Wilde Implement- Markesan, Wis

Thousands of Allis-Chalmers dealerships, stocked with orange tractors and machinery, dotted farming communities across the U.S. at one time. Markesan, my hometown, was also home to one of these dealerships. Although they sold other farm equipment brands, Allis-Chalmers was their flagship line of equipment. Some others included, Leyland, Same, Lindsay, New Idea, and New Holland.

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The original dealership, Wilde & Stellmacher, was started in 1938 by Elmer Wilde and Arthur Stellmacher. Elmer’s sons, Raymond and Leslie, joined the business in 1945, after they returned from military service in World War II. In 1948 the boys bought out Arthur Stellmacher’s interest in the business and formed E.W. Wilde & Sons.

Wilde Imp 3

Leslie “Les” Wilde on an AC WC (1938)

The first dealership was located at 59 East John Street in Markesan. Elmer was actively involved in the business with his sons until 1963. He passed away 4 short years later in 1967. Raymond’s son, Tom, joined the family business in 1970. The family incorporated the business in 1977 (Wilde Implement Inc.) and built a new 60′ x 100′ shop on State Road 44 outside of Markesan in 1978. The new shop gave the family business the extra room and a much needed updated service shop. The grand opening of the new building was held on April 6, 1978, and the Markesan Herald reported this:

During the grand opening there will be movies and factory representatives will be on hand to answer that people may have. There will also be door prizes awarded.

Raymond, Leslie, and Tom are said to have maintained a strong relationship with customers and family atmosphere with other employees. If a customer had a problem in the field on any given day or any given hour, the Wildes would drop what they were doing to help get the equipment running. I have talked to Raymond about his time running the dealership, and he said he can still remember how to fine-tune the Allis-Chalmers Roto-Balers. He said they would get frequent calls about the Roto-Baler, and that most of the problems were due to farmers leaving them out in the weather. He said he always took an oil can along to Roto-Baler service calls.

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Sadly, the family closed the dealership in 1986. The trio found it increasingly difficult to operate the dealership in a time when economic troubles affected farming and other agricultural business. Raymond and Leslie were also semi-retired in 1982, handing a lot of responsibility over to Tom. Tom felt the pressure of finding good help to replace Raymond and Leslie, but also trying to maintain the family atmosphere at the dealership. Once in a while I come across some old dealership memorabilia, like the yardstick pictured above, or a tractor with the Wilde Implement decal on it.

What do you remember about Wilde Imp. in Markesan?

Museum Progress

I created an Allis-Chalmers History Museum a few months back and have been making some progress on it. Right now it is just webpage powered by Omeka.net  I am hoping that it can be a major source of information for Allis-Chalmers enthusiasts. Instead of it just being solely about tractors or other products, I am trying to tell the stories of the men and women who worked there, and about the company. It may take some time, but hopefully the project will turn into a valuable source of information.

Some of the things I have put together so far are pages about the brief history of the company and a paged with some of the hard-to-find documents. I am working on scanning and uploading PDFs of documents to be viewed right on the site. Essentially, I want it to be an open library of information. These publications are hard to find and pricey when they do pop up from time to time. I want to be able to share these with everyone in hopes of preserving the history of Allis-Chalmers, the workers, and the products they made.

There are a few features I would like to add in the future:

  • Biographies- People who worked at the various plants, what they did, and for how long. ( Text & Audio)
  • Photograph Archive- Albums broken up into categories depicting work at the plant.
  • Patent Archive- I have started this but would like to eventually list out all patents in separate categories.
  • In-Depth Histories- Specific histories about labor disputes, special projects, company expansion, etc.
  • Film/Video- Adding original film reel segments or videos the company released.

It will take some time, but this is what I hope to accomplish with my little, online museum. Who knows, maybe in the future it will turn into a real museum with real exhibits. I am encouraging any interested historians to help me. I know there are other AC enthusiasts/historians out there!  Another possibility is getting some other historical societies involved to contribute. The West Allis Historical Society, Milwaukee County Historical Society, and LaPorte County Historical Society are a few that I have visited/contacted about AC history before. They, as well as others, could be a great source of information.

Contact me if you have information to share or would like to help!

History at Work: Part II

I used to work for Winnebago County at the Parks Department. Most of my time was spent at the park or the fairgrounds doing maintenance and ground work. Towards the end of my employment there, due to my position as a seasonal worker, I was told that the grounds were formerly the site of the Winnebago County Poor Farm, Insane Asylum, and the Sunny View Sanatorium. Work got a lot more interesting after that!

Past & Present Aerial View of Grounds

WCG Map

Winnebago County November 3, 1937
Wisconsin Historic Aerial Image Finder

Map Legend:
1- State Hospital Railroad Depot
2- Winnebago County Insane Asylum
3- Winnebago County Poor Farm
4- Winnebago County Poor House
5- Sunny View Sanatorium
6- Northern State Insane Asylum (Winnebago Mental Health Inst.)
7- Cemetery

Winnebago County established a county program in 1865 to care for the poor and mentally ill. A poor farm, which housed the poor and insane, was built north of town on 125 acres of land in 1871. The facility included barns and other buildings for farm use and a single brick building for the poor to reside.  That same year, just east of the poor farm, the State of Wisconsin started construction on the Northern Hospital for the Insane on Lake Winnebago. By 1893 a separate building, the Winnebago County Insane Asylum, was constructed on the county grounds to separate the poor and mentally ill.

Winnebago County Asylum (1893 building)

On the other side of street, where the Winnebago County Fairgrounds are, was the Sunny View Sanatorium. Sunny View was built to care for those suffering from tuberculosis. Constructing of the hospital began in 1914 and finished sometime in 1915. The hospital closed its doors in September 1971. Some buildings were demolished, and others were used as offices for county departments for a number of years before being demolished.

The original asylum and poor house are long gone; lost to fires and the wrecking ball. Remnants of the farm buildings still stand on Butler Avenue. Over on the fairgrounds side are some buildings of the old Sunny View Sanatorium. Garages once built for staff vehicle are used as maintenance sheds today. The old cemetery is still there, and the dead are marked by numbered, cement markers.

For more in-depth reading about these institutions:

A history of the Winnebago County Poor Farm

A History of Sunny View Sanatorium, 1915-1971