me at the Coffee Shop across the street. When I walked into the Coffee Shop, they told me that I was late, and asked me where I had been. My response was not thought out, it just popped out of my mouth. "Oh, Iíve been out all night, throwing bricks!" I could see the consternation on their faces, as they pointed silently into the alcove where I had failed to see a Negro couple seated. I felt about one inch tall. I suppose that I should have apologized, but that may only have made matters worse.
During the time that I worked the entire county I counted the four largest ranches, in terms of revenue, as my loyal customers. They were Rancho Sespe, in Fillmore, Limonera Co. in Santa Paula, Davis Ranch in Oxnard, and Berylwood Investment Co. in Somis. Edwards Associates in Saticoy was also among the larger ranches that I did some business with. Ironically, another of the large ranches in Oxnard was the Utt Development Co. I never sold them anything! Grampa Utt started this ranch in the 1930ís, but had been forced to sell, or abandon his interest in it, due to financial problems in other areas. This ranch was totally developed into lemons and avocados. They practiced non-cultivation, and were fully covered by wind machines. This meant that there was nothing for me to sell them, except maybe a weed sprayer. They had bought a sprayer from Maulhardts some time before I first called on them, and were very unhappy about a pump failure that The Company did not make good on. I reported this to Cecil and John, but about that time another salesman took over that area, and nobody followed up on it. My experience is that if these problems are not taken care of immediately, they just fester and grow out of all proportion, and can never be reconciled. When I started working that area again later, I never bothered to call on them. On all of the other ranches I made an effort to get acquainted with as many people as possible; ranch foreman, obviously, but also tractor drivers, shop foreman, mechanic, even bookkeepers in some cases. You never know where help will come from!
At Sespe and Limonera the shop foremen had quite a bit of influence on what equipment was purchased. They had nothing to say about when to buy, but lots to say about where to buy. Berylwood Inv. Co, B.I. for short, had four separate entities in the county, and one in Blythe, near the Colorado River. Each one had a manager that ultimately made the decision of what to buy. My first contact with B.I. was Richard Bard Jr, at the Simi Ranch. My first year on the job I sold him a TD-9, and five wind machines. He later bought a used Farmall Super C. Still later, he bought a Farmall 300 to send to the ranch in Blythe. At some point he took over the Avocado orchards on the Bell ranch in Somis. In that capacity he bought a "Tree Squirrel" from me. This was a self-propelled machine with a boom to raise and lower a man to pick or prune the avocado trees. It would commonly be called a Cherry Picker. Bill Miller at the Honda Ranch bought three tractors over the years. The Cattle Feed Lot bought two tractors. Otto Kitchen, at the Bell Ranch, was a different proposition all together. From the first time I called on him, he made it clear that anyone that bought other than Caterpillars had to be demented in some way. As for wheel tractors, he had gone to Santa Barbara to buy a Farmall M, and somehow held Maulhardts responsible for some problem that he had with it. In spite of this, I had some long visits with him. He was a very interesting, if difficult man. All the while, I was courting other people in the organization. When Otto finally retired, he was replaced by a younger man, Bob Mills, from up north somewhere. Soon, my patience started to pay off. And my relationship with mechanics and field foremen helped. The Bell Ranch ended up being the best customer of all the B.I. ranches. They bought four new tractors, a tree shaker that was the equivalent of a tractor, a tomato harvester, and two bin trailers to work with the harvester. Also an irrigation booster pump, with diesel engine. Oh yes, a four wheel drive Scout also.
Richard Bard Sr. was part owner and General Manager of the Company, which had been started by his father, Thomas Bard. Since he had to clear all purchases, I had some contact with him. Mostly just courtesy calls, so that I would not be a faceless name. The fact that I was known in the office, and to Mr. Bard, led, in a roundabout way, to my getting permission to sell trucks to my better customers. The tale goes something like this; I had sold a tractor to the Feed Lot, and one day when I was talking to the manager, he told me that they were going to buy a new truck, and that they had a price from the IH dealer in Van Nuys. I asked if we could bid on it, and he said yes. I explained that I did not sell trucks, but I could get the truck manager out to talk to him. The feed lot manager gave me the specs of the truck they wanted, and suggested that I use his phone to talk to some one at my office. Then he left the room. When I sat down at his desk, the bid from Van Nuys was looking up at me. I gave Bob Wilson, truck sales manager, the specs, and he said that he would have a proposal ready for me when I got to the office. What I didnít tell him on the phone was that I knew exactly what the other dealer had bid. It seemed obvious that the feed lot manager didnít feel right about telling me what the bid was, so he conveniently left the bid where I would see it when I used the phone. The end result was that Bob sold them a truck for about the same price, but put air brakes on it, rather than hydraulic. About a month after the truck was delivered, John called me into his office. He told me that Bob had made some sort of agreement that B.I. would have as long as needed to pay for the truck, but nothing was in writing, and the money had not come in. He asked me to see what the problem was, and get a check. I was NOT happy about this, and I explained to John that the sale would not have been made without me, because the truck salesmen never called on the farmers. I had not expected or received a commission on the sale, but now I was being asked to be the bad guy and collect the money. He saw my point, but explained that I was the only one that could do this job in a way that would not antagonize a good customer. For sure he did not want the credit manager to go out and cause problems for me. That point was well taken. The end result was that I talked to Mr. Bard, and explained the situation. I told him that we would do whatever it took to keep him happy. I offered to let him sign a no interest note for another thirty days, if necessary. I think he appreciated the gesture, but told me to come back in one week to get a check for the full amount. John was so happy with my efforts that he told me that he would see to it that I got a commission on the sale. Seize the moment! I decided to crowd my luck just a little. I said that since the truck salesmen almost never called on my customers, and when they did it just muddied the water, why not give me the exclusive right to sell to my four biggest customers. John and Bob talked it over, and I got what I asked for, and a little more! I got the right to sell trucks to any and all my customers. I worked with Bob on all of these deals. I guess I sold nearly twenty trucks of all sizes, from Scouts to two-ton trucks. I didnít make a lot of money doing this, but I kept my customers in the habit of coming to me for whatever they needed.
Sometime in 1963 or 64 all the salesmen were told to attend a meeting after work. The district manager of Harvester from Los Angeles had been in conference with Lew and John for a couple of days, and rumors were rampant. Obviously, something was in the air. That something turned out to be a radical new pay structure. We were told up front that this meeting was to present the new program, and it was NOT a discussion, but a take it or leave it proposition. We could go along, or walk.
The plan was that we would get $300 per month, guaranteed, as a draw against commissions. Commissions were to be 30% of net profit, after all expenses. Trades were to be put in inventory at a price agreed upon by management as a reasonable retail price, less 25%, in order to give incentive for other salesmen to sell the trades. If the trade did not sell in a certain time, the inventory price was reviewed, and could be written down. The write-down was deducted from the current profit of the salesman taking the trade in the first place. In other words, if I took in a trade, I was responsible for it forever. We were pressed for our answers after the meeting, but they finally agreed to my plea to go home to think about it, and be back in the store the next morning to give our answers. You can imagine that I had a rather restless night, trying to figure out how this would work for me.
I was the first one to be called into the office the next morning. Iím not sure why that was, exactly. Maybe because I had been there the longest, and they felt that the others would follow my lead. Or maybe they felt I would be the easiest to convince. We went over the whole program in detail again. John also pointed out that, historically, I had been able to retain more profit than the other salesmen. In the end, I figured that I had nothing to loose by giving it a try. Before the day was over, all the salesmen had signed on.
I had no way of knowing at the time, but this new incentive program proved to be very good for me; in some cases, a bonanza!
The most immediate change in my thinking was that I could now earn a decent commission selling the small items that had, in the past, been more of a nuisance than anything else. Case in point; Homelite chain saws, pumps and generators. We had a wonderful Homelite distributor. He kept us well stocked with all the newest models, and when we got caught with older models we had trouble selling, he simply took them back, no questions asked. Homelite was the first that I know of to build a truly lightweight, direct drive chain saw. Homelite products carried a thirty- percent discount to us, plus an additional discount for volume buying (five or more units at a time). We always took advantage of that. We suddenly found ourselves selling saws like Popsicleís on the fourth of July! Saws ranged in price from $200 to $400. That meant a $20 to $30 commission on a sale that usually took less than a half-hour. Almost all chainsaw sales were to walk-in customers. I soon figured out that after any big windstorm, I needed to spend lots of time in the store for a couple of days. There were down trees that needed to be cut! I sold dozens of saws, and I donít think I ever discounted the price from list. For a few years we were outselling all of our competitors combined.
Another, slightly larger item, suddenly became more worthwhile to sell. Harvester had come out with a line of very good Garden Tractors. These were Cub Cadets, 7, 10 and 12 HP, with manual or electric starting. There was also a range of equipment to go with the tractor, as needed. The Cadet could be rather time consuming to sell. For one thing, the buyers never new exactly what they wanted, and were harder to please than my farmer friends. On the old pay scale, I never went too far out of my way to sell a Cadet. Under the new system, I could make $50 to $100, which made it worth the effort.
Of course, in every sale, of any size, I became much more focussed on the net profit, and ways to increase it. Wasnít that the purpose of the new system, after all? I even learned a few things from our competitors. Oh, yes, we did have competitors; many and active! The Allis Chalmers (AC) dealer was next door to our used lot. The owner and manager was Bob Powers. He had been Sales Manager for Maulhardt during the time that we were buying equipment for the San Telmo ranch, so I was well acquainted with him. I dropped in to talk to him one day, looking for a used hydraulic pump to put on a used TD-9 that I had sold. I should explain that nearly all crawler tractors were being sold with a BeGe hydraulic unit, manufactured in Gilroy, CA. I ended up buying a pump from him, and during the conversation he told me that he always took the BeGe pumps off the used tractors that came in with them. He had found that he could sell a used tractor as well without a pump, then sell the used pump separately. I started doing that, and it worked pretty well. He also mentioned that he bought new BeGeís five at a time, getting an additional 10% discount in the process. "Take care of the pennies, and the dollars will take care of themselves". I still wonder why none of my three sales managers had not known about this. Could it be that "they failed to ask"?
