DEALERSHIPS OF THE PAST: The Algot Family and Their Three-Generation International Harvester Dealership
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/
The fascinating history of this tri-generation IH dealership began in 1902, when pioneer Gustaf (Gus) J. Algot arrived as a young man in Alberta from his native Sweden, looking for opportunity, and ready to make his mark on the world. His travels took him to Vermilion in 1908, where he took homestead papers on a quarter of land 30 miles to the north, which he named Angle Lake after the nearby body of water.
He proceeded to farm that quarter, and set up a large sawmill operation to process the trees that he cleared. He was building his estate, and was ready to settle down. Two years later, Gustaf married Anna Johnson of Waterglen, Alberta. Four children soon joined the family: Ellen (1911), Clarence (1913), Agnes (1916), Lillian (1921).
Gustaf was an entrepreneur; he saw a need and filled it. He obtained a large head of horses for re-sale, built his first general mercantile store, and became the postmaster at Angle Lake. He purchased a 12-horse circle drive threshing machine, and that year, so many neighbours brought stooks that they threshed until Christmas.
Always on the lookout for a business venture, he saw a need for farm equipment, and from 1921 to 1923 he promoted IHC products with the use of his first truck, International’s little “Red Baby.”
Gustaf began to wonder if this is what he should do for the rest of his life, so he decided to “take a break.” He camperized the truck, loaded the family and headed for the West Coast, leaving the farm in the hands of capable friends.
One year later, he returned to find out that the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) was headed west on the Lloydminster-Willingdon line. He seized the opportunity to build his second store six miles south along the new line. After much debate amongst early merchants and residents, he asked the CPR to pick a name for the new village. They responded with the name “Derwent” after the lake country in England, similar to the many lakes in the local area.
Development of farming in the region of Angle Lake was hampered by the distance to market and therefore, farmers only grew what they could use themselves or feed to livestock. It was too far to haul grain and other produce all the way to Vermilion to the railway. Although the horse was the prevalent farm power source, interest was growing in IHC products, and the prospect of having a line of implements to compliment the Algot hardware store began to take shape.
By 1927, the railroad arrived from the east and within a short time the International Harvester Co. symbol appeared as 15-30 tractors arrived by rail from North Battleford and were sold in the district of Derwent by G.J. Algot – General Merchant. Almost by miracle, land which had been idle or grazed was put under cultivation. Some 55,000 acres were broken in 1929 and another 55,000 the following years. Farmers turned from horse farming to tractor farming and the productivity of the country increased immensely. The village of Derwent mushroomed.
The contract with IHC was officially signed in January 1928. The roof was raised from the store, a second story was put in place, and the Algot family moved from the farm into Derwent. Gus Algot became Derwent’s first Mayor, a position he held for 10 years. The village prospered and grew. The need for farm equipment was evident – soon there are five dealerships on Main Street. The largely Ukrainian populace were hard working and not deterred by the depression. International farm equipment and trucks continued to roll into the Derwent district and business was good.
Gus’ son Clarence A. Algot completed his university training in Edmonton and returned to Derwent to join his father’s business in 1937. His sister Agnes married George McConnell and Gus had him in the hardware end while Clarence operated the implement part as the new Algot and McConnell. Throughout the 30’s, various tractor shows and schools for interested farmers were held at their dealership on Main Street.
G.J. Algot on a sales call, 1934, on top of truck holding his shoes.
Clarence married Pearl Kortzman of Edmonton via Kingman, Alberta, in 1937. They had two children, son Gary (1940) and daughter Siri (1941).
Soon after, Gus Algot moved to Edmonton to enjoy his retirement, passing in 1977.
The need was evident for expanded space, so in 1948, a second building was put up on the implement side. The equipment and trucks were evident on Main Street Derwent with KBs, Farmalls, W6 and WD9s on display.
In the 1950’s, Derwent was busy and farm equipment was on the move. If you took your bath a little late on Saturday night and came to town after 9 p.m., you wouldn’t find a place to park on Main Street. Self-propelled equipment was on display and the SP161 and SP127 were well received. L130’s and L150’s were hauling the grain. Clarence was so busy that he had to hire sales and parts staff as he attended to service calls.
