He not only witnessed but participated in many of the changes that the 20th century brought to poultry husbandry. He was the driving force behind the National Poultry Museum. He wrote six books on poultry and traveled the world.
“My best years have been since I turned 70,” he told me from his home in Pine River, Minnesota. His home was located on the two-and-a-half acres his father bought in 1945 for $5,500. The family used the cabin as a vacation retreat until they built a permanent home in 1972, when Loyl’s wife Evelyn moved there. Loyl was researching his book, “Poultry of the World,” at that time. She passed away in 1991.
Loyl’s ruddy round face reflected the joy he found in life. His enthusiasm was infectious, energizing those half his age. He looked jaunty in the plaid cap he wore to shield him from the North Woods wind. Until a few years ago, he lived on his own, with support from his nearby son and daughter-in-law, who still run the family business. He moved to an assisted living facility in town a few years ago.
“A smiling gentleman in a red cap,” Turid Molvik, Danish tour operator who organized five European poultry tours with him, remembers from their first meeting at the Hannover, Germany airport in 1989. The date stands out in her mind for its global historic importance as well as its personal impact: It was the day after the Berlin Wall was torn down. “It was an historical date in European history as well as the start of a great friendship,” she said.
Loyl’s parents Ernst and Josephine Stromberg were farmers and cattle breeders in Otho, Iowa when he was born May 5, 1914. But they soon noticed that the chickens responded to improvements in their care by laying more eggs. The family story recounts that a cousin gave Ernst 100 White Leghorn chicks in 1919. He did well with them, so he converted the cattle barn into a chicken house for the flock, which soon increased to around 1,500 layers.
The next step was acquiring incubators to hatch chicks for sale, establishing one of the first chick hatcheries in Iowa. He bought a Queen, a Klondike and a Buckeye, then found a Jamesway that worked best for him. The incubators were reliable, but they did not include automatic turning. Young Loyl marked the eggs with an X on one side and an O on the other and turned them twice a day, morning and evening.
“I have turned eggs many, many times,” he said.
Stromberg Hatchery was officially established in 1924 in Fort Dodge, Iowa, which had better shipping connections. The building there housed three Buckeye 10,000-egg incubators, holding the eggs in tiers that were tilted twice a day.
“No more hand turning!” he said.
He still had to fill the kerosene containers and clean the wicks every day.
“They started selling all they could hatch,” Loyl recalls. At that time, the profit was $3 per hundred chicks.
Loyl grew up with the chickens. After graduating from high school, he began running the operation at their store on North Lyndale Avenue in Minneapolis in 1932. The business was selling a million chicks a year.
“I’ve done everything you can imagine in a hatchery,” he said.
Stromberg’s Hatchery always took an interest in a wide variety of poultry breeds. The company’s goal was to provide the chickens best suited to their customers.
“We found the Danish Brown Leghorn laid large eggs without being subject to prolapse,” he said. “They proved very popular.”
Loyl had made a contact in Santiago, Chile who was able to supply chickens from South America. The Araucana had been introduced to the American public in the April 1927 issue of National Geographic magazine’s issue, devoted to poultry. “We were the first hatchery to offer Araucanas in the U.S.,” he said.
During those Depression years, the company employed 30 people. The women who handled clerical and administrative duties earned $7 a week. The men employed in the hatchery got $17.50 a week. “Times were tough, and men were glad to be employed,” he said.
He attended a cock fight in the forest near Forest Lake, Minnesota once during those years. Cock fighting was illegal then, as it is now. The organizers paid the police $5 to overlook the event, which attracted a large crowd. Betting was heavy among those attending, about 125 people. A bird could be disqualified if it jumped out of the 12’ x 12’ fighting space marked on the floor.
Under his leadership, the Stromberg Hatchery began hatching turkeys, as many as 200,000 a year. By supporting customers with financing for small flocks of 250-300 birds, the company was soon financing 35,000 turkeys a year. He trained as a turkey grader in Omaha, Nebraska.
The 1940s brought changes, starting with the Armistice Day Storm of 1940, which still ranks second of Minnesota’s Top Five Weather Events of the 20th Century. This early season cyclonic blizzard began on November 11. The day started out warm, with temperatures in the 60s, enticing duck hunters out on to the Mississippi River and Minnesota lakes in light clothing. When the temperature began to drop sharply and the wind began to blow, they were unprepared for the conditions.
