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Indiana farm history rich in politics and agriculture

By CINDY LADAGE
Wrenching Tales 

Henry and Mary Lou Coussens live on a farm that was the birthplace of Warren McCray, a former Indiana governor. McCray was the state’s 30th governor and was born near Kentland, Ind., on Feb. 4, 1865.

Henry shared a 93-year-old tractor with visitors who came to the Half Century of Progress in Rantoul, Ill., earlier this year. The tractor was on display in the International Harvester tent: "In 1922 International Harvester would have sold this for $570 and gave you a free two-bottom plow.

"The 816 weighs around 3,800 pounds and starts on gas and runs on kerosene. It is chain-driven. I bought this in Lennon, Michigan; it was in the former owner’s family for 50 years. It is pretty much original except for the radiator," Henry explained.

While he has a lot of respect for the beautiful old iron, he did admit, "It’s nice for history, but it wouldn’t be nice to go out and farm with it."

Henry has learned a lot about the late governor, who passed away in 1938, since moving to the farm. He found that McCray, like many of that day, finished with formal education at an early age. McCray wrapped up school at the age of 15 and went on to work as a clerk in his father’s business, the Discount and Deposit Bank.

With a knack for business, McCray had interests in grain elevators, grocery stores and Hereford cattle breeding. "He was famous for his Hereford cattle. He had a bull called Perfection Fairfax," Henry said.

History of Perfection Fairfax lives on at Henry’s farm – he was the Grand Champion Bull at the 1907 International Livestock Exhibition in Scotland. Warren McCray bought him for $25,000.

After searching for a statue of the bull for 10 years, Henry commissioned Brad Sickmeyer of Scenic Creations Ltd. in Steeleville, Ill., to create a statue of Perfection Fairfax. In 2014 Henry acquired the 300-pound life-sized statue, custom-made of fiberglass. On July 8 he had it placed on his farm to honor the bull that sired many other prized bulls. The bull was so famous that McCray was nicknamed "the King of Hereford Sires."

To put things into perspective, Henry explained just how successful McCray’s cattle business was: "In 1919, he sold $656,000 worth of cattle and was well known all over the world."

While successful in business, McCray’s political career had a lot of ups and downs. The National Governor’s Assoc. points out during his tenure, "87 public buildings were launched, a budget law that affected both the state and local governments was passed, the reformatory at Pendleton was initiated and a 2-cent gasoline tax was enacted, with proceeds going to road maintenance and highway construction."

On the downside McCray was convicted of mail fraud and resigned from office. After serving three years in federal prison, he returned to his Orchard Lake Farm and worked on rebuilding his reputation and reestablishing his stock farm. His efforts were successful, because he was pardoned by Herbert Hoover in 1930, eight years before he died in 1938.

Several articles point to the fact McCray fought the then-powerful Ku Klux Klan and speculate his conviction may have been a setup by angry Klan members because he would not forward their agenda.

The Coussens moved to the former governor’s farm in 1986 and built a new home in 1987. "I farm with my wife, Mary Lou, and my sons, Hank and Ed," Henry noted.

They also have a son, Mike, who works off the farm in Indianapolis and a daughter, Chris, who lives in Washington, D.C., and is an associate dean at George Mason University.

Henry is a collector, but a little different from other collectors who collect a certain brand or several of one type of thing – he collects items like the 816, that have a personal attachment for him.Besides the antique tractor he also has a Birdsell wagon that is more than 100 years old and made in South Bend, Ind., where he lived before moving to the farm.

 

The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of Farm World. Readers with questions or comments for Cindy Ladage may write to her in care of this publication.

11/11/2015