The Wonder Plow
I recently donated one of my great-grandfather’s horse-drawn plows, which is covered by two patents issued to him, to the Tennessee State Museum in Nashville. My great-grandfather, Archibald C. Morrison (1851-1937), was a Tipton County, Tennessee, blacksmith and inventor. Archibald was the son of Chestnut Peacock Morrison, a shoemaker who came to the U.S. with his family during the Irish potato famine. He later manufactured shoes for the Confederacy.
I have been comparing Archie’s plow (known locally as The Wonder Plow) with another horse-drawn plow of that era, a Lynchburg Kutter built in Virginia, advertised as being “lighter and stronger.” I guess Archie’s plow was lighter, mainly because it had a unique, open-beam design.
Archie’s plow beam is made of steel and has a unique design. It’s an open beam with a brace across the bend and a rudder for stability. It also has a coulter, as is typical of plows built from 1900-25.
Today, the Wonder Plow looks basically intact. I acquired appropriate handles and a shovel plow point from plow collector Harold Eddy at his fascinating museum in Slater, Missouri. Using the plowmaker’s anvil used by my great-grandfather in producing his “Wonder Plow,” I installed them on the plow beam.
The improved Wonder Plow
Archibald was granted a patent (no. 814,721) for his Wonder Plow in 1906. In 1925, he was granted a second patent (no. 1,548,734) for an improvement to the first invention. The improved design calls for a gauge and rudder element made of steel (measuring 1-1/8 inches wide by 1/4 inch thick) that can be fabricated and bolted onto the beam. The patent describes it:
“The device comprises a combined rudder and gauge, fashioned from a single piece of metal and including a shank, which is bent upon itself to form a double-walled gauge, the constituent members of which are in contact, the lower element of the gauge being twisted upon itself to form a depending rearwardly inclined rudder disposed substantially at right angles to the gauge and in a vertical position. The shank of the gauge and rudder is held adjustably on the standard by the bolt and the gauge and rudder may be raised and lowered, accordingly. The part limits the penetration of the plow point into the soil, and the rudder aids the plow in holding its course.”
At some point, I will produce a rudder for the plow. Recently I fabricated an aluminum guide to use in that process. It appears that the rudder was the result of Archibald’s intention for his plows to achieve a steady course. This was also the main purpose of the Wonder Plow Trucks that were produced by Archibald’s apparent in-laws in St. Clair, Michigan. Wonder Plow Co. went out of business in about 1911. Archibald’s rudder method was a simpler, and probably cheaper, solution.
I also have Archibald’s Hay-Budden Plowmaker’s anvil, which he used in the manufacture of these plows at his wagonmaker and blacksmith shop in Brighton, Tennessee. He was in business there from about 1875 until his death in 1937. His Hay-Budden anvil has a dropped face and appears to have been custom-made for use in bending the big angle in his plows. This is probably why the anvil and plow were always kept together in the family.
There probably was a family link between the blacksmith business owned by my great-grandfather in Brighton, Tennessee, and Wonder Plow Co., St. Clair, Michigan. Two Southern boys (Archibald’s brother-in-law, Thomas E.S. Cockrell, and Bryant Cockrell, Archibald’s nephew by marriage) probably went north to Detroit to become involved in the fast-growing automobile sector. They may also have participated in the manufacture of Wonder Plow trucks.
In St. Clair, the Cockrells apparently sold two well-heeled investors – one a St. Clair banker, the other a newspaper publisher – on the idea of establishing Wonder Plow Co. in St. Clair to produce the trucks. The two investors probably thought they were going to make a killing.
Wonder Plow Co. operated in St. Clair from 1902-1910. During that period, the company advertised for agents in several Northeastern and Midwestern states, even reaching as far west as California. In 1902, Wonder Plow paid a franchise fee for six years, but the business was gone by 1911. In 1908, the business was down to three employees. A year later, it was down to two.
