Arnold Johnson of Estelline, S.D., inquired in the May 2002 issue of Farm Collector about New Century corn cultivators, inspiring this column. New Century traces its roots to a company called Farm Tools, Inc., formed in 1930, in the wake of the stock market crash.
Many farm implement manufacturers failed during the severe economic downturn that followed World War I and that by 1921 had become a full-fledged depression. Those who survived that debacle barely had recovered by October 1929, when the stock market crashed. To weather the harsh business conditions, many companies merged. Among them were four short-line farm equipment manufacturers: Vulcan Plow Company, Hayes Pump & Planter Co., Peoria Drill & Seeder Co. and Roderick Lean Co. The four firms formed Farm Tools, Inc., with offices in Mansfield, Ohio.
The moving force behind Farm Tools was the Vulcan Plow Co., of Evansville, Ind. Established in 1874, Vulcan made walking, riding and tractor plows, in addition to stalk cutters and pulverizers. Around 1900, Vulcan purchased the South Bend (Ind.) Chilled Plow Co., allowing the company to claim, “In the Vulcan Line can be found a plow for every purpose and the most up-to-date and satisfactory of its kind in the field.”
Fifty years before the merger, the Hayes Pump & Planter Co. of Galva, Ill., had achieved prominence for its two-and four-wheel corn planters. The easily recognizable Hayes four-wheel planter had two wheels on each side set at an angle to each other, thus “… duplicating the action of a pair of skillful human hands,” in covering the seed corn.
The Peoria (Ill.) Drill & Seeder Co. built a full line of grain drills, seeders and fertilizer spreaders under the names ‘Illinois’ and ‘Peoria.’ It is unclear just when the firm was established, but it was selling the Illinois grain drill in 1903. The Illinois and Peoria products were popular in the Midwest, and according to one advertisement, Peoria was “… the largest and oldest manufacturer of this type of farm equipment.”
The Roderick Lean Co. of Mansfield, Ohio, was the oldest of the four firms. Company lore had it that “Roderick Lean, with the aid of only a hand forge, in a tiny one-room shop, laboriously forged out the first all-steel spike tooth harrow in America.” Lean took off from there, and by 1930, his company was making spike and spring tooth harrows, horse and tractor disc harrows, roller-pulverizers (cultipackers), harrow carts, tractor field cultivators, revolving scrapers, weeders and horse-drawn cultivators.
In the 1935 Farm Tools catalog, the Roderick Lean cultivator line included the New Century No. 12 walking cultivator and the No. 7 pivot-axle riding cultivator, both two-horse, one-row machines. Also listed was the New Century No. 3 leverless one-row riding cultivator and the New Century No. 9 two-row cultivator. The New Century cultivator had been in the Roderick Lean line since the start of the 20th century, and one-row cultivators were much more plentiful than their two-row counterparts.
The catalog describes the Roderick Lean New Century No. 3 leverless cultivator as being “… without a doubt the most popular cultivator ever designed. Farmers everywhere need the simple, easy-operating New Century leverless cultivator. On level or rough ground, in hard soil or sod, in crooked rows, in cross plowing – for every cultivating purpose, the ‘New Century’ will do the work easier, more thoroughly and with better results than any other cultivator.”
Under a photograph of two straw-hatted boys, each on a horse-drawn cultivator in a field of foot-high corn, the caption reads: “Any lad can handle the ‘New Century’ and do a man’s work without strain.”
The New Century leverless is a ‘balance cultivator,’ which means the wheels can be set forward for a light operator or back for a heavy one, until the operator’s weight exactly balances the pole. The cultivator gangs then must be counter-balanced with the operator’s weight by moving the chains on the lifting rods forward or backward in the holes in front of the gang beams. There are also two seat beam holes to help with this adjustment. The ads claimed that “Adjustments are provided for all builds and weights from 75 to 275 pounds – you can even turn the seat beams over for an exceptionally long-legged operator.”
The operator steered the gangs with feet stirrups, to cultivate close to the plants or to quickly move the shovels in to take out weeds between hills or to dodge out-of-place hills. The gangs were easily raised, either individually to clear trash or together at the row’s end, by easing off the foot stirrups and then lifting up on one or both of the wooden handles. A hook was provided for each gang to hold it up for transport.
Before the merger, the Roderick Lean Co. painted the New Century cultivator red with gold striping. The wheels, seat support, single trees and some of the draft hardware were green. The seat and the lifting handle ends appear black, and the shovels were blue. The Farm Tools catalog doesn’t show a color picture of a cultivator, but it does have a hand-colored illustration of a Roderick Lean disk harrow. The disk had a yellow seat, seat support and fore-truck wheels. The disk gang supported weight boxes and the hitch parts were green. The frame and levers were red, and the disk blades were dark blue.
It’s difficult to decipher colors from the black-and-white catalog picture, but I’d probably paint the cultivator red and green if I thought the machine was built prior to the merger.
If there’s any hint of yellow, the cultivator was built after the merger, and in that case, I’d probably paint the wheels, seat and seat beam yellow, the frame, wooden handles and tongue red, the beams and hitch parts green, and the shovels blue. The lettering is black.
Farm Tools, Inc., survived the Depression and made and marketed its four lines of equipment until at least World War II. After the war, Vulcan made a mounted plow for the Silver King tractor, and Charlie Wendel indicates in his Encyclopedia of American Farm Equipment that Ford Motor Co. may have acquired the Peoria drill line in the early 1950s.
Sam Moore became interested in agricultural machinery while growing up on a farm in western Pennsylvania. He now lives in Salem, Ohio, and collects antique tractors, implements and related items.