Monday, January 9, 2012

Somers Fuel, Grain & Supply Co.

Henry Lytle's original mill at Somers, Wisconsin
(Source:  Kenosha News photo, March 17, 1973.  Copy courtesy of Joe Huck.)

Glen Fonk works on some corn shelling equipment at Somers Fuel, Grain and Supply Co.
(Source:  Kenosha News photo March 17, 1973.  Copy courtesy of Joe Huck)


Tom Cox of Somers Fuel, Grain and Supply Co.
(Source:  Kenosha News photo March 17, 1973

Map of Somers "village" showing location of the original S. Lytle & Sons Feed Mill next to the railroad

 History of S. Lytle & Sons Feed Mill and Somers Fuel, Grain and Supply Co.
"Unlike a lot of new buildings that fall down, the old wood frame structure of the Somers Fuel, Grain and Supply Co. will have to be torn down.
That's not such a big event and probably won't occur for another year.  But it is a landmark of sorts and that means the passing of something else the eyes got used to.
There won't be too many around to mourn its demise.  It is no towering monument of aesthetic beauty.  No architectural genius ascribed his initials in the foundation stone.
Even so, it has age and a history.  When it goes, Somers will be years younger.
When Henry Lytle was mustered out of Company H of the 22nd Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry at the end of the Civil War, he returned to his home state to make a family and a living.
He and his wife, the former Amaneda McHuron, gave the world eight children.  He gave everybody a good living after he bought a site in Somers and opened a hardware and farm supply business in 1891.
That was the start of what some day would become the Somers Fuel, Grain and Supply Co., currently owned by Tom Cox and Tom Huck, both of Somers Township.
An interloper of sorts, Lytle was from Racine County.  He served as Town Treasurer in Mt. Pleasant and Yorkville Townships for a fair number of years.  He was a member of this and that, including the Republican Party, and apparently satisfied Somers customers with his goods.
A circular after the turn of the century described his store as "a good business" from which he derived "substantial profit."
Here is how, at the time, he made some of his profit.  If store owners could do it today the way Lytle did it then, they would be up for a business genious of the century award.
Lytle did it by selling children's hardwood buggies at $4 if they were marked up 100 percent from the wholesaler.  Lytle could buy these buggies from a Milwaukee firm for $24 per dozen.  Tricycles came from the wholesaler at $2.50 if it had steel tires and $4 with rubber tires.  A velocipedes, a tricycle with the small wheel in front and two big ones at the rear, was listed the same.
Even then a big share, if not the biggest share, of the business was feed.  Lytle ground it, stored it and sent it to market.  He also baled hay to pick up a few bucks, according to Cox.
After he died in 1924, a son, Ed Lytle, operated the business until 1941 when Hugh Cox decided he wanted to enter the feed and fuel and farm supply business.
He renamed it the Hugh Cox Coal and Supply Co.  Besides the feed and forks, and nuts and bolts, coal was a big business item for Cox.
In the year that he died, 1953, he handled about 40-50 railroad cards of coal a year.  After other heating methods became popular, the coal demand decreased.  Today there is no coal.  Tom Cox, a brother to Hugh, and Tom Huck, who together bought the business in 1954, supply heating needs with a 1,250 gallon fuel oil tank truck.
Other changes have come with the years.  Fertilizer is now a big item, several new buildings have been built and Lytle's old original mill structure is now storage space scheduled for demolition.
There are three relatively new automatic grain driers which can custom dry 5,000 to 6,000 bushels of grain a day.  From the driers the oat, wheat, barley, soybeans, whatever grains, are augured into railroad cars on the siding and sent to market.  Chicago is the principal terminal market.  What traffic doesn't go south goes north to Milwaukee.
A 17,000 gallon storage tank stands between the driers and Lytle's doomed mill.  Anhydrous ammonia is pumped through an underground line from a car on the siding to the tank.  From there it is transferred to smaller 4,000 pound capacity tanks which can be taken to the farms for eventual application on the soil.
Anhydrous ammonia is 83 percent nitrogen and is expected to make crops grow bigger and better.  Besides the liquid fertilizer, Cox and Huck handle tons of dry bulk fertilizer, stored in sheds around the eight acres the company has.
A new warehouse keeps the seed dry and Huck is the man who makes the farm calls, delivering the seed, feed or whatever other supply the farmer might want.
The place has changed some but not that much.  Glen Fonk has been around the elevator "long before I came here" said Cox.  Fonk delivers the oil, makes the repairs and in general keeps things running.  "If we didn't have Glen we'd have to close up," said Cox.
If Fonk dates back to some recent past days, another element of the business dates back even further.
Just like the elder Lytle, Cox and Huck have a smorgasbord of home and farm goods.  They have roofing supplies, twine, cement, cedar posts, steel posts, culverts, tiles, cattle water tanks, fence wire, nuts, bolts, animal medications and rat poison.  That's a partial list.  "We have a lot more than you think," said Cox.  "One person came here looking for something he couldn't find anywhere else.  He said he didn't think we'd have it.  We did.  I told him next time to come here first."
(Source:  Kenosha News Staff Writer, Kuyper, March 17, 1973)

More about the Henry Lytle family
 Click here to learn more about the Lytle family in Somers.

"S. Lytle & Sons feed mill has been doing a rushing business lately, the farmers taking advantage of the good wheeling in order to get their feed bins filled up before stormy weather."
(Source:  Racine Journal December 14, 1898)

"The Janesville Sugar Beet Company has rented two acres of land from Adam Lytle and on account of its factory having an overflow of beets, have ordered that the beets be piled until they are needed.  The company alone has more than 1,000 tons already piled and it is estimated that there are still several thousand tons to be hauled.  The other companies also have large quantities piled in the village.  The enormous harvest of sugar beets that has gone in and out of this little village of Somers this fall is hardly conveivable."
(Source:  Racine Journal November 14, 1911)

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