Preserving the Walking Plow
Harold Eddy displays his 1860s-era Gilpin (named for inventor Gilpin Moore) sulky plow. The sulky plow – a wheeled plow with one moldboard – gained market success in the 1870s.
It’s not uncommon to find one or two old walking plows in collections of antique farm equipment. But for Harold Eddy, vintage walking plows are the centerpiece of a collection that also includes antique wire fence and broom-making equipment, as well as vintage haying and corn harvesting machinery.
Over the last half-century, this retired farmer and real estate appraiser from Slater, Mo., has acquired nearly 125 different models of oxen- and horse-drawn walking plows, sulky plows, cultivator plows and lister plows. His collection includes early wooden moldboard plows, hillside plows, root cutters, a bluegrass plow, an ice plow and an early steel ditch puller. He has several sulky plows, including a two-way sulky, a one-handle plow, single- and double-wing shovel plows, sod plows and potato digger plows. He has plows made by Grand Detour, Chattanooga, Wiard, John Deere, Oliver, Avery, Eddy, Wood, Baker, Case and Eli, as well as unpatented plows forged by local blacksmiths. The collection also includes a large assortment of left-handed plows.
Harold, who displays many of his plows in the Mid-Missouri Antique Power Assn.’s permanent exhibit at the Saline County, Mo., fairgrounds in Marshall, Mo., says he acquired most of his plows at swap meets and auctions, sometimes from individual collectors. But at least one treasured plow was found buried in a Missouri field.
“Probably the first real good ‘keeper’ plow I found was when I was cleaning up an old place,” he explains. “I was chisel-plowing a field when I crossed an old ditch, and I jerked that plow out of the ground. The standard had been broken off and all that was left was the moldboard and the share, but I decided to save it. It sat beside my shop door for years, until one day I noticed some writing on it that identified it as a (Jethro) Wood patent plow. That’s when I rebuilt it, made wooden handles for it and added it to my collection.”
Harold acquired the oldest plow in his collection – a Carey wooden moldboard plow – from a Missouri collector. The plow features a flat wooden moldboard; its share and landside were crafted from a single piece of wrought iron. Carey plows were considered light and easier to handle. Origin of the Carey name is unknown; Harold believes the piece to have been made by a blacksmith in the late 1700s. He’s equally proud of his Dutch Colony wooden moldboard plow with a cast iron share that was brought to Missouri from North Carolina.
“In 1816, a fellow by the name of David Peeler and his wife came to Missouri from North Carolina in a covered wagon,” Harold says. “They claimed a place by a little old stream in Howard County and built a water mill to mill grain. The first year they lived in the wagon and then in the mill until they were able to build themselves a log cabin. Many years later, the fellow who bought the place from them found the plow stored in the loft of the cabin. When I learned about it, I tried to buy it, but it wasn’t until the fellow was about 94 years old that he decided to sell it to me. So I’m only the third owner of the plow.”
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.”
Other plows in the collection include a Baker plow made by blacksmith Ira Baker in Canton, Ill., in the 1830s. Held together with wooden pins, the plow features a cast iron upright, share and moldboard. Harold also owns “A” and “B” versions of the Malta gate-latch hillside plow manufactured by the Brown-Manly Plow Co., Malta, Ohio, featuring a Bessemer steel moldboard. An early predecessor to the hillside plow, the piece dates to the early 1800s.
The Malta plow features a hook that could be attached to either the right or left side of the moldboard, allowing the user to switch the plow direction at the start of a new furrow. The “A” version referred to a one-horse plow, the “B” version to a two-horse plow.
Harold bought the bluegrass plow in his collection at a farm auction in Jefferson City, Mo. “This plow was made to cut strips of bluegrass about 2-1/2 to 3 inches thick, and when it hit the fingers, they shook the dirt loose,” he says. “The farmers would turn the strip roots side up so it could dry, and then come back and plow it under. I replaced all the wood, but the metal parts are all cast iron, and I’d guess it goes back to the 1820s or ’30s.”
One plow in Harold’s collection has never been used. It’s a cast-iron Oliver plow with the manufacturer’s wrench still attached. “My daughter bought it at a sale down in southwest Missouri,” Harold says. “There’s one broken part on it that probably broke when it was shipped from the factory. Rather than ship it back, they just stored it in the loft of an old store.” FC
For more information: Vintage plows, wire fence and broom-making equipment, haying equipment and other farm implements will be on display at the the Mid-Missouri Antique Power Show, Saline County Fairgrounds, Marshall, Mo., Oct. 14-15. Contact Harold Eddy, 26780 Thompson Lane, Slater, MO 65349; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jerry Schleicher is a country humorist and cowboy poet. He grew up on a crop and cattle operation in western Nebraska, and now lives in Missouri. Contact him at 8515 Lakeview Dr., Parkville, MO 64152; e-mail: email@example.com.