Revisiting International Harvester in Hurlock
The two industries that have always put the food on the table for the people of Dorchester County have been the seafood and agricultural ways of life. One of the largest family businesses in agriculture, located in the northern part of the county, was Parker’s International Harvester dealership located in Hurlock.
Harry Elzey Parker started the family business in East New Market in 1931 and moved to Hurlock in 1933. Started during the Great Depression, Parker’s was a store that sold just about anything and everything in an effort to stay afloat and provide the needs of a community that was held in the grip of hard times.
Mr. Brooks Parker, Harry’s son, graduated from East New Market High School in 1934 and went into the family business. When World War II started he enlisted in the Navy and was involved in Naval Intelligence, breaking enemy codes. After the war he returned to Parker’s Equipment and worked there for 60 years along with his brother Harry. He and his wife Elisabeth raised a family of two boys, Brooks Jr. (Buddy) and Jack, and a daughter, Shirley Ann.
The family was growing, the business was growing, and it was now time for the development of the Parker’s International Harvester dealership located in Hurlock. Parker’s carried a full line of International Harvester farm equipment, Evinrude sales and service, Shur-Rane irrigation, New Idea farm equipment, Martin grain bins and farm buildings, any hardware associated with agriculture and industry, and a coke machine corner where gambling for a soda in the morning meant the low number on the roll of the dice decided who bought that day. Some of the farmers that seemed to enjoy the contest were William Hopkins, Russell Stevens, Dotty Hoffman and William Phillips.
Mrs. Brooks Parker was the bookkeeper for the business and Virginia Wands also worked in the office. In those days records were kept with handwritten sales slips and a ledger. There was no such thing as a computer and the math was done in your head, not a calculator. The business always took pride in their parts and repair shop. Their factory-trained repairmen worked on everything from appliances to combines. Howard Freeman was the shop foreman and Harry Parker and Bill Scott kept the parts room stocked. The Parker’s oldest son, Buddy, had gone to college and returned to Dorchester to work at Maryland National Bank. As the business grew Mr. Parker asked Buddy if he could come back and help with the family business, which he did.
One of the mechanics, Grover Hubbard, was delivering a 560 International diesel tractor to a farmer on River Road, just outside Williamsburg. Now on that road is a steep grade that had a small bridge across it at the bottom of the hill. Grover loaded the tractor up on a low boy trailer and took off. When he got to the top of the hill the tractor rolled off onto the road. Grover had forgotten to chain her down. When Grover stopped he watched that good old 560 go up and down the hill about four times before she stopped rolling. He backed the truck down to where it stopped, loaded it back on the trailer, threw a chain around the drawbar and went on. Now that’s what you call watching your job security go up and down.
Buddy also told me the story of a job that was not saved. The irrigation systems in those days were long pieces of pipe connected to sprinkler heads and couplers. There was one worker for Dotty Hoffman who could never get the connection right and it would always leak. Mr. Hoffman let him know how intelligent he was and told him to get out of the field, and disk down some watermelons. The worker went up to the farm house, got the tractor and disk and did just as Dotty told him to do. The only trouble was that the field he disked down had not been picked yet. He was fired – without pay.
Hurlock was always a working town. Across from Parker’s there was the large Harbison Dairy Warehouse where every morning hundreds of milk cans filled with the milk produced on nearby dairy farms was left for shipment to Philadelphia. Just about all farms had a wooden “milk stand” at the end of their lane where the milk truck driver picked up the fresh milk. Guy Henry picked up our milk and he always had a new joke to tell Dad if they should happen to arrive at the stand at the same time. Some farmers would fill their cans only about 1/2 full. That way the neighbors would think that the next farmer must have some good milkers. However when the cans were full they weighed 80 pounds or more. That meant two things — the farm boy was getting strong, and he could throw down the bull calves and castrate them.
The grain mill owned by Shady Windsor was always busy grinding feed for the animals on the farm. There was a large bakery in town owned by Ralph Milligan and the smell of the fresh baked products would float over to Parker’s and that meant it was time for Buddy to go get the large hobo buns with icing. Acme cannery had long lines of farm trucks filled with tomatoes waiting to be unloaded and processed and Continental Can was running the can lines night and day.