The new pay program created some paper work for me. At the end of each month I had to do a sales analysis for each sale that I had made. I started with the invoice price, added freight, and any other expense involved in the sale. That was deducted from the sales price to give gross profit. If there was a trade involved, a "reserve" had to be created to allow for a profit on the sale of that trade. The net profit from each sale was then entered on a summary sheet. The sales manager reviewed all of this before turning it over to the office for payment.
Our system of keeping track of inventory and past sales was rather primitive by todayís standards, but it worked quite well. Each tractor, or other piece of equipment, was posted on a 3"X5" file card. The cards were filed in boxes, by model and year. By looking through those boxes, I could see all of the TD-9ís that had been sold in any given year, what they sold for, and to whom they were sold. Of course the inventory price was also on the cards. A new card was created for used equipment as it came in. Again, the trade price was entered, along with any money spent getting it ready to sell, the selling price and the buyer.
From visiting with several customers of So Cal Ford Tractor in Van Nuys, I picked up on a little strategy for taking in trades. Since all buyers were eventually going to get a discount of some kind, they just up front gave a "wholesale" price, usually 5% off, then reasoned that they could also get the trade at wholesale. Of course this practice probably originated with the first person to make a living as a salesman, but I had just never thought of it in those terms. Of course, no one size fits all, but if one knows his customers well enough, he can use the appropriate strategy.
Customers fell into many, overlapping, categories. There were those who were loyal to me, personally, or to Maulhardts, or to IH, or to some other dealer or brand. There were those who had no particular brand or dealership loyalty, and would buy where they got the best deal. Then, apart from all the others, were the "Cat Lovers". Their loyalty was adamant, fierce, and even fanatic. Fortunately, that loyalty did not always carry over to the Cat dealer, Don Wallace. I never stopped calling on those people, because I might be able to sell them a wheel tractor or some other tool or implement. With time, I came to realize that there was another reason to court them. Where better to sell a used Caterpillar than to someone willing to pay a premium for it?
In one instance, that someone was Don Wallace. One or two of our children had a first grade teacher named Lucile Estes. She was a wonderful teacher. She was also very strict, strong willed and opinionated. To say that she could be difficult to get along with might be an understatement. She and her husband owned an orange orchard and some open ground in the west end of Simi Valley. Her husband had developed mental problems, but was living at home most of the time. That meant that Lucile was teaching, caring for her husband, and running the ranch. Small wonder that she could be difficult! We were rather upset when we heard that she had been fired from her job. Barbara and I did something that was probably a little out of character for us. We went to the Superintendent of Schools in Simi to voice our support for Lucile. Wayne Butterbaugh, the Superintendent explained to us that things had happened that made it impossible to keep her on the job, and the decision was final. We visited a bit about other things, and he mentioned that he had purchased an orange orchard near Santa Susana. I knew the ranch, and told him that if he needed any tractors or wind machines, that I would like to discuss it with him. The result was that I sold him three wind machines about a month later.
A few years after that, I got a call from Lucile. She told me that her very old Cat 22 had broken down, and that Wallace Machinery had it in their shop. They told her about how much it was going to cost to fix it. She thought that maybe she would be better off getting a newer used tractor. We discussed it up and down, side to side, and every other way possible. I should mention that 30 minutes was a short telephone call from Lucile! We agreed that I would look at her old tractor, then make an offer to her on a good used TD-6. We finally reached an agreement. I think I only gave her about two hundred dollars for the old 22. Bud was my boss at the time. He asked how I was going to handle getting the tractor out of Wallaceís shop, and ready to sell. I only told him that I had a plan. I went to Wallace Machinery, and had a long chat with Don Wallace. We talked about how difficult Lucile could be, what shape her tractor was in, and what it would cost to fix it. I suggested that he could probably do the repairs cheaper than we could, and also that surely he could do a better job of selling a used Cat than I could. The result was that he accepted my offer to sell it for $200. Iíll have to say that it raised a few eyebrows when I put that order on Budís desk! Even John had a chuckle over that!
That last line needs a little explanation. Most of the time it seemed as though he wasnít paying too much attention to what was going on. He very seldom came out of his office, or called me in to talk. I think the first time he called me in was about a year after I started selling. I had just lost a deal for a TD-14A to Berylwood Investment Company. (B.I. Co.). I had not expected that, since I had sold the same ranch a TD-9 six months earlier. John called me into his office to talk to me about it. His message was that I could not expect to win them all, and not to let it get me down. That showed me that he paid more attention to the day to day stuff than I had thought.
Johnís middle name was Borchard, for his mother, Terresa Borchard. That meant that blood or marriage related him to all the Borchards in the county, as well as most of the other German families that migrated to this county in the years between 1880 and 1910. He had uncles and cousins by the dozens. Among them were Pfeilers and Friedrichs. Several times while I worked for him he was chairman of the fund raising committee for Saint Agnes hospital. When Katy was born, I took Barbara to Saint Agnes Hospital, and right away they started to ask the usual questions about insurance and payment. When I mentioned that I worked for John, we were immediately whisked up to the second floor. I was told to come back to take care of the paperwork at my convenience! It does help to have friends in high places!
I got acquainted with many interesting people, and families. Among them was the Ayala family; Ernest, and his sons, Mike and Lorrie, as I called him. He farmed in Brawly, CA, where he was known as Ernie. Actually his name was Ernest Lawrence Jr. Ernest Sr. was no longer farming, but he had a large outdoor shop, where he was constantly building some sort of special farm equipment. He must have had twenty tons of new and scrap steel scattered about. Mike farmed the ranch that they lived on, which was called the Phillips ranch. I never checked it out, but I suspect that it was the same Phillips that owned the Sinaloa ranch at one time. Mr. Phillips had raised Percheron draft horses on the ranch in Simi, and it was he that built, or had built, the large barn and three small houses that existed when we first moved onto the ranch in 1925. What was striking was that all the buildings on the Phillips ranch looked exactly like those old buildings on the Sinaloa Ranch, and they were definitely of the same vintage. You know the look; board and bat, no paint, and about to fall down. Ernest and Mrs. lived in the little old house. Eventually, they purchased a few acres from a large ranch next door, and built a very nice modern house, and surrounded it with lemon trees.
Bear with me here; Iím about to take another long detour! I mentioned earlier that sugar beets were a major crop in Oxnard. They had been introduced by the early German settlers, first as cattle feed, then a newer variety for the extraction of sugar. A man named Oxnard, who owned a sugar extraction plant east of Los Angeles, built a large sugar factory in a location in Ventura County that now bears his name. Up until the 1940ís, the beets were lifted out of the ground with a large subsoiler shank equipped with "lifter" wings. A crew of men topped the beets, using a heavy knife, with a hook on the end, and tossed them into a wagon. The wagons were then pulled to the nearest "beet dump". This was an inclined ramp, high enough to allow the beets to be dumped into rail cars. The wagon boxes were hinged on one side, so that they could be tipped, to spill the beets into the rail car.
Obviously, this was a rather labor intensive process, not to mention back breaking! During the war years there was a huge drain of manpower from the farms to the aircraft factories, and shipyards. This created a great stimulus to mechanize agriculture. Two of the most important developments in those years were the cotton picker and sugar beet harvester. I believe that Blackwelder Mfg. of Rio Vista Ca, in cooperation with UC Davis, produced the first beet harvester. It was what was termed a spike wheel harvester. It had the shanks and lifters built onto the frame. Behind the lifters were two large steel wheels, at least 60 inches in diameter. The rims were flat, with four inch spikes mounted in them, several rows wide, and spaced about three inches in the row. These spike wheels ran on the ground, imbedding the spikes in the tops of the beets. As the wheels turned, they lifted the beets from the ground. The beets were then stripped off the spikes, channeled over a sickle bar that removed the leafy top, and delivered by conveyor into a truck that hauled them directly to the factory. Each machine had a small engine to supply hydraulic power and run the sickle and conveyor. It took a pretty good tractor to pull the harvester. One man on the harvester, one on the tractor, and maybe two men driving trucks could do the work that had required a small army before that time. The harvester was built to handle two single rows or one double row. Ventura County was all double row.
Now, enter the Ayalas. Their reasoning in all things was that if big was good, bigger would be better! Ernest set about designing and building a larger machine to harvest two double rows at a time. Many of the components were Blackwelder, purchased through Maulhardt Equipment. Actually, Blackwelder used many IH parts, such as the lifter shanks, spikes on the wheels, sickle blades and guards, hydraulic hoses and cylinders, and the engine. As a matter of fact, I think he built one of these machines for each of his boys. When I arrived on the scene, Mike was running his machine, doing lots of custom work. He used an old D-8 Cat to pull it. Bigger is better! After a year or two, Cecil told me that Lorrie had been in the office, and that he wanted to buy a new TD18-181 series to pull his harvester. I had never met Lorrie, since he had moved to Brawley before I went to work in Oxnard. This seemed like sort of a long-shot to me, but I wrote him a letter, saying that there was only one of the new model tractors immediately available, and that I would try my best to get it if he wanted it. I couldnít figure out why he didnít buy it in Brawley, but it turned out that he preferred to do business with us. He did buy the tractor from me, and I took in an old RD-7 Cat that was not exactly a jewel! He brought his beet harvester back to Oxnard to do custom work, and he needed the new tractor to pull it. Over the years we became very good friends. A year or two after that, Mike moved to Brawley, to farm his fatherís ranch.. He called me from there, and we made a deal for a new 18-ft. disc to be delivered to the ranch in Brawley. Lorrie returned every year to harvest beets, for as long as I worked at Maulhardtís. He bought another new crawler from me; a TD15, which was a six cylinder version of a TD-14A. He also bought a used Allis Chalmers HD-21, which was the equivalent of a D-8 Cat. Later still, he bought a new Farmall 806D, and a used 560D. Both Mike and Lorrie married after moving to Brawley. They always came home to be with their parents at Christmas, and I always stopped by to visit when they were there. Many years later, Barbara and I spent the night near El Centro on our way home from Arizona. I called Ernie, as he was known there, and we met for a cup of coffee the next morning, just like old times!
