A little About Ohio Valley Agricultural Works

Spence's patent Pitts thresher and Spence's horse power

A hand drawn picture of threshing with a Spence's patent Pitts thresher and a Spence's horse power.


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Manufacturer of: Ralstons Separator and Cleaner, Common Threshers, Cutting Boxes, Pitts Patent Threshing Machine, Portable Steam Engines, Horse Powers.

(From information gathered here and there by Elmer L. Ritzman)

MR. L. SPENCE began manufacturing Agricultural Machinery in 1840. That was when 'Tilling the Soil' employed one half of the people in the United States.

Small Agricultural Factories were in nearly every community. Transportation was almost non-existent and the machines had to be made near where they were to be used. Every state had a multiplicity of manufacturing plants. Ohio led all the other states in the value of her products of that character. The good name of her plows, planters, reapers, mowers - but especially her threshing machines - has extended to all parts of the world.

Let us note that great was the opposition to all labor saving machinery in the 1840's by the laborers themselves, mainly because they thought they would be out of work. The owner had a fear that they would do their work imperfectly and be wasteful. As it turned out it was just the opposite more work for the laborer in the factories and more grain saved for the farmer.

Mr. L. Spence was a very successful builder of Farm Machines at Martin's Ferry, Ohio. Most of the machines of that day (1840-1890) were made of wood. Mr. Spence had an abundance of the finest timber at his very door. Coal and iron were in the immediate vicinity and obtained at the cheapest rates.

The Ralston double cleaner is described in this way-'After the grain is threshed and separated from the straw, it passed through a shoe and riddles operated on by a fan, and is freed from the chaff, then passed over a screen which takes out the cheat and cockle, after which it passed from this shoe to an elevator, and is carried up to another shoe, which is furnished with a fine riddle, and operated on by another fan which takes out all small pieces of sticks and weeds, etc. The riddle in this second shoe, being just coarse enough to admit the grain passing through and acts as a screen, taking the larger particles over the riddle to the tailing spout while the grain passing through the riddle is carried by a spout down the side of the machine to the grain box or measure.'

Two sizes of this style of machine are made. The six horse with 24 inch cylinder and 32 inch separator and 32 inch separator and carrier. The eight horse with 30 inch cylinder and 39 inch separator and carrier.

Not much description is given of the Pitts except to state the machine was wider than the cylinder. The riddle motion was faster than most machines which supposedly did a better cleaning job. They were made to run with a belt or geared power.

Mr. Spence also made portable steam engines -6, 8 and 10 horse power. The description of them says they are graceful and attractive. There is one shown on the preceding page. We shall give you the privilege of that statement. It is stated that the boiler is made of the best charcoal iron. Most of us know that these early boilers were good ones.

The above two pictures show a patch being installed on a Baker boiler. The patch was 28 inches wide by 99 inches long. As you can see the boiler now has two butt strap seams. This was done at the Solomon Boiler Works, Moberly, Missouri, and is the courtesy of L. D. Solomon. As most of you know they make new boilers and repair old ones. Boilers is their business and they do a good job.

(I wrote Mr. Emery C. Forman of Tacoma, Ohio, concerning the Spence history. Following is a part of his reply we thought would be of interest to you.)

'Regarding the Spence of Martin's Perry, this county, our old farm was some 12 miles east of Tacoma where one could see the smoke rolling off his vast plant at that time. He had a wonderful future ahead had he lived to see it, but he died. His younger generation wanted to see how quickly they could use it. So the outcome of a wonderful plant of a wonderfully honest man in workmanship and dealings ended.

'Back in 1879 or 80 he made his first portable engine. I well remember it. The first one to replace Horse Powers. The engineer neglected to tighten the set screw on the beam and weight used as a safety valve. Everything went fine until the pressure threw up the weight which flew off the beam where the steam escaped. Everybody run for their lives thinking it an explosion.

'I have quite a history of Spence concerning his start with building machines in Martin's Ferry in 1840 and building Threshers for the Pitt Bros., on royalty when

their plant was in Winthrop, Minn. If I am informed right I think Spence, who came from Switzerland, worked for Pitts before going to Martins Ferry. The Russells of Massilon, Ohio, had a similar contract with O. S. Kelly of Springfield, Ohio. The Chicago Pitts and H. H. Taylor of Aultman Taylor, who worked for Chicago Pitts, used Pitts Patents and, it seems to me, the Leader of Marion, Ohio. Then the last of the Pitts was the wonderful Buffalo Pitts Plant at Buffalo, N. Y.

'I believe it is on record that Pitts Bros, started a plant at Schenectady, N. Y., later taken over by Westinghouse.

'What a wonderful past all the Thresher Manufacturers had - confined mostly to nine states (Ohio had the most plants of any, thirteen or fourteen different makes).'