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Stoughton Wagon Co., Stoughton Cab & Body Co.
Stoughton Wagon Works, 1865-1889;  Stoughton Wagon Co., 1889-1926; Stoughton Company, 1927-1932; New Stoughton Company, 1932-1936;  Stoughton Cab & Body Co., 1937-1958; Stoughton Body Div., MPM Corp., 1958-1961; Stoughton Truck Body Co., 1961-1967; Stoughton Trailers, Inc., 1967-present; Stoughton, Evansville & Broadhead Wisconsin
 
Associated Builders
Mandt Wagon Works, T.G. Mandt Vehicle Co., 1896-1906; Mandt Wagon division of the Moline Plow Co., 1906-1921; Stoughton, Wisconsin
     

The Stoughton Wagon Co., T.G. Mandt Vehicle Co., Stoughton Co., New Stoughton Co., Stoughton Cab & Body Co., and Stoughton Trailer Co., can all trace their history to a single individual, Targe Gunnarson Mandt (1845-1902), an energetic Norwegian immigrant who emigrated to Wisconsin with his parents in 1848.

T.G. Mandt was born in Moe, Telemarken, Norway to Gunnar Tarjeison and Jurunn Mandt in 1845. In the spring of 1848, Gunnar Tarjeison, a skilled blackmith and cabinet-maker, and his young family emigrated to the United States, where he joined his brother Gunnar Targesen Mandt, who had made the journey five years earlier (1843).

Although his brother was working in Chicago at the time, Gunnar Tarjeison established his homestead in the established Norwegian community at Pleasant Springs, Dane County, Wisconsin.  On his small farm Mandt established a smithworks and wood shop where he produced implements, wagons and household furniture for the community’s other early settlers.

As a youngster T.G. attended the local Norwegian school and as a teenager served as his father’s apprentice, building his first wagon at the age of 16, which he sold at a profit to one Eric Ladd, a Pleasant Spring farmer.

In 1862 young Targe found employment with a large wagon works in St. Joseph, Missouri where he produced vehicles for the Union Army. His great skill was recognized early in his business career, and the wagon-maker promoted him to department foreman in 1865, near the end of hostilities.

The end of the War brought a dearth of new wagon orders and Mandt was laid off. He returned to his home in Dane County and with $100 in savings, purchased a riverside plot in the nearby village of Stoughton, Dane County, and established his own wagons works.  

On the occasion of its 16th anniversary, the editor of the Stoughton Courier prepared a detailed history of the Stoughton Wagon Works for the paper’s September 16th, 1881 issue, which is transcribed below in its entirety:

“1865-1881 - T.G. Mandt - History of the Stoughton Wagon Works, Commencement and Progress of same.

“Celebration on the Sixteenth Anniversary of the Stoughton Wagon

“In 1865, T.G. Mandt, the present proprietor of the Stoughton Wagon Works, moved to the village of Stoughton from his father’s farm, in the town of Pleasant Springs, Dane county, Wis., five miles from the village. He was at the time but nine-teen years of age, but had thoroughly learned the art of making a wagon, complete, his father having a country shop on his farm. Unlike most mechanics, he had mastered both the wood- and iron-work of a wagon. At the time of his removal he had a capital of less than a hundred dollars, but plenty of pluck, energy and determination.

“Mr. Mandt has never been assisted by wealthy relatives, but has relied on his own resources. He first purchased a lot where the present office is situated, agreeing to pay one hundred dollars therefore, paying twenty dollars down, this being one-half of his cash capital. Not being able to buy lumber for building a new shop, he bough an old warehouse for eighty dollars, paying toward it his remaining twenty dollars, getting trusted for the balance. This building he tore down, moved and re-built with his own hands.

“In the summer of 1865 his shop was running in full blast with five men, on a capital obtained by selling a wagon before it was manufactured, and getting his pay in advance. During this year he mad five wagons and one buggy, besides doing much repairing.

“In 1866 another lot was bought, and two small additions to the blacksmith shop were built. This year he turned out ten wagons, four buggies and five sleighs.

“In the latter part of 1866 a man named George Getz was taken as a partner who was retained as such for about three years.

“Very little improvement in buildings was made during this time, but more labor was employed, and the capacity was increased to forty wagons the last year. Mr. G., was a cautious business man, and, thinking that Mandt was crowding matters a little too fast, sold out his interest in the business to him.

“In 1869 two or three more additions were made to the buildings, and a second-hand, one-horse tread-power was bought. Previous to this time there had been only a local trade for the wagons, but this year he associated with him Mr. G.T. Mandt, an uncle, and extended the trade into Iowa, the first carload being sold at Mona, Mitchell Co. to Mr. P.K. Everson. Mr. E. is still selling these wagons, having sold over eight hundred and fifty of them since that time, at that place.

“In 1870, finding that that the horse-power was too limited, they secured possession of an old saw-mill, standing on the bank of the Catfish river, near the other buildings, which they rigged, up for their use. After seventeen months the partnership was dissolved, the uncle, also thinking that the young man was over-reaching, wished to withdraw from the firm, and did so, receiving his investment and three-thousand dollars net cash profit. Since that time, Mr. Mandt has had no partnership connections, in any of his business undertakings.

“In 1871 more lots were secured, storage buildings erected, and the trade extended further West and into Minnesota.

“In 1872, a wagons hop, machine shop, and foundry, which stood where the main building does now, together with several more lots were purchased from Mr. B.L. Leland, who started in business shortly after Mr. Mandt did, with a capital of several thousand dollars.

“From 1872 to 1876 several new buildings were erected; additions to old buildings sprung up; new machinery was added, and he trade extended further West, covering considerable territory in Iowa, Minnesota and Dakota.

“The effect of the hard and crushing times of 1873, ’74, and ’75 for all kinds of business, together with the universal failure of crops, and ravages by grasshoppers in certain localities in Iowa, Minnesota and Dakota, was felt by this establishment. Agents throughout these devastated sections, who had been selling Mandt’s goods, were unable to collect from farmers, and could not meet their obligations to Mr. Mandt. The consequences were Mandt was unable to meet his obligations to Eastern wholesale houses and after a hard struggle, had to give up the ship, making an assignment of all his property, for the benefit of his creditors. There was at the time a sufficient amount of assets to pay all liabilities; but as values had shrunk, nothing could be realized, unless at sacrificing prices, and outstanding accounts and notes could not be collected.

