Summer 1999

Stump Pullers


Henry's Michigan Stump Farm





The great white‑pine forests of Clare County in Michigan's


Lower Peninsula had been completely ravaged by greedy lum­ber barons by the end of the nineteenth century. In the aftermath, however, much of the denuded land known as "Pine Barrens  Popular as a region where wealthy farming entrepreneurs

were buying up the denuded land at tax sales and developing beautiful showplace ranches producing prize‑winning stock,

vegetables and fruits. The Pine Barrens of Clare County by 1905 become an area advertised by promoters as the Garden of Eden."


In 1911, Henry Ford must have been bitten by the bug. As well as investing in Dearborn land at that time, he reached out and purchased 1600 acres of this cut‑over land known as Tax Homestead Land. This acreage was in Sections 16, 17, and 18 of Greenwood Township, six miles west of the town of Harrison. He paid $45,950, or $30 an acre. Henry had missed by several years the earlier bargain prices when much the same land had sold for $5 an acre at tax sales.


On Henry's 1600 acres there remained, firmly rooted in the soil every last stump left years earlier by the lumber merchants. The stumps were estimated to number perhaps ten thousand.



In April of 1918, Frank Campsall of Ford's staff was sent to the farm to size up the situation. Relative to stumping, Campsall reported: "I drove over to Marion, Michigan, and saw Mr. G.A. Ruppert who had made the former bid of $ .65. I also saw Mr. Budd of Harrison whose price was $1.25. Both have raised their price since quotations last fall. Ruppert now quotes $1.25 per stump to pull and dispose of it. Budd quotes $1.50 per stump to pull and pile. In my opinion Ruppert's price would be better provided you do not care to utilize the stumps for fire wood after pulling, although I believe Mr. Budd is the more reliable of the two, and judging from his conversation, believe he would be the biggest hustler.


"The piling of the stumps also includes the cleaning which I am informed is as hard work as pulling. These piles usually include about 12 to 15 stumps where they could be either burned or later cut into firewood. I also asked Mr. Budd the cost of one of the stumping machines and he offered to sell his machine for $200. Both men inform me they can pull a minimum of 7 stumps per day, the quantity depending on the size of the stump. A tractor or team could be utilized for pulling grubs, thus effecting a great savings as otherwise it would be necessary to have these the first part and E.G. Liebold (Henry's general secretary) of the City of Highland Park, Wayne County, Michigan, party of the second part.


"WITNESSETH, that the said party of the first part hereby agrees to pull out and bum on the property any and all tree stumps of a circumference of ‑inches or more on the following described premises: The entire Section of 16 in Town 19, North Range 5 West Township of Greenwood, Clare County, Michigan. "For which the party of the second part agrees to pay the said first party at the rate of $1.50 for each tree stump pulled and burned on the above‑described premises.


"Payment to be made on the 10th and 25th day of each month according to certified statements which said first party will mail to the party of the second part each Saturday, which statement shall show the number of stumps pulled and burned each day for the current week. "This agreement to take effect May 101, 1918, and shall remain in force until November 11' 1918, unless the work herein described shall be sooner completed or written permission to continue beyond this date is given by the party of the second part.


"In witness thereof the parties hereto have affixed their hand and seals this ‑ day of May AD 1918."


On July 20, 1918, Ernest Kanzler working for Henry Ford & Son in Dearborn, shipped to Harrison two tractors, two plows, and 4 sets of drags together with about 200 bushels of fall wheat for planting. The tractors and implements were to be returned to Dearborn by August 20. For operating the farm, Liebold established a checking account at the State Savings Bank in Harrison to which he deposited $250 each month or so from which Mr. Bruce could pay farm expenses. Wages and gasoline for the tractors were major items. Ruppert, however, was paid by Liebold from Henry Ford's personal account. A telegram from Liebold to Bruce on October 1, demanded the used Fordsons be returned immediately to Raymond Dahlinger who was in charge of Ford Farms in Dearborn.


