The mural on the wall

John Oncken
Now Media Group

You don't see 80-foot-long painted murals on the walls of a farm equipment dealership very often. In fact, I know of only one. It overlooks the parts department of the former Studer Super Service Inc. (now Hennessey Implement) in Monroe.

It's a rather amazing panorama of western scenes: deer, fish, mountains and trees — things the artist had apparently lived with prior to his coming to Monroe.

A part of history

The mural is a part of the history of Studer Super Service, a family-owned business that covered an 84-year span dating to 1931. That's when Ernest Studer, a farmer and stone mason, took the advice of his girlfriend (later his wife), Rose, who worked at a Texaco station in New Glarus, and opened their own Texaco service station on the corner of State Highway 59 and Sixth Street in Monroe.

On the advice and prompting of Toby Knobel, who owned a car dealership in New Glarus, Studer established a Chrysler and Plymouth dealership and also began selling Massey Harris tractors and New Holland equipment.

In 1946, Studer Super Service got its official start as a farm equipment dealership. Tractor sales grew, and the company began adding other farm equipment to its sales line. In 1958, the automobile dealership was sold.

The business prospered

Over the years. the business prospered, and Ernie Studer's four sons, Louis, Frank, Gary and Nathan, joined the operation that featured Massey Ferguson tractors and implements. (Note: Massey Harris and the Ferguson Company farm machinery manufacturer merged in 1953, creating the Massey Harris Ferguson company that became Massey Ferguson in 1958. Today, the company exists as a brand name used by AGCO.)

In 1963 the Studer brothers purchased the business from their father and each specialized in an operational area. Louis served as general manager; Fred managed sales; Gary was parts manager; and Nathan directed service and trucking.

It took 72 hours

It was in 1948 when Ernest Studer stopped at a tavern across the street from his office and noted a mural that had been painted on the wall and met the man who had painted it. His name was Herman Wall, and he asked if anyone else would like a mural painted. Ernest Studer invited Wall to to come over to his farm equipment store and see if they could work something out.

The result was the large mural — 80 feet long and 5 feet high — that extends along parts of three walls and above several windows, across from the parts counter.

'It took him 72 hours to paint the huge mural,' Fred Studer said. 'I don't know who he really was or what we paid him, but he was obviously very talented.'

The mural has a western theme that includes a high railroad bridge over a river with a mountain in the background and a moose in the woods in the foreground. There is also a quiet lake being fed by a waterfall and a scene with a small house and picket fence resting on the edge of the trees.

There is also a scene featuring a Massey Harris tractor, something the artist no doubt included to impress Studer.

I suspect many a customer at Studer Supper Service took a long look at the intriguing art work while waiting for their order to be filled. That could be a good many curious lookers over the 67 years the mural has overlooked the parts counter.

I wonder if they admired it as I did and wondered about the long-ago artist, or, did they pass it off as a curio?

David Studer, Fred's son, said it has been washed and refurbished at least once and now has darkened in color and needs cleaning again.

Are there others?

For sure, there must be other such magnificent murals somewhere around Wisconsin. It would not seem that the artist would have done only two (in the long-gone tavern and Studers). Perhaps there are people who know more about artist Herman Wall. If so, let me know.

In recent years, ownership of Studer Super Service has passed to Fred's sons, David and Ernest, and his brother, Gary.

'Although the company was doing well, they were getting older and felt it was time to leave the business,' Fred said.

The changing scene

In April, Hennessey Implement of Dodgeville became the new owner, and the business continues. Fred Studer and his son, David, continue as employees working in sales and finances, respectively.

Unlike the many farm equipment stores in Wisconsin that have closed over the years as the generations and times changed, this one continues to serve farmers as before — hopefully for many years to come.

There was a time, not too long ago, when every town, village and city all across the state had one or perhaps three or four farm implement dealers.

John Deere, Allis Chalmers and International Harvester (Farmall) were everywhere with Ford, Ferguson, Oliver, Co-op, Minneapolis Moline and Massey Harris (among others) with mostly widely scattered dealerships.

Farmers formed emotional alliances with the tractor brands and would faithfully buy from the dealers who sold 'green' (John Deere), 'red' (IH Farmall) or 'orange' (Allis Chalmers).

I have always figured farm mechanization really took off post-World War II. Tractors and a vast number of implements from combines to corn pickers to ever bigger tillage and harvesting implements appeared on the farm scene (it wasn't until 1954 that tractors outnumbered horses on farms).

Farm equipment dealerships — many family owned — were there to sell and service the ever bigger, more complicated and more expensive farm equipment, and the dealers thrived.

Farm mechanization

The 1950s, 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s saw rapid farm expansion as farmers bought bigger and more high-tech equipment, and the tractor industry changed dramatically. Strangely, many major manufacturers found themselves in financial difficulties.

Among them was Milwaukee-based Allis-Chalmers, which built its first farm tractor in 1914; expanded greatly into industrial equipment during the 1970s and 80s; had financial difficulties; and made its last tractor in 1985.

Even International Harvester, which was formed in 1902 and along with John Deere were industry leaders, failed. By the early 1980s, IH was in financial trouble and in 1984 sold its farm equipment business (and its International Harvester name) to Tenneco Inc., who already owned J.I. Case. A new company and name — Case IH — was created.

The result of those industry moves caused chaos among farm equipment dealerships, and many closed or merged (many towns had both IH and Case dealers — now only one was needed).

Bigger and more complicated farm equipment meant dealers needed modern repair facilities, high-tech programs and technicians that not all dealers could afford. The result was mergers, closures and multi-store ownership — a trend that continues.

John F. Oncken is owner of Oncken Communications, a Madison-based agricultural information and consulting company. He can be reached at 608-222-0624, or email him at