Honoring an Heirloom

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by Loretta Sorensen
Josiah Wriedt with his great-grandfather’s New Century Leverless cultivator. Josiah recently completed full restoration of the family heirloom.

Family history captured Josiah Wriedt’s attention at the tender age of 10, when he completed a 4-H project about unique experiences and world events connected to his grandparents and great-grandparents.

Now, at age 17, Josiah has resurrected a New Century cultivator his great-grandfather once used on the family’s Nebraska farm. His restoration process included researching company history, locating photos to help assess what parts of the cultivator were missing, and digging deep to identify original colors and striping design.

Rescued by his father, Jim, some 15 years ago, the cultivator has been tucked away on the Wriedts’ Norfolk, Nebraska, farm until spring 2019. “We have two of these cultivators,” Josiah says. “My great-great-grandfather had one, too. We took parts of Great-Great-Grandpa’s to help restore the other one.”

Josiah’s earliest recollection of seeing the cultivators on his family’s property goes back to early childhood, when he climbed up on the implements, took his place in the seat, and imagined driving a team of horses to cultivate a crop. When his school, Elkhorn Valley Schools at Tilden, implemented its first Future Farmers of America organization in the fall of 2018, Josiah’s thoughts turned to how he might boost interest in his school’s FFA group, FFA in general and agriculture.

“I was involved in 4-H for 10 years,” Josiah says. “When FFA became an option, I was ready to do something different.

Since I have always loved history and family history is important to me, I was looking for a way to tie it in with FFA.”

‘The most popular cultivator in the corn belt’

Once his goal to restore one of the family cultivators was clear, Josiah and his dad examined the cultivators to see if they could determine the brand. That information would help them locate images online and zero in on what they needed for parts and paint colors.

After intensive research, Josiah came across an article (in the Farm Collector archives at www.farmcollector.com) about New Century Leverless cultivators. He and his dad carefully compared what they saw in their cultivators with what they found in the article.

The information and accompanying images confirmed that both Wriedt cultivators are Roderick Lean New Century Original Leverless models. The implements, equipped with wooden handles so farmers could either walk or ride behind a team of horses, have no levers and no springs so they’re “always in balance,” advertisements explain.

“The most popular cultivator in the corn belt,” one advertisement reads. “Regarded by hundreds of dealers as the most successful feature of their implement business. The New Century is the easiest-handled, lightest draft and most accurate single-row riding cultivator in the market. The New Century agent gets the cultivator business in his vicinity.”

4-H projects provides a solid skill set

The next step in Josiah’s plan was to dismantle his great-grandfather’s cultivator so parts could be sanded and painted. Some nuts and bolts broke apart during this process. As many as possible were salvaged.

“I marked every piece so I knew where it belonged when it was time to put it back together,” Josiah says. “Square-headed nuts and bolts were commonly used in the late 1800s and early 1900s. They’re difficult to find now because hex heads are more common.”

In past 4-H projects, Josiah had learned to design, blacksmith, and create steel products, such as a napkin holder (featuring a weight to hold napkins in place), a paper towel holder, and a boot rack. He used those skills to make a doubletree hook, a hook for the seat frame, and a hook for the evener. He cut, heated, and shaped the pieces from a steel post. He located a retailer who could order square-head nuts and bolts he needed to maintain the cultivator’s authenticity.

“In getting the parts ready for painting, I found some original paint on the wheels,” Josiah says. “The traces of paint I found were green, which matched the description of the cultivator that I found in my research. Since I have woodworking skills and it was cheaper to make my own handle and tongue, I created those, too.”

To determine the shape and size of the handles, Josiah located another cultivator stored at his local fairgrounds, measured its handles, and traced their shape. They were cut from a 2-inch-by-8-inch-by-60-inch board. The tongue was shaped from a 4-inch-by-4-inch-by-10-foot square post.