Rain turned into sleet, then snow, as the low pressure system brought moisture from the Gulf of Mexico over the southern plains and sucked arctic air from the north into Minnesota, Nebraska, Wisconsin, South Dakota, Iowa and Michigan. Temperatures dropped as much as 50 degrees. Collegeville, Minnesota recorded 27 inches of snow and 16 inches fell in the Twin Cities, blown into drifts by winds of 50-80 mph.
Forty-nine people died in Minnesota, about half of them duck hunters. Stromberg’s lost 13,000 turkeys. Although the birds were insured for three cents apiece, the resulting insurance wrangle made the company withdraw from insuring turkeys for the next five years. When the company decided to offer insurance again, it was at 25 cents per bird. Loyl turned his attention to the European war.
“With the start of World War II, I thought I’d better take flying lessons,” he said. “I’d rather be in the air than on the ground as a foot soldier.”
He eventually decided flying wasn’t for him, and he was automatically deferred from active service because poultry was an essential industry. He stayed at home and continued working in the business. The war had reduced the available employees.
Loyl continued to manage the business until 1962, when egg consumption dropped 30 percent in response to medical reports that eggs increased cholesterol. The family made the decision to close the hatchery.
In 1969, he created the first Stromberg’s catalog. It offered many exotics, including many breeds of rabbits, kittens, puppies and even bear cubs. Loyl’s collection of catalogs tells the tale: Ocelots, zebras, and a whole page of monkeys were available by mail order. They were never a big part of the business, and the increasing complexities of live animal shipping eventually ended that aspect of the business.
The hatchery’s connections to superior breeders provided a resource for top quality chicks of many breeds. Duane Urch of Urch/Turnland Poultry in Owatonna, Minnesota, now a highly respected poultry breeder and judge, has known Loyl for more than 50 years. Loyl attended Urch’s wedding to Phyllis 46 years ago, and Loyl and Ev attended the Urches’ son’s wedding in 1991.
“He got us started in Silver Campines,” Mr. Urch said. Stromberg’s was the source for Cubalayas from an original Cuban line.
“They were a lot better than they are nowadays,” he said.
“He has certainly been instrumental in providing an outlet for quality poultry over the years,” said Craig Russell, current president of the Society for Preservation of Poultry Antiquities.
The business moved to Minnesota in 1972.
Loyl’s interest in rare breeds drew him to Neil Jones, who founded the Society for Preservation of Poultry Antiquities in 1967. The organization floundered in those early months, and Loyl’s impassioned article on the plight of isolated breeders in the July 1967 Poultry Press galvanized support and launched the new organization.
Enthusiasm flagged again by 1971, and Jones resigned. Loyl convened a meeting to save the SPPA at the Apache Plaza Show in Minneapolis in October 1971. Enough breeders were willing to commit the time and energy to make the organization succeed. Officers were elected, including Loyl as First Vice President, and objectives defined.
“He twisted several people’s arms to get them to take officers’ jobs,” said Mr. Urch, who took the position of secretary-treasurer in 1971 and served in that role until 1978. Mr. Urch served several years as first vice president and was president from 1989-1996.
“The SPPA owes their life to him,” he said.
Loyl produced the first Breeders Directory, he and his wife doing all the work and then paying for the printing.
“He has provided encouragement and money at a couple of key times,” said Mr. Russell.
Loyl continues to support SPPA and often contributes to the quarterly Bulletin.
“Loyl has been a tireless friend of the SPPA,” said Mr. Russell. “He has been responsible for whatever success the SPPA has enjoyed.”
He became a world traveler. International poultry events have made him an unofficial American poultry ambassador. In 1984 he attended the World Poultry Congress in Helsinki, Finland, where he met Dr. F. Orozco Pinan, a vice president of the World’s Poultry Science Association. It was there that he learned of Brazil’s Musician Fowl, one of the longest crowing birds in the world, and the champion Denizli Rooster from Turkey, which can crow 25 seconds or even longer!
