The only time Dave Bromenshenkel ever drove a team of horses was when he was 6 years old. But that hasn’t stopped him from collecting horse-drawn implements. “I’ve never driven horses or done any work with them,” he says. “Dad had a team when I was real young, so the most I did was drive the team down the road when he was standing there with me.”
As a young man, Dave’s father used horses regularly, especially to haul manure during the winter. “He did that up into the 1950s,” he says. “He used horses to mow, too.” Some of that experience filtered down to Dave, who lives in rural Sauk Centre, Minn.
After graduating from high school, Dave collected gasoline engines until they became too expensive. Then he turned to tractors the family already owned and used on the farm, including an unstyled John Deere A and an unstyled John Deere B. “I started buying a few tractors and fixing them up,” he says, “and from there I went to the implements.”
His first love is John Deere, because his father and grandfather farmed with that line. “That got me interested in getting more, some of my own,” he says, “and it snowballed from there.” Today he has about 100 old implements, including a dozen that were horse-drawn.
Plowing new ground
Dave began by collecting 1- and 2-bottom plows and later started looking for mounted plows. “Those were the days you could get them for $15-30 each,” he says. “One time I got a whole semi load of them for $150. Nowadays you’d have to pay that much just for one of them.”
After getting a few old tractor implements, he decided he wanted some horse plows, especially those made by John Deere. “There were 2-way plows in our area, too, where you’d go down the field using the plow on one side, lift the bottom at the end, drop the other bottom and go back the same row using the plow on the other side,” he says. “The advantage was in keeping the soil in place when plowing terrace contours, or maybe with a small plot.”
Once he had a few plows, he turned his attention to horse-drawn mowers. Among his early pieces are an International Harvester and a Minnesota. The latter has a unique history that appeals to Dave. “The Minnesota is the third in a series of six made at prisons in St. Cloud and Stillwater,” Dave explains. Minnesota prison inmates once made a wide variety of equipment for the Minnesota line, including side rakes, gravity boxes, wagon running gears and more (for more on the Minnesota Thresher Co. and prison labor, see the Sam Moore’s piece in the April 2008 issue of Farm Collector, pages 14-15).
That whetted his appetite for John Deere mowers. After a little research, he found evidence of five horse-drawn John Deere mowers. John Deere’s first mower was manufactured by Dain Mfg. Co., Ottumwa, Iowa. Deere & Co. bought out Dain in 1910. Deere made four more horse-drawn mowers, numbered 1-4. No. 5 was the first tractor-drawn mower. Dave set to work searching for those machines in want ads and auctions.
The first Deere mower has a long operating handle, but Nos. 2-4 have a shorter handle, Dave notes, “probably because it had a little helper spring to help lift it at the end of a row.” Deere’s No. 1 and 2 mowers do not have hubcaps over their axles, but the No. 3 and 4 mowers do: large round hubcaps on the wheels indicate the mower number. Additionally, No. 4 is called the “Big Four,” because it has a 5-foot bar instead of the usual 4-foot bar, Dave says. The wheels on John Deere mowers have distinctive staggered lugs, like dashes of raised metal, coming in from each side and going halfway across.
Gears on many early mowers had to be oiled, so an oil can area was built into all brands of early mowers. Eventually the mowers ran in oil and no longer had to be oiled manually. There were no greasers at the time, Dave says. “The oil can was the biggest thing,” he says.
The New Ideal in Dave’s collection was made by Deering Harvester Co., Chicago. Other mowers he’s found include an Oliver, manufactured by Oliver Chilled Plow Works, South Bend, Ind.; Case-Osborne, made by J.I. Case Plow Works, Racine, Wis.; and the Milwaukee No. 6, made by Milwaukee (Wis.) Harvester Co. prior to its merger with four other companies to form International Harvester Co. in 1902.
“The unusual feature of this Milwaukee mower is that it is chain-driven instead of gear-driven,” Dave says. In American Farm Implements & Antiques, C.H. Wendel says that the roots of the Milwaukee Harvester Co. date to 1850, while the Milwaukee Harvester name first appeared in 1884. “Subsequent to the IHC merger, much of the Milwaukee line was phased out, with its factories being devoted to other manufacturing activities,” Wendel concludes.
