The Ottumwa Courier

Local News

April 9, 2012

Retired John Deere workers restore century-old corn planter

Back on the assembly line

OTTUMWA — A 110-year-old Janney corn planter got spruced up and rebuilt Saturday afternoon.

After Linda and Dennis Besick bought Linda’s parents’ farm after their deaths in 2002 and 2009, they found a corn planter that was surprisingly intact.

“We talked about selling it but thought we’d take it to the historical museum people first,” Linda said.

The Wapello County Historical Museum’s project director, Jim Johnson, and the city’s park maintenance supervisor, Chris Cobler, came down to look at it and immediately decided they had to have it for the museum, since the planter was built in Ottumwa and had stayed in the county its entire life.

Cobler, Dennis Besick, Dean Mincks and Kermit Smith, all retired John Deere Ottumwa Works employees, gathered at Cobler’s house Saturday afternoon to rebuild the planter.

It took them just over an hour.

The planter was made at Janney Manufacturing Company in 1902, located in east Ottumwa, where WINBCO Tank stands today.

Janney was established in 1899 by G. Campbell Janney, though by 1905 it had filed for bankruptcy. By 1906, the company was selling thousands of dollars worth of equipment to Kenney Machine Co. in Indianapolis, and by 1911 Janney was completely defunct.

In its heyday, though, the company labeled itself as the “originators of the steel frame corn planter” and a factory that employed “all first-class mechanics” who produced a “good product, good service and moderate prices.”

It’s rumored that Joseph Dain, who founded a hay tool plant which was later bought out by John Deere Ottumwa Works, bought the foundry equipment to be used in his foundry across the river, Johnson said, though no written information can be found as to what happened to Janney’s buildings and equipment.

Linda’s grandparents, Irvin and Anna Nedrow, originally bought the corn planter in the early 1900s. Lehr Nedrow, Linda’s father, was 11 when Irvin died, forcing Lehr to drop out of high school his freshman year to help farm.

In 1960, Lehr bought the planter at his mother’s estate auction and moved it to his farm in Wapello County, where it sat unused until today.

After Linda and Dennis bought her parents’ farm, they decided the planter needed a permanent home at the Wapello County Historical Museum.

The group even got help from Wells Fargo, as Dusty Stewart, business banker, “fought to get the money secured for its restoration,” said Mike Weston, investment advisor at Wells Fargo.

“We were glad to do our small part,” Weston said. “It’s not that easy to get donations for something like this.”

Weston especially liked that Cobler wasn’t imitating shows like “American Restoration,” which completely refurbish old equipment to make it look brand new.

Instead, Cobler was simply cleaning up the machine and putting a special coating on it to preserve it.

Dennis said he had no idea how the corn planter had stayed in such great shape all these years, since it had been sitting in a barn where it most likely was hit by bad weather from time to time. But all of the wood was still intact, and some of the bright red and green colors were still shining through after Cobler finished cleaning it up.

“I tell you what, those guys were inventors,” Cobler said. “We’ve just made improvements.”

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