When Christopher Hodges and his dad, Franklin, unloaded a 5,000-pound antique at their farm east of Fair Grove, Mo., they were very happy; they’d almost lost the piece twice — not off of the trailer on the way home, but while haggling with two previous owners.
Franklin had first seen the old Adams Road King pull-type grader sitting beside a scrap-yard in Lebanon, Mo., 40 miles northeast of Fair Grove, with “For Sale” painted on its rusty frame. He stopped and asked the price. Thinking the figure was too high, he offered $200 less, but the owner wouldn’t budge.
The next time Franklin drove by, the pull-type grader was nowhere in sight. “My heart went thump,” he recalls. A week or two later while checking Craigslist on the Internet, he found a photo of a grader that looked exactly like the one he’d passed up in Lebanon.
“Over the phone,” Franklin says, “the owner wouldn’t tell me if it was the same grader or not. He wanted $400 more than the first guy. So I passed it up again. I was sorry because I really wanted that old grader.”
Two weeks later Franklin’s phone rang, and it was the man who’d posted the grader on Craigslist. After admitting that the grader was in fact the one Franklin had seen in Lebanon, the caller told Franklin that he just wanted to break even on the piece. With no further squabbling, the deal was done. Franklin was not going to let the grader slip away a third time.
Old iron as a draw
In between truck driving jobs two years ago, Franklin came up with the idea of having a swap meet on his farm. Every Saturday all summer long, he and Christopher hosted anyone who wanted to buy, sell or trade anything legal. For added entertainment, a group of garden tractor enthusiasts set up a pulling track. That was the beginning of the Fair Grove Swap Meet at Hodges Horseshoe Bend Entertainment Center, but they weren’t getting the traffic they wanted.
“We needed something to get people to stop,” Franklin explains. “So, when Christopher got an old plow thrown into a deal on some used farm machinery, I put it down by the highway as a display. That gave me the idea of asking the historical society (Fair Grove Historical & Preservation Society) to loan us some of their old horse-drawn equipment, things they didn’t have room for in their machinery museum. I didn’t care what kind of condition it was in.”
Since then Franklin and Christopher have lined their fencerows along Missouri state Highway 125 with about 100 pieces of old farm equipment. But the Adams grader — much larger than more common sulky plows, hay rakes or sickle mowers — occupies a place of honor at the swap meet’s entrance.
Franklin is quick to tell visitors that none of the old equipment is for sale. “Some folks argue with me about that, but then I say it’s just here to talk about,” he says. “I could sit for hours and listen to an old-timer tell what those machines used to accomplish with a team of horses or mules pulling them.”
Like his dad before him, Christopher has lived on the farm east of Fair Grove (population 1,393) all of his life. As a single parent, Franklin is proud that everyone in town knows his 19-year-old son is a hard worker.
In April 2012, as chaplain of the Fair Grove Future Farmers of America (FFA) chapter, Christopher was recognized as an area recipient of the Star of Agribusiness award at the state FFA Convention. At that time, he had a small herd of beef cattle, operated a custom hay business and sold used farm machinery on the farm. Later, as a student at Ozarks Technical Community College in Springfield, Mo., he studied diesel mechanics. Today he works out of his grandfather’s blacksmith shop. “Old Web” Hodges, a 25-year veteran of the U.S. Navy and a survivor of the Pearl Harbor attack who died before Christopher was born, would be glad to know that there is still an expert welder on the place.
When he was a young man, Franklin made his living as a “junker.” Today, however, he and Christopher preserve the kinds of things he once helped to destroy. Searching online, Franklin buys anything within reason and close to home. The pair’s purpose is to save old machinery from the junkyard, just as members of the Fair Grove Historical & Preservation Society have done since the 1970s.
Restoring a relic
Christopher decided that the leaning-wheel Adams Road King would make a good FFA project. He said he knew that, after it was finished, his “would be the only nice-looking grader around.” From Equipment Echoes magazine he learned that Joseph D. Adams started his company in Indianapolis after inventing the first successful leaning-wheel pull-type grader in 1885. Its adjustable wheels counteracted the side-force produced by the grader’s angled blade. The Road King series was manufactured between 1896 and the 1930s. In 1928, the company began making self-propelled (motorized) graders and soon eliminated the production of pull-type graders. The company remained in operation until 1961.
After Christopher pulled the Road King to Fair Grove High School’s ag shop, his teacher, Matt Crutcher, and fellow students were surprised by similarities between the nearly 100-year-old antique and modern earth-moving equipment. The biggest difference was that the 8-foot blade and leaning wheels (30 inches in front and 36 inches in back) had to be adjusted mechanically instead of with hydraulics.
In a week and four days (and long nights), the restoration was finished. Sparkling with a freshly painted dark emerald green frame and bright red wheels, the Adams Road King was pulled in the Fair Grove Heritage Reunion’s 35th annual parade in September 2012. It will also be displayed at HorseFest, March 22-24, 2013, at the Ozark Empire Fairgrounds, Springfield, Mo.
Franklin and Christopher will hold their first-ever Fair Grove Spring Fever Festival, April 27-28, 2013. The line-up includes plowing with mules, horses and antique tractors, and the Hodges’ will demonstrate grading with their 100-year-old Road King and a recently purchased 10,550-pound 1934 Caterpillar pull-grader with a 12-foot blade. FC
For information on the Adams Road King or the Fair Grove Spring Fever Festival, contact Franklin Hodges at (417) 343-0183 or Christopher Hodges at (417) 343-5679.
For more about pull-type graders, read Early Road Construction with Pull-Type Graders.