Having spent his entire career as an agricultural machine engineer, Rob Skromme knew a good engineer when he saw one.
When he thinks of his late brother Lawrence, Rob not only remembers someone who could design a good farm implement, but also got things done, even in the most difficult of circumstances.
“He got things done. He would look at a situation and get it done one way or another. He didn’t get excited about things, it was just a matter of getting things done,” Rob Skromme said.
Lawrence Skromme died Dec. 3 at the age of 99 at his home in Lancaster.
Lawrence Skromme is perhaps best known as being head of the engineering department of Sperry New Holland (now New Holland Agriculture -North America) from 1951 to 1978, where he worked alongside the inventor of the New Holland hay baler, Edwin B. Nolt, perfecting the technology the company is best known for today.
But his contributions to Lancaster County agriculture go far beyond his work at New Holland.
Lawrence Skromme was one of the founders of the Lancaster Farm and Home Foundation and later served as its director and president. He was also an officer and former director of the Lancaster County Agricultural Land Preservation Board.
Linda Armstrong, current manager of the Farm and Home Foundation, said Lawrence Skromme stayed active with the foundation even in his later years when health problems slowed him down.
Lawrence Skromme was honorary co-chair of the foundation’s Growing Our Future capital campaign, which raised funds for the expansion of the current Farm and Home Center from 2005 to 2010.
He was also very active in the development of the ag engineering field. He served as president and fellow of the American Society of Agricultural Engineers (known today as the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers) as well as being active in other ag organizations and fraternities.
Jimmy Butt, former executive vice president of the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers, said Lawrence Skromme was instrumental in getting industry support for the society’s industry standards program, which he said was essential to standardizing farm equipment so it was interchangeable.
“He was a strong leader and he was very influential,” Butt said.
Lawrence Skromme was one of seven children, four boys and three girls, born to Norwegian immigrants, Austin and Ingeborg (Belle) Holmedal Skromme.
The family grew up on a farm in Roland, Iowa. It was a tough upbringing, remembers Rob Skromme, who at 88, is the lone surviving sibling.
During the Great Depression, the farm was foreclosed upon and the family lost everything. But rather than relying on government handouts, Rob Skromme said his father relied on himself to get back on his feet, renting land to continue farming and fixing his own equipment when he needed to.
“He didn’t want help from anybody. I think Lawrence was about the same way,” he said.
The four brothers had a knack for things mechanical. All four graduated from Iowa State University with degrees in engineering. Lawrence graduated with honors in 1937 with a degree in agricultural engineering.
They each found jobs at competing companies; Rob worked for J.I. Case and Massey Ferguson; Arnold worked for John Deere; Austin worked for Caterpillar.
Lawrence got a job with Goodyear Tire and Rubber and later was assistant chief engineer for Harry Ferguson, Inc., where according to his obituary, he designed tow motors for aircraft carriers during World War II and later plows and implements for Ford Ferguson tractors.
He joined Sperry New Holland in 1951 as chief engineer and in 1961, was promoted to vice president of engineering, overseeing global engineering for New Holland.
Frank Weaver worked at New Holland from 1961 to 1963 and has done extensive research on Edwin Nolt’s baler patent. He also cut wheat for Lawrence Skromme at his farm on Landis Valley Road in Lancaster.
Through his research, Weaver found Nolt and Skromme shared a cooperative relationship at New Holland, with Nolt coming with ideas for new machines, while draftsmen and others working in the engineering department under Skromme would draw up prints of Nolt’s ideas.
Even though Nolt came up with the designs of the balers, Weaver said Skromme’s approach of using teams of design, production and service engineers, working alongside marketing specialists, created a more efficient and effective system to ensure good products came off the assembly line.
“It was more the department he was running that was his legacy. He had a team approach,” Weaver said.
Once an engineer designed a machine and tested it alongside another engineer, a production representative and service engineer were also present to give their approvals before it went any further.
“There was four people who had to be satisfied when the engineer brought this up,” he said.
In 2010, Weaver visited Lawrence Skromme and his wife, Margaret, bringing three of Nolt’s grandsons with him.
While he didn’t work alongside Skromme at New Holland, Weaver said Skromme commanded a lot of respect from fellow engineers at the company.
“Larry was fair and firm. He was well respected amongst the people working in the engineering shop. That was very, very important and that was part of the success of the New Holland machine company,” he said.
Rob Skromme always respected his brother, even though they worked for competing companies.
“I always admired him and asked him for advice here and there,” he said.
The two often saw each other overseas at industry shows and events, where they would set aside time to play bridge or go looking for antiques — Lawrence was an avid antique collector.
“We never talked business. We played bridge,” Rob said.
And while they were competitive in terms of their jobs, when it came to family, Rob said Lawrence was devoted to having a good relationship with him and his other siblings.
“I was always very proud of him. As a family we never argued and always got along,” he said. “When somebody needed help we were there, and I’m going to miss him.”
Lawrence Skromme leaves behind a wife, Margaret, three daughters, eight grandchildren and 14 great-grandchildren.