“Mr. Mandt's creditors, at a meeting in Milwaukee, during the early part of September, 1876, after having carefully examined and scrutinized the causes leading to the failure, and fully satisfied that if was unavoidable on his part, concluded to give him an opportunity to again take the helm and steer the ship as of old. They offered to compromise there several accounts and agreed to take thirty-five cents on a dollar in full payment of all demands.

“It is known to all, conversant with the facts of the case, that at the time of the failure, extensions could have been secured on all due accounts and papers, and he would have be enabled to continue for a while longer, at least; but in order to obtains such extensions, he would either have had to mortgage his property, or secure the aid of his friends in the way of endorsing and signing papers with him. Not seeing his way clear, he concluded that it was better to let matters take their own course, than to involve his friends where success was uncertain. Be it said to his praise, that he would never ask the aid and favor of any of his friends in any monetary matter, unless he could see his way clearly; and, further, that at no time since he commenced business, in 1865, has he ever mortgaged any part or portion of his property for a cent’s value.

“Only for four weeks were his shops closed, as on the first day of October, the same year, they were re-opened, and work was resumed. Notwithstanding the busy tongues of his enemies and slanderers, Mr. Mandt retained his old, established trade, built up new, and pushed the business to its full capacity, finding a ready market for his goods.

“The unparalleled and abundant crops of 1877 throughout the West, subsequent good crops and brilliant business period, created new fields for the wagon trade. Orders came pouring in, and, to meet the increasing demand for his goods, new buildings and additions to other buildings had to be erected, and more and later-improved machinery added. These rich harvests and prosperous times brought Mr. Brandt other blessings, as collections on old papers commenced to come in; and thousands of dol­lars, considered worthless, were paid, which enabled him to commence as early as 1877 to pay up his creditors in full. Notwithstanding that they had all given him receipts in full for all demands on their accounts at compromised rates, Mr. Mandt considered himself indebted to his creditors and morally bound to liquidated his indebtedness, and determined, from the first, that if life and health were spared him, he would pay his creditors in full, dollar for dollar.

“Too much cannot be said to his praise, for the noble example he has set, and the glorious exception to the general run of business men that have failed, in thus showing that at least one values his good name and reputation above money.

“Quietly and unheralded he has, as fast as his means would allow, paid his creditors in full, and to-day has everyone paid that he was indebted to in 1876. We would say right here that a man who values his fair name high enough to pay $32,000 without any legal obligations, whatsoever, deserves to be crowned with the best of success; and it surely is a sufficient warranty that he makes none but an honest wagon, and that his word can be relied on in business transactions.

“To give our readers somewhat an idea of an idea of the present magnitude of this extensive wagons establishment, we herewith submit a sketch of the same:

“The wagon department is 44 x 180 feet, three stories, with a wing 46 x 90 feet, two stories. In the main building the first floor is used for cutting and shaping the raw material for wagons; the second for making wheels, boxes and gearings, and the third for ironing boxes, making seats, etc. A steam elevator, in the center of the building, is used for conveying materials and stock from one story to another. The first floor of the wing is occupied for blacksmithing, and here are found all kinds of machines for bending and forming iron, and the second for storing wheels and gear stuff, ready for ironing.

“Adjacent to these is the Engine and Boiler House, 44 x 50, two stories, containing a fine 125-horspeower Corliss engine and two boilers of 160-horsepower capacity. The upper floor is used for drying box lumber.

“Across the street, east of the main building, are the Carriage Department and Office, - two buildings attached, - one 20 x 60 feet and the other 36 x 60 feet, each two stories high. In the larger the first floor is used for ironing buggies and carriages, and the second for the manufacture of buggy bodies, seats, gears, etc. In this department is found all new and improved machinery for this work. Power is transmitted from the main building by means of a wire rope. The smaller building is occupied on the second floor for storage, and on part of the first for storing hardware. In this building is also found the office. This is located in the best possible position for convenient supervision of the whole factory. It is substantially and tastefully finished, containing book-keepers desks; a large vault and safe, and the private office of the proprietor.

“South of these buildings is once containing the department for manufacturing Agricultural Implements, 40 x 60 feet, one-and-one-half stories in height. Cultivators and drags are among the most prominent articles made. Here is a different set of machinery run by power conveyed by a wire rope.  

“South of the main building are the Machine Shop and Foundry, - the former 24 x 80 feet, one and one-half stories, and the latter 40 x 60 feet. The Machine Shop contains a full set of iron-working machinery, turning-lathes, planers, etc. All castings used for wagons and sleighs are made in the Foundry.

“West of the main building is the latest addition to the Works – a Hub and Spoke Factory – the main part of which is 24 x 70 feet, with a wing 24 x 30, each two stories high. When finished, this will be as complete a factory of the kind as can be found in the State. The timber used is second-growth white oak, grown on the Wisconsin river bottoms, and no better can be found in the country. The power used here is also transmitted by means of a wire rope.

“North-east from this is a building 66 x 1321 feet, two stories high. Part of the first floor is used for the manufacture of bob-sleighs, and contains a full set of machinery for this purpose, and the rest is used for the storage of hubs and spokes. The second floor is occupied for storing wheels.

“The Painting Department is contained in two large buildings, -one 20 x 132 feet, with a wing 30 x 40 feeet, each two stories, and another 36 x 100 feet, also two stores. On the first floor of the former the wagons boxes and seats are painted, and on the second, the buggy gears and wheels. The first floor of the latter building is used for painting wagon gears and wheels, and the second for painting buggy bodies and seats.

“There is in process of construction a building 50 x 100 feet, two and one half stories high, to be used as a Carriage Depository, expressly for the storage of finished work.

“In another building, 16 x 110 feet, with a wing 20 x 30, is the Trimming Department, where tops, cushions and all such work on buggies and carriages is executed.

