The Nostalgia of Plowing
Plows appeal to collectors, possibly more than any other implement. The reason may lie in the sights and sounds of a freshly plowed field, or in childhood memories of increased responsibility.
Walking plow pulled with a Farmall Mule tractor
Most former farm kids remember vividly the smell of freshly turned dirt as it cascaded off a plow's moldboards. And it was a special occasion when a youngster was first offered the reins or a steering wheel to operate the plow.
'I started plowing 37 years ago, when I was eight years old, and I still remember it like it was last week,' states David Wolfe, who owns twenty-plus old plows and a nearly equal amount of antique tractors to pull them.
The plow is a simple tool that's taken millennia to evolve, observes old-farm journalist Cecil Darnell of Mason, Mich. The plow is an extension of man that allows him to turn sod into workable dirt. It's a spiritual thing, Darnell suggests.
Perhaps collectors are fascinated by plows because they are the first step, or make the greatest change. Regardless, all generations of farmers who have tilled the soil and planted seeds are bound together by memories of their use.
There's something to remember about every part of the plow's action. A steady cutting/tearing accompanies other sounds as the moldboards slice through the soil. There is the jingle of the tug chains, leather rubbing leather, horses' hooves hitting the ground in a steady pattern, a grunt from a horse, a word or sound from the teamster behind. The teamster places one foot ahead of the other, both hands grasping the plow handles, his callused fingers refusing to release them.
All become one as the green rolls beneath the black, Darnell says. The team, plow and driver are a single entity as they cross the field, leaving a bed for new life, as thousands have done before them.
Probably the most famous plow was made and sold by John Deere. It was a one-bottom walking plow that did a fine job of scouring the Illinois prairie. Deere built 100,000 wooden beam models, including the general purpose style, then switched to a steel beam model.
In 1875, Deere introduced the two-wheel, one-bottom Gilpin sulky riding plow. Walking plows still ruled the countryside, though, outselling the rider design. In the mid-1880s, sulky and walking plows were all made available by Deere. Even disk and two-way versions began to make their mark. (In fact, Deere and Company sold its 'MP' General Purpose walking plows until as late as 1942, so the plow you own may not be as old as you think!) As tractors became more and more widely adopted, plows became tractor drawn, multi-bottomed moldboard or disk styles.
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