If you saw a red Massey Harris or Massey Ferguson tractor in our area in the 1990’s, chances are it bore the Kendall Brothers or Kendall Implement logo. Connie Kendall sat down with me to explain the history of the business and her pivotal role in its success. Though now many years later, the sharp-minded beauty recalled everything as if it all happened yesterday.

Connie came to Yankton at age nineteen and met her future husband, Chuck Kendall, a local. Chuck had an obligation to the military and they had big dreams when he came home. They planned to buy a home near Tabor and open a radio repair shop, Chuck’s specialty as he had learned radio repair before the service and worked that field in the military. Chuck was also given an opportunity to work at the post office or become an electrician if he chose to.

Their dreams took an unexpected route when Chuck’s father, William Kendall, came to him with different plans. William Kendall owned Kendall Brothers, a Massey Harris dealership, and needed Chuck to run the store because of his ailing health. Chuck wasn’t about to disappoint his father so he agreed and followed in his father’s wishes.

William Kendall, a blacksmith by trade, had owned the dealership since 1919 when he signed a contract with the company to open a store. William’s heart was never truly in the machinery though, he would rather be using his skills sharpening plow lays then working with the tractors. When Chuck came back from the service in 1945, he jumped right in to help at the store, though he didn’t know a thing about tractors.

Chuck helped his dad at the store for many years before officially taking over in 1963. During this time, he built an attractive front counter, a spectacular display case and with signage and he built up the business that had been dwindling over the years. Once ownership transferred to Chuck, he made some significant changes. The business at the time resided in downtown Yankton, just south of what is now Hatch furniture. He relocated the store to 1500 Broadway, right beside what is now Luken Memorial and gave it a new name, Kendall Implement.

Connie recalls their move to the new location on Broadway and the clutter they worked in while setting up the new store. While they were setting up, she recalls how farmers had followed them and were trying to order while they were unpacking, so they had to rummage through boxes to find what they needed.

One distinct moment at the new store will always stand out to Connie. About a week after they moved, the store was bustling with customers. A farmer came through the door and said, “President Kennedy was shot today.”

“Nobody said a word. It was just the quietest afternoon,” she explained. “That was a blow. I’ll never forget that.”

With Chuck’s limited knowledge of tractors, he realized that he needed a mechanic to help in the shop. He contacted Connie’s brother in Sioux Falls, Oscar Nysven, who agreed to join his staff. Connie also found herself working right along with Chuck at the store. She started off doing the bookkeeping though she didn’t care for it that much.

“What I really wanted to do was to be out in the store visiting with people,” she explained. When they had the opportunity to hire a bookkeeper, they seized it and Connie then became a full-time parts ma’am. She remembers the day that Chuck told her that he, his dad and Oscar were going to the warehouse to set up some machinery and Connie could stay back and run the store. By herself.

She remembers that she wasn’t too nervous about that day but does recall her first stressful experience that came from it. A gentleman that she knew from Yankton Auto Salvage called and asked her if they had spark plugs for a 1944 Massey-Harris tractor.

She laughed. “I said, ‘I don’t know!’” The expression on her face made me laugh right along with her. She continued, “I didn’t know a spark plug from anything!” He came down to the shop and helped her look. Together they found the spark plugs that he needed.

When I asked her if the men gave her any grief because they thought she didn’t know tractors since she was a lady, she laughed and explained that the men were easier to work with than some of the women at her previous job at Montgomery Ward.

“The men worked with me. If I couldn’t find the picture of the part they wanted, they came behind the counter to help me find the picture.” When they found the part picture, she looked it up in her massive card file of over 2,000 cards to find the part. They kept most of their parts on-hand and readily available for their customers and would also order parts for customers as needed.

Though an amateur with tractor parts, Connie wasn’t completely inexperienced with the red machines. Her dad, a Massey-Harris tractor fan, had the red tractors on his farm though they were the only people in the neighborhood with them. Even though everyone else had John Deere and Farmall tractors, her dad instead appreciated the quiet and durable Massey.

Connie recalls various obstacles and achievements she and Chuck had with the store. When they first acquired the store, Chuck decided he needed to have a pickup truck to haul machinery, so he bought one from a Nebraska farmer.

“Do you know what he did?” she asked. “He traded our car, our courting car, for that truck! A Ford truck!” Their only vehicle? Yes, he traded their only vehicle for that truck. And that truck gave him a lot of trouble, she explained. You just had to laugh.

Chuck’s biggest obstacle in the beginning was an opportunity to purchase a truck load of wagon running gears, though he had an extremely tight deadline to make the purchase. His vision of getting a loan to buy the gears and then sell them for immediate cash flow got off to a slow start when the bank turned him down for financing. The silver lining gleamed through just in time when a second bank understood his vision and offered him the loan for the running gears. He sold every running gear he had purchased in just a few days.

Their business saw the evolution of the Massey line from Massey Harris to Massey Ferguson over the years. Massey Harris merged with Ferguson Company in the 1950’s and Massey Harris became Massey Harris Ferguson, later being shortened to Massey Ferguson. She recalls one morning when a small 35 Massey Ferguson tractor came in.

“It was a real good, all around tractor. The farmers liked them,” she said. She explained how the farmers could trust their kids, their wives or their daughters to drive it.

“It was a safe tractor,” she continued. The farmers liked the tractor so much that Chuck sold nearly 20 of those tractors in one morning.

Chuck and Connie had the opportunity to travel to several conventions and sightseeing trips over the years. Their most exciting trip was when they won a trip to Mexico City for an entire week because Chuck sold the highest amount of a particular corn-picker that year. They had a wonderful time on that journey with many delightful memories.

Though Connie had never driven a tractor before, she had to learn how to drive one for one of the conventions. The ladies were required to drive the display tractor to gain entrance to the banquet. She was extremely hesitant but Chuck sat on the fender and helped her drive.

“I drove it maybe 20 feet,” she laughed, “but at least I got my ticket punched to go to the banquet!”

She remembers this convention well, not because she drove a tractor to gain entrance, but because Lawrence Welk performed and they talked with him backstage. Welk’s trailer that he used to haul his instruments to dances was built by Chuck’s dad and Welk remembered it well when Chuck asked him about it. They talked together for some time.

Connie and Chuck owned Kendall Implement until 1975, when they decided to sell because of Chuck’s health reasons. Their successful business provided a good life for them and their son, Jerry and provided for various staff they employed over the years: a machinist, a blacksmith, a book keeper and a few salesmen over time.

Of countless memorable moments Connie encountered over the years, she enjoyed selling parts and working with people the most, and was glad to be a part of a great community.

“I like Yankton. The people were nice,” she stated. When meeting Connie, it’s obvious how the business was successful. A friendly, charming woman with a warm smile that could make a person feel right at home. I can only imagine that her husband Chuck had the same charismatic personality. Yankton was blessed with a business run by such a wonderful couple for so many years.