“Green acres is the place to be. Farm livin’ is the life for me:” The American firm Beeman Garden Tractor Company and the Beeman Junior or Model G garden tractor / walking tractor

An advertisement published by La traction et le matériel agraires Société anonyme for the American Beeman Junior garden tractor. Anon., “La traction et le matériel agraires Société anonyme.” L’Agriculture nouvelle, 12 November 1921, 664.

It is with some nostalgia that yours truly quoted the first pair of lines from the title song of the popular American situation comedy Green Acres. I remember watching quite a few episodes of the French language version of that satirical and surreal television show originally broadcasted between September 1965 and April 1971. The first episode of Les arpents verts, a series dubbed in France by French actors, was broadcasted in Québec in September 1966. The last one presumably came out in April 1972.

Given the poor performance of the dilapidated Hoyt-Clagwell tractor operated by former prominent and wealthy New York City, New York, attorney turned farmer Oliver Wendell Douglas, one might suggest that this dreamy eyed and utterly incompetent fish out of water might have been better off with a restored example of the Beeman Junior garden tractor.

And you have a question, my reading friend, which is good. And no, there was no such thing as a Hoyt-Clagwell tractor and yes, I so realise that a well-known American firm, Ertl Company, produced a die-cast metal alloy collectible replica of that fictitious vehicle, presumably in the 1960s.

The tractor used in the opening credit of Green Acres was a John Deere GP dating from the 1920s or 1930s. The one used in individual episodes was seemingly a Ford Fordson tractor dating from the 1920s. You did not think I knew that, now did you, o ye of little faith?

Incidentally, Douglas, played with gusto by Eddie Albert, born Edward Albert Heimberger, was a brave if unlucky United States Army Air Forces fighter pilot during the Second World War. And that was your aeronautical content for the day. Well, almost.

Would you believe that Wings over Hooterville, an episode initially broadcasted in September 1966, showed the hapless Douglas being volunteered to pilot a dilapidated crop spraying / dusting biplane intended to protect the local crops from a dreaded insect, the fictitious bing bug. To paraphrase a certain person I know and like, things ended badly – but without injury. (Hello, EP!) And yes, I vaguely recall viewing that episode of Les arpents verts. I think. Yours truly says (type?) that because it is entirely possible for old folks like me to “remember” things that never really happened.

Compared to Douglas, Heimberger was both brave and lucky. In 1940 or 1941, before the United States formally entered the Second World War, he took some time off his budding movie career to join a well-known Mexican American travelling circus, the Gran Circo Escalante Hermanos. Heimberger used that cover to gather information on the activities of submarines of the German Kriegsmarine in Mexican waters, information he promptly gave to the Military Intelligence Division of the United States Army.

Heimberger put aside that dangerous occupation in 1941 or 1942, perhaps after the war declaration of Mexico, in May 1942, or after the American war declaration of December 1941, to join the United States Coast Guard before switching to the United States Navy. In November 1943, he was in charge of a small landing craft involved in the bloody assault on the atoll of Tarawa, in the Gilbert Islands. Acting under heavy Japanese forces fire, Heimberger and his crew rescued more than 45 members of the United States Marine Corps. The rest, as they say, is history, but back to our story.

As the 20th century began, in 1901 and not in 1900, given the sensitive nature of their crops, the proprietors of truck farms in the United States primarily used human labour, as well as equine labour, to plant and cultivate said crops. And yes, yours truly readily admits that I had no idea of what a truck farm was / is, in other words a farm dedicated to the production of vegetables which are later sold to the public.

Now I ask you, my reading friend, do you think that American truck farm proprietors would pass up the opportunity to replace their human and equine labour force by machines, reliable ones of course, in order to reduce their production overhead and enlarge their profit margin? Is the pope Polish, err, Argentinian?

Mind you, certain owners of small farms might also have been willing to consider the possibility of replacing ye olde dobbin.