There was an old time family by the name of Brucker. There were at least six, and maybe seven brothers in the family, all farmers. I new and called on five of them; Tom, Frank, Jim, Bill and Rafael (Rip). For the most part, they did not use IH equipment, but they were always friendly, and interesting to visit with. Rip had an AC crawler, the rest used Cat. I sold Jim an old 22 cat that I had traded for. He had been looking for a good set of tracks and rollers for a D-2 that he didnít use very much. I found out from Wallace Mach. that those items were interchangeable on those two tractors. Jim was happy to get his parts, and I got out from under an old tractor.
I had been talking to Bill Brucker for a long time about a used crawler the size of a D-6. I had a good TD-14 (IH), but he insisted that he would not have anything but a Cat. As luck would have it, I finally traded for just what he wanted. The day after we took the tractor into the shop to check it over, I stopped at the Somis Café for coffee, hoping to find Bill. He was not there, but some of my other potential buyers were. I offered it to Jim Brucker, Lorrie Ayala, Bill Milligan, and someone else. No one was interested, and they were giving me a good-natured razzing for not being able to make a deal with anyone. I was seated facing the window, and I saw Bill Brucker park on the other side of the street. I said "OK, wise guys, you think I canít sell this tractor. Iíll bet coffee all around that I can sell my D-6 to the next man that walks through the door". That really set of gales of laughter! When Bill came in, he came over to me and said, "did you find me a D-6 yet?" When I told him I had one in the shop, he was delighted, and we arranged to go see it immediately! As I followed him out the door, I turned and wagged my finger at all the disbeliveers. I had free coffee that day!
One of the first people I met was Rick Lagomarsino. I was making cold calls in the Somis area. Within 15 minutes of when I introduced myself, he gave me a small order. He wanted a springtooth harrow, with orchard covers and hydraulic lift. I couldnít give him a price, because the covers and hydraulic lift were custom made. I did give him a price on the springtooth. All he said was that he would count on me to do right by him. How can you not do right by someone that trusts you at your first meeting?
At that time Rick was fresh out of college, and recently married. He was managing all of the family ranches; at that time one in Simi, one in Somis, one in Ojai, and later, a ranch in Stockton. He also lived on and managed a ranch owned jointly by his father, E.J, and uncle, John Lagomarsino. E.J.(Emilio) had a beer and liquor distributorship in Santa Barbara. John had been a manager at Bank of America, maybe as far back as when it was still Bank of Italy. Rick had a brother, Bob, that became a congressman, and stayed in that post for many terms. John had two sons, James (Jimmer) and John (Pud). John and Pud bought a used TD-9 from me for a ranch in Moorpark. Jimmer bought a garden tractor.
Rick and Pud formed a partnership to farm two or three leased ranches, including the ranch owned by their two fathers. They bought a new TD-9, 91 series, from me, trading in a Cat D-2, and an AC Hd-7. The Cat was sort of a dog, because it had a "back" seat. That is, the seat hung off the back of the tractor, very low, to get underneath the limbs of walnut trees. Since the walnut orchards were being taken out, I knew it would be hard to sell. Before I traded for it, I measured very carefully, and discovered that I could take the top seat from an older D-2 and put it on the Lagomarsino tractor. That gave me a very saleable tractor. We were going to junk the old D-2 anyway, so nothing was lost.
One morning at my Somis "office", Rick informed me that his father had purchased an island in the San Joaquin River delta, and that he, Rick, was going to farm it. He asked me to find a good used TD-14A, a used disc harrow, and a BeGe land leveler. As luck would have it, I had just traded for a TD-14A that was in very good condition. Liberty Bell Ranch in Moorpark had upgraded to a newer model. Also, I had a fifteen-foot John Deere disc that I had taken in from Peto Seed Co. I put together a package of the tractor, the disc, with all new blades, and a new BeGe leveler, all delivered to the island, north of Stockton. Rick agreed to the deal, so I started making arrangements for delivery. Norman suggested that I talk to Carr Bros, in Oxnard, about hauling the tractor and disc. He said that sometimes they would give a very good price if they had a truck that was "deadheading" that direction. In other words, running north empty to bring freight south. They agreed to take tractor and disc for $300, if I remember correctly. That was much less than having our truck do it. BeGe Manufacturing was in Gilroy, so I arranged to pick up the land leveler at the factory, and tow it behind my pickup the rest of the way. At that time I was driving a ĺ ton PU, so it was capable of that chore.
When all the pieces were in place, I arranged to meet Rick at a motel just north of Lodi. For reasons that I donít recall, Bob and Marcella rode with me as far as Stockton, then took a bus to Davis. At Gilroy I hooked up to the leveler, which was probably thirty feet long in the transport mode, and ten feet wide. From studying the map, I knew that I would have to use the freeway to get through San Jose. All went well until a Highway Patrolman stopped me for a little discussion of the situation. I explained that I was towing an "Implement of Husbandry" (farm equipment), and therefore it did not need a license, or a permit for being over width. His contention was that it looked like construction equipment to him, and therefore needed both license and permit. Somehow, I was able to convince him that it was indeed farm equipment. He volunteered to drive "shotgun" for me until I was able to turn off onto a country road that went over the hills to the east, bringing me to more friendly territory. I sort of skirted around Stockton, finding a Greyhound stop on the edge of town, where I left Bob and Marcella. I think we had a light dinner at a restaurant nearby. A short run up Highway 99 brought me to a motel at Hammer Lane, where I was to meet Rick.
It had been a long day, so I got cleaned up and ready for bed and TV. About 7:30 Rick and his wife, Percy, showed up at my door. They had not eaten dinner, so I got dressed and went along with them. They had a room next to mine. The next day Rick led the way to Medford Island. The road took us out into the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. If you have not seen the Delta up close, you should do so. It is like no other place in California. At the time of the gold rush, this area was all swampland. I think that the Chinese, or maybe Filipino, immigrants were the first to start building small levees to keep out the water, so that they could farm the land inside the levies. This work was all done by hand, of course, so naturally it was done on a very small scale. As more people came to California, other farmers started moving farther and farther into the Delta, making higher and higher levees. Eventually, the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers were confined to a few channels, with all of the former swamp being farmed.
We drove out across one large island, crossing one or two bridges along the way. Our immediate destination was a marina where Rick kept a ski boat. From there he could reach his ranch foreman by radio. That done, we drove south on the levee until we reached a ramp and some pilings for docking a small ferry. Soon enough our ferry arrived
from across the channel. It was an old landing craft built during WW-2. It belonged to the Medford Island ranch. All goods of any kind that went to, or left, the Island went on that ferry. There was also a small dock near the ranch headquarters where small boats could tie up. The channel we were to cross was the Deep Water Channel that extends from San Francisco Bay all the way to Stockton. Another branch of that channel reaches to Sacramento. These Channels are deep enough to accommodate large ocean going freighters. The ports of Stockton and Sacramento ship and receive goods to and from any place in the world.
The ferry had a drop down ramp on the front, so I backed the leveler down and into the ferry. I had to unhook from it and drive back up on the bank, as the ferry was not long enough to handle both vehicles. John, the ranch foreman, used his truck to pull the leveler out the other side. Then he came back to take the two pickups across. We drove along the levee for a half-mile or so to the buildings. Rick and Percy got settled in a small house, and I put my things in one of the rooms in the bunkhouse. There was also another house that John lived in. The bunkhouse was LARGE! It greatly resembled a barracks building. It had two floors, with rooms on both sides of a hallway, on both floors. Possibly as many as forty rooms. I wasnít surprised about this, because I knew that before Lagomarsinos bought the island, it had been used to grow asparagus. At harvest time they had to have enough men to harvest the whole ranch every day, or at least every other day. After getting settled, John and I busied ourselves assembling the leveler. Rick went off by himself to gather what he referred to as Medford Island Red chickens for dinner. What he came back with looked suspiciously like pheasants to me. Since I knew it was not hunting season, it seemed prudent not to ask questions! Whatever, they were delicious!
Rick drove me around the ranch and explained how everything worked. The levees were made of earth, either dredged from the channels, or imported from miles away. The soil inside the levees was pure peat; decayed plant matter, accumulated over millions of years. Peat is sometimes "mined" for fuel. The level of the fields is five, ten, or maybe more feet below the level of the water on the outside of the levees. Irrigation is accomplished by siphoning water from the channel into ditches that cross the field every two hundred feet or so. As the water level rises in the ditches, it seeps out through the peat, so that the water level in the entire field can be controlled. When the crop is mature, pumps are started to reverse the process, pulling water from the peat, and putting it back in the channel. This peat soil is very productive, but quite tricky to work with. It has been known to swallow up large tractors; once they break through the dry soil on top, they can just sink out of sight.
Even though the water in the channels is fresh, it rises and falls slightly with the ocean tides. San Francisco Bay is probably at least thirty miles away.
Maintaining the levees is a constant battle. Many years later, that battle was lost for Franks Tract. During a flood itís levee was so badly breached that it was never repaired. It is now flooded, and is a State Recreation Area.
Sometime during the second night, I was awakened by a rumbling sound, and the building was shaking slightly. My first thought was earthquake, but, glancing out the window, I saw lights moving down the channel, towards the bay. It was a freighter leaving the port of Stockton, heading for the sea. It turned out to be the first of many ships that passed by my window that night. It was sort of weird; I was looking up at them, and they seemed close enough to touch! It seems that they had been bottled up in Stockton by the dreaded "Valley Fog" for two weeks. When the fog finally lifted, they all left at once.
