First restoration project a winner
Parke Miller with his restored Union corn planter
Fourteen-year-old Parke Miller went in search of a 4-H project and came home with an 1870s Union two-row corn planter badly in need of repair. Now, he has a museum-quality planter, and he's on the lookout for a vintage plow to restore as well.
Parke, now 15, and his parents, Brad and Monica Miller, of Williamsburg, Iowa, purchased the Union planter in August 2000 at an auction near Norway, Iowa.
'There were three of us bidding,' Parke says, 'and after the bidding was all done, it cost us $210.'
They took the planter home, photographed it from every angle 'so we could put it back together easier' - and started to research its history.
'We found out it was made by James Selby and Co. out of Peoria, Ill., and dated to the mid- to late-1800s.'
Parke researched over the Internet and checked a reference book on antique tractors. 'The search on the Internet was not a lot of help,' he recalled. 'There were more offers of people wanting to buy it than those who knew anything about it.'
But an Illinois seat collector who wanted pictures of Parke's planter's original round, wooden seat suggested he contact the Peoria Historical Society, which proved very helpful. Also, the Peoria Public Library offered to contact an agricultural historian, who shared what he knew about James Selby & Co.
In the end, Parke discovered that hundreds of two-row corn planters were made in the mid- to late-1800s. Each was slightly different from the next, and because so many were made and it was so long ago, finding information today is not an easy task.
James Selby & Co., he learned, operated in the Peoria area until 1886, when Selby retired. After that, his firm was renamed the Union Corn Planter Company, and in 1904, renamed again, to the Union Corn Planter Works, which it was called until it closed in 1920.
In his research, Parke also discovered corn was planted first by hand. The field was marked to get straight rows, and then the farmer walked the fields, planting seeds by hand. 'This took a long time, and people were always looking for ways to improve the planting,' he said. 'During the 1840s, planters were beginning to be made that were pulled by a single horse.'
Two-row planters like his Union first appeared about 1865. 'It took a man on the back seat (handling the horses) and a young boy in the front to operate it; the boy would use the handle to move the plates inside the planter boxes, which would drop a seed into the ground.. This was thought of as extreme, to have two people running a corn planter, so they weren't around for very long.
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