Inducted: November 1, 1995
Reginald Snobelen was always ready to be the first to try new farm equipment, and when the right machinery was not available, he invented it.
In the course of an interesting life, he grew citrus fruits in California; did mixed farming on the Bisnet Sideroad in Harwich Township; and operated a machine shop in Blenheim, where he made custom farm machinery, and advertised for agents to sell it.
Scarlet Fever as a young adult left him deaf, but resolutely unimpaired through an interesting career. It was appropriate that he died in his machine shop in 1945, and with him, many ideas for new farm machines to make agriculture a little easier.
Mr. Snobelen was born in Harwich, the son of Joseph and Mary Jane (Elliott) Snobelen. He married Elta May Roe in the Methodist Parsonage in January, 1905, and the young couple left within a few days to make their fortune in citrus fruit production in California. Family pictures show the building they owned by the time they decided to return to Ontario five years later.
The Snobelens came back with "an extensive knowledge of southern fruit," and a son, Gordon. They started farming on the Bisnet Sideroad, where Mr. Snobelen was able to give free rein to his remarkable talent for innovation.
Six years later, The Toronto Weekly Sun reported in October the remarkable success of Mr. Snobelen in using a Case 10-20 tractor, the first in the area. Mr. Snobelen was quoted as saying that the tractor was "the best thing I've got about the place." The first year he used it was a tough year for farmers, because of the weather and wartime shortages; but the tractor, according to the interview, "enabled him to pull through a difficult year" with what the paper called "a splendid financial showing."
Mr. Snobelen was not satisfied to use the farm mechanization tools invented by others. He invented an onion topper and grader, unfortunately unpatented.
Another of his inventions was a potato cleaner and polisher, seen by journalists then as something that every housewife would welcome. This 1935 invention, perfected in three years, caught the attention of Ontario Liberal Premier Mitchell Hepburn, who grew potatoes on his Elgin County farm. Mr. Snobelen packed up the potato cleaner and took it to the St. Thomas area Hepburn farm for a demonstration.
In its final form, the machine made potatoes "almost as clean as if they had been washed and polished by a fastidious housekeeper." One farmer was quoted by the Chatham Daily News: "It cleans the potatoes so well that the ladies don't have to stop their bridge games to clean the potatoes for supper," one man's view of what women were doing in those Depression years.
Another family picture of a group of tobacco lobbyists posed before the Parliament Buildings in Ottawa is an indication that Mr. Snobelen grew tobacco, and lobbied for it, at one stage in his career.
Other family papers show that Mr. Snobelen sold onions, apples and beans, "with car lots a specialty," along with inventing and manufacturing farm machinery. His management skills were shown in his careful calculation of the costs of operating a tractor in 1916, compared to the use of horses.
Mr. Snobelen predicted then: "In three years there will be a lot of
tractors in the country." This was based on the quantity of mail he had received from other farmers, asking about tractor performance and costs. Mr. Snobelen estimated that a tractor would be cost-efficient on a 100-acre farm, but he was cautious about how it would work in hilly or stony land.
The Snobelens had two sons, Gordon, of Detroit, and Harold, who operated the family farm, both now deceased. There are four grandchildren.
The Snobelens were hospitable, with the result that their home was a mecca for visitors.
Mr. Snobelen will be remembered best, however, for a keen and inventive mind. He brought ideas on mechanization back from California, to use on Ontario crops.
He was, in his thinking and his outlook on life, "ahead of his time."