On display at the Western Illinois Museum as the November Artifact of the Month is a Felins tying machine that was donated in 1982 to the museum by Mr. and Mrs. Harold Gosnell of Beardstown.

The Felins tying machine is a foot-powered machine was once used extensively throughout southern Illinois for tying radishes, turnips, carrots, and other vegetables into bunches, so that the vegetables could be handled and sold easily at market.

With this labor-saving device farmers no longer had to tie their vegetables by hand.  “Let the Felins Do Your Tying,” declares a 1922 advertisement for the machine.  The ad says the machine ties vegetables in less than half the time.  It is so simple, a child could operate it.  It is light weight and easy to move to where you need it. Using this machine must have been a huge time-saver for farmers preparing vegetables for sale.  The machine made this task much easier and more efficient.

The donor, Harold Gosnell, shared the story his mother, Hazel, told him about the vegetable tying machine.  Hazel and her husband, also named Harold, came to Beardstown in March 1928, to try their hands at vegetable farming.  As she tells it, “Harold was dissatisfied with railroading, and I gave up teaching in high school to please him.  A bachelor railroader who took his vacations by walking around the country told us about the vegetable tying machine being used around St. Louis.  He gave the name of the company and the price of $70.00.  This was the best investment we ever made.”

There were no chain stores during the years the Gosnells raised their vegetables and berries, so they wholesaled and retailed all the produce they grew on their 18 acres themselves.   As Mrs. Gosnell say, “It was lots of work, but we came out ahead financially.”

The name of the tying machine company was created by the company founder, Fred E. Lins; he used the first initial of his first name and his middle name and his entire last name to come up with FELINS.  But Lins did not start out as a machine manufacturer; actually he was in the sausage business.

Fred E. Lins was born in Germany in 1885 and his family immigrated to the United States in 1889. (d.1929) He started the Fred E. Lins Quality Sausage Company in 1903 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and in 1920 he came up with the idea of a machine to tie the links in sausage.   Working with one of his employees at the sausage company, a mechanic by the name of Frank Radechovsky, they design and create the sausage-link-tying machine.  Together, Lins and Radechovsky applied for a patent for the machine on July 13, 1920 and the patent (number 1407481) was published on February 21, 1922, with the application notes naming the new invention as a “bundle tier.”

After using the machine for tying links in sausages, it was quickly discovered that the machine could be used for tying other things as well, and soon tying machines were being produced at the sausage factory and being sold all over the Midwest for a variety of tying purposes.  The Felins machine owned by the museum was ordered by the Gosnells in 1928 and shipped from the Milwaukee factory to their farm in Beardstown.

A testimonial from a Wisconsin farmer is featured in a Felins tying machine advertisement and the farmer tells how useful this machine was, “We use it most of the year, at the present time on hothouse Radishes.  It has eliminated sore and string cut fingers and it has changed the tedious tying drudgery into pleasurable and untiring work:  for it’s merely a swing of the leg that does the trick while the operator is seated.  … the time saved is well invested in larger production…it a money saving and making machine for us.”

According to Mary G. Cohodes, Marketing Manager for Felins, the machine on display at the museum is a very early version of the Felins “Pak-Tyer” model, one of the many types of tying machines produced by the Felins Company.

Pre-electric, this semi-automatic machine was powered by the pedal being pumped by the foot of the operator.  The metal machine is mounted on a wooden board and at the end of the board a wooden box is mounted for the operator to sit.  The tying mechanism was activated by the foot pedal.  Later models of the “Pak-Tyer” would feature attached seats and eventually the machines became electric.

Since its beginnings in the 1920s, as an off-shoot at the sausage company, the Felins Tying Machine Company grew and continues to this day to sell many different models of tying machines all over the world. However, the machines have come a long way from the simple foot-powered “Pak-Tyer” model.  Felins tying machines have evolved into very complex devices, and some of the present models are very sophisticated in their operations. They can grade produce, tie and bunch items using twist ties, rubber bands, paper tape, and cellophane wrappers.

This simple vegetable-tying machine at the museum illustrates the huge impact one invention can have and shows how specialized machinery improved efficiency for farmers. The vegetable tying machine was on display at the museum from November 1-30, 2013.

From and essay by Heather Munro