That day I met the truck in Stockton, and led the driver out to where we were to unload the tractor and disc. That turned out to be slightly challenging, since it was a freight truck, with a high bed. We found a bunch of RR ties that we were able to borrow to build a ramp at the rear of the trailer. I carefully backed the tractor off. Iím not sure how we got the disc off, but we did! Tractor and disc were backed onto the ferry, and we were soon on the island.
After being certain that everything was in working order, I took off for home, planning to get a room in Fresno or Bakersfield. Those of you that know me also know that did not happen! I just kept going, arriving in Simi about midnight. It had been quite an adventure, but home is just so GREAT!
My goodness! Two and a half pages, just to get an order delivered to Medford Island! At this rate, this story will never end!
I believe that it was in January of 1962 that Maulhardts sent me, along with Lee Ritchie, to a national sales convention in Chicago for IH dealers. We flew out of LA and landed at Chicago OíHare, then bused to a hotel in the downtown area. The next two days we were introduced to a complete new generation of wheel tractors, both farm and industrial. The tractors themselves were mostly makeovers of the old ones; cleaner lines, more power, better seats, etc. The big, and badly needed, change was in the hydraulics. For years we had been struggling with Mickey Mouse hitch arrangements on the back of our tractors, trying to do what Ford and Ferguson were doing with their three-point hitch. Time and space do not permit me to describe all the shortcomings of those hitches. Harvester finally bit the bullet, and paid Ferguson for the right to use their hitch, and reserved the right to improve on it. Suddenly we had a very versatile hydraulic system, coupled with the universally accepted three-point hitch. It was about time!
We were told that all these changes came about as a result of a major change in the testing procedure in the Company. In the past, the Engineering Dept had done the testing. It finally dawned on someone that Engineering was not likely to find fault with itís own design. Besides that, Engineering had little, if any contact with the customer. So, testing was turned over to the Sales Dept. That seems so obvious that one wonders why it took so long for it to come about.
While we were there, I found the telephone number of a man that had gone oversees with me in 1945, Gene Grazzini. I gave him a call, and he came over and drove me around town, then stopped at a small bar and restaurant, where we visited for a couple of hours. As we drove around, Gene pointed out several bars, saying that if it was not so cold we could drop into them. Finally, I asked what the weather had to do with it. He explained that they were nude bars, and that we would have to check our overcoats when we went in. If the cops raided the place, we would not have time to retrieve them! That seemed like a good reason to me, especially since I had borrowed my overcoat from my brother-in-law, Frank. Can you imagine me explaining to Rae and Frank just how it was that I lost Frankís coat?
Soon after the new wheel tractors, we got new model crawlers as well. The one that was most important to me was the TD-9B. It had a six cylinder, turbo-charged engine, which actually had less cubic displacement than the old four-cylinder model. Itís higher RPM and turbo-charger gave it lots of power. In fact, it had more horsepower than the older, larger TD-14A. To harness that power, it had longer tracks, and wider track shoes, or plates. The smaller TD-6B had the same six cylinder engine, but without turbo charger, and running a little slower. Both of these tractors were much the same as the older models, except for the engines. The old TD-14A was abandoned and replaced with a tractor that was new from front to back, or as Dad would say, stem to stern. All of these new engines were "direct start". That is they started directly on diesel instead of running on gasoline to warm up, then switching to diesel.
The first TD-9B that I sold was to Berylwood Investment Co.ís Hondo Ranch, near Somis. Neither the ranch manager, Bill Miller, nor I had ever seen a TD-9B, but he gave me an order, trading in a TD-14. (Loyalty, remember?) When the new tractor was delivered, it was put through itís paces, pulling all the same tools that the old tractor had pulled. Bill was pleased, and I realized that this tractor was going to be very saleable.
I started talking to anyone that might be in the market for a new tractor. For anyone that showed interest, I offered to bring a tractor out to let him see for himself how much work it could do. One ranch that seemed very interested was the Davis Ranch. A man that I mentioned earlier, Bob Fowler, had recently become manager of the ranch. Bob was the stepson of one of the Davis brothers. He had been farming on his own, on land that belonged to Davis Bros. The Davisís were attorneys in Los Angeles. They seemed to have a talent for putting deals together to buy large ranches. When American Beet Sugar Co. decided to sell all their land holdings in Ventura County, the local farmers lined up to make offers on specific parcels. Davis Bros. swooped in and made an offer to buy the entire ranch, which was several thousand acres. To the dismay of the local farmers, ABS accepted that offer. Davisís then started selling off parcels, in many cases to the same people that had made offers to ABS. When the dust had settled, about 2000 acres remained, and became the Davis Ranch. All this happened before I started working in Oxnard, but Bill Cummings told me the story. He was a great source of information about the old time farmers in the area.
I arranged to have a TD-9B delivered to a field where a Cat D-6 was working, pulling a 15-foot disc. We unhooked the D-6 and hooked up the new tractor. To say that it ran off with the disc would be an exaggeration, but it did handle it nicely. Bob, and his ranch foreman, and the driver were impressed. Bob indicated that he wanted to buy the tractor, but he was not quite ready to do so without talking to the Davisís. I called on him every few days for a couple of weeks, but he never would give me the order. One day when I went into the ranch office, I was told that Bob was at home, getting ready to fly to Australia. Panic Time! Surely he would not leave without giving me the order! I dashed over to his house, and talked to him while he was packing. He asked me if I was a gambler. That seemed like a strange question, but I said that it would depend on the odds. He then explained why he had been putting me off. He had been trying to sell the Davisís on the idea of trading in all of their tractors on new ones. He said he would give me an order right then for one TD-9B, which might jeopardize his plan, or I could wait till he got back from his trip, in the hopes of getting the whole enchilada. Well, all of you know that I am not a gambler on horses, cards or dice, but I do know a good bet when I see one! This seemed like a sure thing. I figured the worst that could happen was that I would still get an order for one tractor, even if I had to wait for it. So, I wished him well on his trip. His bosses were sending him to check out some ranch property they were interested in.
The next time I saw him, he gave me two bits of news; he had recommended against buying the ranch in Australia, and he had the go-ahead to replace all the tractors on the ranch. What he proposed to buy; four TD-9Bs, One TD-15B, and six Farmall 504Ds with cultivators. I think there were 28 old, and not so old tractors to be taken in trade. Pricing the new ones was easy, but figuring out the trade-ins was rather daunting. Obviously, we were going to have lots of money tied up in them. The last thing we needed was to be "buried in iron", as the saying goes. I got a little help in this department from one of those people that I had become friendly with. The bookkeeper-accountant in the ranch office handed me a ledger that had a record of every tractor they owned. I could see what they had paid for it, what repairs had been done, and their depreciated carrying price. This information was invaluable to me, because it made me realize that I did not need to get carried away on the value of these tractors. Actually, the wheel tractors were no problem. Most of them were old Farmalls and John Deeres, with one late model Allis Chalmers. The old tractors had a very stable resale price, all of them being in the six to eight hundred dollar range. The crawlers were a different story. There were two fairly late model D-4 Cats, four old D-6 Cats, one very late model D-6, and one late model HD6 Allis Chalmers. I put a price on every tractor that I thought would be safe for us, and allow us to make a little profit. In all cases this price was more than the carrying price on the ranch books. Without that little bit of information, I might have been tempted to give too much money for some of them.
I talked all of this over in great detail with Lew and John. We knew that we would have to make some concessions to get an order of this size. I got them to agree to offer a 5% discount across the board. I told Bob that I had a proposal ready for him, and he suggested that we meet in the store, with John and Lew. So, we all sat down in Johnís office, and I gave him a rundown on all the details, including the discount. He studied it for a while, then said that it looked good, but he just wanted to know that he was getting the very best deal it was possible to get. I thought that John would make the next move, but it was obvious that he and Lew were willing to let me carry the ball. I knew that the financial arrangement between IH and Maulhardts called for a rebate of some sort for tractors that were sold immediately upon delivery. So, I told Bob that maybe we could give him an additional 3% for cash on delivery. I was not looking at Bob when I said this; I was looking at John. After all, it was not my money I was giving away. John nodded agreement, and the deal was struck!
After the deal was made, John, Lew and I drove down to the IH district office in Los Angeles. I wanted to see if we could get some sort of break from Harvester on an order of that size. We told the district manager that we were working on this big deal, but really needed some help on it. We were told that he could not help on the price, but that if we got the order, he would expedite delivery. Well, that was better than nothing, and it didnít cost anything to ask!
In the old days, deliveries from the factory were by rail. That was terribly slow, and vandalism was getting worse all the time. We found that for about the same price, we could get delivery by truck, and they would come across country in about four days, in good condition. Soon enough, truckloads of tractors started arriving at the store. As they were serviced, washed, and otherwise prepared for delivery, I made sure that they were lined up in front of the store, for all the world to see! As other customers came and went, the word of this sale spread pretty fast. Ego, you say? Of course, but there was also a practical reason to spread the word. I had 28 used tractors to sell! How better to advertise that fact than by word of mouth?
The Davis Ranch "fleet", minus one more Farmall, and a larger crawler tractor.
The man in the picture is Frank Dutra, Davis ranch farming foreman.
By the time we delivered the tractors, Bob had ordered two new heavy-duty disc harrows, a flatbed truck and a couple of pickups from me. Over the next two years, he bought two more Farmalls, and a large chisel plow.
The coffee shop grapevine plan worked pretty well. I got calls from several people that wanted to buy specific used items. One fifteen-foot disc was picked up at the ranch by the buyer, as was a JD tractor and a Farmall M. The late model D-6 never came to our lot. Our truck picked it up at Davis ranch and delivered it to OCD, Oxnard Celery Distributors. This sale came to me from a "Bird Dog" He had told OCD about the tractor, and all I had to do was go to the ranch and get the order. One of my neighbors in Simi called me to say that he wanted to buy the JD Model A that I had traded for. I have no idea how he got the word. All of these sales were to people that came to me. It should always be so easy!
