IH Farm Equipment Training Center

Tifton, GA

Wiley Johnson

December 12, 2015  

 

The Tifton F E Training Center opened in 1961, approximately fifteen miles north of Tifton, Georgia near the community of Waterloo. The main farm and building were located on approximately 1,300 to 1,400 acres leased from P.D. Fullwood Plant Co. It is located on the west Irwin, east Turner, and north Tift county lines. This included about 450 acres of coastal hay, some 700 acres of open farm land, and some wooded acres. The hay acres were in a government set-aside program, and could be used for demo, but not for production or harvest for sell. It was headed up by Lamar Hartzog as supervisor, with William (Bill) Fessler and Jim Brosnahan as instructors. There were several reasons why South Georgia was chosen: availably of land at a reasonable rent, the long season for outdoor activity, and the sandy loam soil. In later years, additional acres were rented from neighboring farmers. The mail came to P.O. Box H, Tifton, GA 31794.

 

The Center’s main purpose was to give IH Company Sales personnel firsthand experience with both IH and competitive equipment. There was nothing like the satisfaction of “having done it yourself.” Plus, you could operate competitive machines.

 

In the beginning the classes were two weeks long, made up of twelve students from different parts of the USA. As with any group, there was friendly competition, someone who was a good story teller or joker, and someone to keep score. When students arrived at the Quality Inn on I-75 and Hwy 82 on Sunday for their two week tour, the first thing asked of them was to hand over their car keys. This was met with reservation by some, but generally taken in good sprit. That Sunday night at the orientation meeting, students were divided into groups, a group captain was picked, and assignments were made. Assignments included filling the ice and water cooler each morning, lunch room duty, and general policing of the building area at noon. A product knowledge pre-test was given to get a base for improvement made during the next two weeks of training.

 

The days started early. It was a short one block walk up to the Alpine Restaurant for breakfast at 6:30 a.m. The Alpine was owned and operated by Sidney Carpenter and his wife. The Alpine also supplied lunch to the farm daily. Tuesdays and Thursdays were fresh ground hamburgers grilled on a charcoal grill at the farm. Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays were cold cut sandwiches with green salad, potato salad, chips, and trimmings--always good, always plenty. There was lots of ice cold sweet tea to drink. Usually by noon on Tuesday someone in the group had made a blunder (large or small) and was assigned grill duty. There was always good natured ribbing between the cook and the “field hands” about how the burgers were cooked.

 

After a day in the field we would return to the hotel for a shower, then head to the Alpine for dinner, and then there was a night session. Most night sessions began with a review of the day’s events. Errors were always pointed out: things like having your tractor in reverse when the sign said second gear forward, how many times someone choked the engine down, or maybe that someone had the wrong front tire in the furrow when plowing. Night sessions included a hay baler knotter review, where two students working together would disassemble a knotter, then put it back together. An actual hand cranked knotter was used to show how the knot was made.

 

If you had any free time, there was a putting green, a shuffle board court, a pool, and a ping pong table, and there was almost always a friendly card game going on. Then it was time to start a new day. If a student got sleepy during the day, the instructor had a 20-inch disc blade he would drop from about two or three feet high onto the concrete floor. That would bring you back to class, quick! On the weekend that the students stayed over, a trip to Okefenokee Swamp near Waycross, GA could be arranged. Did I mention that Tift County was dry?

 

By the time I arrived in June of 1963, things were changing. The school now had four instructors, Jim Brosnahan, Charles (Chuck) Sanders, Walt Mayor, and Lenard DeCamar. Bill Fessler was now the Supervisor, and M.L. (Micky) Pettus was in charge of service. Rollie Bozart and I made up the complete crew. Dale Stivers, National Sales Supervisor, was in Chicago in charge of training.

 

Although there had been some changes, things were still simple at the farm. We had a metal building with four sections, two used for classrooms, one section for the shop, and one for the office. The classrooms only had insulation in the ceiling (no drop ceiling), and two big open sliding doors on one side and a window on the other side, and a big overhead fan. The office did have a window unit to make it useable.

 

A deep well had been drilled, so there was running water and indoor plumbing (the first year there was only outdoor plumbing). The lunch area was a 20 x 30 foot section on the south end of the building enclosed on three sides by screen wire to keep out the bugs and gnats. Two large overhead fans helped stir up a breeze. We had a Coke machine in one corner, a refrigerator and table along one side, and there were four picnic tables. The grill was in the east end of the room with its own chimney and exhaust fan.

 

The shop area (same size as one classroom) was very basic. The shop had a larger tool box on a work bench which was equipped with a vise on one end and a grinder on the other. There was an air compressor mounted to a #1 implement platform carrier with a one-point fast hitch that could be moved about with the Farmall 140. It was powered by a single cylinder Clinton gasoline engine. There were no air wrenches, fork lifts, cherry pickers, or overhead cranes, no welders, and no cutting torches. There was a battery charger, a Black & Decker half inch drill, a Walker 5-ton floor jack, and several jack stands. Each instructor had a small tool box and a log chain in their Travelall for field emergencies.