The European contacts became hosts for the Poultry Tour of Europe, launched in 1985. It attracted about 20 participants each of the six times he led it. The groups toured Denmark, Sweden, Germany, Poland, the Czech Republic, Austria, Switzerland, Italy, France, the Netherlands and England. Each tour visited the famous Hannover Poultry Show in Germany, where 20,000 or more birds were exhibited.
Several participants joined the tour more than once, turning the group into a gathering of friends. The groups visited local breeders to see their birds, as well as the bird parks and poultry museums of Europe.
“Loyl’s knowledge and contacts with breeders are unique,” said Ms. Molvik. “Everybody knew him and his books. Planning the tours was a pleasure. When I mentioned Loyl’s name, the response was always: ‘We are so happy you are letting us meet him! When do you arrive?’ Everywhere, we were greeted with open arms.”
He was inspired to write a book on the birds he saw. At the 1992 conference in Amsterdam, he met World Poultry Science Association president Dr. Yoshio Yamamoto, and five Russian poultry scientists, four of whom spoke perfect English. Noborou Suzuki of Japan and two Chinese poultry experts helped him cover poultry from their countries. “Poultry of the World,” published in 1996.
“Mr. Suzuki supplied the best pictures of breeds in Japan,” he said.
As he traveled the world, he acquired poultry souvenirs of every ethnic variation, expressed in every possible artistic medium: Silk embroidered Cochins from China, a black ebony carved chicken from Africa, glass chickens from Denmark. Although Loyl wasn’t interested in history as taught in school, he found himself fascinated with it as an adult.
“Teachers put so much emphasis on dates,” he said. “I’m interested on a whole other level.”
After seeing the Netherlands’ Poultry Museum in Amsterdam, he became determined that the U.S. should have its own museum to honor and preserve this significant part of our history. By 1994, the first building was dedicated, on the grounds of the National Agricultural Center and Hall of Fame in Bonner Springs, Kansas. Loyl and other poultry leaders, including Dr. John Skinner of the University of Wisconsin, donated machines and materials that reflect poultry history, such as bone crushers and an Oats Sprouter – two important poultry tools that heralded improvements in chick starter and poultry nutrition. Dr. John Salsbury and his family of Charles City, Iowa, have been generous supporters.
“He has done yeoman’s work on the poultry museum,” said Mr. Russell.
Examples of early incubators include the coal, oil and kerosene burners that preceded electrical incubators. The museum has a three-deck Jamesway incubator. The most popular of its vintage was the Old Trusty, which sold for $15 at the turn of the 20th century. In 1902, over 200,000 of these were exported from the U.S. to other countries.
“Loyl is an absolute diehard believer in poultry," said National Ag Center CEO Tim Daugherty. "It is his mission, his drive, to see this put together."
Loyl has also written “Sexing All Fowl: Baby Chicks, Game Birds and Cage Birds” (1977), “Swan Breeding and Management” (1986), “Caponizing, Modern Management and Profitable Marketing” (1980), “Exhibiting Poultry for Pleasure and Profit” (1978), “Pea Fowl Breeding and Management” (1985), and a book for his high school classmates, “Memories of the Class of 32: Where Did They Go, What Did They Do?” in 1979. In 1992, he compiled “Poultry Oddities, History and Folklore.”
Stromberg’s Chicks & Gamebirds Unlimited, www.strombergschickens.com, still offers over 200 breeds and varieties of birds, including chickens, wild and domestic waterfowl, turkeys, game birds including quail, pheasants and chukars, guinea fowl, peafowl, pigeons and doves. The business stopped hatching its own birds in 1962, and now relies on established, reputable suppliers across the Midwest. His son Loy and daughter-in-law Janet are now in charge of the business. Grandson Carl majored in poultry science at the University of Minnesota. He travels for a German firm, FarmerAutomatic, supplying large egg factory farms. Grandson Erin works for a financial company, Ameriprise.
Loyl’s long life has given him many opportunities to promote poultry, and poultry has blessed his life in return. His home is a living museum of art commemorating his career. Every piece has a story, and he tells them like the professional he is. I feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to hear some of those stories personally. Poultry lovers everywhere can be grateful that he has directed his energy and intelligence to our cause. He will be missed.