Bikes to Tractors

by Robert J. Varsolona
(written in 1989)

The rivalry of two small villages, Rose Hill and Neosho Valley gave rise to the city of Galesburg. Rose Hill was located about a mile south of the present town on Squire Rosa’s claim. John Snyder had a store on section 30, a mile north of the present site, then called Neosho Valley. The Snyder site was found favorable, due to the advantage of a more nearly level place for a railroad switch. The railroad was built in 1879. The original 80 acre site was laid out as a town in September 1870 by a town company composed of Dr. J.W. Cress, David Bonham, E. Sapp, Levi Doane, and J.W. Snyder. The survey was made by P.W. Hinser. The Osage Mission Journal, September 29, 1870 carried an article that said, “The new town of Galesburg already has two stores and a good hotel.”1 The new town was off to a fast start.

In a few short years, but with all the heartaches, trials, and tribulations or pioneering, the town reached a population of 150 citizens. The town grew to contain four general stores, a hardware store, a grain elevator, a lumber and coal yard, hotel and livery stable, a blacksmith shop, two churches, and a post office. J.E. House, in 1895, wrote, “Galesburg is a thrifty trading point of 250 people, the only town of consequence in Centerville township. Nearly all lines of business are represented and the annual trade of the town amounts to several thousand dollars.”2 As the town developed, the first school began in 1871-72. A small frame schoolhouse was erected in 1872. The Christian, Methodist, Presbyterian, Baptist, and United Brethren Churches gave the town and surrounding vicinity the opportunity to praise God and to ask for strength to face the problems of daily life. Organizations such as the Good Templars, the Grand Army of the Republic, The Anti-Horse Thief Association, the Farmers Alliance, The Ancient Order of Workmen, Modern Woodmen, and a Horticultural Society, all contributed to the political and social needs of the town. Businesses continued to spring up. Some became very successful and endured many years, by merit of their products and services offered. Others lasted only a short time. All hoped to serve the needs of the new town. The Galesburg Enterprise reported in 1907:

In the first years of its existence, the town promised to fill the expectations of its founders, but as time went on it was found that to supply the wants of the people there and immediately surrounding it was the highest point to which it could be expected to attain and this situation proved the true one.3

All the events occurring in larger communities were occurring in the little town of Galesburg. The originators of the town died. Babies were born. The first child born in Galesburg was Frank Enlow, born October 4, 1871 to William and Hannah Enlow, both leaders in the new community. As yet, the world probably wasn’t much aware of the existence of the little Neosho County town.

On April 21, 1881 a son was born to Joseph N. and Elizabeth Hamilton Shaw. This child was to make Galesburg known throughout America and the world. Stanley Wilbur Shaw was born on a farm a mile north and a mile east of town. Here he attended a small country school for a few years, and completed a correspondence course in mechanics. This was his only formal education, very adequate for the period, probably better than most. At the age of 8 he built a little toy tractor. In his early teens he built a steam engine using two bicycle pumps soldered together. An old pump cylinder served as a boiler, inserted in a small heating stove. Valves and a whistle completed the engine. In 1902 he completed his first gasoline engine, built with bits and pieces of no longer used machinery found around the farm. The St. Paul Journal contained this story about that engine:

Stanley Shaw, a Galesburg boy, has made a gasoline engine that has been running successfully for more than a year. Gas pipe, a mower part, and various parts of a corn sheller enter into the construction. He used the engine to run a circular saw, a lathe, and various small machines. When the engine was built, Shaw had very little with which to work, but since he has fitted up a shop which is a credit to any town and could make a better engine without having to use parts of old machinery. Shaw has recently invented and patented a bicycle motor which is an improvement over any now in use. Among other things, he has a small dynamo, and is planning to light his shop by means of electricity. 4

In 1903 Mr. Shaw’s genius developed a company to market his inventions. Thus, “Shaw Manufacturing Company” began manufacturing and selling small engines and equipment. He made a small engine which could convert a bicycle into a motorcycle. He sold thousands of these in our country and in Japan. Also, developed and sold through the Galesburg factory was a completed motorcycle. Soon after World War I a need for more practical inventions was recognized. About 1921 a farm tractor was built from Ford parts and later small garden tractors were being produced. From these evolved the “Shaw Du-All Garden Tractor.” These tractors were sold throughout North America, Europe especially the vineyard countries and parts of South America. In 1923 a completed small automobile, called the “Shaw Speedster” was introduced. It ran on bicycle wheels, carried two passengers, and traveled at a speed of 25 miles per hour. It obtained from 60 to 90 miles per gallon of gasoline. The price of the “Shaw Speedster” was $150. (The Chanute Tribune mistakenly referred to it as the “Shawmobile.” In 1928 a new larger plant was built and a banquet was held in it just before opening. In 1940 the “Peppy Pal,” a small cultivator with mower attachment made its appearance after the arrival of his first grandson. This started another new area for the Galesburg factory, riding power lawn mowers. They were soon marketed around the world.

