Agricultural Artifacts: Alemites to Zerks

Mastering the ABCs of agricultural artifacts.

| February 2007

In the world of agricultural artifacts, the letter A is most definitely not for apple unless it has something to do with vintage orchard equipment, and the letter B is very likely not for balloon, although more than one vintage children's alphabet book makes just those connections. Advisors of agrarian antiques would likely select different words to aid their students' learning experiences. The letter A might be better represented with the word 'antique.' Better yet, this alphabet might begin with an antiquated word for something small we all know and love, or love to hate when clogged up - like the grease fitting.


Even in days of old, lubricating rotating shafts and bearings was considered good practice, but when it came to delivering petroleum-based grease to sliding surfaces, it took effort to push the sticky lubricant into place. Some manufacturers used screw-plunger-type grease cups to send lube into bushings and bearings, but the Alemite Co. innovated with the world's first pin- and button-type fittings that temporarily sealed to matched couplings on the end of pressurized grease guns. Those early grease fittings are now called Alemites.


If you restrict your study of old implements to simply looking, you will see many examples of things that are broken. For example, an engine might have a broken crankshaft although some would say the crank was 'busted.' If you are a collector and actually own that broken old engine, there is every possibility you will break something else while taking it apart to fix the crank and you'll likely bust a few knuckles in the process. And since that engine is really a rare one, you might also go broke trying to find or make the parts needed to put it all back together again.


Most tractors sold into the late 1930s were delivered with steel wheels front and back. Astute farmers of the '40s recognized the advantages of rubber tires and cut the creased or crumpled steel bands off their tractor's wheels, replacing them with rims designed specifically for pneumatic tread. Since many of those conversions were cobbled or have long since succumbed to the ravages of corrosion, today's correct restorations are completed so the tractors will once again clatter.


In the early 1930s, a West Islip, N.Y., entrepreneur invented the quarter-turn quick-acting and self-locking fastener most students of old iron mistakenly call the Zeus screw. But the king of Greek mythology had nothing to do with it: The piece was named for its inventor, William Dzus. Dzus fasteners were sometimes used to fasten engine compartment side panels and other sheet metal parts in place. No matter how dinged or damaged a piece of tinwork is, if its Dzus fasteners are intact, don't destroy it.


No matter how excellent an old machine might be, when you take it apart, you will likely break a bolt and need to extract it. Once a trade name, the term easyout and its variations are now used generically to describe hardened-steel, spiral-fluted tools screwed into a hole bored in a broken bolt's center and turned with a wrench to extract it. Exercise extreme care: If you break the easyout in the bolt, there is no easy out.