A.M. Bohnert Rice Plantation Pump #2 Engine
A.M. BOHNERT RICE PLANTATION PUMP #2 ENGINE,
The A. M. Bohnert Rice Plantation Pump #2 Engine is being nominated to the National Register of Historic Places with local significance under Criterion C for its engineering. The A. M. Bohnert Rice Plantation Pump #2 Engine is a rare surviving example of an early twentieth-century pump engine built by the noted engine manufacturer Fairbanks, Morse & Company. The A. M. Bohnert Rice Plantation Pump #2 Engine, which pumped water for the A. M. Bohnert Rice Plantation, was instrumental in allowing productive farming in that part of Arkansas County. Rice farming, which was and still is an integral part of the agricultural economy of Arkansas County, depended very heavily on having enough water to flood the rice fields. Engines like the A. M. Bohnert Rice Plantation Pump #2 Engine would have been essential to allow this type of farming to occur. As a result, the A. M. Bohnert Rice Plantation Pump #2 Engine is therefore eligible for nomination under Criterion A for its association with the development of agriculture in Arkansas County in the first part of the twentieth century.
The first European settlers in Arkansas County were the French, who established a post at Arkansas Post in 1686. Another colony, consisting of Germans and founded by John Law, was also established in the Arkansas Post vicinity in the 1720s. Other early settlers came into the area from Kentucky and Tennessee, settling in the eastern part of the county and eventually moving further west.
The development of Gillett appears to have centered around the arrival of the railroad. The community was founded in 1888 and incorporated in 1906 and named after visiting New York railroad underwriter Francis Gillett. A post office was established at Stanley, a community that existed east of Gillett, in 1884, but the Stanley mail was sent to Gillett in 1892. Gillett’s original name was Champion, and a post office was established in the community in 1890.The name was changed to Gillett in 1892.
By 1895, the line of the Stuttgart & Arkansas River Railroad went southeast from Stuttgart before turning south to the Arkansas River, where it intersected with the Mississippi River & Northwestern Railroad, although neither Gillett or Champion appear on the map. However, by 1898, Gillett appeared on the map, and the railroad line ended at Gillett.
The area around Gillett, as in most of Arkansas County, has economically been based on agriculture. The topography of the county, which is exclusively flat, along with good soils made farming ideal. Even as early as the 1880s, the value of the land for cultivation was already widely known. The Biographical and Historical Memoirs of Eastern Arkansas stated:
"The surface is comparatively level, being one long rolling swell after another; just rolling enough to give good drainage, yet not so much so as to wash after it is put into cultivation. There is not a foot of land in the entire county that is not susceptible of cultivation. With an altitude at no place but little over 100 feet above high-water mark on the Arkansas, White and Mississippi rivers, a gradual incline from the rivers, rises above the bottoms so imperceptible as to be scarcely distinguishable."
The prevalence of farming in Arkansas County was also reflected in the personal property valuation of livestock in the county.In the 1880s, there were “4,350 horses, valued at $176,300; 24,467 cattle, valued at $183,790; 1,270 mules and asses, valued at $73,329; 2,029 sheep, valued at $3,070; 18,976 hogs, valued at $27,144; 51,092 all kinds of domestic animals valued at $463,633…”
One of the keys to being able to farm successfully was access to a good water source. Naturally, areas with streams or rivers or other easily accessible water sources would have succeeded at farming first. However, as well technology developed, farming capabilities would have expanded to greater areas, and that was the case in Arkansas, especially with rice farming. The United States Department of Agriculture Farmer’s Bulletin #673, Irrigation Practices in Arkansas, from 1915 touted the advantages of wells in rice farming by saying:
"The development of wells has permitted the irrigation of much land that otherwise would not be planted to rice. Wells capable of supplying water for rice irrigation can be sunk in nearly all parts of the rice country. …
"Pumping from wells is, as a rule, slightly more expensive than pumping from streams on account of the increased lift, but when the rainfall is abundant and favorably distributed not so much pumping is necessary, and well owners have an advantage over irrigators dependent on canal water, which must be paid for, whether much water is used or not. During dry seasons, however, farmers on canals who get all the water they need have the advantage, because then the wells have to be pumped much of the time. …In Arkansas the depth of the water level varies from 25 to 60 feet."
Of course, the advantages that pumps and wells brought to rice farming also would have applied to other types of farming in the area.
The advantages of using wells and pumps in providing adequate water to farm fields were well-known by the middle 1910s, according to the Department of Agriculture. Farmer’s Bulletin #673 further went on to say:
"In the three principal rice-growing states – Louisiana, Texas, and Arkansas – all but 2.5 per cent of the irrigated land in rice is supplied with water by pumping, and wells afford a supply for about one-third of this area. These wells and their pumping equipment are usually owned by the individual farmers, and in all about one-half the rice acreage is now irrigated by means or works owned or controlled by the water users. …
"The pumping plants vary in size and capacity according to the area to be irrigated and the height to which the water must be elevated. For prairie lands the machinery is generally designed to provide 7½ gallons, or 1 cubic foot, of water per minute for each acre irrigated. For the alluvial lands along the streams 10 gallons of water per minute per or more should be provided, and if the soil is a loose, sandy loam, with a porous subsoil, and is located near a river or lake, 38 to 40 gallons per minute per acre sometimes is required. …
"Petroleum has been found to be the best fuel within the short distances of the oil fields and most of the pumping plants in these sections use it. When wood and coal are plentiful and cheap they are used, especially for small outfits. In other locations gasoline and kerosene are used."