Of the 28 trade-ins, we came out well on all but two. I overestimated the popularity, and therefore the resale value, of the two Allis Chalmers tractors. The worst was the D-17 cultivator tractor. It was also the newest of all the tractors. What I did not know was that this particular model was sort of a dog. Apparently it had a number of mechanical shortcomings that I was not aware of. Overall, we came out very well on this entire sale.
The icing on the cake was that earlier in the year the company had put in place an incentive program that paid us in Blue Chip trading stamps. I donít remember the numbers, but I collected on well over $100,000 of sales. We used the stamps to buy the nice stereo unit that was in the dinning room of the "big house".
In the early 60ís IH came out with a crawler tractor that was smaller than a TD-6. The T-340 and subsequent T-340A and TD340A filled a vacuum for us. Until that time John Deere had the market all to themselves. These smaller tractors were great for orchard work. They could also be fitted with front-end loaders for excavating in close quarters, such as swimming pools. IH also furnished a very nice hydraulic tilt and angle bulldozer for the tractor. The T-340 was an adaptation of a wheel tractor. A little later we started selling a small crawler made in Canada. The T-4, T-5 and TD-5 were built as crawlers from the ground up, and I felt that they were a better machine, for farming anyway.
We have all heard the expression "you canít judge a book by itís cover". I have a few stories to illustrate that fact. One day when I was in the store I saw the most unlikely group of people looking at a T-340 that was on the floor. The man introduced himself as Dr. ??? He introduced the lady with him, and her grown daughter. They were not husband and wife. My impression of him was that he was trying his best to look distinguished. He wore a suit and tie, and had a neatly trimmed mustache and beard. Maybe Iím being unkind, but I felt that this man was leading these unworldly women. He was taking measurements, and from his questions I was certain that he had never been on a tractor in his life. WHAT ARE THESE PEOPLE DOING HERE? WHY AM I WASTING MY TIME WITH THEM? The story was that they had bought some property near Lone Pine, on the eastern slope of the Sierras. They planned to turn it into some kind of church related camp. They wanted to buy a very small bulldozer to clear an abandoned road up the side of the mountain. I gave him a price on a tractor with hydraulic tilt and angle bulldozer blade. After some consultation with the lady, they had me write up an order, which they signed. They assured me that they would be back in a day or two, with a check for the entire amount. When they left I would have made a large bet that I would never see them again. I was wrong! A few days later Lew showed me the check that they had brought in, as agreed. After making sure that the check cleared, we ordered the tractor and made arrangements for delivering it to Lone Pine. I took tractor, trailer and pickup home with me. Bill Cummings came over at four oíclock the next morning, and we headed off for Lone Pine. We met the good doctor for an early lunch, then headed off for the ranch. It was nestled up against the very base of the Sierras. There were several small buildings, including a house, and a small stream of water flowing. They had apparently moved into the house. From there I could see a narrow road rising steeply up the side of the mountain, disappearing into a canyon. This was the road that they wanted to reopen with their tractor. We spent a little time showing the Dr. what the tractor would do, and giving some instructions on operating it. Bill and I took off in the late afternoon. We stopped in Barstow for dinner, and as we were getting back onto the highway, a policeman pulled me over. He said that the trailer taillights were not working, and that we could not travel anymore until they were fixed. Soon enough we had the lights working again, and off we went. All was well until we were going through Newhall. Suddenly there were red lights behind me again. It seems as though I had missed a stop sign. This one cost me a ticket. I think it was well after midnight wen we got home. I never heard another word from those people. I have often wondered what, exactly, they were doing, and how it all turned out. I sure was not going to drive up and find out!
One of the very first people that I met as I was learning the territory was a very nice man named Fred Buchannon. He was irrigating a small field of tomatoes near Somis, so I stopped to visit. Among other things, he told me that he would like to buy a used John Deere tractor that we had on our lot. He asked me to talk to John to see if he could pay for it after his tomatoes were picked. The tractor was only about $400, so I thought that he must be a rather small grower, and surely not a likely prospect for a new tractor. How wrong can you be? Normally, I would talk to the credit manager about such a request, but since he had asked me to talk to John, thatís what I did. John told me that Fred had been a customer for many years, and by all means he could have the tractor. Later, I found out that Fred farmed more ground than the small field where I first met him. A year later he traded the John Deere in on a new Farmall Super C. Later still he bought a new TD-9, then a Farmall 200, another TD-9, a Farmall 560D, and a Farmall Cub, modified to go between rows of poled tomatoes. That was more tractors than I sold to Rancho Sespe and Limonera combined! Iím sorry to say that he probably bought more tractors than he should have. He eventually had a couple of bad years and had to quit farming and sell his tractors to pay his bills. I helped him with that. Fred went to work as row-crop foreman for B.I. Bell ranch, so I kept in touch with him for as long he lived.
One of the most unlikely customers was a man that sent me a letter stating that he wanted to buy a new tractor and tools to go with it. The address was in Van Nuys, and when I found it, it turned out to be a large lot, just one block from one of the main streets, and surrounded by houses. The man that lived on this lot was very old, and not too spry. He raised a few goats, and grew Sudan Grass to feed them. He wanted to buy a utility tractor, with a mower, disc and plow, and a small dump-rake. He had an old AC wheel tractor with tools to trade. The little plot of Sudan Grass was about the size of a large front lawn. I tried to talk him into getting a Farmall Cub, which was only slightly larger than his old tractor, but he was determined to get the larger one. I told him that I would put a proposal together, and come back the next day. Back in the office, I was fretting about this man buying so much more tractor than he needed. When I mentioned my dilemma to Lee Ritchie, his response was that my job was to please the customer, not to educate him. Well, I guess that is at least partially true, but Iíd like to think that I did a little of both along the way. My customer bought his new tractor, and was delighted with it. About two years later, I received a call from an Attorney in Van Nuys, asking me to appraise the tractor and tools, so that he could settle the old manís estate. Now I was really feeling guilty about having sold the man a tractor that he absolutely did not need. When I went to the house in Van Nuys, I expressed my feelings to the nice neighbor lady that cleaned and cooked for the old man. She assured me that I should not feel badly. She said that even when he was too weak to do anything else, he would go and sit on his tractor for long periods of time. It was his pride and joy! Apparently his children never came to see him, so his affection was for his tractor. There is a lesson here for all of us: think about it!
This little story is not related to my work, but I pass it on for whatever it is worth. Make of it what you will. During the very turbulent years of the sixties, two Cuban refugees came to work at Maulhardt Equipment. Luis Dominquez became Office Manager, and his sister also worked in the office. I know that both of them had families, and Luis also had at least one brother working in Simi. They all seemed to be very intelligent and well educated. During those years there were several radical groups that were openly advocating the overthrow of our government, by whatever means necessary. One day I overheard a conversation between Luis and his sister. They were speaking in Spanish, but I understood the words and the meaning. Luis said that if there were another revolution, there would be no place for them to go. What were they going to do? The sisterís answer was matter of fact, and to the point. "Last time we ran; this time we fight!"
Not surprisingly, I kept in very close touch with Bob Fowler in the months after the big sale. We became very close friends. In a casual conversation, I mentioned that a farmer from the Lompoc area in Santa Barbara County had told me that he wanted to sell a portion of his ranch. Bob suggested that we go together to buy it, put up a white board fence and sell it to someone for a horse ranch. That was sort of in vogue in that area at the time. The result was that we ended up buying a bigger ranch in the same area. The story of the Buelton Ranch will be told in a later chapter.
In the field that I was in, I was at the mercy of the farm economy in general. When times were good for the farmers, I made money. Hard times for my customers meant hard times for me. Fortunately, there was usually one sector of the economy that was doing well, and contributed enough income to keep the wolf away from the door. As I mentioned earlier, wind machines contributed strongly in the early years. Hay equipment was a factor in two or three years. Sugar beet related was very big one year, and tomato harvesters helped in my last year on the job. Of course, vegetables, Davis Ranch, gave me income enough for two years!
In the early years I sold two or three 2-wire balers every year. Later, in the mid sixties, I sold four 3-wire balers over a two year period, plus a couple of 2-wire, and one small twine tie baler. One of the large balers went to Rancho Sierra Vista, owned by Dick Dannielson. Dickís mother was a Deering, one of the early founders of International Harvester Co. (McCormick-Deering) The ranch was very large, but mostly mountains. The high, rocky ridge south of the Conejo, known as "Old Boney", or "Boney Ridge" is on the ranch. In the canyons and some flat ground near Newberry Park they grew barley for many years, then started growing oat hay when Dick started raising horses. The ranch also bought a swather from me, the only one I ever sold. There may be a few of you who do not know what a swather is. A swather is a self propelled machine that cuts a twelve or fourteen foot wide "swath" of hay, delivers it to the center, and lays it on the ground, ready to be baled when it is dry enough. This particular swather was equipped with a hay conditioner. What, you donít know what a hay conditioner is either? A conditioner is a set of rollers that picks up the green hay and passes it between rollers, to crush the stems. This allowed the hay to dry much faster, and more uniformly. Conditioners are used mainly on alfalfa, but in this case the fog in the canyon made the oat hay very slow to dry.
Sam Watson was ranch foreman. I dealt mostly with him. He also bought a midsize diesel wheel tractor from me to pull the baler. It seemed strange to me, but Sam made sure that my bid was for a size tractor that John Deere did not make. He explained that he was dealing with an accountant in Los Angeles that did not necessarily think that the ranch should buy only IH equipment, regardless of where the Dannielson wealth came from. After the hay was baled and ready to haul out of the field, Sam told me that he wanted to buy a bale loader and stacker. The New Holland Harrowbed was the only loader-stacker in general use, and I could not sell him one. The nearest dealer was in Lancaster. I made a phone call to tell the sales manager of that store that I was sending a good customer to them, and to please take good care of him. I also assured him that he would be able to pay for whatever he decided to buy. I told Sam how to find the dealer, but did not go with him. A few days later I went to the ranch, and they had a small Harrowbed picking up their hay. This was not one of the large, self-propelled units we see from the freeway all the time. It was pulled behind the tractor, and powered by the tractor power take-off.
