Early-Day Sickle Bar Grinders Salvaged
Collector closing in on complete set of sickle bar grinders
Two sickle bar grinders from the collection of Gailey Henderson, Williamstown, W. Va. The first grinder was patented in 1859 by David Hinman, Berea, Ohio. By the turn of the century, Gailey says 60 patents had been filed for sickle bar grinders.
Gailey Henderson is a man on a mission. He's closing in on a complete set of the farm memorabilia he collects. For some, the search for the final six or so pieces would become a, uh, grind. But for the collector known as "the Grinder Man," the hunt continues to be a lark.
Gailey, who lives in Williamstown, W.Va., collects sickle bar grinders once used to sharpen the bar on horse-drawn mowing equipment.
"I have 50 altogether," he says, "and I know of at least six more that I don't have."
His oldest piece was made before the turn of the century. The grinder's heyday was from roughly 1900 to 1940.
"When electric side grinders came in," he says, "these went out of fashion real fast."
His collection started as the result of a chance question from a friend 13 years ago.
"I was at a show in Jacksonville, W.Va.," he says. "I had engines on display there. We were out looking around, and a friend of mine picked up a grinder and asked me 'Do you know what this is?'
"'Sure I do,' I told him, 'because my dad used to wear out my arm cranking one.'"
The grinder was a simple piece of equipment. The most notable development in its evolution was a change from chain drive to gear drive. At least one had a reservoir for water to cool the stone while grinding. Otherwise, the key component was plain old elbow grease, Gailey says.
"It took probably a half hour of cranking to sharpen a blade," he recalls.
His collection does, however, show the progress of casting technology.
"The older ones have curved spokes," he says. "They couldn't cast a straight spoke in a gear until 1910. Before then, if they made a straight spoke, as it cooled, it cracked. But the curved spoke had some 'give' in it."
In 13 years, he's seen his collection grow to numbers he never expected.
"When I started collecting, I thought there might be a dozen different grinders," he says. "If there'd only been a dozen, I'd have quit years ago. But this old stuff is a good investment."