Truck crops were always the main plantings for North Dorchester. Tomatoes, lopes and pickles were grown on hundreds and hundreds of acres. One of the bigger plants in Hurlock was the Harper & Bateman pickle house. One day, one of the mechanics came down to Parker’s and needed a box end 9/16” wrench and needed it in a hurry. Later that day the mechanic came back and brought with him a gentleman dressed in a three piece suit. The man introduced himself, and he was a vice president of Bloch & Guggenheimer from New York. He wanted to know if Parker’s carried a full line of tools and he would like to place an order. He made the statement that he did not want to visit the plant again and have to wait for a mechanic to get a wrench to keep a line working. Buddy got out an order sheet and was told that one sheet would probably not be enough. Buddy was more than happy to take the order for multiple sets of tools so each mechanic could have their own. He was able to add a little to the order by suggesting that they engrave each tool with the mechanic’s number so they could be held accountable for lost tools. The order for Harper & Bateman was about $50,000.
As with any business, farming prices were always related to supply & demand. Bad weather and over-supply were usually the two reasons for a good year or bad year for the farmer. An example of this on the local area was at the very end of World War II. On a farm behind Parker’s, Buck Andrews had a beautiful field of cantaloupes. He shipped 14 truckloads of cantaloupes to New York Harbor to be shipped overseas for the military. The end of the war was announced as the trucks arrived and all the city came to a standstill to celebrate. The trucks were not unloaded and the spoiled fruit was dumped in New York Harbor.
Spending the time with Brooks Parker Jr., “Buddy,” was an afternoon with many stories about times gone by. There was the time that Buddy was spraying tomatoes up to Williamsburg and a small plane crashed in Spencer Jones’s cornfield. Buddy said he ran over to the plane that had flipped and pulled out a guy who was drunk and out of fuel. The man only wanted to be taken to Cambridge Airport and had to hold onto a briefcase that was in the plane. They got him to the airport and a plane landed with two big greasy looking guys from New Jersey that got the man and briefcase and threw both in the back of their plane. The next day the sheriff wanted to know where the plane was. Spencer Jones said a big truck with a crew of men came that night, took the plane apart, and left. Tore up his cornfield, left him $1,500 cash and left without saying a word. Spencer said the corn in the field might have been worth $50.
When Sewell Hubbert died, the Cambridge store was left in a tight spot. Edgar Hubbert was along in years and young Sewell did not have his feet wet in the business. Brooks Parker went to Cambridge as needed that first year to help finalize sales on large equipment. During this year there was a trade show in Chicago and Brooks, Mr. Hubbert, and Sewell Jr. went to the show for three days to become familiar with the new machinery line. Every morning Brooks noticed that Sewell was very tired and had bad looking eyes. Sewell explained to Mr. Parker that after he got “Grandpop” to bed he took off to check out the big city.
There was another time that Stapleforte Neild called up on a Saturday morning and needed 5 acres of tomatoes sprayed at Taylors Island. Mr. Parker told Buddy to load up the equipment and head for the island. Mr. Stapleforte directed Buddy to the field which was in back of the barn. On the last round, the sprayer broke and a call was placed to Hurlock for a mechanic and parts. While Buddy and Mr. Neild were sitting on the porch, Mr. Neild asked Buddy if he would like a cool soda. The reply was that would be great on a hot summer day. Mr. Neild got Buddy in the car and they took off. Now there were at least two country stores on Taylors Island at the time but Mr. Neild passed them both and drove on to Cambridge. They stopped at Center Market and Mr. Neild got Buddy an RC Cola and purchased himself a pack of Lucky Strikes.
This was the Parker family’s way of doing business. Deals with a handshake, helping out night or day. Heavy community support and leading citizens of the community. When Harry & Brooks decided to retire there was of course a tremendous amount of accounts receivable with a business this size. Their patrons and friends paid every cent owed except for about 200 dollars. Parker’s International Harvester dealership has gone, but the name will always be among the finest of business names located in Dorchester County.