Nineteen men and three teams had been working on the farm during the summer months; the main crop, it seems, being approximately 400 bushels of potatoes. Bruce kept 50 bushels for himself, Liebold received 30 bushels, various Ford Motor Company departments shared 125 bushels, and Henry Ford Hospital was allotted 200 bushels.


From May through October, Ruppert had been pulling and burning stumps, each week sending a postcard indicating how many he had pulled and how many he had burned. On October 22, 1918, he received a check from Henry Ford for $602.63 which was 75 percent of the amount due for pulling 6343 stumps and burning 4015 stumps. In response to a December 3 0 inquiry from Campsall, Ruppert reported:


"In reply to yours of Dec. 7 in regards of estimate would be very safe to say their is more than four thousand left on No 16."


In July of 1919, Henry Ford, himself, visited the Harrison farm. A letter from Bruce to Campsall tells of the visit:


Elevator and I should take the matter up with Mr. Liebold.


"We got together yesterday and they informed me that they had incorporated for $15,000 and had $10,000 paid up stocks and the remaining $5,000 is yet for sale.


"And they figure that it would cost somewhere near $3,000 to install same and would be glad to have Mr. Ford connected with it."


One of the farm crops that year was wheat, but there was difficulty in harvesting it because of rainy weather and a shortage of tractors. Again potatoes were the major crop in the fall of 1919 with 800 bushels available for distribution. A memo from Campsall to George Brubaker of the Rouge Traffic Department stated that Henry Ford & Son would accept orders for delivery in 21/2‑bushel sacks at the price of $4.38 per sack, $1.75 per bushel.


During 1920 and 1921, Bruce was still in charge of the farming and Campsall still involved in supervision. A long letter from Campsall to Liebold, dated May 27, 1922, includes the following paragraphs:


"Visited Harrison yesterday and found Bruce still living in the house, his wife and one child sick in bed. He understands he is through. Talked with two parties yesterday with reference to taking charge of farm. I was recommended to J.E. Ladd by several people, and called at his home, but found that he had gone trout fishing and would not be back until next week. Understand he is a man about 45 who has had considerable experience in clearing and farming but knows nothing relative to the tractor. Sent word to Ford agent to make up a list of people who could be recommended."


"At the present time Ruppert has two crews pulling and another piling and burning and seems to be making satisfactory progress. He wishes his original proposition to stand: that is, based on the rate of $5.00 per acre on about 200 acres in Section 16, $30.00 per acre on about 450 acres in Section 17. In Section 18 there appears to be in the neighborhood of 100 acres to be cleared and 40 acres of maple grove which he might want to save. This section to be at the rate of $ 10.00."


"At the present time there is 180 acres in spring wheat and 20 acres in fall wheat, the seed for which we recently forwarded to him. There is considerable drainage to be done... as in certain sections of the property it is very mucky."


"I believe it a good idea to send up 4 or 5 tractors and plow up all available cleared lands."


In June 1922, Ernest C. Bruce resigned as manager of the Ford Farm at Harrison, and C.E. Pratt, an auctioneer, became the new manager.


On July 22, 1922, an agreement was made between Henry Ford and Trueman Huntworth of the Village of Marion, Osceola County, Michigan, for clearing most of Section 17 of Greenwood Township. The wording:


"...said party of the first part is desirous of having said land plowed and dragged, and cleared of all logs, grubs, brush and stumps... for the consideration of the sum of Twenty Dollars ($20.00) per acre to be paid to the second party by said first Party Twelve Dollars (S12.00) per acre for the clearings‑ and in early spring of 1923, stumper George Ruppert was having trouble communicating with Campsall and wrote thusly to L.J. Thompson, Henry Ford's personal accountant:


"I have wroat to Mr Campsell twice in regards to my back remittance to me. From last fall i have bin to big expence. since i received my last check my book shows 3 85 stumps pulled which i have had no check for. also got about 6000 stumps field redie to bum want to start burning as soon as the sno is goan. got no money on hand to pay my help pleas advise me when I should hear from you Folks in regards of this Matter"


Ruppert's troubles continued, so he traveled to Detroit and complained to Thompson. He stated that men under Pratt's direction were pulling small stumps which could be handled by teams without a machine leaving him only the larger ones costing him from $5.00 to $8.00 apiece. Ruppert claimed he could not continue unless he pulled all the stumps. There was little consolation from either Thompson or Campsall, and in April of 1925 Ruppert was reported by Pratt to be "making but little progress burning stumps, he is working one team and two men, he is not figuring on getting away this year."