“Back of this is a building, 20 x 230 feet, used for storing finished wagons.

“For the storage of axles, tongues and gear-stuff are three more buildings, - one 60 x 100 feet and two 40 x 80 feet each, all one and one-half stories.

“The Dry House, where the wood-work, previous to being ironed, goes through the boiled oil process, and is afterwards dried, is a two-story building, 24 x 64 feet, connected with the main building by an elevated railway.

“Perhaps the most novel attachment to the works is a well-equipped Printing Office. A two story building 24 x 36 feet is devoted entirely to this work. The office is supplied with a first-class Potter cylinder press, a job press, and a full line of the latest styles of job type. Here a fourth wire rope conveys the power.

“We have thus tried to give our readers, in detail, something of an idea of the dimensions of the buildings. One can get a pretty good knowledge of this when he understands that there are 135,000 square feet of flooring in these buildings, or enough to lay one floor in a building six and one-half rods wide by eighty rods long.

“In these works are used 1,500 feet of shafting, 3,000 feet of belting, and about 1,200 feet of wire rope for the transmission of power from the engine.

“No stoves are used for heating purposes, the various buildings being heated by a network of steam pipes amounting to 100,000 feet.

“To keep the works supplied with material, there is kept on hand a stock of from 1,200,000 to 1,500,000 feet of lumber. This is kept outside of the above described build­ings, as these are filled with workmen, machines, and goods manufactured and in process of manufacture. To give in detail any description of the machinery used here would occupy too much space, and we will merely state that there is not a labor-saving machine in this line known, which is not employed at this factory.

“The annual capacity of the factory is 5,000 to 6,000 wagons, 1,000 to 1,500 bug­gies, 2,000 sleighs, 20,000 sets of hubs and spokes, 2,000 cultivators and drags, besides thimble skeins, iron working tools, and other foundry and machine shop work.

“For supplying the wants of the employees, there is kept on Main street, in the Opera House Block, an elegant store 22 x 80 feet, which is filled with a large stock of dry goods, groceries, notions and provisions.

“Outside of his wagon works, Mr. Mandt has quite a large number of dwellings, for the use of his men. This year he purchased a tract of land containing eighteen acres,  situated one-fourth of a mile south of his shops, and had it laid out into lots, which he offers to his men, and others, at reasonable prices, for the purpose of enabling them to secure homes of their own.

“During these years, Mr. Mandt has been on the alert, and spared neither time nor money to keep his wagons superior to all others in the market. He has invented and patented himself, eight different improvements, - an adjustable reach; spring to hold up wagon tongue; brake; brake-lever, platform springs for platform-spring wagons; buggy seat-fastener; bob-sleigh knee, and drag, - which are used only on goods­ manufactured by him. He claims (and it seems reasonable to us) that he makes the easiest-running, best-finished, - and best ­proportioned wagon in the country. It is certainly a fact that wherever they have been introduced they are used almost exclusively. While our readers will understand, from the figures given above, that the principal article manufactured is wagons, Mr. Mandt turns out everything in the line of buggies, carriages and sleighs, of a style and quality that cannot be excelled. Having thus brought his manufacturing interests to such a state of perfection, he has this year turned his attention to some things looking toward the amusement and recreation of himself, his agents, workmen, and the general public. After hard work he succeeded in purchasing a tract of land (and the right of way to it) three miles from Stoughton, located on the shore of Lake Kegonsa, or First Lake, one of the prettiest of the four beautiful lakes around Madison. Although the grove was a dense thicket, by several week’s labor of from ten to fifty men, it has been transformed into a beautiful pleasure resort. Cooking, dining, bathing and boat houses have been built, and steam and row-boats placed there. Regular dedicatory ceremonies were held on Wednesday, Aug. 17th. Speakers from abroad, and music, were furnished by Mr. Mandt.

“Having determined to celebrate the sixteenth anniversary of the Stoughton Wagon in an appropriate manner, he issued invitations to all his agents throughout the Northwest, furnishing them free transportation and defraying all  expenses,  and also sent four thousand invitations to persons in Dune and Rock counties. The time was set for September 3rd, 4th and 5th. A large number of old settlers were present on the 3rd, and effected a permanent organization, to meet annually on the second Tuesday in June. On the 4th appropriate services were held, speeches being made by Hon. John A. Johnson, of Madison; Dr. K.W. Tracy, of Columbus, Ohio; Hon. L.K. Luse, and others, and music furnished by the Prairie Cornet Band of Albion. The celebration closed on Monday, and Mandt, his agents, and a few invited friends took a special car that he ordered for their use, for the Minneapolis Exposition.

“The example of generosity shown in buying and fitting up this Park, costing as it has $3000; of magnanimity in furnishing such an entertainment for his agents and the public, and of business capacity and honesty in bringing out of small beginnings and successfully carrying on such an enterprise as the Stoughton Wagon Works, - and this, too, during a period when many old and well-established manufacturing concerns failed and had to retire, - may be commended as worthy to be followed by young men starting in life, as well as old men who have been successful in business.”

On Saturday, January 13th, 1883, only 16 months after the preceding tribute was published, a fire developed in the Wagon Works’ blacksmith shop. It was a bitterly cold day and the blaze spread rapidly through the wooden buildings, fanned by winds that threatened the entire town.

Even though the plant was situated along the Yahara River, neither the village nor the wagons works owned a fire pump of any type. Although downtown Stoughton was saved by a miraculous shift in the wind, virtually all of the wagon plant was consumed, despite the heroic efforts of the plant’s bucket brigade.

At that time the Wagons Works had been producing $350,000 worth of goods per year, and with 250 hands, was Stoughton’s largest employer. Although the loss exceeded the plant’s insured value by $83,000, there was no doubt that the works would be rebuilt.

Mandt returned to survey the damage the next day – he had been in Northern Wisconsin on business - and on Monday morning his staff commenced clearing away the rubble and in less than a week tem­porary buildings were already being erected.

That Thursday’s Stoughton Hub, the village’s weekly newspaper that was founded by Mandt in 1880, not only contained an in-depth re-telling of the catastrophe, it also included a large advertisement for the firm proclaiming: "The Stoughton Wagon - the Best Is the Cheapest."

