Let's Talk Rusty Iron

The Story Behind the Letters

| October 2005

Parlin & Orendorff triumphed over early challenges

Many Rusty Iron enthusiasts probably know why most of the part numbers on International Harvester plows begin with the letters "PO." However, just in case some don't, here's the story of the Parlin & Orendorff Co. of Canton, Ill.

William Parlin was born in 1817, in Acton, Mass., where he apparently learned the blacksmith trade. Typical of many restless young men of the day, Parlin drifted west, ending up in St. Louis. There, he blacksmithed for a year but didn't seem to do very well. Leaving St. Louis, Parlin traveled by boat up the Mississippi and Illinois rivers and, in 1840, appeared in Canton after walking the 10 miles from the landing. Legend has it that the young blacksmith had nothing with him but three hammers, a leather apron, and 25 cents in cash. He promptly went to work in Robert Culton's blacksmith shop and soon was made a full partner.

Culton apparently was already making a plow with a wooden moldboard and iron share when Parlin went to work for him. Later plows had wooden moldboards covered with iron plates, although some also had moldboards made of boilerplate. In 1842, Parlin made some with steel shares, mold-boards and landsides that local farmers found very satisfactory.

In 1845, William Parlin married Caroline Orendorff and the happy couple ultimately became the parents of four children: Artemus, William, Clara and Alice.

The demand for Parlin's plows grew and soon extra help was required. In 1846, a small foundry was added. About that time, Parlin, wanting to work on his own, left Culton and built a shop and foundry of his own. During the winter of 1847, Parlin's factory was destroyed by fire and he went back to Culton's shop, now run by Culton's son, John. After a short while, Parlin bought out Culton and may have formed a partnership with Thompson Maple, who, according to one account, ran the firm's office and provided capital. Another account claims Parlin conducted the business alone.

In any event, in 1852, Parlin took on his brother-in-law, William Orendorff, as partner. This combination seemed to work and Orendorff became sales manager, while Parlin concentrated on the manufacturing side of the business. The factory was upgraded by replacing the horsepower that had been used to run the machinery with a steam engine. The Canton Clipper walking plow was introduced and became quite popular. During the years before the Civil War the firm began making other implements as well, such as walking cultivators, shovel plows and stalk cutters.