The name "Old Trusty" was hatched in 1901 as M.M. Johnson of Clay Center, NE was searching for an appropriate trademark for his newly designed incubator. Johnson contended that "a new incubator, or one with radical changes, should have a different name, even if it was made by the same old company."
Following the success of the "SureHatch Incubator" in 1898 and Johnson's subsequent sell-out to business partners in 1901, several hundred incubators were sold under the trademark "Johnson's Best". Johnson however found the name "flavored of braggadocio" and enlisted family and friends to help him select a more suitable name for the new and improved incubator. Several names were discussed but none proved satisfactory. Johnson's wife believed that "the name would answer every purpose if they could get people to look at what the incubator did instead of the name." About that time in the discussion, the Johnson's Great Dane dog TRUSTY, "came around the corner with a wag of the tail". Mrs. Johnson's face glowed as she proclaimed, "let's call the incubator OLD TRUSTY! We have an incubator that stands on its record and the name OLD TRUSTY is appropriate."
The Johnsons' dog, a full blooded Great Dane, imported from Germany just the year before was, in reality, Trusty number two. The Johnsons' previous dog, also called Trusty, was a St. Bernard of moderate size. The trademark for the new incubator featured a St. Bernard dog in his honor.
One of Clay County's most prominent citizens, M.M. Johnson, was one of our most innovative and enterprising residents as well. During his early adulthood, Johnson went wherever he could find work. He worked in the mining, milling and railway industries as well as farming throughout the states of Iowa, Missouri and Colorado.
In 1884, Johnson was summoned by old friends, the Orr brothers (formerly of Johnson's hometown of Sheridan, Missouri) to help with the construction and operation of a new steam powered mill in Clay Center, Nebraska. The rest, as they say, is history.
Following Johnson's death in 1912, his eldest son H.H. Johnson took command of the incubator empire. By 1924 over 1 million incubators had been made.
Over the years the business further expanded and diversified the family's holdings to include one of the earliest radio stations in the state, KMMJ (with call letters derived from the initials of the senior Johnson) which went on the air on November 30, 1925. With programming "geared to the families of agricultural communities" the station became widely known for its popular entertainment features. Among the most notable KMMJ entertainers were Jimmy Atkins, Robert Taylor and Lawrence Welk. Through the radio station airwaves were advertised a great variety of products bearing the OLD TRUSTY name. In addition to incubators and brooders, products such as coffee, gasoline, paints, varnishes and a variety of poultry products were offered.
In 1936 the M.M. Johnson Company, licensee of KMMJ, was acquired by the Town and Farm Company and in January 1939 the studios of KMMJ were relocated to Grand Island, NE, bringing to a close over four decades of familiar OLD TRUSTY enterprises in Clay Center.
In June 1977, the Clay County Historical Society obtained an agreement with the City of Clay Center for acquistion of the old KMMJ building site and on July 19, 1979 ground breaking ceremonies were held to begin construction of the Clay County Museum. Appropriately, the museum's Grand Opening on May 25, 1980 was marked with a live, remote broadcast by radio station KMMJ. On September 10 and 11, 1983 the Clay County Historical Society initiated the First Annual OLD TRUSTY Antique Engine and Collectors Show as a fundraising event for the continued growth and prosperity of the Museum as well as a means of increasing awareness of Clay County's important past.