Bill Duncan might have become a Cockshutt collector — but collections don’t always proceed in a logical fashion. For Bill, who lives in Zanesville, Ohio, early experience with Cockshutt tractors served as a springboard into a fascination with the Ohio Cultivator line.
“My dad, Kenneth, worked at the Muskingum County Farm Bureau parts department when they sold and serviced CO-OP tractors,” he explains. “The CO-OP tractor was built by Cockshutt Farm Equipment Co., Brantford, Ontario, Canada.” After Kenneth started using Cockshutt tractors on the farm, Bill got interested in a Cockshutt subsidiary, Ohio Cultivator Co., which sold the Black Hawk planter and other Black Hawk products.
Farmer at heart
Although Bill worked in town for 36 years, he is a farmer at heart. “Farming is really what I like best,” he admits. “It started with Dad working for Farm Bureau when they were selling tractors. He also farmed about 100 acres and raised registered Angus cattle. My first toys were tractors Dad picked up from the local tractor dealer. I still have that original 1952 CO-OP Model E3 replica.”
Although Bill drove his first tractor (a Ford Ferguson) at age 5 or 6, his first real working experience on the tractor came later. “I remember Dad sending me out to the field on the tractor the first time,” he says. “I drove our CO-OP Model E2 tractor to cultivate corn. When the corn was really small, those were long, tiresome days sitting on the tractor, watching the corn pass below your seat through the cultivator.” As a teenager, he was an active member of Future Farmers of America. “I’ve always been connected to farming in some way,” he says, “and I love every bit of it.”
In addition to collecting Ohio Cultivator equipment, Bill also gathers up farm equipment signs, wrenches, cast iron seats, toolboxes, lamps, clocks, antique tractors and farm toy tractors. In 2009, he exhibited a winning 1:16 scale diorama at the National Farm Toy Show, Dyersville, Iowa.
Looking for the full Ohio Cultivator line
Ohio Cultivator Co. manufactured an extensive line of farm, lawn and garden equipment. Bill is quick to admit that he does not own everything made by the company, but his collection is extensive. “I’m working on getting as many pieces as I can,” he says. “I get a lot of enjoyment tracking them down.” Sometimes he doesn’t even have to track them down. “Dealers of old equipment know I like Ohio Cultivator things,” he says, “so they call to tell me when they have something special.”
Bill’s collection includes several rare pieces in very good condition, including a 1935 horse-drawn manure spreader. “The spreader is fully operational,” he says. “If you read through Ohio Cultivator literature, you’ll find the company’s claim of standing behind all their products, except their manure spreader. I’ll stand behind this one because it doesn’t get used.”
His 1-row, horse-drawn Black Hawk planter dating to the 1930s is another unique piece. “This gem was bought in parts but had never been used,” he says. The planter was designed for corn and cottonseed; it also has a fertilizer canister right behind the grain cylinder. Another nice piece is his pulverizer (or cultipacker). “It gets special care because it’s in excellent condition,” he says. The pulverizer sports Ohio Cultivator’s well-known moniker “Famous Ohio” — a name adopted when a competitor began producing equipment under the same model name as that produced by Ohio Cultivator.
Bill’s collection also includes Ohio Cultivator lawn and garden tools. “The company made a lot of yard and garden equipment,” he says. “Among my favorites is the convertible (or reversible) hand-held garden tiller. When used one way, it’s a 3-shovel cultivator. Roll the handles over and you have a single small plow-shovel.”
He even has several pieces of horse-drawn garden equipment, including a cultivator and a beet lifter, both in original condition. A horse-drawn ground-driven mower has a 5-foot sickle bar. “I keep the mower in working condition,” Bill says. “It comes in handy to make hay for our beef cattle.”
Growth through acquisition
The history of the Ohio Cultivator Co. spans nearly eight decades. In 1878, Harlow Case Stahl began making riding cultivators in Fremont, Ohio, initially operating as Fremont Agriculture and Cultivator Works. In 1885, Stahl relocated the company to Bellevue, Ohio, where it prospered and grew into a major manufacturing firm. In 1890, the company was renamed Ohio Cultivator Co. The Dayton Farm Implement Co. was acquired by Ohio Cultivator in 1896. Three years later, Stahl purchased the ailing Bellevue Plow Co.; in 1900, Ohio Hay Press Co. was added to the line.
Giving the company a significant boost, Ohio Cultivator’s most important acquisition may have come in 1905, when it bought Bissell Plow Co., South Bend, Ind., gaining the company’s machinery, equipment and patents. Another major addition to the Famous Ohio line was the purchase of D.M. Sechler Implement & Carriage Co., Moline, Ill., in 1923. Sechler manufactured the Black Hawk planters used for corn, beans, cotton, beets and peanuts, as well as drills for small grain. Between 1923 and 1927, Ohio Cultivator took on Non-Pariel Mfg. Co., originally located in Pennsylvania. That firm’s principle line was lime and fertilizer spreaders. Angell Plow Co., Plains, Kan., came into the fold at about the same time.
Double-disc drills and hay harvesting equipment were added to Ohio Cultivator’s line through procurement of Thomas Mfg. Co., Springfield, Ohio. Their products also included double-speed mowers, tractor and highway mowers, loaders, rakes and tedders.
A savvy and aggressive marketer, Stahl often accompanied trainloads of his equipment en route to customers in the Midwest and southwest, promoting his equipment at stops along the way. Festooned with banners and flags, the special trains were an enormous spectacle that guaranteed big crowds at every stop.
The Great Depression created formidable challenges, but Ohio Cultivator held on. In 1943, under new management, the company was sold to a cooperative and the line’s name was changed to National Farm Machinery Cooperative (NFMC). Working with three plants (including the Bellevue operation), the cooperative had 1 million members scattered across the U.S. Several Farm Bureau cooperatives, including those from Ohio, Michigan and Indiana, had a working arrangement with Cockshutt Farm Equipment Co. of Canada. These co-ops marketed tractors and equipment manufactured by Cockshutt.
In 1952, as the cooperative encountered financial troubles, Cockshutt acquired NFMC’s plants. By 1955, the Bellevue plant had been shuttered. It resumed operations for a brief time but eventually closed for good in 1957.
Ohio Cultivator Co. left an indelible impression on American agriculture through its progressive engineering and marketing. The company’s quality equipment served farmers well.
A hobby for a family
Bill is enthusiastic about his extensive hobby. “I am very fortunate to have so many people who have helped me along the way,” he says. “My late wife, Jean, supported and encouraged me in so many ways. She even won a 1956 Cockshutt Model 20 in a raffle. As you can imagine, that old tractor is a real favorite.” Bill’s son, Al, is also involved in his dad’s hobby, lending a hand with repair and maintenance work.
“With all my hobby interests, I have met more nice people than I can count,” Bill says, “and many have become great friends. I can’t say enough about the enjoyment I get from collecting.” FC
For more about the The Ohio Cultivator Co. read Legacy of Ohio Cultivator Co.
For more information on Bill's impressive collection: Bill Duncan, (740) 819-7883 after 8 p.m. EST.
Source: Stories of Old Bellevue: The Ohio Cultivator Story, Bill Oddo, Bellevue, Ohio.
Fred Hendricks owns SunShower Acres, Ltd., Bucyrus, Ohio, a dairy cattle consulting business. He is an avid farm toy collector and freelance writer. Email him at: email@example.com.