Mandt is also indirectly responsible for the birth of the coffee break, which was first observed in Stoughton during the early 1870s. As the Wagon Works employed virtually all of the town’s male workers, Osmund Gunderson, a local tobacco distributor, found it necessary to recruit their wives to work in his tobacco warehouse during the fall and winter.

The women agreed to work for Gunderson on the condition that they could take a break every morning and afternoon in order to go home and check on their children, start supper, and have a cup of coffee. Gunderson agreed to their demands, and the coffee break was born.

Although Mandt was mainly known for his wagons he also produced buggies, sleighs, bobsleds and carriages, and one of his favorite creations was his Boss Sleigh, an oscillating sleigh with a jointed bolster that increased the elasticity of the rig creating a more stable and pleasurable ride.

Mandt’s advertisements for the vehicle boasted:

“I hold to the old doctrine that the best is the cheapest. I make the Boss Sleigh of the West on which I challenge any sleigh made for strength, ease, draft, and durability. They are branded on the side of the runner, T.G. Mandt Oscillator”.

T.G. Mandt served as his firm’s chief salesman, and for a number of months each year he would head out on the road visiting important customers to take their orders in person. No one knew the product as well as Mandt, and he realized that it made a great impression whenever a firm’s owner, no matter how large or small the enterprise might be, took time to visit a customer’s place of business. The great number of orders he received was all the encouragement he needed to keep going back, time and time again.

Unfortunately Mandt was unable to return the plant to its pre-fire productivity and within a year, he was forced into bankruptcy. On June 12, 1883, The New York Times reported: 

"Business Embarrassments; A Wisconsin Carriage-Maker Suspends:

"Stoughton, Wis., June 11.- A great sensation was caused this morning by the announcement that the heavy carriage manufacturer, T.G. Mandt, of this place, had been obliged to suspend payment. The establishment is one of the largest in the North-west. The buildings cover many acres of grounds and the property is supposed to be worth something like $250,000. In January last Mr. Mandt. Suffered heavily from a destructive fire, and has had a struggle to carry on operations since that time. Still, he had nearly completed arrangements to organize a stock company to take the business and intended to rebuild and extend the works so as the employ 500 to 600 men. Somehow his creditors became uneasy and finally began to levy on his property. The two lending banks of this place, which held a considerable amount of his paper, initiated the onset to secure themselves and attached the property. They were followed by others, till the amount of the attachments was more than $100,000. A thorough examination of the condition of the business has not yet been made, but it is reported tonight that the liabilities are at least $200,000, which the assets will not half meet in the present condition of the works. Mr. Mandt expresses great surprise at the action of his creditors, and says that had he been allowed to proceed with his work of forming a joint stock company he would have been able to overcome all difficulties and meet all demands."

In 1884 the Wagon Work’s creditors reorganized the T.G. Mandt Mfg. Co. Ltd. with $250,000 in capital as a holding company for the Wagon Works which continued doing business as before, the only difference being that Mandt had to justify new products and capital expenditures to his new bosses.

In 1888 a canoeist wrote the following account of their journey down the Yahara River:

“Then come the church-spires, the ice-houses, the barge-dock, and with a spurt we sweep alongside the foundry of Mandt's wagon-works. Depositing our oars, paddle, blankets, and supplies in the office, the canoe was pulled up on the grass and padlocked to a stake. The street lamps were lighting as we registered at the inn. Stoughton has about two thousand inhabitants. A walk about town in the evening, revealed a number of bright, busy shops, chiefly kept by Norwegians, who predominate in this region. Nearly every street appears to end in one of Mandt's numerous factory yards, and the wagon-making magnate seems to control pretty much the entire river front here.”

Although he remained as president, T.G. Mandt no longer controlled the firm and after a number of disagreements with the board of directors, he severing relations with the firm bearing his name in 1889. The new partners disbanded the holding company and reorganized both firms in to the newly created Stoughton Wagon Company.

As he still held most of the patent rights to his wagons and machinery, Mandt was able to license them to other manufacturers and by 1891, factories in Michigan, Iowa, and Illinois were building a complete line of Mandt-patent wagons, buggies, and sleighs.

T.G. Mandt made the following announcement to the trade in 1891:

“I can assure you that in the future as in the past, every piece of goods that bears the name of T.G. Mandt will be first class in every respect.”

At the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition the Stoughton Wagon Co., sans its founder, exhibited a number of their products including a wagon and bob sleigh. A bob sleigh has two sets of runners, both of which can turn about a central pivot, with adjustable leather straps on the rear runners that limit their range of movement, making it less likely to overturn or slip sideways than a single-runner sleigh.

Fire stuck once again at the Stoughton Wagon Works as reported in the May 25th, 1898 issue of the Sheboygan Times:

“Fire broke out shortly before 2 o’clock this morning in one of the large paint shops at the east of the Stoughton Wagon Company’s plant and the flames made rapid headway fanned by a strong westerly wind. The two paint shops and a large stock of finished goods were destroyed. None of the raw material or the shops containing the machinery was injured. Officers of the company say that the plant will soon be in running order again. The estimated loss will exceed $50,000 which is entirely covered by insurance in some twenty different companies.”

By 1896 T.H. Mandt had acquired enough capital to finance his own works in Stoughton, which was operated under the name, T.G. Mandt Vehicle Co., producers of “The Genuine Mandt Wagon.”

T.G. Mandt’s vigorous lifestyle and tumultuous business affairs took a toll on his body and he passed away on Friday, March 1st, 1902 at the age of 56. His wife Jorund reported that death came to him while he was found propped up in bed, busy at work.

His union with Jorund Lunde produced two daughters, Tilla and Clara Mandt. Tilla, the wife of Manitowoc businessman, Gustav Torrison, was a shrewd businesswoman in her own right and worked for her father before her marriage. Clara became the wife of Giles Dow, a Stoughton businessman.

In his later years Stoughton’s “Wagon King” took an active part in the community, serving as a city alderman, village president, and publisher of the Stoughton Hub. AT the time of his death he had been awarded 33 patents, most of them for wagon- and sleigh- related improvements.

