This article originally appeared in the Chapter 38 International Harvester Collector Club for Western Canada's IH Legends newsletter and is reprinted with permission. Click here to visit their website: http://www.ihc38.com/
Some Early History
Hays lies in a rich southern Alberta farming district located at the east end of the Bow River Irrigation project. It is bounded between the Bow River on the north and east and the Old Man River on the south. Early ranching settlement was along these rivers.
About 1900 the 200 thousand acre Grand Forks Cattle Co. (GFC) under the guidance of ‘Big Jim’ McGregor ranched cattle in the area. The GFC became part of the Southern Alberta Land Company and McGregor, a managing director. They thought this dry area of the great plains would benefit from irrigation and began raising capital for engineering and ditching. Plans called for a 200 mile long main canal southeast from Carsland to Vauxhall and Ronalane, then on to Suffield and Redcliff. “Big Jim’ let his name be used on Lake McGregor and later went on to become a Manitoba Lieutenant-Governor, James Duncan McGregor.
Charles Furman, a well-known early settler, homesteaded the site of his ranch buildings in 1906 on the Old Man. An early Government of Alberta river ferry crossed the river at his place. Furman built up a good sized horse and cattle ranch and raised a family.
Sheepmen came to the area in the dry years after 1920. MacPherson Brothers, McKenzie, Taylor, Whitlock, Walmark & Green, Melfeit, Cameron, W.S.Benson all sheep ranched in the ‘Hays’ district at some time.
Howell Harris, manager for Pat Burns Ranches set up a place of his own on the ‘Bowview’ ranch just south of Ronalane Bridge near the main canal. Dug in 1910-1919, the canal never carried any water until 1951 when the PFRA siphon was completed across Expanse Coulee north of Grantham Lake. Hays was ‘opened’ for settlement. Sheep camps, coyotes, and rattle snakes made way for 150 young farm families.
Our Business-Hays Farm Service
In 1955 the Allen Wolfer family moved to Hays, Alberta and started a business named Hays Farm Service Limited. The family then consisted of Allen, wife Pearl,and two year old daughter Shirley. The business consisted of the White Rose bulk fuel service and the International Harvester Co. dealership. For several years we also housed and operated the post office.
At that time there was an IHC dealer in almost every small town around us and each dealer respected the other dealer’s territory. We were a ‘full line’ dealer selling trucks, tractors, machinery, household appliances, and lawn and garden. No one did a large volume of business but we all made a decent living for our families. We had several good years.
Later IHC sold the appliance part of the company and that part of the dealership was taken from us.
Hays Farm Service Ltd, ‘old building’ corner of Railway Ave & 5th. This is what we started with in 1955. A painter accidentally added an extra ‘e’ to Hays in this sign.
International Harvester had an incentive for dealers to sell. A certain quota had to be met for a dealer to qualify for trips to places like Spain, Jamaica, England, or Hawaii. We were fortunate to enjoy several trips over the years. Allan and I (Pearl) visited Spain and Jamaica. Mike Didow, our sales person and now deceased, travelled to England. Daughter Shirley and our son Ken, who was added to the family in 1957, visited Hawaii.
Each area had a zone manager that would come out regularly to visit each dealership. They would take inventory of equipment and parts and help out with sales. Our first zone manager was Deek Bain. Deek was a wonderful person and still resides in Lethbridge. Every few years IH would change the zone manager and we had several over the years.
Our second son, Terry, was added to our family in 1961 and our third son Murray came in 1964. In the mid ‘60s, dealerships were getting larger and some didn’t respect the boundaries of the old territories. Smaller dealers quit the IHC dealership network. Some of those that closed out over the next decade were Vauxhall, Scandia, Tilley, Etzikom and Duchess. This is to name a few in our area.
Then Tenneco bought the IH agriculture division in 1985 and merged it with Case. Their intention was to have very large dealerships in bigger centers. One of the terms for a dealer to stay with Case-IH was to buy a computer system that would cost the dealer one hundred thousand dollars. At this point a decision had to be made. If you purchased this system could you compete with the larger centers? Now every dealer sold machinery wherever you could make a deal. There was no respect for ‘dealer territories’.
Allen decided he would no longer be able to compete in this environment and regretfully gave up the IHC dealership part of the business.
Allen continued to operate the bulk fuel business and service station which by this time had changed suppliers several times in 40 years from White Rose Petroleum to Seventy Seven Oil and finally Shell.
Several mechanics worked in our shop, one who was well known and liked, being Philip Glas. Philip and his wife Thelma raised a family of eight girls and a son Rodney.
Hays Farm Service closed in 1996.
Hays Farm Service new building in 1970
The CPR rail line ran north and south on the other side of the row of trees. The rail line, siding, loading ramp, railway station, section house, and Alberta Wheat Pool elevator are gone.
We had been in the cattle business over the years and owned a ranch at Cessford and had some lease land near Suffield. Tragedy struck our family October 1, 2004 when we lost our youngest son Murray in a truck accident at age 39. Then on August 14, 2005, another son Kenneth died of a heart attack at age 47.
Our hired man lived on the Cessford Ranch so we continued in the cattle business with the help of our son Terry who lives in Abilene, Texas. He would come home to help with branding in June and then come back again in the fall for weaning. Terry is 51.
In 2009 we sold everything and bought a condo in Lethbridge, Alberta, where our daughter Shirley lives. Allen is now 89 and has a few health problems. Pearl is doing fine. Losing two sons gave us a few difficult years. The best years were living and doing business in the small town of Hays. We knew and liked all our neighbors!
Here’s a few pictures from the past!
Hays Farm Service float in the Hays anniversary parade.
Bulk Fuel building at Hays Farm Service.
How business was done in the ‘old days’
Golden wedding picture of Pearl and Allen Wolfer.
Retired and living in Lethbridge, Alberta