Dave tracked down most of his horse-drawn implements during tractor-finding trips to North Dakota. “There was always room for two of them at the front of the lowboy (trailer),” he says, “with the tractors toward the rear.”
Cultivators add to collection
Two of Dave’s horse-drawn cultivators help point out some history. One is branded “IHC Deering,” the other as “McCormick-Deering.” The earliest Deering cultivator would have been manufactured by Deering Harvester Co., Chicago, and would have been marked “Deering.” After International Harvester Co. was formed by the merger of Deering Harvester Co. and McCormick Harvesting Machine Co. (among others), the company kept both the Deering name and the McCormick name on separate cultivators (and other equipment) but with the IHC logo. In 1923, the name was changed to McCormick-Deering.
Dave’s Deering cultivator used discs as hillers to mound earth around corn and potato plants. “I got it in North Dakota and that’s what the seller told me,” he says. “The discs angled toward each other at the bottom to bunch the dirt together.”
The driver had to adjust the cultivator as the horses pulled it down the row. “The horses would pull off a little to the left or right,” Dave says, “so the driver would have to adjust it with his feet to move the gangs of the cultivator a little bit.” Foot pedals did most of the work, as the gangs weren’t that hard to adjust while the machine was moving. “It took a little foot pressure, but it was set up with the fulcrum just right so the operator wouldn’t have to push real hard, because he wouldn’t be able to take it on his legs all day long,” Dave notes. “So he fine-tuned the cultivator as he went down the row.”
One of Dave’s 1-row cultivators belonged to his dad. “He and his sister did all the cultivating on the farm,” Dave says. Dave also has a John Deere 2-row cultivator. In American Farm Implements & Antiques, Wendel writes, “Especially on larger farms, the 2-row cultivator enjoyed a certain popularity. Conversely, many farmers preferred a single-row cultivator because they thought it would do a better job in eliminating every single weed in a field.”
Dave figures horse-drawn discs were low on the totem pole since most don’t even carry the company name. One of his is a 20-disc unit that could have been manufactured either by John Deere or IHC. “It isn’t marked, so I’m not sure,” Dave says, “although I lean toward John Deere.” The person familiar with a given manufacturer’s line can use parts numbers to identify some of the discs, Dave says. “They just weren’t important enough to put the manufacturer’s name on them, it appears.”
One of Dave’s unusual horse-drawn discs may have been partly homemade, as alternating discs in the implement have been removed and they didn’t come from the factory that way. “That wouldn’t be an easy job,” Dave says. “You’d have to take the halves of the disc itself apart, pull out the shaft that held the discs and take out every other one. Nowadays they’d probably do it with a torch.”
When Dave bought that disc he was told the discs were removed to enable use of the piece between rows of potatoes. “The openings with the missing discs would straddle the plants so they wouldn’t get injured,” he says, “and the discs would work the ground between the rows.”
Another of Dave’s discs has a pair of rock pans on it. To the uninitiated it might seem a good place to stow rocks that were uncovered while working in the field. In fact, the rock-filled pans effectively weighed down the disc, which Dave believes to have been manufactured by International Harvester. “Again, it’s hard to tell who made it, but it’s the only disc I’ve seen that has the rock pans, and I think they’re original,” he says. “The weight would hold the disc down on hard or lump ground.”
Markings on implement seats may appear to indicate the manufacturer’s identity. However, even that clue is unreliable because a cracked or broken seat was typically replaced by one stripped from another implement. “Most seats only had one bolt so there was a lot of pressure on them with all the lurching and jolting they went through. And some people put a bigger seat on because they needed it,” Dave says with a laugh. “Sometimes I wonder how much they rode. Maybe they walked behind the disc a lot.”
It’d be understandable if they took a break from walking. In the horse-farming days in his area, Dave says 160-acre farms were common. “But there was always a lot of pasture ground,” he says. “They only farmed the nicest and easiest ground, so 40 acres of small grain would be farmed, there’d be 30 acres in alfalfa and the rest was pastureland. Even so, with a 1- or 2-bottom plow or a little disc, it takes a while to work that land.” FC
For more information: Dave Bromenshenkel, 40197 County Rd. 183, Sauk Centre, MN 56378.
Bill Vossler is a freelance writer and author of several books on antique farm tractors and toys. Contact him at Box 372, 400 Caroline Ln., Rockville, MN 56569; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.