Boon for the one-horse farmer
An ad for the Wonder Plow appeared in the Aug. 30, 1902, issue of the Rural New Yorker:
“Plowing made easy: After years of patient effort we have patented and built dual-wheel sets of devices which will provide a greater boon for the farmer than any invention of the age. By the use of our trucks, which are easily attached to any beam plow, new or old, a furrow uniform in width and depth can be secured. Mr. Sheaffer of Newfield, N.Y., writes: ‘It is remarkable how easy the truck does away with the hard labor of plowing.’ Also malleable iron. Also chilled steel. $5 a set. Agents wanted. Fast seller everywhere. Big money for workers. No charge for territory. Wonder Plow Company. 7 Factory St., St. Clair, Michigan.”
The trucks were produced on assignment using a patent (no. 700,541) granted to H.B. Murdock. Wonder Plow Co. also produced Wonder Plow trucks, “that could be fitted to any walking plow.” A woman who was plowing 100 acres with one horse offered a testimonial published in a 1908 issue of the Rural New Yorker:
“One-horse farming – It is doubtful that the large farmers will be interested in this question, yet I know how much it means to the woman who asked it: Is there space enough to attach Wonder plow trucks to the beam of the diamond-tooth weeder? I have the trucks but not the weeder, and I do not wish to purchase a tool such as the weeder kind unless I can use the trucks on it. I desire a scratching kind of a weeder that will be steady and go straight while I lead my horse with the bridle.
“I successfully attached them to an Acme and it was a success in keeping the cultivator steady and I can cultivate alone. With the right kind of a horse anyone can, but not with my kind of a horse, which is hard-bitted and also thinks she knows it all. I plowed 3 acres alone this spring with a one-horse plow and the trucks. It was corn stubble land and was the first time I ever did this work, and it was a good job too.
“I desire a fine-tooth weeder to use in seeding the corn and one that I can attach to the trucks, lead my horse and have the tool tend to business in a straight line and not vary and spoil the crop. It worked well on the Acme cultivator, but I want a spike tooth also, if I can use it alone. My mother and I are on a 100-acre farm and the help question is a serious one for us. The wages are such that it would take the roof from over our heads to hire, and the quality of work they do is of the poorest kind in every respect.”
The Rural New Yorker’s editor offered this response: “I presume you mean the tool that we call the diamond-tooth cultivator. It is shaped like other cultivators, with a wooden frame and fine spike teeth, flattened out at the end in diamond shape. In order to fit the plow trucks to it you would need to bolt on a piece of joist in front. With this I think the plow trucks would steady the cultivator so it would run quite straight.
“When seeding in corn, however, we find it necessary to follow with a hoe or iron rake and work the seed in around the hills. The plow trucks will steady the cultivator though it will dodge more or less from side to side if the handles are not held securely.
“While the large farmers are calling for gasoline-plowing outfits, hay loaders and all sorts of laborsaving devices, you will see that the one-horse farmers need help too. What a pity that the horse is like some men when it comes to doing useful work.”
End of an era
Thomas Cockrell must have died about the time Wonder Plow Co. went out of business. Thomas’ wife, Sallie (apparently a widow), shows up in the 1910 census for Cherokee County, Texas, as the wife of Robert R. Mitchell. He previously was the owner of Robert R. Mitchell Machinery Co., St. Clair. Bryant Cockrell’s daughter (Flossie) was a member of their household.
The plow industry was probably going through something similar to what the auto industry in the U.S. experienced at that time. During the launch of the automobile era, there were reportedly more than 30 automobile manufacturers trying to compete.
Widowed again (for the fourth time), Sallie Mitchell eventually shows up as having been buried in Brighton (Atoka), Tennessee, as does Bryant Cockrell – both in the same cemetery as Archibald C. Morrison. FC
Gary Gee Sr. lives in Owens Cross Roads, Alabama. Contact him at email@example.com; (256) 270-7670.
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