Its All Trew

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Left: Go-devils could be procured from implement dealers, like this P&O model, though more commonly they were homegrown.
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Above: Go-devils on the farm were often hand-crafted, cobbled-together cultivators.

Homegrown cultivators marked by farmer ingenuity

Early-day California oil field history tells
that when drillers reached the approximate depth of an oil or gas
formation, they cleared the hole of tools and cables. Next, they
lowered a package of nitroglycrerin to the bottom on a twine. Last,
they dropped a heavy object down the hole and ran for cover. This
impact set off the explosives and, it was hoped, fractured the
formation and allowed for the product to seep into the hole for
recovery. The heavy object was called a “go-devil.” In Texas oil
field history, the same heavy object was referred to as a

The only other go-devils I have seen are homemade crop
cultivators resembling a sled with heavy wooden runners. I have
found one manufactured go-devil. Made by the P&O Plow Co., it
was called a no. 18 lister cultivator. Old-time farmers tell me
local blacksmiths often made the complex parts, and the builder
furnished the rest, constructing the device himself. I would guess
this is true, as I have seen very few go-devils of similar
construction. Most units have been patched, mutated, wired
together, added to, spliced, repaired and changed so many times
they barely resemble the original model.

The sled runners measured 2 inches by 8 inches by 60 inches, and
stood on edge some 8 inches apart. Most builders attached strap
iron or buggy tires to the bottom edge for wear prevention. Angle
iron cross-pieces kept the runners in stable position. Heavy knives
some 3 feet long and 4 inches wide were attached to each outer side
of the runners at a 45-degree angle in a swept-back position.

A 1-square-inch tool bar was bolted to the rear of the runners
for attaching plow points, sweeps or gang-type discs. A frame above
held the operator’s seat, a lever for lifting the plows and a place
where the operator could brace his feet. To lift the plows when
making a turn at the end of a row, pull the lever back; to lower
the plows into the soil, push the lever forward.

The growing crop slid between the runners and under the
operator’s position. Small fenders on each side leveled the lister
ridge tops so that the big knives on each side traveled smoothly
beneath the lister ridges slicing the weed roots. The plows at the
rear killed weeds close to the crop, and the disc gangs pushed
loose dirt in against the plants, helping stabilize the roots and
protect against moisture loss.

Since the sled runners followed the lister furrow continuously,
and most teams of horses or mules learned the routine quickly,
there was little for the operator to do except pull or push the
handle at the ends of rows. As a result, this was usually the first
job most farm youngsters learned. It was dirty and hot work, but a
lot easier than chopping weeds with a garden hoe.

Wise old teams knew to walk the ridges, turn slowly at the end
and pick another row to plow. Most operators kept 4-foot-long
sticks in hand in case goat-head vines caught on the big knives. He
just jabbed the stick into the dirt ahead of the knife and the
wheels would ride to the end and drop off. If the land turned
sandy, he merely adjusted the hanging fender to hold back the loose
dirt. Why this device was called a go-devil, however, remains a

Delbert Trew is a freelance writer, retired rancher and
supervisor of the Devil’s Rope Museum in McLean, Texas. Contact him
at Trew Ranch, Box A, Alanreed, TX 79002; (806) 779-3164; e-mail:

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