When Bob, Jim, and Chuck McFarlane decided at the end of World War II “to come home and help Dad,” they had no idea of how their combined efforts would develop the family business into a multi-faceted operation that they would turn over to their sons. Their father, Earl, started the Wisconsin Tractor company in 1917, when he designed and built the tractor named after his home state Wisconsin (considered modern for its day). Since that time, the business has diversified and expanded so that now there are multiple businesses under one roof.
It is an 86-year old success story, although, as Bob McFarlane once noted in a 1992 newspaper interview, ”not all a bed of roses.” Earl was a creative and inventive genius who was a tenacious old rascal who would do anything to keep the house, home and family together during the tough times of farm recessions and the Great Depression. Earl made 500 Wisconsin tractors over 7 ½ years. But the business ended abruptly in 1925 after he shipped a large number of tractors to wheat country in the West, but never got paid when a crop failure put farmers out of business and out of cash to make any payments.
This forced Earl to sell farm machinery instead. Earl didn’t like the model of the harrow he sold and so he designed and built his own, after borrowing a few ideas from competition and incorporating many of his own improved features. Fortunately his ideas were readily accepted by farmers throughout the Midwest and especially out west where wheat growers tied sections of the harrow together to make a monster implement 70-feet wide. The sales of McFarlanes’ innovative spike-tooth harrows brought an industry to Earl and to Sauk City.
When Earl’s three sons took the reigns of the McFarlane company, they also did so with their own innovations. Bob introduced tractor leasing for farmers, and the canning industry which was met with strong response in Wisconsin and northern Illinois area. Chuck spearheaded further diversification with the building of a full farm supply line and a store to sell it from. Later the boys went into steel fabricating by acquiring machinery from the Kuepfer Foundry in Madison to form steel used in construction of commercial and farm buildings. Jim led this area of the company as well as the McFarlane harrows manufacturing area for many years before retiring.
Now Earl’s grandsons run the McFarlane company with the same commitment to treating customers “as best we can,” that their fathers and grandfather had. John, eldest son of Bob, is President and manages the store and business offices. Dick, another of Bob’s sons, manages the equipment sales department. Stan, Jim’s son, manages the manufacturing and structural steel departments . Lastly Tom, Chuck’s son, manages the Service and tire departments (we still do house-calls to repair and service car, truck and tractor tires, don’t cha know) The McFarlane family tradition continues today as it has since 1917 – Service!