History of the Fresno Scraper

Digging irrigation ditches to thirsty fields with the Fresno Scraper


| January 2002



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J. Porteous' Dirt Scraper

A letter written by Ivan L. Pfalser of Caney, Kan., appeared in the October 2001 issue of Farm Collector magazine, inquiring about how the Fresno scraper got its name. Here's some history on that scraper:

The city of Fresno lies about 200 miles north of Los Angeles in California's lush San Joaquin Valley. Pioneers in Fresno County during the 1870s realized they needed to irrigate in order to unlock the great fertility of the land. There was plenty of water in the San Joaquin River, but many ditches were needed to divert that water to the thirsty fields.

To dig the ditches, the pioneers first used a crude and inefficient wooden tool known as a buck scraper, which was pulled by mules.

By the early 1880s, a Fresno wagon shop owner named James Porteous improved on the original buck scraper design. Born in 1848 in Haddington, Scotland, Porteous was the son of a wheelwright and blacksmith. In 1873, he immigrated to the United States, moving to Fresno and establishing his shop. Originally named the Fresno Agricultural Works, it is now known as the Fresno Ag Hardware. It became the largest agricultural implement business in the valley and today is the oldest continuously operated business in Fresno.

Porteous, credited with more than 2,000 patents, received Patent No. 261,759 for his 'Dirt Scraper' on July 25, 1882. The device had a front board that measured 8 feet wide by 2 feet high, with a steel cutting edge along the bottom and short end boards. There was a tailboard upon which the operator stood, which forced the cutting edge into the ground.

To haul the dirt, the front board was folded back flat by means of a lever, and the load was held in place by the end boards, although it looks as though a lot of the load would have fallen off.