Targe’s uncle, Gunnar Targesen Mandt, gave the following account of his association with his newphew in a letter dated January 14, 1906:

“After my marriage, I started farming for myself and continued until 1870 when I moved to Stoughton. There I went into partnership with my brother’s son, wagon manufacturer T. G. Mandt. I personally sold the first two carloads of wagons shipped from the factory.

"After 19 months in this partnership, I went back to the farm and farmed for four years. Then I again moved to Stoughton and worked in the wagon plant; I also traveled a great deal selling wagons for the factory. When he went into bankruptcy and the creditors reorganized the factory as a stock company, I was employed as a shipping clerk, and still have this position.”

Following his death, the Mandt family sold his patents, business and real estate to the Moline Plow Company who kept the firm in Stoughton were it produced Crescent Farm Wagons as the Moline Plow Co. -T.G. Mandt Wagon Branch.

The September 24, 1918, issue of the New York Times announced that that Willys-Overland Company had purchased the Moline Plow Co.:

“Toledo, Ohio, Sep 23. – John N. Willys, President of the Willys-Overland Company, today announced the acquisition of control by this firm of the Moline Plow Company, tractor manufacturers, with plants at Moline, Chicago, Rock Island, and Freeport, Ill; Stoughton, Wis.; Minneapolis, and Poughkeepsie.

“The transaction is considered one the most important in recent years in business circles. No consideration was announced. Mr. Willys said the Moline organization was to remain intact, with F.O. Allen, Vice-President and General Manager, as President and General Manager.

“‘In the purchase of the Moline Company I find not only an opportunity for the Willys-Overland to lend it maximum manufacturing strength to war work, but the best and quickest way to obtain a lead in a field which offers the greatest possibilities for the future,’ Mr. Willys announced.”

Willys involvement with the firm was short-lived and when Moline Plow filed for bankruptcy protection in 1921 he sold his interests in the firm to his former business partners George Peek and Hugh Johnson. During the year operations at Moline’s Stoughton facility were wound down and sometime during 1922, all manufacturing ceased.

During this period, the Stoughton Wagon Company, a totally separate firm from the Moline Plow-owned firm, had been producing wagon wheel hubs, farm wagons and early commercial stake and van bodies for the Ford Model T & TT.  

During the early part of the century Stoughton Wagon had been headed by Herman Kessler who upon his retirement turned it over to a new management team headed by Fridtjof J. Vea, who had joined the firm in 1901.

Fridtjof, a graduate of the University of Wisconsin and his brother, Martin M.J. Vea, embarked on the manufacture of the Stoughton Motor Truck, an assembled truck designed by Fred Crebben Jr. which debuted in 1919. Available with 1-, 1˝-, and 2-ton chassis priced between $1,995 and $2,995, the truck created some initial interest and was available with factory-built flatbed, stake, van, and bus bodies.

A February 24th, 1919 fire destroyed the firm’s woodshop, but the valiant efforts of the Stoughton Fire Department prevented the blaze from spreading and a recently installed sprinkler system saved all of the wood stored in the lumber yard.

The fire did not affect the work of Crebben, who was already placing orders for the various components he planned on using, which included Waukesha and Hercules engines, Brown-Lipe 3-speed gearboxes and worm drives.

An article dated October 21st, 1921 stated that:

“The Stoughton Wagon company now employs about 150 men in its plant at Stoughton where formerly he average number was 300 Most of these mechanics are used in the motor truck department and when wagon trade recovers somewhat there will be work for all Fairly good wages are still being paid in spite of a couple of reductions.”

In less than a month, another fire put the future of the truck body manufacturer in doubt. United Press International reported:

“November 15, 1921 – Fire starting when gasoline was ignited by a blow torch destroyed the truck plant of the Stoughton Wagon Works Monday night with a loss of $400,000. The loss was covered by insurance. The plant will be rebuilt at once.”

The State Journal of Madison, Wisconsin gave a more detailed account of the blaze the following day:

“$300,000 Is Damage In Blaze At Factory of Stoughton Wagon Co.

“Over 20 Trucks Destroyed; Tanks Explosion is Narrowly Averted

“Send Call To Madison

“Local Apparatus Arrives Too Late For Help; Series of Blasts Spread Blaze

“Stoughton, Wis,. – A disastrous fire destroyed the motor truck factory buildings of the Stoughton Wagon Co. plant late Monday afternoon. The damage was estimated at between $300,000 and $400,000 by F.J. Vea, president of the company.

“The fire is believed to have been started by ignition of gasoline by a live electric light wire, according to Mr. Vea. The Standard Oil Co. wagon was having its tank refilled and gasoline had overflowed and had seeped through the flooring to the neighborhood of several light wires. This is the only possible explanation that can be made at the present, the president declared.

“Thomas Rue and Carl Quam, two employees, discovered the blaze. Together with several other men, they pushed the gasoline tank wagon into the street as soon as the blaze was noticed. President Vea said there would have been a terrible explosion, had the men neglected the tank at that moment. The fire was unheeded for several minutes while the tank was being rushed into a safety zone, No one had been notified as yet by the men who first saw the blaze.

“By the time the fire company, with its pumper, reached the scene, the conflagration had gutted the interior of the building in which it started, and was making its way into other structures. A call was sent to Madison and the pumper from the central station was loaded onto a flat car and taken to the Hub City. It arrived too late to be of service and was not unloaded.

“Adjoining residences, the lumber yard and other buildings were endangered, but snow-laden roofs aided the fire company to a considerable degree in preventing the spread of fire by flying sparks. Between 20 and 30 trucks, which were being prepared for shipment, were destroyed, in addition to a stock of supplies, including oils and gasoline.

“The explosion of the gasoline in the motors added to the danger of the spreading fire. Reports could be heard every few minutes, as the heated gas tanks bursted and threw the ignited fluid into the immediate vicinity. The blaze started about 3:45 and it was 4 o’clock before the fire company arrived. Several leads of hose were employed, but water could not successfully battle with the blaze, enhanced continually by explosions.

