Book Helps Answer Horse Drawn Plow Mysteries
Leslie C. McManus
The New Burch plow, made in Crestline, Ohio, about 1912.
The collector of horse drawn plows faces a problem familiar to collectors of all antiquities: finding an old plow is much easier than finding information about the plow. Alan C. King's new book, Horse Drawn Plow: 63 Manufacturers and 220 Types and Styles of Plows, goes a long way toward easing that problem.
King, however, readily admits that his book will not solve every collector's puzzle. Advertising materials are practically the only source of information on the old horse drawn plows, but early manufacturers devoted little of their advertising budget to the lowly plow.
"I would have liked to put more plows in the book," he says, "but there's really very few ads for plows. When it comes to advertising, plows tend to be orphans."
In production, the horse drawn plow was once as common as the dandelion.
"The book includes 63 manufacturers," King says. "But there were probably four times that number. There were just so many 'small town' companies that did no advertising, so there were no illustrations to get."
The smaller companies also were less likely to emblazon their product with a corporate image.
"I have a few of those 'small town' plows," he says, "and they don't have any name or numbers or identifying marks on them."
The "big boys," though, are well represented in King's book, which includes more than 100 pages of carefully reproduced advertisements and sales brochures. Those included range from Deere to Oliver, Massey-Harris to Rock Island, with a broad representation of less common names tossed in for good measure.
The book also illustrates the way in which manufacturers scrambled to create markets. More than 220 different types and styles of plows are shown, including sulky plows, walking plows, gang plows, contractor's plows, ice plows, goober plows, vineyard plows, potato diggers, beet lifters and brush breakers. The breadth of King's book suggests that, in the early years of this century, only the most remote and inhabitable corners of this country escaped cultivation of some form.
But time marches on. At the close of that same century, the number of farmers with a working knowledge of horse drawn plows is shrinking daily. King's book is an invaluable resource in that regard, for the old advertising materials contain more than fine old engravings. In addition to flowery promotional claims, unconditional guarantees and fervent testimonials, many include detailed text explaining operation and maintenance.
From a Bucher & Gibbs promotional piece: "When you have determined the depth you wish to plow, see that your clevis is set to give the point of the plow sufficient down draft. This will put all of the weight onto the wheels, instead of dragging the plow like a sled or dead weight in the bottom of the furrow."
King also delves in to the history of the plow. He begins with what must have been the biblical era, when nothing more sophisticated than sharpened sticks were used to break up the soil. He traces the evolution of the plow through early Egyptian and Roman eras; the Middle Ages, when the Dutch made significant enhancements; and the impact of the American Revolution and westward migration. FC