BLACKFOOT — Often when inventors come up with ideas to make a certain industry process easier, they need the help of others to bring their ideas to life.
During a couple of generations and over five decades, Earl M. Tanner and sons Dave, Max and Harvey did just that for many of Bingham County's potato farmers.
"It was solving their problems," Dave said of the role the four Tanners had in growing the county's potato industry into the world power it now is. "Sometimes I think we asked too many questions."
"All of what we've done has been other people's ideas and then we'd improve upon them," Max said. "Dad drummed into us that it was our responsibility to give the customers all the ideas we could think of for solving his problems and then let him choose."
One of the things Earl is known for is designing and building a seed potato cutter that revolutionized the industry. In the 1930s, farmers cut their seed potatoes by hand. That method allowed them to prepare about four 100-pound bags an hour for planting.
"About 1960 Merlin Miles and Scott Brown brought the idea of a seed cutter to Dad," Dave recalled. "At that time there was a bottleneck on the cutting tables that limited how many could be done. Dad suggested putting progressive rollers on the cutting table."
Earl then designed that table, which had a 24-inch wide cutter, enabling farmers to prepare 60 bags an hour. Over the years he designed and built tables with increasingly wider cutters. Today Wada Farms (one of the area's biggest potato producers) cuts 1,000 sacks an hour.
That cutter was just one item of farm machinery that E.M. Tanner and Sons had a part in developing. While working for Filer Seed Company in the 1930s, he overhauled the thrasher machines used in harvesting Bingham County's 3,000 acres of beans and peas. His combines were gentler than the grain machines in use, an important element in keeping the peas and beans intact.
The three brothers grew up in the business and eventually divided responsibilities.
Dave handled the production end, Max was in charge of manpower and Harvey was in charge of design and engineering.
Because of their contributions to the potato industry, the three men will be inducted into the Idaho Potato Museum's Hall of Fame Thursday night. An open house is scheduled from 6:30-8 p.m. at the museum, 131 NE Main.
"It was all an effort to make things work better," Dave said of their business.
"We had some associations with some really good farmers," Max added. "The farmers were the real impetus of growing this potato industry.
"The success of our business shows that anything's possible if you don't care who gets the credit," Dave said.
The three sold their business to some of their employees in 2007.
Max noted that those people are continuing the tradition of excellence they established.
Dave and Harvey left Blackfoot for a time, but returned to help Earl and Max build the business. Dave served an LDS Church mission and served in the Army before returning home for two years of vocational training at Idaho State. Harvey served an LDS Church mission in New Zealand and spent a year as an engineering student at BYU.
"Another thing that was important to our business was the spiritual side," Harvey said. "We often felt like we had more help than was in our own hands."
The three brothers all married in 1957. Dave married Betty Fife. They raised eight children and now have eight grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. Harvey married Afton Monson. He had six children and now have 30 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. Max married Beverly Meacham. They had six children, two of whom died in infancy. They have 10 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
Max said employee involvement helped their company be successful. "If I could make it pleasant for the employees and let them kick their ideas in, we made a lot more progress."