As the Harrison acreage was cleared and put to use, it became evident that Henry Ford had in mind operating the farm as a general farm much like neighboring farms in the area, other than it's being unusually large, somewhat better maintained, and well equipped with Fordson tractors. Two or three horses were used to cultivate row crops, but five or six tractors were often seen at work. Wheat, oats, corn, hay, and potatoes were major crops. Soy beans were tried only once and unsuccessfully, the climate being too cold. Flax was also tried. Henry was producing 10,000 yards daily of a combination of linen and cotton cloth for vehicle upholstery in Highland Park, some of the flax being purchased from farmers in the Thumb Area of Michigan.


While raising crops, most of the workers were employed only part of the year. Ford is said to have offered to build a small manufacturing plant at Harrison, but the community was not in favor of it. The factory would have offered employment to farm workers during the winter‑ part of Ford's Village Industries philosophy.


Although the Harrison Farm had its own manager, its relationship with Ford Farms in the Dearborn area increased with time. By 1928, Newton Kress had become manager at Harrison, and was sending many of his expense bills to Raymond Dahlinger, Dearborn Farm Manager. While Kress was manager, the Harrison Farm turned considerably into a stock farm.


John Chaffee took over management of the Harrison Farm in 1940. At that time beef and sheep were being raised together with feed for the animals. Chaffee hired Howard Davis who recalls that at age 23, he was paid $.40 per hour working ten‑hour days "bulldogging" steer on a "cutting horse." Approximately 200 head of sheep and 350‑400 head of grass cattle were being raised at that time; many of the "feeders" brought from Texas and Montana. But cash crops had not been forgotten, and in December 194 1, the Harrison Farm shipped 1144 bags of potatoes



John Cook worked as fence builder and painter remembers Ford visiting twice after he arrived at the farm in 1927.


On July 3, 1944, department heads of Ford Motor Company were notified of the "Transfer and Operation of the Henry Ford Farms as a department of Ford Motor Company." This mandate referred to "the properties in southern Michigan" and did not expressly apply to the Harrison Farm. But by December 1944, the Johnson Real Estate Co. of Dearborn was asked to provide an appraisal of Ford's Harrison property. Johnson's appraisal can be summarized as follows:


Section 16 640 acres @ $75.00 per acre $48,000.00 Buildings (eleven) $58,557.50


Section 17 (And part of Section 18) 160 acres @ $50.00 per acre $8,000.00 200 acres @ $50.00 per acre $10,480.00 520 acres @ $50.00 per acre $26,000.00 Buildings (five) $36,553.00


Section 18 80 acres @ $50.00 per acre $4,000.00 Buildings (Old house beyond repair) $ 100.00


Including fences valued at $4160.00, the entire Harrison Farm was appraised at $118,530.50.


This is the last of the thousands of stumps which once covered Henry Ford 's Harrison Farm. The stump stands next to a small stream which may have prevented a stump‑pulling rig from straddling it. The photograph was taken by Kenneth W Brown of Harrison during the early winter of 1997‑1998.


The Harrison Farm was sold for $118,500 in 1944 to Robert Shull of Clare, Michigan, a cattleman who had been renting land from Ford. Even after the sale of the Harrison Farm, there was considerable business between Shull and the Southern Michigan Farms at Belleville and Cherry Hill owned by Ford Motor Company‑ in particular transactions with Shull and the Harrison Elevator Company involving hay, beef, and wool. Robert Shull died in an airplane crash in 1950. The farm sat idle until 1959 when it was purchased by Curtis M. Brown. The farm is now owned by the Curtis M. Brown family, and is operated by Kenneth W. Brown a grandson of Curtis Brown.  The farm is now known as Kitty Kurtis Ranch, and it is said that only one large pine stump still remains.