Thomas Frank Stroud’s North Omaha business was successful. After starting it in Omaha in 1894, he formally organized the firm in 1895 to build dirt moving machines that he designed. In those early years his factory was at 12th and Nicholas. By 1903, he needed to double his capacity in order to meet demand, and he knew Saratoga would be the right location.
In 1905, he built a $20,000 factory at the intersection of Florence Boulevard and the Belt Line tracks. By then he owned patents for grading and ditching, dirt moving and road grading machines that were reportedly sold around the world.
Just after the age of 50 years old, Tom Stroud hit his stride. Within five years, Stroud bought two major competitors from other states and brought their companies to Omaha, and built his mansion on Florence Boulevard. Stroud was, by all measures, a success.
By 1909, his machinery was being used around the world, including railroads in Germany and Thailand, and on the Panama Canal. His business employed 300 people in Omaha in 1910.
Stroud made several acquisitions during these years. In 1909, he bought the Harrison Wagon Company of Grand Rapids, Michigan and three years later, he bought the Fisher Wagon Company of Chicago.
The Great Stroud Fire
The entire factory was destroyed by a fire in April 1912, and one man died. In a lawsuit by Stroud against the American Water Company, he said damages amounted $100,000. He claimed that the water company didn’t have enough water pressure in its system, and because of that firefighters weren’t able to put out the fire, and he sued the water company for $89,000. Although he lost his lawsuit, by June 1912, he’d rebuilt a factory that was double the size of the original.
Hosting A Car Company
The next year, Stroud’s factory hosted the production of the Omaha 30, an expensive car built by the Omaha Motor Company. Supposedly, the motor company was building a new two story production building next door.
The car never took off, and just a few were made before the Omaha Motor Company shut down in 1914. The Stroud Company factory kept churning out its machines in the meantime.
More Stroud Products
In 1916, the Stroud Company was a high tech road construction player. At a time when “paving” meant smoothing out dirt into flat paths, Stroud sold one of the only machines made specifically for road paving, anywhere. The federal Road Act of 1916 was the first legislation in the United States to enforce this type of paving on highways across the country. It was also the first law passed forcing federally-funded highways to be connected to each other. Stroud made the right machinery at the right time!
He didn’t employ salesmen because he didn’t need them; the Stroud tractors sold themselves. One tractor, called the Stroud Steel Frame Elevating Grade, was steered by a driver running a four-mule team. Promising prompt service, Stroud provided the machines nationwide on a sample basis with a guarantee to increase productivity by highway road workers. One of his customers, Fred Petersen, built the Omaha Auto Speedway with the Stroud machines.
By 1919, Stroud and Company reportedly operated its plant across 10 acres of land between Florence Boulevard and Commercial Avenue, from Ames to the Belt Line. He’d apparently implemented efficiency procedures, and was only employing 125 men that year. The “little red wagon,” graders, road levelers, plows and elevators were built by Stroud’s company. In 1919, they added trucks, truck bodies and tractors to their production line.
His company built several machines, including a popular road-making machine called the “little red wagon.” Stroud’s little red wagon was popular in road construction throughout the region. He also made a major acquisition by buying a Michigan-based firm and moving it to Omaha around the turn of the century.
By the 1930s, the Stroud Company’s products included:
- Little Red Wagon and Big Red Wagon stock dump wagon (bottom dump wagon, wheeled dump wagon)
- King of Hi-Ways road shaper
- Reversible Road Machine
- Kid pull grader
- Road drag
- Slip scraper (pan scraper)
- Buck scraper (Fresno scraper)
- Tongue scraper
- Wheeler wheeled scraper
- Grading plow
- Little Red dump cart
- Canyon and Marsh Filler horse bulldozer, and
- C. L. Best Tractor Company 60 crawler tractor.
They also manufactured a disc, plowshare, feed box, cattle manger and cart harness. That year, Allen Cecil Scott was the president of the company.
I haven’t figured out exactly what happened to the Stroud Company, aside from the Great Depression. After Tom Stroud himself retired, the company had new leadership that kept Stroud’s name. Selling products as the “Little Red Wagon” brand, by 1931 they changed the name of the business to Stroud Road Machinery Company.
In 1932, the Stroud Manufacturing Company, also called the Little Red Wagon Manufacturing Company, went bankrupt.
Around that point, a man named Allen C. Scott bought Stroud. Scott was president of several other companies, including the Scott-Omaha Tent and Awning Company; the Seattle Tent and Awning Company; the St. Joseph Tent and Awning Company; the Lincoln Tent and Awning Company; the Scott-Bury Motor Company; and the Scott Manufacturing Company.
The Stroud name and the Little Red Wagon disappeared soon afterward.
You Might Like…
- A History of the Stroud Mansion in North Omaha
- A History of North Omaha’s Saratoga Neighborhood
- A History of the Belt Line Railway in North Omaha
- Stroud and Company from the Historical Construction Equipment Association
Thanks to Michele Wyman and Micah Evans of Omaha History Mysteries for their contributions to this article!