“The fire was the most disastrous in the city’s history. The factory was a part of the main plant, and was located temporarily in frame buildings that were erected for that purpose. Additions were built as the business warranted their erection. The sales of motor trucks had increased to a point where the plant was delivering about 10 each week.

“On the market the machines were known as the “Over-weight trucks.” The truck business is about 18 months old. A large force of men, employed in manufacturing the trucks, may now be out of work for some time. Work was being done on the trucks in almost every department of the big plant. Additional capital stock was recently sold to meet the cost of the motor truck division of the plant.”

President Fridtjof J. Vea wasted no time and within two weeks had prepared a complete inventory of the loss and commenced designing a new facility. The portion of the plant that produced the firm’s truck bodies escaped the blaze, and truck production was temporarily relocated there until a new plant could be constructed.

In 1922, a 3-ton Stoughton truck debuted which featured a massive wheelbase of 13 feet, 2 inches. Not surprisingly, a Stoughton Fire truck appeared during the following year as did new Midwest and Continental power-plants. The Fire engines were available in 250-, 350- and 500-gallon capacities. One restored 1923 Stoughton Fire Engine exists in the collection of fire apparatus buff William D. Killen.

In 1923 the Durant Motor Company purchased the Star Motor Company and produced the nation’s first production Station Wagon. As Stoughton Wagon had been building suburban-type bodies for Fords since 1919, Star enlisted them to furnish the wooden wagon bodies for their new Star Station Wagon. Midway through production, Star switched suppliers, and later bodies were supplied by Martin-Parry. Only one of the Stoughton-bodied 1923 Star Station Wagons is known to exist.

The June 27th, 1924 issue of the Stoughton Courier-Hub reported the following:

“The annual stockholders meeting of the Stoughton Wagon Co took place this week, lasting a couple of days and the report showed a business this year of One Million, seven hundred and forty thousand dollars, with satisfactory profits, which were turned into the working fund instead of a dividend. The truck body business has more than doubled in a year. The directors chosen were F.J. Vea, J.H. Palmer, Olaf Hoff, M.M.J. Vea, Dr. Julius Noer, J.F. Melaas, Henry Beattie. The officers are; F.J. Vea, president; Henry Beattie, vice-president; M.M.J. Vea, treasurer; W.C. Hegelmeyer, secretary. Owing to various changes the plant may be running somewhat slack for a couple weeks.”

That last line was a hint at things to come. Production of the firm’s Stoughton Motor Truck began to put a drain on resources and by early 1926 the firm was in serious financial trouble. Production of new Stoughton trucks was halted and the firm entered into negotiations with their creditors late during the fall.

On May 21st, 1927, a new corporation called the Stoughton Company was organized to purchase the assets of the Stoughton Wagon Company which was nominally valued at $320,000. The new firm was once again headed by Fridtjof J. Vea, and soon after operations commenced in the former Wagon Company plant. The January 6th, 1928 issue of the Stoughton Courier-Hub reported that the reorganized firm did $500,000 in business during the second half of 1927 and nearly 200 men were then employed at the plant.

In 1929, Moline Plow Co., Minneapolis Steel & Machinery Co., Twin City Tractors Threshers, Minneapolis Threshing Machine Co. and the Great Minneapolis Line were combined and reorganized as Minneapolis-Moline. Moline’s Mandt Wagon Works had been closed down in 1922 and the plant was now occupied by a handful of small businesses.

The Stoughton Co. continued to manufacture their well-established line of bus and commercial bodies, and began development on a totally new product line. For many years the firm had built an occasional trailer, but in 1931 they entered the trailer business in a big way, introducing a brand new line of trailers and semi-trailers that were built using their new rubber-isolated fifth wheel. The new line consisted of semi-trailers with four-member straight frames, kick-up frames for vans and tanks, and removable steel platforms, and a line of non-reversible four-wheel trailers.

As they soon discovered, 1931 was not the greatest time to be introducing new products, and by early 1932, the 5-year-old firm was facing bankruptcy once again. With the economy at virtual standstill, the firm’s creditors reluctantly agreed to one more reorganization, and on May 7th, 1932 the NEW Stoughton Company was incorporated under the laws of Wisconsin. The officers remained the same as before with Fridtjof J. Vea remaining in charge

The New Stoughton Company produced trailers, semi-trailers, and open and closed truck bodies, and bus bodies into 1936 when an action by the L.M. Bickett Co., a rubber supplier located in Watertown, Wisconsin, and the Union Trust Co., the firm’s mortgage holder, placed the firm into bankruptcy for the final time. On July 8, 1936 Judge A.C. Hoffman appointed M.H. Hovey, receiver for the firm.

Hovey sold the real estate to the Highway Trailer Co. of Edgerton, Wisconsin, and the remainder of New Stoughton’s assets to four former employees; M.H. Teige, Dewey Durnbaugh, Andrew P. Rein and A.R. Haven, who formed the Stoughton Cab & Body Company, establishing their new business in the former Moline Plow Co. plant.

The Highway Trailer Company established a satellite manufacturing facility in the former New Stoughton works as the Stoughton Highway Trailer Co. and renamed its Edgerton facility as the Edgerton Highway Trailer Co.

At Stoughton Cab & Body’s first board meeting, M.H. Teige was elected president; Andrew P. Rein, vice-president; Rolfe H. Hanson, secretary; and A.R. Haven, treasurer.

The May 14th, 1937 issue of the Wisconsin State Journal reported on the previous evening’s meeting of the Stoughton Industrial Corp.:

“M.H. Teige Henry Schumacher and Rolfe Hanson, members of the executive board of the Stoughton Cab and Body co. were present and reported that between 50 and 55 men are employed at the present time, that the payroll since Jan. 1, amounted to $18,000, and that $5,000 had been spent here for supplies. In order to adequately finance the business another $12,000 worth of stock will have to be sold. The company will give a conditional release to their subscribers providing they will subscribe to the Stoughton Cab and Body co. At the present time the company has orders of $12,000 on hand.”