The engines that pumped water from wells to provide the water for irrigation were seen as the lifelines of the farming industry. In fact, one author said that the “regular exhaust explosions of a great oil engine are the heart throbs of the Rice Land. And I would add that the gushing streams of water delivered by the pump are great arterial floods of life giving fluid drawn from the ample bosom of Mother Earth.”
Although there were several manufacturers of pump engines, Fairbanks, Morse & Company was already recognized by the 1920s for their role in agricultural irrigation in Arkansas. The program for the 10th Annual Arkansas Rice Carnival in 1928 indicated that “Under the very able conduct of C. R. Ham their [Fairbanks, Morse & Company] products are playing a leading part in the development of rice irrigation and united to this is their complete replacement service. Every part from the most minute to a massive cylinder or a complete engine is in stock at Fairbanks, Morse & Company headquarters and this service is of vital value to rice growers.”
By the early twentieth century, Fairbanks, Morse & Company had already been around for several decades. The beginnings of Fairbanks, Morse & Company occurred in St. Johnsbury, Vermont, in 1830, when Thaddeus Fairbanks invented a scale that sped up the pace of commercial transactions. Thaddeus, along with his brothers Erastus and Joseph, established E & T Fairbanks & Company in St. Johnsbury in the 1830s. In 1850, with the hiring of Charles Hosmer Morse, Fairbanks, Morse & Company began its growth into the legendary engine manufacturer that it became by the early 1900s.
Morse moved to Chicago in 1857 to sell E & T Fairbanks scales for Fairbanks Greenleaf and in 1865 moved to Cincinnati to open the first branch of the business to carry the Fairbanks, Morse & Company name. The branch of Fairbanks, Morse & Company sold not only the Fairbanks scales, but other products as well. In 1870, Morse returned to Chicago and when Fairbanks Greenleaf reopened after the Great Chicago Fire in 1871 it opened as Fairbanks, Morse & Company.
Morse’s leadership of the company greatly expanded the company’s product line, first adding products such as windmills and pumps from the Eclipse Wind Engine Company, and then expanding into other products that were geared towards agriculture. Fairbanks, Morse & Company ventured into internal combustion engines beginning in the 1880s when it became a sales agent for the Williams Engine Works of Beloit, Wisconsin. Morse purchased the company in 1893 and really began developing gasoline internal combustion engines.
Although steam power had been used for farm machinery by the late 1800s, it was inefficient and hazardous. As a result, the application of internal combustion power to farm equipment represented a major milestone in farming. Even though Fairbanks, Morse & Company was not the first company to manufacture internal combustion engines, “Fairbanks, Morse & Co. swamped their competitors in short order and went on to become one of the world’s largest engine builders.” The Type Z engine, especially, was one of Fairbanks, Morse & Company’s most popular engines early on. As the Fairbanks, Morse & Company magazine Name-Plate stated, “This sturdy engine has helped revolutionize farming methods. It has released countless farm hands for the production work of feeding the world. Its uses are as varied as the applications of power itself. Its dependability is a by-word wherever the ‘Z’ is used.”
Because the American market for engines was looking for a simpler and more fool-proof engine, Fairbanks, Morse & Company began in the field of Diesel engines in 1912. Initially, Fairbanks, Morse & Company concentrated on hot bulb or semi-Diesel engines (although they would manufacture full Diesel engines later on), and in 1914 theybegan manufacturing a vertical two-cycle crankcase scavenging stationary engine called the Type Y with a similar type for marine service called the Type C-O. As an unpublished company history states, “They filled such a need that they practically dominated their respective markets for years.” The A. M. Bohnert Rice Plantation Pump #2 Engine is an outstanding example of the Fairbanks, Morse & Company Type Y engine.
The Bohnert family bought the land where the pump sits between in the early twentieth century, and it was known as the A.M. Bohnert Rice Planting Plantation until 1930 when the name was changed to the White Star Rice Plantation. (Even though the name was changed, the A. M. Bohnert Rice Plantation name continued to be used, and was in use when this pump engine was purchased.) Walter Bohnert came to Arkansas from Indiana to run the farm as a young man. The Bohnert family continued to run the farm until c.2005 when it was purchased by Donal “Buddy” Whiting, the farm’s current owner.