Drilling in deep to determine original colors

Once the cultivator parts were sanded, Josiah spray-painted them according to the color description he’d found, suspending wet pieces from a clothesline to dry. He outlined his assembly process so that he began with one of the gangs, which he lined up and bolted together. The seat was then mounted on its frame, the doubletree and evener were assembled and the single tree was attached to the tongue. After mounting the handles, Josiah attached the seat and its fame to the gang frame and adjusted the seat chain.

Historic documents revealed that New Century cultivators were red with gold striping. The wheels, seat support, single trees and part of the draft hardware were green. The seat and lifting handle ends were black, and the shovels were blue.

“For the striping, I started by attempting to tape off the stripe area and paint it,” Josiah says. “That didn’t work well so I sanded it off and used yellow electrical tape sealed with a clear coat paint finish.”

Once Roderick Lean Co. merged with three other entities, the wheels, seat, and beam were painted yellow. The frame, wooden handles, and tongue were red. Beams and hitch parts were painted green and the shovels remained blue. Lettering on the implement was done in black.

Learning about the manufacturer

In order to display his project at Nebraska’s Madison County Fair, Josiah had to document each phase of his project. The manual he produced to hold the photos and written information about the project also included the history he uncovered.

“My research showed that Roderick Lean founded the Roderick Lean Co. in 1870,” Josiah says. “He manufactured tillage implements, and this leverless cultivator was the first of its kind.”

Roderick Lean also produced a steel spike-tooth harrow at his Mansfield, Ohio, plant. Lean’s company was hired in the early 1920s to produce plows for Harry Ferguson to be used with the Fordson wheel tractor of that time. In 1930, Lean’s company joined with the Vulcan Plow Co., Peoria Drill & Seeder Co., and Hayes Pump & Planter Co. to form Farm Tools, Inc. Each of the four companies operated as a division of the corporation. It is believed that Farm Tools Inc. remained in operation at least into the 1940s.

Advertisements of the day promoted the cultivator as having “exceptional penetration, easy control, accurate cultivation and pivot wheels (that gave a) quick, wide dodge.” It was also touted to have “all the advantages of light draft, (with) simple, strong construction.”

The cultivator’s balance feature meant that the wheels could be adjusted to better manage the operator’s weight and size. Cultivator gangs were thereby counter-balanced with the operator’s weight by adjusting chains on the implements lifting rods. Different seat beam holes accommodated more precise adjustment.

The unusual project requires a special judge

Brandon Grosserode, Josiah’s FFA advisor, was impressed and pleased with Josiah’s work. He believes his FFA group is likely to have a better understanding of ag history as a result of Josiah’s project. He also believes FFA students will gain an appreciation of the inventiveness demonstrated by yesterday’s farmers and implement designers.

“A lot of innovative thought went into this project,” Brandon says. “Josiah improved his public speaking skills and had an opportunity to interact with local media and demonstrated a lot of initiative by following through with all his plans. He’s done a phenomenal job.”

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Beyond FFA, Josiah has garnered plenty of attention with his project. A special judge was called in to evaluate his work because the project was so unusual. Both family members and local organizations like Extension and County Fair Board members have responded enthusiastically to his work.

Josiah’s parents, Jim and Michelle, are fully delighted with Josiah’s determination to help preserve family history and heirlooms. “He did a family history project for 4-H when he was just 10,” Jim says. “That really cemented his interest in our family history and general history.”

The second cultivator will be set up as “yard art” and Josiah will be searching for his next restoration project.

“I’ll tie it in with FFA, because both restoration and promoting agriculture are important to me,” Josiah says. “I’m happy that so many people are enjoying this project. I think my grandfathers would be pleased with it, too.” FC

For more information, contact Josiah at wriedtj@yahoo.com.

Loretta Sorensen is a lifelong resident of southeast South Dakota. She and her husband farm with Belgian draft horses and collect vintage farm equipment. Email her at sorensenlms@gmail.com.

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