 

On my first day at work, June 17,1963, after introductions and a general overview of the compound, I was assigned mowing duty. It seemed as though everyone had been busy for the last month or so, and mowing was way behind. My charge for the next two or three days was an I-404 with an eight-speed transmission and a 210 rotary cutter. I cut the driving range, the area next to the driving range along the road coming into the farm, and the area down by the wash pad. I went to work for $1.00 per hour, 48 hours per week, and that included Saturday morning.

 

The wash pad area had a unique and useful job. On the second Thursday of each session, it was used to clean all the equipment. By noon of that day, Rollie and I would have the Cub with its Brinkly water pump mounted to the fast hitch, set up and primed. It had a four-inch intake and a three-inch output to which a 30-foot fire hose was attached. With the Cub running at half throttle, the volume and pressure coming through the one-inch nozzle made a great pressure washer. All the units that had been used in the field over the last two weeks were sent to the wash pad. The students were in charge of clean up, and usually the person with the most serious infraction for the two weeks was assigned first hose duty. By the end, everyone was wet and having a great time.

 

Everyone has heard the phrase, “the show must go on.” It was the same at Tifton. When the class schedule was to cut, bale, or plow, it was done. It was never too wet to bale hay, never too dry to plow, and never too hot to go out on the equipment line for class.

 

Things change, and people come and go. H.D. Thornton came to Tifton in 1965 as an Instructor. He was made supervisor in 1966. He remained in that position until it closed in 1975. Then he went to Ottawa, IL to the Resource Development Center. The RDC was located at Hickory Hill Farm, near the Photo Center. It closed in 1982 and H.D. Thornton retired.

 

In 1969, after two service managers had elected to pursue other options, I was promoted to Service Manager. I also went to Ottawa in 1975 and worked there until 1978. Then I worked out of the Atlanta, Memphis, Montgomery, Valdosta, Memphis again, and then Racine offices. I retired in 2006.

 

After July 1963, classes were reduced to one week in length, and also included dealers and dealer salespeople. A typical week went something like this: Monday morning--two groups on small tractors and two groups on large tractors, which included classroom and driving range with IH and competition. Monday evening: tillage tools. (After the students left for the day, the crew would hook all plow tractors to their assigned plow.) Tuesday morning: field plowing. Tuesday evening: hay equipment classroom and field work. Wednesday morning, classroom planters and combines. Wednesday evening: groups would swap from small to large tractors and repeat. On Friday about 3:00 p.m. miscellaneous equipment was covered, things like 770 sprayers, grinder mixers and auger carts, and the 56 blower and 151 forage box. The blower was set up beside a power pole with about 70 feet of pipe. A small tractor was used, like a 424, to show not much power was required to operate it. A lot of those big IH straw hats went up the pipe and floated across the field.

 

A “family” garden was planted and harvested by the Training Center family each year, which included corn, peas, butterbeans, green beans, tomatoes, okra, potatoes and sweet potatoes. Wild blackberries could be found along the edge of the fields. Watermelons were plentiful. Fish from the pond were caught fresh and cooked onsite a couple times a year. Dove and quail hunting were also available.

 

Special groups and classes were always welcome at Tifton. We had groups from Australia, Africa, Europe, and South America. The 706 and 806 tractors were introduced in August 1963. Special combine classes were held in June and July for several years. The Photo Center and Engineering also spent time at Tifton. The 424 introduction movie was made in the hay field just east of the building. The F 656 ran for a month or two under the 706 decal, and the I 656, the 150 3pt hitch disc, and the 400 Cyclo planter also spent time at Tifton. We ran lots of different sizes and types of plastic twine through the baler testing twine.

 

Around 1965 or 1966 the Atlanta, Memphis, Charlotte, and Richmond Regional Offices sent service personnel down to have service training during the months the Sales School was closed. After one or two years, the Tifton Service Training Center was established and ran year-round. Extra buildings and classrooms were added to handle service people. A mobile unit was added and based out of Tifton to travel across the South. It would set up at a dealership, and cover items on a tractor like Hydro transmission, 3pt hitch, and power steering. The Service Training had a Supervisor and four Instructors, and it ran until 1971.

 

In the spring of 1971, we were almost ready to start a new year. About three weeks before class was to start, we were called into the hotel conference room and told that the Training Center would not open. The Instructors were sent to new jobs across the country, and the equipment was transferred out. After a couple of weeks, a decision was made to leave a skeleton crew to maintain the facility and try to recoup some of the rent money already spent. So for two years H.D. Thornton, Ray Hickman and I farmed.

 

In 1973, the Training Center opened again with two Instructors and less equipment. The next year, 1974, two more Instructors were added. Then at the end of 1975, Tifton closed for good. Operation moved to Ottawa, IL, Hickory Hill Farm, as the Resource Development Center.

 

I thought I was done with this story until this past Friday morning on the way to town. I found a rattlesnake approximately half a block from my house, and it brought back memories of the first summer I worked at Tifton. I killed over 20 rattlers that summer between June 17 and Christmas break, some by accident. I would see them on my next round with a disc of rotary cutter. Some were small, but some were quite large—four and a half to five and a half feet in length. Luckily no one who attended the school at Tifton was ever bitten, and no one was ever injured.

 

Well, that’s my story. Corrections or comments are welcome.

TC Roster

June 10/21, 1963

Dealer Roster June 24, 1963

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