The Fate-Root-Heath Co.: Not Just Silver Kings

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Advertisement from the 1920 Farm Implement News Buyers' Guide.
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Catalog art depicting a farmer using the Little Giant grinder. From the Fate-Root-Heath Co. catalog, circa 1920.
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The Little Giant corn shelter and attachments from a 1920s Fate-Root-Heath Co. catalog.

In the March issue of Farm Collector was a letter from Bryan McKillip asking about a hand-cranked corn sheller he recently bought.

Bryan wrote that the sheller was built by the Root & Heath Mfg. Co. of Plymouth, Ohio, and asked for information about the firm and its products.

Root Brothers Co.

The Root Brothers Co. was founded by Clayton F. and George A. Root in Medina, Ohio, to manufacture and sell such items as shoe repair kits and horse harness. The business grew and ran out of space at the Medina facility. The Root brothers were buying castings from a foundry in Plymouth, a small town in north central Ohio, and heard of a two-story brick building that was standing empty near the foundry. The village of Plymouth offered the building to the Root brothers as an inducement to move their operation to Plymouth.

George A. Root opted not to make the move, selling his share to Charles E. Heath, who had married Clayton Root’s daughter. The move was made in 1895, and in 1904, the Root Brothers Co. became the Root-Heath Mfg. Co., and began building hardware items such as corn shelters, grist mills and lawn mower sharpening machines, in addition to the cobbler’s tools.

J.D. Fate Co.

The J.D. Fate Co. built machinery for the clay tile and brick making-business, and was located in Plymouth. In 1909, owners Harley and Harry Fate organized the Plymouth Motor Truck Co. to build Plymouth trucks from 1/2-ton to 3-ton capacity, as well as Plymouth observation cars, or buses, in sizes from 9 to 20 passengers. Plymouth trucks and buses were powered by 4-cylinder Wisconsin engines, and used a double-friction type transmission, with a roller chain drive to each rear wheel.

In 1910, a touring car bearing the Plymouth name was built, using the same drive line as the trucks. The big car was driven to New York City, and then south to Atlantic City, where it broke down and was sent back to Plymouth by rail. Although it was a failure, that single Plymouth car would be important to the company’s future.

The Bigelow Clay Co. of New London, Ohio, used mules to pull mine cars around its property. The owner was weary of the trouble and expense of the stubborn beasts, and asked the Fate people if they could build a gasoline-powered substitute. Fate engineers designed a small rail engine using the same motor and transmission as the Plymouth trucks.

The little engine was successful, and in 1912, the J.D. Fate Co. began building small gasoline-powered yard locomotives, a product that became so popular that the truck and bus line was dropped in 1915, after less than 200 had been built.

Combining forces as Fate-Root-Heath Co.

John A. Root then married a sister of the Fate boys, and in 1919, the companies were married as well, resulting in the Fate-Root-Heath Co.

After the merger, the company embarked on an extensive building expansion program that included a 300 hp gas engine to provide power for the plant. The industrial locomotive line was enlarged, and models up to 120 tons were built. The F-R-H ceramic machinery, used by pottery, artware, electrical insulator and brick and tile indus tries, was quite successful until the widespread use of plastics cut deeply into this business. Ideal and Peerless sharpening machines for reel-type lawn mowers were another important product until rotary mowers became popular.

Staying afloat during hard times

The firm prospered during the “Roaring ’20s,” but fell on hard times when demand for locomotives dropped off during the Great Depression. General manager Charles Heath decided that a good way to keep the factory operating was to build a small, light-weight tractor for farms of 60 acres or less, most of which still used a team of horses for power.

The new tractor was introduced in 1933, and had a Hercules engine, and optional steel wheels. The little Plymouth tractor weighed 2,100 pounds, could pull a 14-inch one-bottom plow, and was painted silver with blue wheels. The word “Plymouth” was prominently cast into the vertical divider down the center of the V-shaped radiator.

Plymouth name dispute prompts adoption of Silver King

Not long after the Plymouth tractor appeared, Chrysler-Plymouth dealers started getting people in their show rooms wanting to buy a tractor. Walter Chrysler’s legal department swung into action, claiming ownership of the Plymouth name, which they had used on their low priced cars since 1928.

That is when the broken-down car finally earned its keep. It proved that Fate-Root-Heath had built a Plymouth car long before the Chrysler Corp. was even a gleam in Chrysler’s eye.

However, F-R-H sold the rights to the Plymouth name to Chrysler (reportedly for about $1) and cast about for a new name for their tractor. Because of the silver color, and because F-R-H felt its machine was “the king” of tractors, “Silver King” became the new name cast into the radiator divider.

F-R-H’s other enterprises

Now, back to corn shellers. A catalog issued by the Fate-Root-Heath Co. shortly after the 1919 merger lists four hand corn shellers.

The top of the line was the R-H model, which was finished in red and gold, and had a capacity of 14 to 16 bushels per hour. (I’m sure these advertised capacities had much more to do with the strength of the farmer’s back and arm than with the design of the machine.) Next was the black-painted Neverfail that could shell 10 to 14 bushels each hour. Both shellers were available with or without a butting and tipping attachment.

Less expensive, and lighter duty models, were the Little Giant and the Gem shellers, both of which were advertised as being capable of eight bushels per hour. A popcorn attachment was available for the Gem, while the Little Giant could be equipped with the popcorn and the butting-and-tipping attachments. No colors are listed in the catalog for the these two shellers.

All the shellers had provisions for mounting on the edge of a wooden box or barrel. The shelled corn fell into the container, while the cobs were dropped outside.

Robert Rauhauser, a keen collector of corn items, told me that at some time, F-R-H also sold a hand sheller called the Plymouth Rock, but these are seldom seen. According to Mr. Rauhauser’s collection of Farm Implement News Buyers’ Guides, F-R-H stopped selling corn shellers about 1924.

If Mr. McKillip’s sheller bears only the Root and Heath names, it was probably made between 1904 and 1919. At some time around 1913, the firm apparently was named the Heath Foundry & Mfg. Co., so that name could appear on some shellers.

If Fate is part of the name, the machine was made between 1919 and 1924. It sounds as though Mr. McKillip has the start of a nice collection, but he really needs to start looking for the rest of the F-R-H shellers. One is never enough! FC

Read Bryan McKillip’s letter to Farm Collector: “Need some help on details on the Root & Heath sheller.”
Ever since his days as a boy on a farm in western Pennsylvania, Sam Moore has been interested in tractors, trucks, and machinery. Now a resident of Salem, Ohio, he collects antique tractors, implements and related items.
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