As luck would have it, that was not quite the end of the bale loader story. A few weeks later, I got a call from the C.S. Howard ranch in Somis and Moorpark. Homer Bradley managed the Moorpark ranch. He told me that his New Holland baler had broken down and that it was not worth fixing. The old baler was at the dealer in Lancaster. I didnít bother to look at it. I made a deal with him that he was satisfied with. I knew that the four cylinder Wisconsin engine on the baler was saleable, so thatís about what I paid for it. When I went to Lancaster to pick up the old baler, I had to let the dealer know what was happening, and find out which baler was mine. As I visited with the store manager, I halfway jokingly said that he owed me a commission on the Harrowbed he had sold to Sierra Vista Ranch. He said, "youíre right"! He went into another office and brought me a check for $150! There are two lessons here. First, I felt that when a good customer wants to buy something you donít have, make every effort to get it for him, even if you have to send him to another dealer. I did this more than once, and it was always time well spent. The goodwill that you create will someday be rewarded. In this case the reward was two-fold; good will and a commission! The second lesson is that it never hurts to ask!
I talked earlier about harvesting sugar beets. In the mid sixties Blackwelder Mfg. Co brought out a new beet harvester. It was designed to be pulled and powered by a large wheel tractor of at least 80 horsepower. A man named Bill Henry came into the store one day and told me that he wanted to buy a beet harvester and tractor. Bill owned a small fleet of IH trucks that he used to haul beets from the field to the sugar factory. He lived in Oxnard, but followed the beet harvest from one area to another. He had heard about the new harvester while working in Imperial Valley. I knew Bill only from visiting with him on a number of occasions when he came into the store. I think I must have done some work for him when I was in the shop. He took me completely by surprise with what he said about buying a harvester. I was not even aware that Blackwelder was making a new one. I called the factory and asked that their representative come to help me on this. When he arrived, we had some long discussions with Bill, and finally he gave us the order. The tractor was a Farmall 806-D. The package amounted to somewhere near $18,000. Soon after that Frank and Tom Brucker approached me about buying the same package. They did not farm together in Oxnard, but they managed a family owned ranch in King City or Salinas. They intended to take the equipment to the northern ranch. Soon I had another order for tractor and harvester. That same year Ernie Ayala changed his harvest operation by using flail mowers to take the tops off the beets before harvest. This was done in two stages. First a mower with steel blades was used to remove most of the tops. Then a mower with rubber flails took off what was left, without damaging the beets. To pull these mowers, he bought a new Farmall 806-D and a used Farmall 560-D. These three customers salvaged what was otherwise a dismal year.
In a way, I started a revolution in farming practices in Oxnard. In the early years all the dealers were selling wheel tractors for the sole purpose of cultivating crops. The largest of these tractors were about 40 HP. All the tillage work was done by crawler tractors. One day while roaming around in the Newhall area, I stopped to visit with a man that turned out to be the foreman of a ranch. He told me that his boss, Arthur Icardo, was thinking of buying a large wheel tractor and plow from the dealer in Bakersfield. He told me that Arthur always had breakfast at the Chase House Coffee Shop in San Fernando. The next morning I was off early, to be at the Chase House by seven Oíclock. The cashier directed me to the table where Arthur was seated. I didnít realize it at the time, but Arthur and some associates owned the Chase House. I introduced myself, and was invited to join him. He told me that he had leased some ground that had been planted to alfalfa for several years, and he planned to use a disc plow to get rid of the old alfalfa. This made sense to me. I had learned in Mexico that a disc plow handles trash much better than the more conventional moldboard plow. He had priced a Farmall 560-D with reversible disc plow at Kern County Equipment in Bakersfield. He planned to trade in his Cat D-4. He told me he would be glad to see what I could do for him. So, off I went to the ranch in Newhall to look at the D-4. It was a current model, but it was a total basket case. The tracks and rollers were worn out, and when I started the engine I knew that it needed rebuilding. You might say that it needed a paint job, and all that went under the paint! Before lunch, I was in the store in Oxnard. My first stop was to ask Bill Bass to give me a price on all the work that I wanted done on the D-4. Next I went to the catalogs. I hadnít let Arthur know that I had no idea what a Farmall 560 was! We had never even considered stocking, or selling a tractor that size. What I learned was that it was basically a Farmall M-Super M-400-450- frame with a larger six cylinder engine. This was the same 282 Cubic Inch engine that was used in the newer TD-6 and TD-9 92 series tractors. I think the 560 was rated at about 55 HP. I worked up a price on tractor and disc plow, then went back to the shop to get the bad news from Bill. I donít recall any of the figures, but I came up with something that I was only slightly uncomfortable with for the trade-in. I had the proposal typed up, filled the pickup with gas and went home. The next morning I was waiting for Arthur when he came in for breakfast. By the time breakfast was over, he had signed an order. When the store opened at 8:00 AM, I was there, order in hand. Armed with a purchase order, I called the order desk in LA, and found that they had a tractor in stock, and also a plow. I was rather amazed at myself. In less than 48 hours I had found a lead, and sold a tractor that I had never even seen to a customer that I had never before talked to. A few days later we delivered the tractor and got it started plowing. Arthur was pleased, and wheels were turning in my head. "I wonder if I could make this work in Oxnard?"
After the D-4 was repaired and painted, it was moved to the "lot". It had only been there a short while when I got a call from Jim Yamano in Corona. He seemed to think that we had met when Yamano Bros. farmed in San Fernando Valley. He was shopping for a good used D-4, and seemed to know that I had one. I told him about all the work that we had done on it. We discussed price for a few minutes, and finally agreed on $5,000. I asked when he wanted to come to Oxnard to look at the tractor. His response startled me. He said that he had friends that told him I could be trusted. He didnít need to see the tractor. He told me that his driver would be there in three hours to pick up the tractor and give me a check. I made a few in-person follow-up calls on Yamano Bros. The tractor was all that they expected. In fact, a couple of years later I made a deal with them to take the tractor back in trade on a TD-9B. It was contingent on me being able to sell the D-4 to a ranch in Hidden Valley. Both parties signed the orders, but at the last minute the Hidden Valley buyer backed out. Win some, lose some!
Not too long after that Lew became ill. John asked the salesmen to take turns being in Lewís office. After a couple of weeks, Lew was diagnosed as having Valley Fever. That meant that he would be off work for at least two more months. The musical chair thing in the sales managerís office was not working too well. I was really the only one that was qualified to do the job. The others were newcomers, did not sell farm equipment, and did not recognize very many of our customers. So, John asked me to take over. I didnít do any of the reports or paperwork that Lew did. Mostly I just kept an eye on the showroom, and took care of the walk-in customers. If they were interested in trucks or construction equipment I passed that information on to the salesman involved. I knew that my own sales were going to suffer, but could not convince John that I should be compensated for the time I was losing in the field. I did manage to get out when I really needed to follow up on something, or just check in at my "offices" around the county. As soon as Lew was well enough to have visitors, I stopped by his house at least once a week to keep him posted on what was happening. I had never had any desire to be Sales Manager, and those two months only reinforced that feeling. I was glad to get back on my horse when Lew came back to work!
Meanwhile, that thought in my head about selling large wheel tractors was getting stronger. Lew agreed to let me order another 560D. I knew that trying to sell a disc plow in Oxnard would be like shoveling sand against the tide, so I ordered a mounted three-bottom reversible moldboard plow.
A word on plows would seem to be in order here. Or not, depending on your point of view! Plowing, at one time, was a very big deal in the mid-western US. Every field was plowed every year. Practices have changed, and that is no longer the case. All the plowing was done with wheel tractors. Tractors were rated according to how many plow bottoms they could pull. Thus, there were one-plow tractors, two plow tractors, and three plow tractors. Every manufacturer, large and small, made and sold plows. The most important part of any plow is the moldboard. That is the curved steel blade that lifts and turns the earth. Moldboards varied in both design and steel quality. A plow pulled by horses had a moldboard that had lots of "curl", so that it would roll the earth enough to cover the trash. Tractors were faster, so therefor they called for less curl. The steel in the moldboards had to be resistant to abrasion, and at the same time take a good polish, so that damp earth did not stick to it. There was a vast array of choices when buying a plow. Each farmer took great pride in his plow and tractor, and his own ability to do a uniform job of plowing. Plowing contests were commonplace, with great prestige accorded to the best of the best. Most plows were "pull type". That is they were simply pulled by the tractor drawbar. Eventually plows were mounted on the back of the tractor, using hydraulics to lift them out of the ground. All plow bottoms threw the dirt to the right. Plowing usually did not exceed eight inches in depth.
The western part of the country, California in particular, was a very different story. Most of the soil is much tougher than that on the prairie. Plowing was deep, almost never less than twelve inches. This called for more power, and more traction. That translated to crawler tractors. Special deep tillage plows were designed and built, mostly by small, local manufacturers. One such company was the Stockton Iron Works, in Stockton, CA, naturally! I remember when I was quite young that my father talked about using Stockton plows and other tools when he farmed in Los Mochis, and on the Sinaloa Ranch. I donít know when it happened, but Harvester bought the company. We referred to it as the "Stockton Works". Nearly all the tillage tools that I sold came from the Stockton Works.
We had a customer named Carl Borchard that carried deep plowing to the extreme. He had leased a ranch in the Las Posas area that had the heaviest, toughest ground you can imagine. Carl figured that the way to make it productive was to plow very deep. He had VMI (Ventura manufacturing and Implement Co) build a five bottom plow that would go down to about eighteen inches. He put a TD-18A in front of the plow, but it would not handle the load too well, so he then bought a TD-14A to put in front of the 18A, connected by a large chain. It was quite a sight to see those two large tractors pulling the plow, which turned up monster clods! Carl had bought those things before I came on the scene.