When the Bohnert family began looking for engines to run pumps to provide water for the rice plantation, engines from Fairbanks, Morse & Company would have been logical choices. The reputation of the company nationally, as well as in Arkansas, would have meant that their products, especially an engine like the Type Y, would have been well known in the farming community.
The size of the Bohnert’s rice plantation meant that they needed several of the engines to provide the water needed for the crops. The first pump engine was installed by the Bohnerts c.1908 and was referred to as #1. A total of four pumps were installed on the plantation, and the engine being nominated was the last engine installed. The engine was purchased by Walter Bohnert on December 26, 1945, and it was to be delivered at once, so was put into service in early 1946. Although the engine located at U.S. 165 and Post Bayou Lane, was one of four engines that were originally located on the farm, it is the only engine that remains today.
As farm technology improved and pumping technology also improved the Fairbanks, Morse & Company engines became outdated and antiquated technology. In addition, maintaining the pump engines was a constant endeavor – each engine and well had to be checked at least three times a day and once in the middle of the night while they were pumping. As a result, they were replaced c.1950. Today, a large engine and pump pulls water from Little Post Bayou and distributes is all over the farm through underground lines.
 Rand McNally indexed county and township pocket map and shippers guide of Arkansas showing all railroad, cities, towns, villages, post offices, lakes, rivers, etc. Map. Chicago: Rand McNally and Company, 1898.
From the nineteenth century to the present day, the economy of Arkansas County has been based on agriculture, with rice farming having a significant impact on the county beginning in the 1900s. The area’s topography, which is flat, made it an ideal area in which to farm.In addition, the number of bayous and rivers in Arkansas County meant that water was readily available for farming, allowing it to be a viable enterprise in the area.
However, rice farming, because of the large amount of water needed to flood the fields, required pumps to be employed to make sure that adequate water was available. Although pumps could draw water from the county’s bayous and rivers, the use of pumps also meant that wells could be drilled and utilized away from the area’s bodies of water. Even so, in order to utilize pumps, some type of power source was essential to power the pump.
The Bohnert Farm Pump Engine, which was utilized to pump water from an adjacent well for the Bohnert Farm, would have been instrumental in allowing productive rice farming in that part of Arkansas County. Engines like the Bohnert Farm Pump Engine would have been essential to allow this type of farming to occur, since rice farming depended very heavily on having enough water to flood the rice fields. As a result, the Bohnert Farm Pump Engine is being nominated to the National Register of Historic Places under Criterion A for its association with the development of agriculture in Arkansas County in the first part of the twentieth century.
The Bohnert Farm Pump Engine is also significant as an example of the work of Fairbanks, Morse & Company. Fairbanks, Morse & Company was an important manufacturer of engines for farm use, and the Type Y, which the Bohnert engine is an example of, was one of the most important farm engines of the period. The importance of Fairbanks, Morse & Company, which was known nationally, made it well-recognized in Arkansas. As the program for the 10th Annual Arkansas Rice Carnival in 1928 indicated, “[Fairbanks, Morse & Company] products are playing a leading part in the development of rice irrigation and united to this is their complete replacement service. Every part from the most minute to a massive cylinder or a complete engine is in stock at Fairbanks, Morse & Company headquarters and this service is of vital value to rice growers.”
Due to the fact that the Bohnert Farm Pump Engine is a rare surviving example of an early twentieth-century engine built by the noted engine manufacturer Fairbanks, Morse & Company, it is also being nominated to the National Register of Historic Places with local significance under Criterion C.
Baker, Russell Pierce. From Memdag to Norsk: A Historical Directory of Arkansas Post Offices, 1832-1971. Hot Springs, AR: Arkansas Genealogical Society, 1988.
Benjamin, Susan. “Fairbanks, Morse & Company Building, Cook County, Illinois.” National Register of Historic Places Registration Form. From the files of the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency, 1988.
Biographical and Historical Memoirs of Eastern Arkansas. Chicago: The Goodspeed Publishing Co., 1890.
Bohnert, Dyan. E-mail to the author. 19 May 2010.
Cover, John W. E-mail to Gena Seidenschwarz. 16 March 2010.
Cram’s Township and Rail Road Map of Arkansas. Map. Chicago: George Franklin Cram, 1895.
Haskell, C. G. “Irrigation Practice in Rice Growing.” United States Department of Agriculture Farmers’ Bulletin #673. Washington, DC, 23 June 1915.
Information on Gillett found at: http://local.arkansas.gov/local.php?agency=Gillett.
Rand McNally indexed county and township pocket map and shippers guide of Arkansas showing all railroad, cities, towns, villages, post offices, lakes, rivers, etc. Map. Chicago: Rand McNally and Company, 1898.
Sampson, G. G. “The Heart Throbs of the Rice Belt: Evolution of the Irrigation Plant on Grand Prairie.” Program of the 10th Annual Rice Carnival. October 17-19, 1928.
Scott, James E. and Dwight Pitcaithley. “Arkansas Post, Arkansas County, Arkansas.” National Register of Historic Places Registration Form. From the files of the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program, 1979.