And so it was that, in 1917, an American patent for an agricultural implement, the garden tractor / walking tractor we (the royal we) will pontificate about today, was issued to Cornelius A. Peters. That gentleman, in turn, assigned the 2 halves of said patent to Patrick J. Lyons and Edwin Ruthven “Ed” Beeman, Junior.

The former, a businessman and pioneer in the development of farm tractors, had founded Bull Tractor Company in 1913, using the large sum of money he had made through the sale of his Gas Traction Company, which made pretty darn big gasoline tractors.

Oddly enough, Bull Tractor’s first product was the little Little Bull 5-12, which was said to be so economical to purchase and operate that it made horses too expensive to keep. If truth be told, that 3-wheeled machine may well have been the first small gasoline tractor to be commercially successful. Indeed, the Little Bull 5-12 may well have been the best-selling tractor in the United States in 1914. Sadly, that tractor proved lacking in power and long-term reliability.

Would you believe that, back in 1914, Lyons had founded Toro Motor Company, in 2021 the world-famous snow blower and lawn mower manufacturer Toro Company, to produce the engines needed by Bull Tractor? Well, that was true but I digress.

Indeed, today’s topic is not the Little Bull 5-12 tractor. Nay. Our topic, I remind you, my reading friend, is a garden tractor / walking tractor produced by Beeman Garden Tractor Company, a firm seemingly incorporated in early 1916. Beeman was its president and treasurer while Lyons served as director.

Beeman was not some guy off the street either. No siree. He was born in the United States, in November 1870. Not long after obtaining his law degree from the University of Minnesota, he became one of the countless male Homo sapiens who caught a bad case of gold fever. With a group of 20 or so equally intoxicated male individuals, Beeman founded Minnesota-Alaska Development Company in 1898. He soon boarded a ship headed toward the goldfields of northern North America.

And yes, Beeman was one of the first lawyers in what was then the District of Alaska. Indeed, he co-founded the law firm of Hubbard & Beeman, or was it Hubbard, Beeman & Hume, in what was then Anvil City, Alaska. The luxurious office of these young lawyers was… a tent.

In the autumn of 1899, Beeman was one of the members of the committee which prepared and submitted the plans which led to the transformation of Anvil City into Nome, Alaska.

More dramatically, Beeman may, I repeat may, have had some knowledge of a now forgotten but still quite egregious conspiracy. You see, in 1900-01, Alexander John “Big Alex” McKenzie, a North Dakota political boss who may have been born in Ontario, or not… And yes, Ontario, the Canadian province, not the Californian city.

McKenzie, say (type?) I, tried very hard to acquire as many super productive Nome area gold claims as he could, by hook or by crook of course. And yes, the senator maker, as he was called, and his cronies, among them the area’s federal judge and district attorney (!), could count on the services of Oliver P. Hubbard and W.T. Hume to facilitate their efforts to legally steal the claims of various individuals and / or groups.

In the end, the main parties involved in the conspiracy were tried and, with one exception, found guilty. These men were either jailed or fined. Thanks to his political connections, however, McKenzie, who claimed to be at death’s door, got a presidential pardon, in May 1901, after serving only 100 or so days of his 12-month sentence, but I digress. Again. Sorry. McKenzie, by the way, died in June… 1922, at the ripe old age of 72. And yes, he was still loaded with moolah, but back to Beeman’s world.

And yes, Beeman’s world was a pun inspired by the American educational children’s television program Beakman’s World, broadcasted between September 1992 and January 1998. I do miss that program, sigh, but enough twaddle. Back to Beeman’s world.

Would you believe that Beeman dug up the gold used to make the ring of his spouse, Phosa Davis, which he married in 1900? I kid you not.

In any event, the couple left Alaska in 1901. Not too long after, Beeman joined the staff of Monitor Drill Company, a firm owned by his father-in-law. He eventually became Monitor Drill’s vice president and general manager.

Interestingly, Beeman obtained several grain drill related patents over the years. He also invented the technology behind a door activating mechanism which led to the creation of Beeman Door Control Company.

