The Little Girl That Won the Car
In 1910 the REO Motor Company of Lansing, Michigan offered a touring car to the young farmer under 20 who could raise the best corn in the state, judging to be held on the Michigan Agricultural College (now Michigan State) campus. At the time, Florine Folks was living on a farm with her parents near Hanover, Michigan. Her father had become interested in corn breeding. Since Florine had no brothers, she asked her father if she could enter the contest.
Her father plowed the land for her to use. She did the rest, planting and caring for the crop until finally she harvested it for the county corn contest in Jackson. “The time of the county show was a great day for me,” Mrs. Florine (Folks) Plumb says in the MSU Magazine 50 years later. “I remember it well because the men running the show took the club members to dinner. It was the first time I went out to eat.”
During the county contest Florine’s corn took first prize. The next step was to enter the state contest to be held on the East Lansing campus the week of January 17th (1911), where the sumptuous prize of a REO touring car would be awarded to the winner.
The competition was the idea of MAC Professor J. A. Jeffrey. He and other interested men wished to sponsor a statewide organization for rural boys and girls, to give the youngsters more social life while also training them for agriculture… their efforts later becoming 4-H. Jeffrey contacted Mr. R. E. Olds, the pioneer auto-maker from Lansing, who thought the professor had a fine idea, and offered to give a thousand-dollar automobile to the farmer under 20 who could raise the best 10 ears of corn in the state.
Mrs. Plumb said that her father took the corn to East Lansing and entered it for me. “I stayed home and did the chores. Going that far in those days would have meant missing two or three days of school, something my family wouldn’t hear of.”
The farmers assembled on campus undoubtedly were surprised when they learned that the prize-winning corn had been grown by a little girl, age 11.
The media immediately picked up on the story far and wide. One newspaper editorial extolled the young girl for having “done something of more substantial benefit to mankind than the average senator, to compare the work of our kings of politics with that of our queen of corn growers.”
Although the contest had been held during the winter months, it wasn’t until the spring 1911 that the prize could be delivered to the Folks’ farm because of the condition of the roads.
It was 1911 and Florine sat behind the wheel of her new REO touring car. In the back seat were her grandmother, mother and father. Next to her sat a visiting friend, Charles Burnett.
“A neighbor and my father took the train to Jackson to get the car,” Florine says. “I got permission to finish school early and then ran home to meet them.”
There were only two cars in the nearby town of Hanover when Florine won her REO. One belonged to the grocer and the other was the property of an undertaker. Her car was a snappy model in jet black with red wheels, a lot of brass trim and a side crank.
Florine’s father quickly taught her how to operate the two-cylinder touring car and she began to use it frequently around the farm. There was no driver-licensing in those days and it’s a safe bet that there wasn’t another farm girl in the country wheeling around in a flashy REO, top speed 17 MPH. Soon she was driving around town and to school, her shiny face peering out from the folds of her automobile scarf.
While the REO car is long gone, the strain of corn her father perfected became known as Folks’ Whitecap Yellow Dent, an open pollinated variety, whcih still exists today.
“50 Years Ago : A Little Child Lead Them“, Michigan State University Magazine, March 1961.
“Corn Show”, M.A.C. Record, January 24, 1911. Florine’s father also won a tile ditcher (worth $35) and two silver cups from the Gleaner and Michigan Farmer so the family did quite while at this contest held the week of January 17th.