The August 20th, 1937 edition of the Wisconsin State Journal:

“Stoughton Cab Takes Control of Dead Firm

“Stoughton – The recently organized Stoughton Cab and Body co. today took over full control of the defunct New Stoughton co. which has been in receivership for more than a year.

“Assets of the defunct wagon and truck body manufacturing are valued at $12,000 on the inventory but will be sold to the new firm fro about $10,000. The first payment was made this morning.

“Last November the Stoughton Cab and Body co. bought machinery at a foreclosure sale and then, upon a guarantee made to Circuit Judge A.C. Hoppmann, Madison, was allowed to begin operations under the receivership handled by M.C. Hovey, Stoughton.

“Hovey said today that the new company has been using the receivership funds until they were able to go on under the Hoppmann agreement.

“Under the present agreement the Stoughton Cab and Body co. will restore the receivership funds to the status of Jan. 1, when the new company first started operations.

“Employees of the New Stoughton co. were early this month given the right to sue stockholders for $21,000 due them in back salaries, Judge Hoppmann vacated an order issued April 30 giving Hovey the right to sue and ruled that the employees could sue individually.”

January 24th, 1940 edition of the Wisconsin State Journal:

“Cab Directors Reelected

“Stoughton – M.H. Tiege, Andrew Rein, and Henry Schumacher were re-elected directors for three year terms at the annual meeting Monday night of the Stoughton Cab and Body co. At the directors meeting all officers were reelected as follows; M.H. Teige, president; Andrew P. Rein, vice-president; Rolfe H. Hanson, secretary; and Henry Schumacher, treasurer.

“The Stoughton Cab and Body co. was organized three years ago to take over the business of the Stoughton company, making commercial truck bodies and cabs for trucks. During the past year about 25 men have been employed quite steadily, and more than $25,000 was paid in wages during 1939. The total volume of business during the year was $65,000.”

A week before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Stoughton Cab and Body received an order for 25 troop carrier bodies from the War Department to be delivered before Christmas. Another large military order for truck bodies was received on July 3, 1942, and the firm was soon employing 35 hands full time.

On July 6, 1944 the Stoughton Common Council voted to permit the Stoughton Cab and Body Co. to buy the former plant of the Moline Plow Co. from the City of Stoughton for $11,000. Under a plan drawn up by the Cab and Body Co., the firm would make a down payment of $1,500, the balance of $9,500 to be paid by July 1, 1949 at the rate of $50 per month.

The firm’s final military commission was for an order of mud sleds for the Army Corps. of Engineers. Mud sleds were typically towed by crawlers and were used in road building operations whenever large quantities of earth needed to be moved over unstable ground.

All military production ceased in August of 1945 and many of the firm’s 65 employees were laid off, pending the arrival of civilian orders for new truck cabs and bodies.

In the coming months the firm set about designing new products to help spur sales, one of which was the crew cab, a special body designed for utility companies that required a single vehicle to carry a four to six man crew into the field.

As material became available the firm soon began producing a wide variety of products which included custom-built van bodies, steel brake platforms, custom-built truck cabs, sleeper cabs, crew cabs and multi-compartment utility bodies. On January 1, 1947, R.G. Petersen, plant superintendent, announced that the firm was now employing 60 persons.

Fire struck the Stoughton Cab and Body Co on Sunday August 18, 1947. Shavings in the firm’s boiler room ignited resulting in a fire in both the boiler room and cab building departments. The Stoughton Fire Department responded quickly to the blaze and the flames were limited to the building’s south walls.

The firm was an early advocated of profit sharing as announced in the February 27, 1948 edition of the Wisconsin State Journal:

“Slightly over $4,000 will be divided among the 60 employees of the Stoughton Cab and Body Co. as their share of 1947 profits of the company, it was announced today by R.G. Peterson company manager. The plan was in at the company two years ago and the profits are shared among the employees who have worked at the plant six months or longer. About 70 workers are employed.”

At that time the firm’s officers were as follows: F.O. Phillips, president; Maurice Rein, vice-president; H.F. Schumacher, secretary and R.G. Petersen treasurer. When Andrew P. Rein passed away on February 17, 1947, his son, Maurice Rein, replaced him on the board.

By 1949 Stoughton Cab and Body were producing sleeper cabs and 4-door crew bodies that were sold through Chevrolet, GMC and Ford truck dealers, and their ads were regularly published in the Commercial Car Journal and Chevrolet’s Silver Book.

The post-war manufacturing boom was in full effect by 1949 and the firm introduced a number of new products including refrigerated truck bodies, bulk milk haulers and compartmentalized ice cream trucks.

The firm’s ad in the 1953 Silver Book boasted that they could build custom-made crew-cabs and sleeper cabs using existing cabs from any manufacturer. Additional products included their ‘Trans-Sleeper’ sleeper cab additions that could be mounted behind existing truck cabs, and a complete line of enclosed van, refrigerated and stake platform bodies.

Stoughton Cab and Body filed for bankruptcy in 1958, and its assets were purchased by the MPM Corp. of Milwaukee, Wisconsin who reorganized it as the Stoughton Body Division of MPM Corp. MPM started life as the Milwaukee Printing Machinery Co., and was owned at the time by Philip J. Hardin.

The April 1st, 1958 edition of the Wisconsin State Journal reported:

“Stoughton Leases Site For City Firm

“Stoughton – The Stoughton City Council Monday paved the way for the establishment of a new industry here by approving a lease on a city-owned building with the MPM Corp. of Madison.

“The firm, which manufactures furniture, will move to Stoughton in April. It plans to begin construction of a new building soon and will move there this summer.

“Under the lease, the firm will rent half of a large city-owned garage building for $100 a month. The lease will run for six month with a provision for renewal if the company’s building is not completed by that time.”

A new MPM plant was not constructed and within 18 months, MPM Stoughton had filed for bankruptcy protection. The December 11th, 1960 edition of the Wisconsin State Journal reported:

“Stoughton Body Plant Shuts Down

“Stoughton – About 30 employees of the MPM Stoughton Body division here were put out of work when the plant was shut down Friday night.

“Courtney Moe, Stoughton, general manager, said Saturday that the shutdown was forced by financial difficulty caused by a recent adverse court decision. He said there were hopes of resuming operation in about two weeks.