Another change that started in California was the use of "reversible", or two-way plows. Since most of the fields were irrigated, it was important to keep them at a uniform grade throughout. This was difficult using a one way plow that threw dirt one way on one pass and the other way on the return pass. The fields were plowed in "lands". If you started in the middle of the "land", you threw all the dirt to the inside, leaving a "dead furrow" on each side, and a small hump in the center. All this had to be corrected with a leveler of some sort. The answer was to build a plow with one set of right-hand bottoms, and another set of left-hand bottoms. At the end of each pass the plow was raised and rotated before starting the next pass. Now it was possible to start at one edge of the field, plow all the way to the far edge, and have only one "dead furrow" where you made the last pass.
For a long time Atlas made the only decent two-way pull behind plow. Unfortunately, the AC dealer had the franchise to sell Atlas plows in our area. I donít think that I ever sold a new plow to go behind a crawler tractor.
When the 560 Farmall and plow were set up and ready to go, I started demonstrating wherever I found someone willing to try something new. By the way, this plow was built in one of the mid-west factories, not Stockton Works!
In the next few months I sold a tractor and plow to Ralph Roatcap, and another to Fred Buchannon. Both were long time customers, and both were tomato growers. Some years later I went to work for Ralph, but thatís a story for another day. Iím quite sure that those two tractors were the first to be sold in the county to be used mainly for plowing. They did a very nice job, and had several advantages over a crawler tractor. They were cheaper to buy, cheaper to maintain, and easier to move from place to place. Unfortunately, even though I started this trend, I was not able to cash in on it to the fullest extent.
Several things happened, or didnít happen, that put me at a disadvantage. Naturally, all the other dealers got on the bandwagon, but more importantly, all the manufacturers came out with newer and much bigger tractors. These larger tractors could easily handle a four-bottom plow. The big tractors needed wider rear tires to harness all that power, and thatís where I got in trouble. The older plows were designed to have one tractor tire running in the plow furrow, which worked out fine for a three-bottom plow, but not for the larger plows. The wider tires on the big tractors would not fit in the plow furrow. To remedy this, plows were designed that allowed both tractor tires to run on the unplowed ground, or "on the land". Harvester was slow to build a four-bottom plow, and when they did it was not "on the land". I finally bought a Towner plow from one of the "short line " distributors. It didnít work as well as it should have, but I managed to sell it, along with a Farmall 1206, to Sam Murinaka. John Deere made by far the best plow for wheel tractors. In retrospect, I probably should have bought plows from Wallace Machinery to go with these new tractors. Iím sure Don Wallace would have given me a racehorse deal on them!
I ended up selling six of the larger tractors, but only the one that went to Sam Murinaka was used for plowing. Sam was a very interesting man. I first met him when he was farming in San Fernando Valley. Later, he rented land in Simi Valley, and still later bought land near the town of Simi. He told me about his experiences while in the concentration camps during the war. He was in a camp in Colorado, and was allowed to farm 40 acres of land, either on the camp or nearby. He was able to make pretty good money growing cabbage. He also met his wife while in the camp. He never really said so, but he led me to believe that the marriage was arranged by her parents. I met her a time or two, but she didnít seem to speak English. She would arrive at the ranch in a very nice car, always in the back seat, always with a driver. Sam seemed to consult with her on money matters. All this led me to think that she came from a wealthy family.
Sam grew radishes, one crop after another. I think that he told me that it took about 60 days to grow a crop. Plantings were staggered, so that radishes were harvested six days a week, year Ďround. When a plot of ground was harvested, it was plowed, disced, and ready to replant in two or three days. He had developed a method of planting the entire bed with radish seed. He used planter shoes that scattered the seed, so that the top of the bed was covered with radish plants. One day he said he wanted to show me his $5000 radish planter. We walked over to an old wooden planter sled. "This is the first radish planter that I made. It cost about three hundred dollars to make". Next he showed me a more elaborate planter, partly wood, partly iron. He led me through five generations of planters that ended with the one that he was currently using. He just kept experimenting until he got it right. When he added them all up, the total cost was $5000!
The Japanese were relative newcomers to the Oxnard area. Mostly, they arrived after the war, starting in the late forties. Up until that time, the row-crop farming was mainly Lima Beans and Sugar Beets. Growing vegetables was not a big industry. That all changed with the influx of Japanese farmers. They were strictly vegetable growers, and they were very, very good farmers. They were very good customers, in that if they felt they were treated well they were quite loyal. They also tended to buy more cultivating tractors than the other farmers. One cultivator tractor was quite sufficient for growing beets and beans. These were seasonal crops with usually nothing grown during the rest of the year. Vegetables, on the other hand, were grown all year long, one crop after another. The Japanese farmers tended to have a tractor for every job. They did not want to waste time changing wheel spacing or cultivating tools. One reason for this line of thinking was that only small plots were planted at a time, so there would be many stages of the same crop growing, requiring different cultivators, etc. With time, all the old time farmers got into the vegetable business. The ground became too valuable to grow only one crop per year.
I observed something interesting during this influx of growers from outside the county. Growers from San Fernando Valley, the Gardena area of Los Angeles County, and some from Orange County were selling their farmland for subdivision prices. They could replace that land in Ventura County at the rate of five or ten acres for every acre they sold elsewhere. This caused some grumbling and resentment among the local growers that had been renting land they did not own. Suddenly that land was not available, or the rental price went sky high. Of course, for those that had land to sell, it was a bonanza. Many of them traded land in Oxnard for several times as much land in Woodland, or King City, or Salinas, or Patterson, or Mendota. I have no doubt that the grumbling of the local growers started over again in those areas!
I made several sales to farmers that moved to other areas. I had called on Dietrich Brothers over the years, without making any sales. They grew lemons and beans, among other things. One of those other things was an oil well in the middle of a bean field. Itís surprising how good a farmer you are when you have an oil well on the ranch. One day one of the brothers showed up in the store, along with his two sons, saying he wanted to buy two Farmalls to take to a new ranch in Patterson, or maybe Mendota. He was setting up his two sons in farming in that area. In no time at all I had an order for a Farmall 806D and a Farmall 504D. Soon after that, the other brother came in with the same story. He bought a Farmall 656D. Just like that, no trade, no hassle, three new tractors.
When Borchard Brothers sold their ranch in the Conejo, they split up, each buying a separate ranch. They were special friends of Norm Frost, and they always told him when they planned to buy something. With Normís help, I sold Alan a new TD-9, 92 series for his ranch near Winters, CA. Robb bought a used TD18A and a new 24-foot disc harrow. Our shop truck delivered the tractor to the ranch in Woodland, CA, then doubled back to the Stockton Works to get the disc. Norm and I drove up in his pickup to make sure the tractor arrived OK, and to assemble the disc. Norm had always been sort of a mentor to me on mechanical things, starting when I was at SanTelmo. In this case, the roles were reversed. He had never assembled one of these new model disc harrows, and I had, so I sort of set the pace. While we were there we visited Alan at his ranch. The shop truck stopped again at Stockton to pick up an 18-foot disc, which was then delivered to Ed Borchardís ranch in King City. Norm went up the next weekend to put that disc together.
The canning tomato industry underwent some radical changes during my time in Oxnard. When I first arrived, tomatoes were being transplanted by hand, much as I had done fresh out of high school. Soon the growers started using homemade two row transplanters. These consisted of a large water tank mounted on a steel frame supported on two wheels, pulled by a crawler tractor. On this frame were two transplanting machines. Two men seated on each side of each machine fed plants into the machines. A narrow ditch was opened, a small amount of water fed into it, then the plants put in place, and two press wheels closed the ditch around the plants. This method was much faster, and since the surface of the ground was always dry, no weeds sprouted. Assuming that there was good moisture in the ground at planting time, the new plants did not need more water for several weeks. Cultivating was done one row at a time.
The tomatoes were picked by "Braceros", from Mexico. Each grower contracted for as many pickers as he needed, for a minimum and maximum length of time. The growers also paid for transportation to and from Mexico. The men were housed and fed in labor camps. Local labor associations either managed or contracted for the labor camps. The laborers were not allowed to work anywhere outside of the association. They were guaranteed minimum wages, but were paid by the box. Most of them earned much more than minimum. It seemed to me to be a sensible program: there certainly were not enough local people to do this work. The men seldom wandered too far from the camps, so they made few local attachments, and returned to Mexico after two or three months with a goodly amount of money.
Congress had authorized this program for a limited period of time, and after the 1960 elections it was obvious that it would not be renewed when it came up for review. Fortunately, some people anticipated this, and started to lay the groundwork for mechanical harvesting. The plant breeders at UC Davis developed some new tomato varieties that were more suited for machine harvest. All of the old tomato varieties were what were called indeterminate. That is, they would continue to bloom and bear fruit almost indefinitely given the proper weather conditions. The new varieties were determinate, meaning that they had a specific life span, and therefor would bear most of their fruit at one time. Obviously, since you only harvest once with a machine, you needed to have most of the fruit ripe at one time. The other things that were bred into these tomatoes were smaller size, tougher skin, and smaller seed pockets. All of these things were necessary for a tomato that was going to be handled a bit rougher than hand picked. The seed companies also developed machine harvest varieties, but the UC varieties dominated. The role of the University was always research. When they came up with something worthwhile they would license it to private companies to be produced.
Meanwhile, many people around the state were working on designing and testing mechanical harvesters. Peto Seed Co. hired my friend Ernest Ayala Sr. to make a harvester. It was field tested, but didnít prove to be satisfactory. Another friend, Frank Gill, hired two men from Moorpark to design and build a machine. Both of these men were also long time friends, Harry Mahan and Hugh Everett. Frank had modified a Farmall H to space the rear wheels at 120 inches, with a single wheel in front. This allowed him to cultivate two tomato rows at one time. So, he wanted a harvester that would harvest those two rows at one time. I never saw this machine work. I was told that it did a fair job of harvesting, but they had one teensy, weensy design flaw. Since the machine was so wide, they decided to place the sorting crew on the inside of it. The people nearly suffocated from the dust! I know that there were other machines around the state that suffered the same fate as the two mentioned above.
