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Plowmaker to the World

Experience in the furrow paid off for James Oliver

| January 2009

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    A vintage photo of an Oliver No. 11 sulky plow doing good work plowing down high weeds. The No. 11 sulky plow remained in the Oliver line-up from about 1910 into the 1940s.
  • moore_JamesOliver
    James Oliver, the man who started it all.
  • moore_catalogdetail
    Detail from the cover of a 1923 Oliver catalog.
  • moore_OliverplowFLIP
    Bill Begg, Bluffton, Ohio, plows hard, dry ground with an Oliver No. 11 sulky at the 2008 Ohio State Plowing Contest. Bill’s team consists of two Haflingers and a Belgian.
    Photo by Sam Moore.

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  • moore_JamesOliver
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  • moore_OliverplowFLIP

Most Farm Collector readers have heard of Oliver farm equipment and many will agree Oliver plows were among the best on the market during the last half of the 19th and the first half of the 20th centuries.

Not too many, however, know much about James Oliver, the Scotsman who started the Oliver Chilled Plow Works.

James Oliver was born Aug. 28, 1823, in Roxburyshire, Scotland, the youngest of eight (two girls and six boys). His father was a shepherd on a big estate and was dirt poor. In 1830, James’ oldest brother immigrated to America, where he got a job paying $1 a day, a sum unheard of back in Scotland. Soon the next two Olivers, a boy and a girl, followed their brother to America and also found gainful employment.

The elder Oliver was content to be nothing more than a lowly shepherd, but Mrs. Oliver insisted the rest of the family make the journey to America. The oldest three children sent money to pay off debts for the trip and in 1834 the rest of the family boarded a sailing ship for America.

After a rough passage in which everyone was seasick, the ship’s passengers reached New York. The Oliver family went up the Hudson to Albany on a steamboat, rode the railroad to Schenectady and took the Erie Canal to Geneva, where their brothers and sister awaited them.

A story is told of James, who was unfamiliar with American food. There was no Indian corn (or maize) in Scotland, where wheat was then called “corn.” The first time young James was served corn on the cob, he thought it was a new way of cooking beans. After cleaning the “beans” off the cob, he asked to have it refilled.

Sam Moore
3/24/2012 7:13:42 PM

Joe, check out the archives of the Looking Back blog for February, 2010 and you'll find the story of the Fordson screw drive snow vehicle.

3/5/2012 5:03:57 PM

Great single place to find information on different items,thanks jw PS: iam trying to find info on Fordson screw drive snowcat and snow machine tested by Henery Ford


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