The Brown family business in Moorefield: meeting the community’s needs for 100 years

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Doug Brown sits in the small office just behind the counter at Brown’s Farm Implement in Moorefield. He leans back in his chair as he listens to Moorefield resident Robert Crandell spin recollections of the community and Doug Brown’s family’s place in that history.

On the walls are photos of old tractors next to calendars featuring the latest machinery and other high-tech gadgets. On the desk is a ragged, blue cap with the name of the family business on it. Outside, winter weather has covered much of the store’s inventory with a blanket of snow and ice.

And one just knows that Doug Brown wouldn’t be anywhere else.

“I remember when I was about five or six, my mom had an aneurysm and my brother, Bob, had been killed in an automobile accident and my brother, Barry was sick and had to come home from IU,” Doug Brown says. “Dad really had his plate full, with all of that and me and my sister, Pam. He brought a little cot in this office and put it right over there so I could take my nap. I guess I’ve been here all my life.”

And the Brown family has been a fixture in the Moorefield community for generations, and in November the State of Indiana awarded the family a Century Business Award for having a family business in the same location for more than 100 years.

The Brown family was told about the award by Judy Firth of the Vevay-Switzerland County Foundation, and on November 9th of this year Doug and Julie Brown traveled to Indianapolis to be presented the award by Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels and Lieutenant Governor Becky Skillman.

It’s an award that Doug Brown says covers four generations of his family.

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Cyrenius Brown, Doug Brown’s great-grandfather, purchased the property where the current Brown’s Farm Implement operation now sits in 1900. He used the ground to start an apple and peach orchard, selling the fruit and its by-products — like vinegar and apple cider.

“I remember that the peach trees were out here in the front where this building is today,” Robert Crandell said. “When they decided to put up the building, all of those trees had to come out.”

Cyrenius Brown and his son, Ethol Brown, farmed the land and operated the orchard until the 1920s, when they decided that the community needed a feed mill. Keeping most of the orchard in tact, the father and son ran both businesses while employing many members of the community. That continued until the orchard operation was phased out in 1953.

Cyrenius and Ethol Brown were also innovators in Switzerland County, as they brought what is believed to be the first tractor into the county in the mid 1920s. Ethol Brown and his young son, Norman, used the tractor to do custom work for local farmers, providing services such as threshing wheat and filling silos. The pair also did some custom combining and baling hay into small round bales.

Over the years the Brown family was not afraid to adjust its vision in order to meet the demands of the community that it served, and during the past 100 years the land moved from a farm and orchard to a feed mill to the present-day farm implement dealership.

The Brown family decided to offer farm machinery for sale in 1938, selling Allis Chalmers farm equipment. That made three businesses operating on the farm site at the same time; but that didn’t deter the Brown family from striving for success.

Cyrenius Brown passed away in 1947, and the operation was assumed by Ethol and Norman Brown — continuing the family tradition.

Ethol and Norman Brown constructed the building for the farm implement dealership in 1948, again continuing the evolution of providing appropriate service to their customers. They also continued the tradition of employing young men in the Moorefield area.

“You’d be surprised how many young fellas that grew up around here worked here at one time or another,” Doug Brown said. “Dad and grandpa would hire them all. A lot of them still live around here — Tommy Scott, Ron Downing, and others.”

Doug Brown has also heard stories about the “Barnes Boys” who worked at the business. All three were hard workers, and all three have gone on to successful careers: Galen as the president of Nationwide Insurance; Gerald as an employee of Madison State Hospital; and David at Eli Lilly

Through the years, Doug Brown also has a keen sense of the support of the community that has been provided to his family — professionally and personally.

“When my mom had the aneurysm, I don’t know what Dad would have done without Sue Christman,” Doug said. “She was here everyday taking care of me and my sister. She and Mose were great friends to my dad, and Sue remained a close confidant to my dad until he passed away. This community has always supported this family, and we’ve always supported others in the community. You do what you have to to help others out.”

Doug Brown came into the business fulltime after graduating from high school in 1980, and in 1988 Ethol Brown passed away, leaving the business to yet another father-son generation.

With the farm implement business thriving in the mid 1980s, the feed mill operation was phased out in 1988. The orchard operation had been ceased back in 1953, so the Brown family set their sights on providing farming equipment to a farming community.

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The community of Moorefield has also changed through the years.

Robert Crandell and Doug Brown say that many of the family farms that operated around the community are now gone, but years ago formed the basis of a successful community.

“Most of the farms around here had dairies,” Robert Crandell said. “A few had hogs. Everyone had chickens — they had chickens to the point that you couldn’t hardly get in the house for all of them.”

Tobacco was also a big crop for county farmers, both in Moorefield and in other areas, and those switches and others are the biggest changes that Doug Brown has seen over the years.

“There are very few full time farmers anymore, they just don’t exist,” Doug Brown says. “We had to get into the mower business pretty heavy to stay here. I’d say that 90-percent of our business now comes from parttime farmers and residential business like lawn mowers. You don’t sell many big pieces of equipment anymore.”

With the passing of Norman Brown in June of this year, Doug Brown is now the sole proprietor of the family business.

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Now Doug Brown looks out the window of his family business and wonders how the construction work on State Road 129 will affect his business. Lack of traffic down the highway this summer due to the construction has had a definite affect, but Doug Brown thinks that is customers will continue to find their way to him.

The loss of the tobacco program also hampers the business. Doug Brown says that tobacco wasn’t a crop that had a lot of equipment involved in it; but it did provide cash for farmers to purchase other pieces of equipment, like hay balers and tractors.

With the phasing out of the subsidy program, the small tobacco farmer is also moving on, which takes away that business.

“It takes some adjusting, just like my family has done here for 100 years,” Doug Brown says. “We’re going to keep going as long as we can. This business is an important part of this community.”

— Pat Lanman