A little About Ohio Valley Agricultural Works

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A hand drawn picture of threshing with a Spence's patent Pitts thresher and a Spence's horse power.
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The L. Spence portable engine made at Martin's Ferry, Ohio. They ceased business at an early day as far as our dates of threshers are concerned.
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Manufacturer of: Ralstons Separator and Cleaner, Common
Threshers, Cutting Boxes, Pitts Patent Threshing Machine, Portable
Steam Engines, Horse Powers.

(From information gathered here and there by Elmer L.

MR. L. SPENCE began manufacturing Agricultural Machinery in
1840. That was when ‘Tilling the Soil’ employed one half of
the people in the United States.

Small Agricultural Factories were in nearly every community.
Transportation was almost non-existent and the machines had to be
made near where they were to be used. Every state had a
multiplicity of manufacturing plants. Ohio led all the other states
in the value of her products of that character. The good name of
her plows, planters, reapers, mowers – but especially her threshing
machines – has extended to all parts of the world.

Let us note that great was the opposition to all labor saving
machinery in the 1840’s by the laborers themselves, mainly
because they thought they would be out of work. The owner had a
fear that they would do their work imperfectly and be wasteful. As
it turned out it was just the opposite more work for the laborer in
the factories and more grain saved for the farmer.

Mr. L. Spence was a very successful builder of Farm Machines at
Martin’s Ferry, Ohio. Most of the machines of that day
(1840-1890) were made of wood. Mr. Spence had an abundance of the
finest timber at his very door. Coal and iron were in the immediate
vicinity and obtained at the cheapest rates.

The Ralston double cleaner is described in this way-‘After
the grain is threshed and separated from the straw, it passed
through a shoe and riddles operated on by a fan, and is freed from
the chaff, then passed over a screen which takes out the cheat and
cockle, after which it passed from this shoe to an elevator, and is
carried up to another shoe, which is furnished with a fine riddle,
and operated on by another fan which takes out all small pieces of
sticks and weeds, etc. The riddle in this second shoe, being just
coarse enough to admit the grain passing through and acts as a
screen, taking the larger particles over the riddle to the tailing
spout while the grain passing through the riddle is carried by a
spout down the side of the machine to the grain box or

Two sizes of this style of machine are made. The six horse with
24 inch cylinder and 32 inch separator and 32 inch separator and
carrier. The eight horse with 30 inch cylinder and 39 inch
separator and carrier.

Not much description is given of the Pitts except to state the
machine was wider than the cylinder. The riddle motion was faster
than most machines which supposedly did a better cleaning job. They
were made to run with a belt or geared power.

Mr. Spence also made portable steam engines -6, 8 and 10 horse
power. The description of them says they are graceful and
attractive. There is one shown on the preceding page. We shall give
you the privilege of that statement. It is stated that the boiler
is made of the best charcoal iron. Most of us know that these early
boilers were good ones.

The above two pictures show a patch being installed on a Baker
boiler. The patch was 28 inches wide by 99 inches long. As you can
see the boiler now has two butt strap seams. This was done at the
Solomon Boiler Works, Moberly, Missouri, and is the courtesy of L.
D. Solomon. As most of you know they make new boilers and repair
old ones. Boilers is their business and they do a good job.

(I wrote Mr. Emery C. Forman of Tacoma, Ohio, concerning the
Spence history. Following is a part of his reply we thought would
be of interest to you.)

‘Regarding the Spence of Martin’s Perry, this county,
our old farm was some 12 miles east of Tacoma where one could see
the smoke rolling off his vast plant at that time. He had a
wonderful future ahead had he lived to see it, but he died. His
younger generation wanted to see how quickly they could use it. So
the outcome of a wonderful plant of a wonderfully honest man in
workmanship and dealings ended.

‘Back in 1879 or 80 he made his first portable engine. I
well remember it. The first one to replace Horse Powers. The
engineer neglected to tighten the set screw on the beam and weight
used as a safety valve. Everything went fine until the pressure
threw up the weight which flew off the beam where the steam
escaped. Everybody run for their lives thinking it an

‘I have quite a history of Spence concerning his start with
building machines in Martin’s Ferry in 1840 and building
Threshers for the Pitt Bros., on royalty when

their plant was in Winthrop, Minn. If I am informed right I
think Spence, who came from Switzerland, worked for Pitts before
going to Martins Ferry. The Russells of Massilon, Ohio, had a
similar contract with O. S. Kelly of Springfield, Ohio. The Chicago
Pitts and H. H. Taylor of Aultman Taylor, who worked for Chicago
Pitts, used Pitts Patents and, it seems to me, the Leader of
Marion, Ohio. Then the last of the Pitts was the wonderful Buffalo
Pitts Plant at Buffalo, N. Y.

‘I believe it is on record that Pitts Bros, started a plant
at Schenectady, N. Y., later taken over by Westinghouse.

‘What a wonderful past all the Thresher Manufacturers had –
confined mostly to nine states (Ohio had the most plants of any,
thirteen or fourteen different makes).’

Farm Collector Magazine
Farm Collector Magazine
Dedicated to the Preservation of Vintage Farm Equipment