The first Beeman Garden Tractors hit the furrows in the spring of 1916. And yes, I know, as was said (typed?) above, the patent was issued in 1917. As we both know, issuing a patent took / takes time. Indeed, it looks as if Peters designed his garden tractor in 1915, but back to our story.

Beeman Garden Tractor seemingly aimed its creation at least in part toward the owners of relatively small farms, who had no need of a large tractor, nor enough moolah to buy one. The Garden Tractor, it said, was a versatile machine which would quickly pay for itself. It could plow, or mow a lawn, thanks to attachments produced by the firm. It could also pull horse-drawn implements, if need be.

A simple belt pulley attachment allowed potential users to power their churns, feed grinder, grindstones, washing machines, fanning mills, water pumps, circular saws and cream separators, for example. The easily detachable engine could also be mounted on a corn or grain binder.

To paraphrase Beeman Garden Tractor, there was no irk in work with its garden tractor, at least in theory. You see, early models of said tractor produced in 1916-17 may have experienced certain mechanical difficulties.

By early 1919, the firm had developed the much-improved Beeman Junior, or Model G, garden tractor. The engines of that implement were seemingly produced by another firm, Gilson Manufacturing Company.

Now that the First World War was over, Beeman Garden Tractor hoped to sell a lot of tractors, in a lot of places, both inside and outside the United States. After all, the one it offered to farmers was surprisingly economical. In 1920, in the United States, a good draught horse or mule cost between 100 and 200 $, and farmers had to pay another 100 $ to keep it. By comparison, a Garden Tractor cost $ 285 and needed no nourishment when it was not working. In that regard, it is worth noting that this tractor did not consume a lot of fuel: 1.67 litre/hour (0.37 Imperial gallon/hour / 0.44 gal American gallon/hour).

Those among you who might be interested in figuring out how much a good draught horse or mule, or a Garden Tractor, was worth, please note that a single 1920 dollar is worth about $ 13.70 in 2021 currency. So,

- a good draught horse or mule, from $ 1 370 to $ 2 745 approximately, and

- a Garden Tractor, approximately $ 3 910.

Sadly enough, the early 1920s were not a happy time for American farmers. An unfavourable economic situation caused by the 1919 recession and the 1920-21 depression caused havoc throughout the land. The cutthroat competition which prevailed during the tractor war of 1921-22 only made things worse for manufacturers, especially the smaller ones – firms like Beeman Garden Tractor.

By 1925, the firm was on the ropes. New investors took it over and formed New Beeman Tractor Company. With Beeman out of the picture, willingly or not, the new entity kept itself afloat by selling tractors manufactured before 1925, as well as parts. New Beeman tractor may have quietly gone out of business around 1945.

All in all, Beeman Garden Tractor may, I repeat may, have produced approximately 25 000 garden tractors, all versions included. These implements were sold in America, Europe and Oceania. Yours truly would not be surprised to learn that they were sold in Africa and Asia as well.

The Beeman Junior may, I repeat may, have been presented for the first time to a Québec audience in February 1920, during an agricultural exhibition held at a garage in Québec, Québec, owned by J. Edmond Poulin. This, of course, does not mean that these handy tractors were not already present in La Belle province.

By comparison, Beeman garden tractors could be seen, by appointment only it seemed, in Victoria, British Columbia, as early as April 1918.

As far as Europe was concerned, it is worth noting that the first Garden Tractors arrived in France no later than December 1918. These American vehicles were imported by La traction et le matériel agraires Société anonyme, a firm whose advertisement you saw at the beginning of this issue of our blog / bulletin / thingee.

As far as faraway Oceania was concerned, the presence of Beeman tractors can be dated to no later than October 1919, in Australia.

Sadly, Beeman passed away in April 1935. He was only 64 years old.

Take good care of yourself, my reading, because winter is coming. This being said (typed?), do not lose your head. Sorry.

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Rénald Fortier