When Christopher Hodges and
his dad, Franklin, unloaded a 5,000-pound antique at their farm east of Fair Grove, Mo.,
they were very happy; they’d almost lost the piece twice — not off of the
trailer on the way home, but while haggling with two previous owners.
Franklin had first seen the old Adams Road King pull-type grader
sitting beside a scrap-yard in Lebanon,
Mo., 40 miles northeast of Fair
Grove, with “For Sale” painted on its rusty frame. He stopped and asked the
price. Thinking the figure was too high, he offered $200 less, but the owner
The next time Franklin drove by, the
pull-type grader was nowhere in sight. “My heart went thump,” he recalls. A
week or two later while checking Craigslist on the Internet, he found a photo
of a grader that looked exactly like the one he’d passed up in Lebanon.
“Over the phone,” Franklin says, “the owner
wouldn’t tell me if it was the same grader or not. He wanted $400 more than the
first guy. So I passed it up again. I was sorry because I really wanted that
Two weeks later Franklin’s phone rang,
and it was the man who’d posted the grader on Craigslist. After admitting that
the grader was in fact the one Franklin had seen
in Lebanon, the caller told Franklin that he just
wanted to break even on the piece. With no further squabbling, the deal was
was not going to let the grader slip away a third time.
Old iron as a draw
In between truck driving
jobs two years ago, Franklin
came up with the idea of having a swap meet on his farm. Every Saturday all
summer long, he and Christopher hosted anyone who wanted to buy, sell or trade
anything legal. For added entertainment, a group of garden tractor enthusiasts
set up a pulling track. That was the beginning of the Fair Grove Swap Meet at Hodges Horseshoe
Center, but they weren’t
getting the traffic they wanted.
“We needed something to get
people to stop,” Franklin
explains. “So, when Christopher got an old plow thrown into a deal on some used
farm machinery, I put it down by the highway as a display. That gave me the
idea of asking the historical society (Fair Grove Historical & Preservation
Society) to loan us some of their old horse-drawn equipment, things they didn’t
have room for in their machinery museum. I didn’t care what kind of condition
it was in.”
Since then Franklin and
Christopher have lined their fencerows along Missouri state Highway 125 with about 100
pieces of old farm equipment. But the Adams
grader — much larger than more common sulky plows, hay rakes or sickle mowers —
occupies a place of honor at the swap meet’s entrance.
Franklin is quick to tell visitors that none of the old
equipment is for sale. “Some folks argue with me about that, but then I say
it’s just here to talk about,” he says. “I could sit for hours and listen to an
old-timer tell what those machines used to accomplish with a team of horses or mules
Like his dad before him,
Christopher has lived on the farm east of Fair Grove (population 1,393) all of
his life. As a single parent, Franklin
is proud that everyone in town knows his 19-year-old son is a hard worker.
In April 2012, as chaplain
of the Fair Grove Future Farmers of America (FFA) chapter, Christopher was
recognized as an area recipient of the Star of Agribusiness award at the state
FFA Convention. At that time, he had a small herd of beef cattle, operated a custom
hay business and sold used farm machinery on the farm. Later, as a student at Ozarks Technical
Community College in Springfield, Mo.,
he studied diesel mechanics. Today he works out of his grandfather’s blacksmith
shop. “Old Web” Hodges, a 25-year veteran of the U.S. Navy and a survivor of
the Pearl Harbor attack who died before Christopher was born, would be glad to
know that there is still an expert welder on the place.
When he was a young man, Franklin made his living
as a “junker.” Today, however, he and Christopher preserve the kinds of things
he once helped to destroy. Searching online, Franklin buys anything within reason and
close to home. The pair’s purpose is to save old machinery from the junkyard,
just as members of the Fair Grove Historical & Preservation Society have
done since the 1970s.
Restoring a relic
Christopher decided that the
leaning-wheel Adams Road King would make a good FFA project. He said he knew
that, after it was finished, his “would be the only nice-looking grader around.”
From Equipment Echoes magazine he learned that Joseph D. Adams started
his company in Indianapolis
after inventing the first successful leaning-wheel pull-type grader in 1885.
Its adjustable wheels counteracted the side-force produced by the grader’s angled
blade. The Road King series was manufactured between 1896 and the 1930s. In
1928, the company began making self-propelled (motorized) graders and soon
eliminated the production of pull-type graders. The company remained in
operation until 1961.
After Christopher pulled the
Road King to Fair
School’s ag shop, his teacher, Matt Crutcher, and
fellow students were surprised by similarities between the nearly 100-year-old
antique and modern earth-moving equipment. The biggest difference was that the
8-foot blade and leaning wheels (30 inches in front and 36 inches in back) had
to be adjusted mechanically instead of with hydraulics.
In a week and four days (and
long nights), the restoration was finished. Sparkling with a freshly painted
dark emerald green frame and bright red wheels, the Adams Road King was pulled
in the Fair Grove Heritage Reunion’s 35th annual parade in September 2012. It
will also be displayed at HorseFest, March 22-24, 2013, at the Ozark Empire
Fairgrounds, Springfield, Mo.
Franklin and Christopher
will hold their first-ever Fair Grove Spring Fever Festival, April 27-28, 2013.
The line-up includes plowing with mules, horses and antique tractors, and the
Hodges’ will demonstrate grading with their 100-year-old Road King and a recently
purchased 10,550-pound 1934 Caterpillar pull-grader with a 12-foot blade. FC
For information on the Adams Road King or
the Fair Grove Spring Fever Festival, contact Franklin Hodges at (417) 343-0183
or Christopher Hodges at (417) 343-5679.
For more about pull-type graders, read Early Road Construction with Pull-Type Graders.
Dan Manning is the miller at the historic Wommack Mill
in Fair Grove, Mo.
He works with photographer Ron McGinnis.