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Title: Otterbein Bog Peat Moss Source for Gardeners, Golfers
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[under photo] SOFT GOING-- Because peat bogs are found only in swamplike locations, peat harvesters like this one used at the Milburn Peat Co. bog southwest of Otterbein must tread lightly or they would bog down immediately. Although the crawler tractor, the dump wagon, and the self-propelled harvester weigh several tons, by use of over-size, low-pressure tires ground pressure is only about three pounds per square inch. The big balloon tires on the rear of the harvester are five feet high, 42 inches wide, carry only about four pounds of air pressure and were specially designed by Goodyear at a cost of $1,500 each. The wagon's tires are the same width, but only 40 inches high. The harvester was designed by Henry Frenzer, Milburn consultant and former company president. He also supervised its construction. its blades, taking a 17-foot swatch, peel a half inch of peat off the bog surface in each trip across the field.

[actual article] Otterbein Bog Peat Moss Source for Gardeners, Golfers by Paul Lybrook Business editor

Although she may think she’s tripping along lightly, a woman in spike-heeled shoes exerts over 600 times more ground pressure per square inch than does multi-ton peat harvesting equipment.

But to head off a fairer-sex idea that we are trying to tread on toes, we’ll explain the not-weighty paradox:

A woman weighing one way or the other from 120 pounds, wearing a pair of those sharp-heeled shoes, exerts about a ton per square inch of pressure on anything she walks on.

On the other hand, ground pressure for peat harvesting equipment at no time should exceed 3 pounds per square inch in spite of the fact the tractors, harvesters and wagons weigh several tons.

This is achieved through mounting the equipment on low-pressure oversize tires. It is necessary because bogs like that being worked by the Milburn Peat Co. of Otterbein are found only in swamp-like land.

If the equipment exerted too much per-square-inch pressure, it would quickly sink out of sight.

These, and other interesting points, were related by Henry Frenzer, Milburn consultant and its former president.

Why did the Chicago-based Milburn company pick the Otterbein bog for its operations?

ILLINOIS ORIGIN

The company was begun near Mundelein, Ill., northwest of Chicago, by the late Glen W. Traer, a financier who guided to greatness the Truax - Traer Coal Co. and the Greyhound bus empire.

Following Traer’s death, Robert Maxwell became principal Milburn stockholder.

First Traer peat operation was formed when he began excavation for a lake on his farm northwest of Chicago. About the time this bog was exhausted, Traer told Frenzer to find a new peat deposit and “i’ll find the money.”

“I spent a summer traveling over Illinois, Wisconsin and Indiana.” Frenzer said, “before deciding on this particular bog. It was chosen for two reasons:

“1. Because this is a clean-moss bog. And there’s none other this large in Indiana, as far as I know.

“2. The Otterbein bog is centrally located in relation to major markets--Chicago, Indianapolis, Louisville, Cincinnati, St. Louis and many other major cities within a 200 - mile radius.

“Since then, however, our market has expanded. We have shipped peat moss as far away at [as] Phoenix, Ariz., and regularly ship, by rail car and truck, as far as Florida, Washington, D.C., and other eastern, western and southwestern states, such as Texas.”

Testing and surveys were done in the summer of 1956 and the Otterbein bog was put into commercial production in 1957.

PEAT FOR 15 YEARS

Frenzer said it is estimated there’s a 15-year supply of peat in the bog, which ranges in depth from eight to 12 feet and covers over 100 acres.

Peat is removed at the rate of about 100,000 cubic yards a year. In case you’ve forgotten, a cubic yard is 27 cubic feet. A box that’s a foot high, three feet wide and nine feet long, for example, holds a cubic yard of material.

A cubic yard of peat weighs about 600 pounds. A yard of topsoil weighs about a ton, a yard of pit gravel about 3,000 pounds.

According to Frenzer, peat is partially decayed vegetation. Geologists say it took “about 1,000 years to form each foot of peat in a bog,” Frenzer noted. At that rate, the Otterbein bog was 8,000 to 12,000 years being formed.

Peat bogs are always found in swamp-like locations. This creates another problem for the bog operators. Water must be pumped off the land to permit peat to dry enough to be harvested.

Summer and fall are best peat harvesting seasons at the bog four miles southwest of Otterbein. It is then stockpiled at the processing plant in town, at the rate of about 1,000 cubic yards a day.

Heavy shipping season starts in mid-February and runs to about the end of May, then picks up again in August and runs to around mid-October.

Major customers are chain stores, nurseries, or garden stores. Another major use is in building or maintaining golf courses. Peat is used as a base for new golf greens.

8,000 BAGS SHIFT PEAK

At the height of the shipping season, the plant is capable of processing, bagging and shipping 8,000 50-pound bags of peat per eight-hour shift.

In peak times, such as the past week when the plant worked two shifts a day, all seven days, there are 35 to 40 employes. In slack times, the force will dwindle to a key crew of a dozen or so, which is employed the year around. Plant superintendent is Theodore (Ted) Steffens.

“Another odd thing about the peat business,” Frenzer said, “is the fact I’ve had to design and build most of the plant and harvesting equipment.”

Frenzer made several trips to Ireland (famous for its bogs) in designing 34-foot harrows that stir the bog surface so it will dry for harvest; the harvester (see picture) and much of the automated bagging equipment.

Another odd thing about the company is that its facilities are located in three counties. The bog is in Warren County, the plant and office in Tippecanoe County, and a warehouse and part of the ground, across the street from the company office, are in Benton County.

With mountains of peat being used each year, how about the nation’s supply? Frenzer quieted any fears the supply might be in danger of exhaustion.

“We’ve only scratched the surface. It is estimated we’ve used less than one-fifth of 1 per cent of the supply in the U.S. And that doesn’t include the Canadian and overseas supplies.”

Date: 3/16/1964
Origin: Journal and Courier
Author: Paul Lybrook
Record ID: 00000072
Type: Periodical
Source Archive: Warren County Historical Society
Date Entered: 2/13/2002
Collection: Medina Township File
Entered By: Louise Jewell

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