“The firm was recently ordered by Judged Edwin Wilkie’s Circuit Court, Madison, to pay $11,220 plus interest in unpaid commissions to Harold F. Boersma, Stoughton, a former salesman for the firm.

“In 1958 the firm bought out the Cab and Body Co, which was formed by employees when the old Stoughton Wagon Co. went out of business in the early 1930s.”

The assets of MPM Stoughton Body went unsold at its 1961 bankruptcy auction and Don Wahlin, a former employee and recent engineering school graduate, made a deal with the trustees to purchase the firm’s remaining assets for a small down payment, and subsequently formed the Stoughton Truck Body Co. The city gladly leased Wahlin the massive 5-story 70-year-old Mandt Wagon/Moline Plow plant that was most recently the home of the Stoughton Cab & Body Co.

Early on Stoughton Truck Body specialized in outfitting stake trucks and building insulated and refrigerated van bodies for ice cream and frozen food distributors.

Starting in 1964, the firm started producing short wheelbase “shag” trailers for regional food service distributors who needed a semi-trailer that could be used on the crowded city streets of Madison, Milwaukee and Chicago.

Just as their new trailer business was taking off, tragedy stuck the firm on June 6, 1967. The Wisconsin State Journal reported:

“Body is Recovered

“Stoughton Man Dies In Blaze

“Stoughton – Keith Fuller, 20, a Stoughton Marine veteran and father of a 7-month-old son, was killed Monday in an explosion-fed fire that destroyed the Stoughton Truck Body Co.

“Firemen found his body in the still-burning ruins about 8:15 p.m.

“Coroner Clyde Chamberlain Jr. said the death is still under investigation.

“Fuller was the son of Mr. and Mrs. Kenneth D. Fuller, 120 Seventh St., Stoughton. He and his wife and son lived at 803 S. Fourth St.

“Fuller was last seen by two fellow workers, Jerry Bellamy, Stoughton, and James Stephens, Edgerton, about 7:15 a.m., Monday, when the first explosion engulfed them with flames in a third-floor paint room.

“Bellamy and Stephens and about 20 other employees escaped uninjured.

“Firefighters from seven cities and villages were still extinguishing flames in the huge, old building late Monday night.

“The fire started with an explosion of paint thinner touched off by a sark from a welder’s torch.

“The highly explosive paint thinner had laked unnoticed from an overturned drum on the third floor down into the wending shop on the lower floor, Donald Wahlin, president of the company said.

“Several more explosions of paint and lacquer delayed firemen from moving into the building to search for Fuller.

“Wahlin said he was unable to estimate the loss at this time, but that there is insurance coverage.

“Wahlin said there are no immediate plans to rebuild, but that the company has another smaller building about three blocks away in midtown Stoughton and will try to continue operations there.

“All the firm’s records were saved from the first floor offices he said.

“A workman who was on the second floor, said that there was suddenly a sheet of flame going clear across the floor.

“The fire began in the west section of the building and swept eastward.

“Fireman pumped most of their water from the Yahara River which runs alongside the plant.

“There were several explosions and dense smoke from the smoldering wood. The firm used wood products in manufacturing semi-trailer, refrigerated vans, and truck bodies.

“Heavy smoke hovered over eastern Stoughton as firemen from Sun Prairie, Edgerton, McFarland, Oregon, Menona and Blooming Grove assisted the Stoughton firemen, who were directed by Fire Chief Robert Sawyer.

“An aerial fire truck from the Madison Fire Department was sent to the scene at 4:00 p.m.

“Flames shot high over the building in the morning but by the afternoon only the dense smoke was visible.

“Hundreds of people crowded into the southeastern section of Stoughton to watch, especially from across the river.

“The wood frame building is part of an old wagon factory dating back to the 1860s. In the late 1800s, the T.G. Mandt Wagon Co. was Stoughton’s leading industry.

“The Stoughton Truck Body Co. had been using the building since about 1961. It is the successor to the Stoughton Cab and Body Co., which was also a woodworking firm.

“The plant normally employs about 23 people.”

When Whalin rebuilt after the fire, he eliminated his truck body business entirely, electing to specialize in semi-trailers as the Stoughton Trailer Co.

A new plant was constructed at 416 S. Academy St., Stoughton and today, Stoughton Trailers is known for its quality trailers and has grown to be the fourth largest manufacturer of truck trailers in the United States with satellite plants in Evansville and Broadhead, Wisconsin.

The 680,000 sq. ft. Stoughton plant manufactures platform, single and double van and curtained freight trailers, the 300,000 sq. ft. Evansville plant builds intermodal shipping containers and chassis and the 262,000 sq. ft. Broadhead plant builds high-volume aluminum and composite trailers for large fleet customers.

© 2004 Mark Theobald - Coachbuilt.com 

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References

www.stoughtontrailers.com 

Erling Ylvisaker - Eminent Pioneers (pub. 1934)

Benedict Crowell – America’s Munitions (pub 1919)

Stoughton Trailers Improves Productivity with Whitney 3700 ATC Fabricating Centers - Metal Fabricating News, Jan - Mar, 1997

George T. Flom - A History of Norwegian Immigration to The United States: From the Earliest Beginning down to the Year 1848 (pub 1909)

Lorna Mandt Robertson - He Made an Honest Wagon: T.G. Mandt, A Brief Biography

Ferd Homme - Oak Openings, the Story of Stoughton (1947)

Paul H. Mandt - Relatively Speaking (1977)

G.N. Georgano & G. Marshall Naul - The Complete Encyclopedia of Commercial Vehicles

Albert Mroz - Illustrated Encyclopedia of American Trucks & Commercial Vehicles

George W. Green - Special-Use Vehicles: An Illustrated History of Unconventional Cars and Trucks

Daniel D. Hutchins - Wheels Across America: Carriage Art & Craftsmanship

Donald F. Wood - American Beer Trucks

Donald F. Wood - Beverage Trucks: Photo Archive

Donald F. Wood - Commercial Trucks

Donald F. Wood - Delivery Trucks

   
 
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