Preserving the Walking Plow
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Harold says he replaced the wooden moldboard on the plow after he acquired it. “The moldboard is 1-3/8-inch thick and I had to find old wood just the right thickness to replace it,” he says. “I ended up using the manger board out of my dad’s old barn. I steamed the wood to give it the proper bend, but ended up breaking the wood three or four times before I tried soaking it first, before I steamed it. Then I was able to get the right bend in the wood.”
Missouri was the western edge of the frontier up through the mid-1800s, and many of the 350,000 pioneers who left Missouri in wagon trains between 1841 and 1866 carried a plow in their wagons. One of those plows, a Parlin & Orendorff Co. 4-rod plow, was returned to Missouri to reside in Harold’s collection.
“Some years ago, an old fellow from Washington state happened to pull into our fairgrounds,” Harold explains. “When he saw my display of old plows, he asked me, ‘Where’s your rod plow?’ When I told him I didn’t have one, he said if he ever got back our way, he’d bring me one. Back in the 1930s, he’d pulled a P&O rod plow out of the Columbia River after a big flood. He figured it had been aboard a covered wagon that upset while they were trying to ford the Columbia, and had been laying in the river ever since the 1870s.”
William Parlin began manufacturing steel plows in Canton, Ill., in 1842. After his brother-in-law, William Orendorff, joined the company, it was renamed Parlin & Orendorff. In the following decades, P&O would become the nation’s largest plow manufacturer, producing more than 1,400 sizes and styles of farm implements. They included both a 3-rod plow called a “junior” and a 4-rod “senior” plow. By setting a gauge on the plow, homesteaders could cut sod to the desired thickness to build a sod home, as well as use the versatile plow to till their fields.
In nearby Lexington, Mo., Harold found a Champion-brand sod cutter, made by Layne & Co. in Ardmore, Pa. It features two rollers under it to set depth, cutters on the side to cut sod into strips, and a cutter underneath to free sod from the earth. Pulled by a team of two horses, the sod cutter provided settlers with the materials needed to build a soddy.
Harold’s collection also includes an Eddy plow manufactured in Albany, N.Y., in the 1830s. He says Waldon Eddy, a distant relative, formed Eddy Plow Co. in the early 1830s, sharing a cabin with plow maker Jethro Wood (believed to be the first builder to introduce interchangeable parts in his plows) until it burned down. In 1835, Eddy formed a partnership with Dyer, and after that they produced Eddy & Dyer plows. Eddy Plow Works continued in operation well into the 20th century in what is now Greenwich, N.Y.
“I saw a picture of an Eddy plow in a magazine and wrote to ask if any were available for sale,” Harold recalls. “About two years later I got a call from a fellow who told me one had been advertised at a sale back in New York. So I sent him a check and made arrangements to have it shipped here to Missouri.”