Galesburg’s Shaw Manufacturing Company did its part in the World War II war effort. As a sub-contractor, the factory made thousand of component parts for airplanes, tanks, and gunsites for planes. The factory was equipped with the highest quality machinery and tools obtainable, some from Connecticut and Rhode Island. The work produced was unsurpassed. A new office was opened in Columbus, Ohio. Offices were also established in New York City and Chicago. Garden tractors, power mowers, and parts were shipped throughout this country and foreign countries around the world.

The Shaw business was a family affair. His son, Stanley Byrne Shaw, a mechanical engineer, was plant foreman. The founder’s brother-in-law, Simeon Scholl, a former banker, managed the Columbus, Ohio office. The other brothers had other business—their father’s lumber yard. Other men, life-long friends of the family, started their work careers at Shaw Manufacturing Company and worked until time to retire, at the same factory. Their jobs and value expanded with experience and training.

The Galesburg company became so large that Galesburg became known as the smallest town in the United States to have a second class post office. This was due to the thousands of stamps used weekly to mail advertising for motor powered vehicles, power mowers, and garden tractors. These booklets and catalogs were mailed to many regions of the world.

The Galesburg farm boy, with limited education and one mechanical correspondence course, paved the way for a small empire, and started, according to a 1933 catalog, “the world’s largest factory producing garden tractors and power mowers.”5 For fifty two years the factory remained in the original location, in a small Neosho County town, where it originated. Other locations were never seriously considered, maybe because Mr. Shaw’s father encouraged him to stay in Galesburg by building the first brick building to house the expanding business in 1911. This building still stands and is used as a part of the present Bush Hog Factory. Bush Hog Corporation of Selma, Alabama purchased the Galesburg factory in 1962. It now produces heavy farm equipment for Bush Hog. Many of the original machines designed and built by Mr. Shaw are still being used in the present factory as well as very large machinery purchased in New haven Connecticut and Providence, Rhode Island.

Mr. Shaw, lovingly known to the town’s people as “Uncle Stanley,” was probably the reason the town of Galesburg survived and didn’t become a memory as other small towns did, after a fast start and a short life. Mr. Shaw was a rare combination of good common sense, excellent business judgment, high mechanical skill, creative vision and designing ability. According to Lloyd Gibson, retired former employee, “he met his helpers as fellow workmen, fellow citizens, and as good friends.”6 His constructive attitude contributed to the success of the company he founded and to the town. He helped his town by faithfully and generously contributing financial support to the water system, the volunteer fire department, and the school and Methodist Church of which he was a life-long member. He considered these contributions as investments in the town and in the future. He lived 100 years in his home town, the town he chose to stay in and help grow. On his 100th birthday, he said, “I saw many changes in our town, and caused some of them.”7 The thing that didn’t change Mr. Shaw’s loyalty and concern for the success of Galesburg. His thinking was naturally constructive and progressive.

William Stuckey wrote the following about Stanley Wilbur Shaw:

Stanley is a quiet, unobtrusive young man, who evidently, has not forgotten the adage concurrent with childhood days. ‘Work before play’, for he attends strictly to business, realizing that Success is to be won only by those who are willing to spend much time—all, if necessary and much labor in her pursuit.

We anticipate a bright future for Stanley. Our town is unusually fortunate in having an enterprise such as his, which would be a credit to a town many times the size of Galesburg.8

This article was written nearly eighty years ago, but certainly proved to be true and also proved the principle on which the town and the factory were founded. These are some of the reasons both have survived and are in existence today.

1 “The New Town of Galesburg,” The Osage Mission Journal, September 29, 1870.
2 J.E. House, “The Future of Galesburg,” The Erie Record, October 16, 1895.
3 “Galesburg, 1907.” The Galesburg Enterprise, April 7, 1907.
4”Shaw’s Inventions,” The St. Paul Journal, September 7, 1905.
5 Catalog No. 14, Shaw Du-All Garden Tractor, (Galesburg, 1933) p. 2.
6 Lloyd Gibson, interviewed by R.J. Varsolona (Galesburg, Kansas) July 3, 1985.
7 Stanley W. Shaw, interviewed by R.J. Varsolona (Galesburg, Kansas) April 12, 1981.
8 William Stuckey, “Stanley Shaw,” The Galesburg Enterprise, April 1, 1907.


Catalog No. 14, Shaw Du-All Garden Tractor, Galesburg, 1933.

“Galesburg, 1907,” The Galesburg Enterprise, April 1, 1907.

Gibson, Lloyd, interviewed by R.J. Varsolona, Galesburg, Kansas, July 3, 1985.

House, J.E., “The Future of Galesburg,” The Erie Record, October 16, 1895.
“The New Town of Galesburg,” The Osage Mission Journal, September 29, 1870.

“Shaw’s Inventions,” The St. Paul Journal, September 7, 1905.

Shaw, Stanley W., interviewed by R.J. Varsolona, Galesburg, Kansas, April 12, 1981.

Stuckey, William, “Stanley Shaw,” The Galesburg Enterprise, April 1, 1907


Shaw's first workshop?

Early Shaw Factory was located south of the Shaw home. Click image for enlargement.

Click image above for enlargement of 1906 bike.

Stanley W. Shaw

Click image above for enlargement of 1911 bike.

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Shaw Speedster




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