This article, published January 10, 1948, by the Pennsylvania Farmer, was written by the late Arthur S. Young, implement dealer and founder of the Rough and Tumble Engineers at Kinzers, Pennsylvania. It is reprinted with permission of Pennsylvania Farmer, as background information for today's historians of farm power machinery. If you have history in your own state's contributions to this development, send it along with pictures Gerald S. Lestz, Editor.
Many columns could be written on the history of power farming. However, in this article we shall confine ourselves to the part that Pennsylvania played in this development. Although Pennsylvania was slow to adopt power farming methods, possibly on account of its rough contour, it really played a large part in the development of power farming machinery.
Harvesting and threshing machinery got more attention than tillage machinery for a long time. This was because quite a large acreage could be plowed and seeded by using man and horse power. But when it came to getting the grain crops harvested and threshed the hand methods were very slow, even with a large labor force. Consequently about 1870 in various parts of Pennsylvania many small thresher plants began operating. The following are a few of the well-known names: Andes, Weaver, Davis, Hebner, Fleetwood, Doylestown, Leberknecht, Pottstown, Geiser, Frick, Farquhar, Chalfant, Orangeville and Messinger. All these were built in eastern Pennsylvania. Messinger Company at Tatamy, Pennsylvania, are now extensive builders of power dusting machinery.
Some of the more progressive shops also manufactured sweep and tread horse powers, and a few began building steam portable engines in the 1870's, Frick, Farquhar, Geiser, Paxton and John Best were the leaders. However, real development did not begin until the traction engine made its appearance. It soon took the lead and replaced horse power and portable engines. traction engine the ranks of the manufacturers began to thin. Only three actually reached out into territory beyond their home locality. These three are the ones who really played a large part in the development of the vaat wheat lands of the West. In 1882 we find that the Geiser Manufacturing Company of Waynesboro, Franklin county, Pennsylvania, had developed a steam plowing outfit and in 1884 entered it in a public contest held at St. Louis, Missouri. They received a gold medal for outstanding performance and quite a large article was published in 'Country Gentleman' regarding this outfit.
The Geiser Company continued to develop and improve their plowing outfit by adding steam lift and heavier, more efficient engines. In the late '80's they also developed a large combined harvester-thresher drawn by their traction engine, using straw from the combine for fuel. However, they did not develop the combine to any great extent, but turned their attention to steam plowing outfits with such success that the Geiser Steam Lift Plow outfit was equal to if not the largest and most efficient outfit in the world. So extensive was their activity that they truthfully used the slogan 'The sun never sets on Geiser machinery.' At the same time this concern built large quantities of threshers and sawmills. They continued until 1911 when the entire plant and business was sold to the Emerson Brandingham Company of Rockford, Illinois. As this company already had a gas tractor and plow outfit and also owned the Reeves Company of Columbus, Indiana they seemed to slow down, and Geiser machinery did not make further progress.
Beginning in 1853, Frick Company, also of Waynesboro, Pennsylvania, began building steam engines and later added threshers and sawmills to their line. They, too, played a very prominent part in the development of power farming. A letter written July 3, 1883, by Joseph Mills of Dakota territory tells of his experience with a Frick steam plowing outfit. The letter reads in part as follows:
St. Lawrence, St. Lawrence, D.T., July 3, 1883 ''Frick & Co. Gentlemen:
This being my first experience in the use of traction engines for plowing, I had of course some things to learn by practical tests, which in the course of a season's work will show many things that can be done better and more economically another season. We also labored under many disadvantages, which will be greatly lessened next season, among which was a scarcity of water, there being but few wells. We had often to haul water two and three miles. Coal also had to be bought at high rates and hauled long distances, averaging in the past year's work about fifteen miles. Teams being very scarce and very busy were much sought for and commanded high prices for their day's labor.
'With steam we found that fifteen acres could readily be turned in one day, using five 16-inch Casaday sulky plows. If everything were favorable more could be plowed. We many times turned ten acres in half a day, the cost per day being One engineer, with assistant to steer, and board 4.00 Two men to manage plows, with board 2.25 One man and team to draw water, and board $3.50 One ton coal, and hauling same $12.00 One boy to do errands, and board $.75 Total cost per day (cfor 15 acres) $22.50 Or $1.50 per acre with steam. Very truly yours, Joseph Mills'
Mr. Mills also reported that it cost $2.70 to plow an acre with horses. One man with three horses would plow up to two acres a day. The rates were: one man, $1.20; three horses, $1; one and a half bushels of oats at 60ctotal $5.40 for the two acres.
Frick Company continued to develop their engines until they had one of the best steam engines in the field. After World War I, Frick Company developed a gas tractor which was very successful. When entered in demonstrations held in various parts of the United States, it won first place in practically every contest. The writer witnessed one of these contests at Marsh Run in Cumberland county near Lemoyne. The Frick tractor, operated by Harry Crider, won the contest with quite a few points to spare. For some reason Frick Company did not further develop this tractor and discontinued production of it in 1923. They did, however, continue to develop their threshers, steam engines and sawmills and are still very active in the machinery field.
To give some idea of the magnitude of the business volume of these two manufacturing plants, when the steam traction engine was supreme, at least 1800 complete engines rolled out of Waynesboro each year for approximately 20 years. At the same time a like number of threshers and many carloads of sawmill machinery were also produced.
The history of the A. B. Farquhar Company of York, Pennsylvania, reads in about the same manner as that of the Frick and Geiser Companies. Farquhar possibly was not so active in the plowing field but developed their sawmill and engine business to large proportions. Farquhar Company is still doing business in York, Pennsylvania, and is the world's leading builder of potato machinery, manufacturing the famous Iron Age line.
The gas tractor, also, received quite a lot of attention in Pennsylvania with Fred Flinchbaugh of York possibly ahead in the development. He had the York gas tractor in the field before 1910. It was equipped with automotive steer and a reversing engine. This tractor was really ahead of its day.
At about the same time C.H.A. Dissinger & Brother of Wrightsville, Pennsylvania, and the Quincy gas tractions were on the market. Both were successful for road and belt work, but were not well adapted to plowing and field work.
Another large concern located in York, Pennsylvania, was the Hench & Dromgold Company who built portable engines, sawmills and were very extensive producers of cultivating and general farm implements.
No new developments were made in the state until 1939 when the automaton light-weight, automatic tying pick-up baler appeared in the field. This machine, designed by Edwin B. Nolt, Farmersville, Pennsylvania, actually revolutionized the handling of the hay crop and helped advance the combine to a great extent because the straw could be easily gathered and hauled to the barns for storage. This machine was purchased and is now being manufactured by New Holland Machine Company who are producing them in large quantities. The popularity of this machine is so great that you can now find them at work in every state in the Union and in some foreign countries. Numerous other concerns are now building this type of machine, but when the true history of the light weight, automatic tying pick-up baler is written the place of its origin must be credited to Lancaster county, Pennsylvania. We could go on and on mentioning many other items, but enough has been written to convey to the mind of the reader that beyond the shadow of a doubt, Pennsylvania has played a leading part in the development of power farming.