Clarence headed to Chicago for the introduction of the 460-560-660 tractor line in 1958, and by 1961 had sold approximately thirty 560’s.
Time was marching on – George McConnell retired and the hardware side of the business was sold off. The new business and Clarence go solo as Algot Implements Ltd. in 1962.
Son Gary completed his University training in 1968 and after a brief encounter working for the provincial government, felt lucky to return home to go into business with his father.
Gustaf Clarence Guy Gary
Gary married Sharon Cavin of Missoula, Montana and had two sons, Guy (1968) and Clint (1970).
Gary was off to various Service Schools with their service employees. The business was very successful with the “06 – “56 line of tractors, the pickups, Scouts, Loadstar trucks and 403-503 combines.
The “66 line showed up in the 1970’s and led to the “86 series and Gary was off again to Chicago for Axial Flow combine introduction and to Kansas City for tractor introduction. There were various trips with customers to tractor factories in East Moline and Rock Island, Illinois. Back home the demo shows were regular as well as the pancake breakfasts and other Company promotions. Sales trips to various cities south were well received as they become combined with winter holidays.
The 1980’s were exciting with the “88 line - good looks and potent power train. The 2+2 was an amazing use of 4 wheel drive.
The fall of 1984 arrived with an ominous tone - in November, Gary attends a meeting in Dallas, Texas which clearly showed something was not right in the business world of International Harvester. Tenneco Inc. of Houston, in an effort to save J.I. Case from going down the drain has combined Case and IH to form a new company.
And then in January 1985 the “suits” arrived. On that fateful January day four men arrived and changed the family business as it was known. Two from the Edmonton office and two from Racine, Wisconsin indicated to Clarence and Gary that they would be out of business.
Excerpt from the Calgary Herald, January 17, 1985 – Staff writer Bob Beaty:
FARM DEALERS FORCED OUT
Some of Alberta’s approximately 90 International Harvester and Case farm equipment dealers started out the new year with a whimper – they were told to get out of business.
A task force from Houston-based Tenneco Inc., owners of the newly combined Case and International equipment companies, gave some of the dealers a mustsign contract this month that would remove their right to sell the equipment lines.
“We’ve been in business for 57 years, so it’s a bit of a bad deal,” says Clarence Algot, 72 year old owner of Algot Implements Ltd. “They just told us there were too many dealers in our area and we had to go.”
Algot’s business is in the small town of Derwent, 190 kilometres east of Edmonton between the larger towns of Vermilion and St. Paul, where there are competing International Harvester Co equipment dealers.
Algot says he was given until January 23 to sign the contract or lose out on a $10,000 closing bonus.
Also included in the contract is $25,000 to cover good will and dealership assets tied to the International name, such as signs. In addition, Tenneco will buy back current parts and equipment at “cost plus freight” and pay a portion of non-refundable and used parts.
“All in all, it doesn’t seem like such a bad deal for me,” Algot says, “but I’m going to retire soon. It doesn’t leave anything for my son (Gary, 44) who will want to stay in business. Maybe he can pick up another (equipment) line but in this market that’s not so easy.”
Algot says he won’t sign the contract until he talks to other dealers at the Farm Equipment Dealers Association of Alberta-British Columbia this weekend in Edmonton.
Bill McCulloch, secretary manager of the association, says that judging by the phone calls he has received, it appears the bulk of those given take-it-or-leave-it contracts are International dealers.
The business carried on by obtaining the needed parts for the large customer base in the Derwent trading area by entering into a parts availability agreement with NORSASK Farm Equipment of North Battleford, Saskatchewan.
Clarence retired in 1987 after 50 years in the business. The big “C” took him in June 1989. Gary and Sharon continued to provide parts and service to their many customers.
With the sale of the building and property, the end came in 2008.
2010 In December, the parts department as it existed in 1948 has been reproduced on the Algot property back at Angle Lake where G.J. Algot began the business. If you wish to stop by and talk I.H., come out in the summer for a “Harvester Afternoon.” See the Chapter 38 International Harvester Collector’s Club website for details at www.ihc38.com
Gary and Sharon Algot