Most of my tomato-growing customers were regulars at the Somis Café. One morning they were discussing a trip to Davis for the annual "Tomato Day" sponsored by the University, and they invited me to go with them. Of course I had to do one of my best selling jobs on Lew and John to get them to pay for this trip. The fact that the plans called for a side trip to Reno didnít make my task any easier. I must have been eloquent in my presentation, because they agreed to it! The trip started at LAX, then to Reno for one night. I was the only one that didnít gamble, but that didnít stop me from enjoying the experience. The next day we flew early to Sacramento, rented a car and drove to Davis. There were morning and afternoon meetings where we got the latest information on varieties and harvesters. We spent that night in Sacramento and flew home the next day.
UC Davis worked with Blackwelder Mfg. to develop a machine that worked quite well. It was licensed to Blackwelder, and sold as the UC Blackwelder. Food Machinery Corp. produced a harvester and Button-Johnson in Woodland produced a machine. These three machines accounted for at least 99% of all harvesters used in the state of California.
All these harvesters operated on the same principle, using slightly different methods to accomplish the same result. The tomato plants were cut at or slightly below ground level, and elevated onto shakers to make the fruit come off the vine. The vines then went off the back of the machine and the fruit was fed onto sorting conveyors, where a number of sorters took off all the unusable fruit, which fell to the ground. The good fruit was then delivered to an elevator that dropped the tomatoes into bins of about 1000 lbs. each. The bins were carried on tractor drawn trailers, mostly six bins per trailer. The trailers were designed to deposit the bins gently on the ground, where a forklift loaded them onto trucks for delivery to the cannery. The challenge in making these first machines was mostly in the design. Manufacturing was easy. Most of the parts were what I would call "off the shelf". In other words, things that one could buy in any good industrial supply store. Such things as engines, transmissions, shafts, bearings, chain, sprockets, belts, pulleys. Also hydraulic pumps, motors, cylinders and hoses. The trick was to put all these things together in a way that would do the most efficient job, and inflict the least damage to the fruit. I think that the first production run of UC Blackwelder machines was about 1961 or 62. They sold these machines directly to selected customers in different parts of the state. Berylwood Bell Ranch was one of those buyers. These machines were still rather experimental, so they did not want to sell through dealers. I asked Lew to write a letter to Blackwelder, asking to be their local dealer when the time was right. We were assured that when the machines were ready for full production we would be the dealer for our area.
These early harvesters didnít work too well, but well enough to make it obvious that they were the wave of the future. Some of the problems were mechanical, some were poor design and some were due to the fact that the new plant varieties were not yet perfected. Cultural practices also had to be changed. The new determinate varieties were a much smaller vine, so they were planted closer together. Also, it was actually recommended that the plants be in clusters about one foot apart, three or four plants to the cluster. Obviously this called for planting seed in the field rather than transplanting. Crowding the plants in this manor helped to get all the fruit ripe at one time. Nutrients, particularly nitrogen had to be carefully controlled. Too much nitrogen in the ground late in the season retarded ripening. The ideal was to have the field run out of water and nitrogen before harvest. There was a considerable learning process in all aspects of growing and harvesting these new tomatoes.
I had a hand in bringing about another change in cultivating practices, especially for tomatoes. Up until that time all the cultivators were tractor mounted. All the so-called "bedding" equipment was also tractor mounted, and custom made in a blacksmith shop. Bedding is the process of making furrows and smoothing out the dirt between those furrows to create a flat bed for planting. This was mostly done by custom operators. Beardsley and Son had several T-6 crawlers that were equipped with tool bars for bedding and applying fertilizer and soil fumigant. Our IH Zone Manager at that time was from the San Joaquin Valley. He kept telling me about how many farmers were using something called a sled cultivator. Also, the rep from Marvin Landplane Co. had been showing me the sled cultivator in their catalogue. I finally became convinced that it was a concept that would work for us. With Lewís permission, I ordered a two-bed Marvin sled, and put it on the showroom floor, where it started drawing attention. Iím quite certain that I sold the first sled cultivator in Oxnard, but soon other dealers were selling various brands.
The advantages of a sled were numerous. It could be used with bed shapers and fitted with planters and fertilizer injectors. Or it could be used later for cultivating. It could also be fitted with incorporaters, which were small power driven roto-tillers. These were used when applying herbicides. Most of the sleds that I sold were pulled behind the tractor, rather than mounted on the tractor. They had hydraulic powered wheels to lift them off the ground for transport. When operating, the sled runners carried the weight. The runners created a track that they would follow on later passes through the field. This made precision cultivating quite easy. When you were through with the sled, you could just disconnect the hoses, pull the drawbar pin and use the tractor for something else.
I only tell about sled cultivators because they are part of the "tomato revolution". The combination of the larger tractors being sold and sled cultivators made it possible to shape, plant and cultivate three rows of tomatoes at one time. Itís hard to imagine that only 25 years earlier I had been cultivating one row of tomatoes with a team of mules!
In 1967 I sold three Blackwelder tomato harvesters; one to Berylwood Bell Ranch, and two to Ralph Roatcap. With each harvester I sold two bin trailers. Ralph also leased a forklift for one season. That was used to load the bins onto trucks for delivery to the cannery.
1966 had been a very slow year for me, and the only bright spot of the following year was the sale of the harvesters. I was somewhat discouraged, and losing my enthusiasm for the job. That state of mind almost guaranteed that I would not do my job properly. I guess you could call it a vicious circle. Low sales-poor attitude-lower sales.
The reason that Ralph had bought two harvesters was that he had leased 300 acres from Newhall Land and Farming, in Newhall, naturally. This represented a large expansion for him. While visiting with him a couple of months before harvest, he mentioned that he was thinking of hiring a foreman to run the harvest for him. When I asked him to put my name on his list of prospects he was surprised that I would be interested, but told me the job was mine if I wanted it. We talked about it several times, and I discussed it with Barbara. He had a commitment from Newhall Land to provide as many acres of ground as he wanted in the coming years, so the future seemed to be bright. Eventually, a deal was struck. I was to be paid a monthly salary, plus a tonnage bonus that looked attractive. He also paid me for the use of my own vehicle.
The hardest part for me was telling Lew and John that I was leaving. I donít really know why it was so hard, but it was. I had to do a little negotiating with them. Company policy was to not pay commissions on sales that had not been delivered during the tenure of the salesman, and the harvesters were still a month from delivery. They finally agreed to pay me when the machines were delivered. I spent the next couple of weeks calling on as many customers as I could, to thank them for their support and to let them know that someone else would be calling on them.
I didnít think much about it at the time, but looking back I realize that I worked for Maulhardt Equipment Co. for a longer period of time than any other job, or endeavor, in my working years. I had a reasonable amount of success. I learned a lot from the people I worked with. I learned a lot from my customers. I made many friends, and many good contacts that served me well in the coming years. The Company treated me well, and I tried to do right by the Company.
I can still recall nearly all the major sales I made; the customerís names and the circumstances of the sale. Thatís a trip down memory lane for me, but of absolutely no interest to the rest of you!
There are other more interesting stories to be told!
Before ending this tale, there are a few interesting things to add. I mentioned in the last chapter that the San Telmo adventure never really went away. I got well aquainted with a man named Bob Holthouse, who was field man for Case Swayne Co. in Santa Ana. Case Swayne bought Fordhook Lima beans, peas, and broccoli from the Davis Ranch, and others, for freezing and canning. One day Bob told me that they had decided to move their broccoli production to Baja, and that he wanted to buy a used TD-14A to take to the ranch down there. When I inquired about where the ranch was, it turned out to be part of the San Telmo ranch that we owned and farmed at one time. I sold him a used TD-14A that went to that ranch. What goes around comes around!
Douglas Aviation had a ranch in the northeast corner of Simi Valley that was used for recreational purposes. They owned a TD-9 tractor with a Bucyres Erie bulldozer. I sold them a new TD-9B, and we mounted the dozer on the new tractor. I was to buy and sell this tractor two more times in the next fifteen years. Stay tuned!
I learned a valuable lesson about things going around and coming around from one of my customers, Mario Giaccopuzzi. I happened to see him just after I had lost a deal that I had worked very hard to get. Losing a deal is one thing, but I felt that the customer had taken advantage of me. I must have said something to Mario about telling the customer just what I thought about the whole thing. Mario said "Leigh, we have a saying, donít get mad, get even". Now, this advice, when taken to the extreme, would not be good. Marioís point was that I should not talk to my customer until I was over being angry. To do so would just guarantee that he would be lost as a potential customer forever. He went on to say that what goes around comes around, and sooner or later that customer is going to need you for something, then you can get even, monetarily that is. I found this to be good advice. In several cases I was able to make money from people that I might well have alienated had I lost my temper. In one case I had to wait until I was farming and had my own harvester. I was hired to help harvest his tomatoes, and my profit was much greater than the lost commission of ten years previous.
Like the San Telmo adventure, the Maulhardt years never really went away. Many of my customers became my colleagues. One became my employer. Many of the people I worked with remained my friends, and some of my competitors became my suppliers! The world turns!
If you havenít guessed by now, Iím having trouble closing this chapter. Just as it was hard in 1967 to leave my friends, itís now hard to say goodbye again. I keep thinking of incidents, and bits of knowledge that I acquired. I have thought much about Maulhardt Equipment Co. over the years. I puzzle about the fact that there were so many smart, talented people that went on to run their own businesses, and be successful elsewhere, but we were never really molded into a profitable organization. John was paid a salary, but I know that there was much grumbling from other family members about the lack of profits to be divided at yearís end. I suspect that although each department made a profit, there was just too much overhead. I only know that I was treated extremely well. I marvel at the freedom that I was given to do my job in my own way. I will be forever grateful for that!
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