Oliver Smith Kelly

By Staff
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The O. S. Kelly Side Feeder. It was surely a new departure in the feeding: idea. How popular it was we have no idea. I never heard anyone who used them make any comments. Maybe some of you who have used it will write us an article on it.

‘When I was a boy six or seven years old, which was about
seventy-one or seventy-two years ago, the farmers of the country
raised small crops of wheat each year say five to ten to twelve
acres on each farm. This was about all the wheat that was raised
and the land being strong and new, the wheat grew very rank and
most generally was down and lodged when it was harvested. It was
usually cut by sickles or ‘reap-hooks’. Half a dozen
farmers would go together and would join one day and cut one
man’s crop by means of the old sickle. The next day they would
go to another neighbor, and so on around until they had harvested
all the wheat. At that time there was nothing in the shape of a
threshing machine in the vicinity where I lived; along in the fall
and winter the grain was threshed out on the barn floor ordinarily
by four horses tramping around in a circle on the wheat, and by
this means the wheat was shelled from the head. When a boy of seven
years I was called into service when the threshing season
commenced. It was my duty to ride a horse and guide him around this
floor, leading three other horses that were in the rear, making
four horses all together; and by this means we could thresh out a
crop that grew upon ten acres of land in about four days. Now, Mr.
Editor, you can imagine what condition that portion of a boy’s
body that rested upon that horse was in at the end of those four
days. I assure you I was glad when those four days were up and the
wheat was threshed out; although it placed me in such a condition
that I was unable to slide down cellar doors for the next two
weeks. This was hard on the boys, but such hardships as these in a
very early day have turned out many good, solid men in spite of
getting their schooling three months in the winter in a log cabin
and having to work the balance of the nine months upon the farm;
and while the writer was no. one of those fortunate ones to make
very much out of himself, there arc a great many good men that have
been turned out with no better preparation than this, and some of
the country’s greatest men were brought up in just this same

‘Now this is the way wheat was threshed seventy-two years
ago in this country. (Now 128 years ago). A little later on, I have
a distinct recollection of the first threshing machine that I had
ever seen. I believe 1 was then about twelve years old. which was
about 1836. It was a machine placed on a wagon. In the main wheels
of the wagon was the gearing and when the wagon was put in motion,
it drove the cylinder of the machine and threshed the grain as it
was thrown into the machines by wagons following it up. This
machine was hauled over the ground in the field by from four to six
horses, and the wheat was loaded on the wagons from the shock in
the field, following the thresher up and throwing the sheaves on to
a man who fed it into the machine. This, however, did not clean the
grain, but it separated it after a fashion from the straw, whence
it fell into a receptacle and was afterwards fanned out by a
fanning mill. This was a very crude apparatus; yet from it the more
modern machines were suggested. I never heard of but this one of
that kind of a machine being built, and this I saw on my
grandfather’s farm in 1836.

‘The next practical threshing machine I can recollect, was
that gotten up by John A. Pitts, known as the ‘Pitts’
machine, and also designated as the ‘Apron’ machine. This
was very successful at that date, which was about 1845. In 1840
Messrs. James and Samuel Barnett built a large flour mill in
Springfield which had a very fine water power to operate it. They
induced others to come and rent water from them. Among the number
who came here was Mr. John A. Pitts to build his threshing
machines. He erected a small shop, a part of which the O. S. Kelly
Co. now occupies, enlarged, and he built the Pitts apron machine
All older threshermen will know what kind of a machine Mr. Pitts
built at that date. It would to-day be called a very good
separator, and while it was not up to the modern ones, yet it was a
good machine and farmers were satisfied with it. In fact it took so
well with some that the Pitts apron machines were built in the
factory of O. S. Kelly Company until 1884 and 1885, at which time
it was superseded by other styles of machines.

As we advanced, such machines as the vibrator came into use and
were very popular for a time. They did good work, but as you well
know as editor of your paper, they have also had to retire for a
still more modern type of machine. And now we have come to a point
where we look back and manufacturers and the world are astonished
at the progress that has been made in the last seventy-two years in
this line of business. Necessity has been the mother of invention,
our country improving so rapidly that the wheat could not be raised
to feed the people unless there was some modern way of not only
harvesting it, but threshing it after it had been harvested.
Consequently great progress in improvement of harvesting and
threshing machinery has been made and our factories have been
crowded to the front until to-day we stand at the head of every
country in the world in that industry.

The traction engine has now become a part of every threshing
outfit. The first in my recollection was built in this city by
George Barnett, a son of the Samuel Barnett who built the flouring
machine above mentioned, in Springfield. He made a traction engine
in 1859, and while it was not an entire success, it was pointing in
the direction of just what we are building to-day good, practical
working engines and if he had continued his efforts along the lines
on which he started and improved upon them, he might have been the
first man to get together a good practical traction engine. But he
became discouraged and let the thing go. This Mr. George Barnett
lives somewhere in the State of Illinois, I don’t know at just
what point.

It will be remembered that Mr. John A. Pitts, when he first
started in Springfield, built but a few machines and that they were
driven by horse power. But his machines became so popular and his
business increased so rapidly that he was compelled to leave
Springfield and go to Buffalo, where he could get more room to
build factories of larger capacity, and his plant has grown to be
one of the leading factories in the United States. But while this
was being done, other great industries have grown up the J. I. Case
Co., probably the largest threshing machine business in the
country; Nichols & Shepard, the Reeves people, Robinson,
Russell, Huber, Gaar-Scott, the Minneapolis people, and others too
numerous to mention in this article, have grown to immense
establishments and are sending the products of their factories to
all parts of the world. This every American citizen should be proud
of. We are the grain field of the world, and we should be able to
furnish the machinery to put our product in proper shape for market
and at the same time furnish that machinery to other people who do
is little in the line of raising wheat. This I believe is being
done, and ever increasingly.

Going back to the early days of threshing machines, the
development of this machinery was slow and was brought about by
hard mental and physical labor, and this is chiefly the way all new
things are brought to perfection. But with the great number of
inventors that can be found in the United States, it is not at all
surprising that we should lead the world in this particular

Very respectfully yours, O S. KELLY

Farm Collector Magazine
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Dedicated to the Preservation of Vintage Farm Equipment