Reminiscences of a half century of the rise and progress of

By Staff

(As set down by the late William Peterson, who died at his;
Oakland, California, home in 1933 at 85; manuscript in pencil and
signed by Mr. Peterson in 1929, four years before his death; loaned
by his daughter, Miss Mattie Peterson of Fresno)

AFTER THE CATTLE and sheep raising period came a wheat and
barley period. Miles of wheat and barley fields extending from
Bakersfield to Red Bluff in the San Joaquin and Sacramento Valleys
and in the lesser valleys.

The advent of this writer into the state occurred on January 1,
1878 from Illinois. (Born in Scotland and coming to this country at
17.Ed.) After a short stop in Virginia City, arriving in Sacramento
on my way to Fresno. In the former city a calliope on board a steam
boat named the ‘General’, ‘Colonel’, or
‘Captain’ Whip-pie was playing ‘The Girl I Left Behind
Me.’ Wheat grew 10 inches high behind the planks that formed
the wharf. I thought the music and the wheat a good combination to
start in a state with. All prosperity starts at the plow.

At Fresno we had to add a scraper. William Armstrong,
superintendent of the Convirginia (?) and California Panning (?)
Mills (the man who handled most of the gold that came out of Mount
Davidson, Nevada) bought 60 acres in Central Colony, Fresno. My
share was one third. It’s a far cry from the engineer to the
old fashioned dirt scraper. Yet the scraper made Fresno. A team of
mules, a plow, a scraper. Housing was negligible. Men and sows
preferred to sleep out of doors, but the aforementioned
improvements were imperative to achieve a home. To dump the old
fashioned scraper you had to flop it over up-side-down. I got tired
of that. To prevent it from going clear over, I fixed two pieces of
wood at right angles to the bottom of the scraper so it would only
tip half way. This worked all right as long as they lasted. Taking
the scraper to have it fixed to James Porteous, a wheel right, and
to a blacksmith named Ramusin. They fixed it and ‘Jimmy’
made improvements and got a patent on it; filled the United States
with Fresno scapers. He well deserved the millions or remuneration
he got. He invented and manufactured many of the vineyard
implements, the revolving harrow, etc.

The wheat era of California called for a great number of
implements, plows, harrows, seeders, headers, threshers, cleaners,
etc. I think Matteson ? Williamson of Stockton war; among the first
plow makers (Stockton Gang Plow). Baker ? Hamilton at Benicia, made
plows for stiff clay land. Dan Best was the cleaner man. An
Englishman near Tracey imported a steam plow about 1879an immense
affair. Two large steam traction engines to be stationed at each
end of the field, a cable attached to a V-shaped frame adapted to
haul between stationary engines a gang of right-hand plows balanced
over an axle having two wheels having the same identical mechanism
for steering the plows that is now used on every automobile and
truck in the motor world. These steam traction engines had the
differential that is now used on all autos and trucks. It is trite
to say that the differential was patented in 1842 and the steering
gear in 1851.

Le Noir invented and patented the four cycle gas engine in 1843.
This writer copies from a book borrowed from J. H. Budd, one time
governor of the state, the book by Le Noir in French and English.
The author exhausted the whole subject of gas and gasoline for
motive power. He stressed the all-important need of compressing the
mixture of air and gas before ignition. Indeed, that was HIS
discovery and invention; the higher the compression prior to
ignition, the greater the explosive force upon the piston, hence,
the Diesel.

The writer built a score or two of small 2 hp. gasoline engines
at Stockton in 1884. Stockton was flooded that year. We pumped out
all the store cellars and the male and female asylum cellars.
Ultimately, I designed, built and patented a gasoline engine having
two pistons in one cylinder mounted upon traction wheels in 1892,
considered the first gasoline horseless carriage built in the
United States. (See photo). This tractor climbed up an old
abandoned street, an ascent of 40 feet in 300 feet its first trial.
It hauled a threshing machine 12 miles out of Racine and -quailed
30 hp. on the belt power threshing. The J.I.C.T.M. Co., will
substantiate the above. It was the pioneer of over 10,000 gas
tractors built by that firm since ’92 (Written in 1933) During
the 30 years grain growing period in California about 2,000,000
acres surface had to be moved 20 inches each year; i.e. from the
point of the plow share to the tail end of the moldboard that is
the enormous amount of soil the plow had to move, and that is only
the initial act in preparing a seedbed. The seeder, the harrow and
the roller follow. Every conceivable shape and size of plow was
brought to bear on the job. Single plows, 2-gangs called ‘sulky
riding gangs’, generally hauled by six mules in stiff clay
lands; then the 4-, 6- and 8 plow gangs with teams up to ten

This writer invented and patented a peculiar steam-driven plow
in 1884. It plowed a swath 60 feet wide. It consisted of a steam
engine mounted upon a frame, or chassis, supported by two traction
wheels and two steering wheels. At the rear end of said frame were
two arms 30 feet long extending at right angles to said frame. A
chain sprocket wheel mounted at the outer ends of said and
corresponding chain sprocket wheels mounted at the inner ends of
said arms, endless chains with plows attached rode on a rail
outwards and entered the ground and plowed inwards. It had the
appearance of an aero plane, the arms hinged to the fuselage, or
chassis, the plows run at right angles to the forward movement of
the vehicle which was only one mile in four hours. To get this slow
forward movement, I had to put a worm gear on the drive axle. This
was the first worm gear applied to the drive axle. See Patent No.
308923, William and James Paterson patented Dec. 9, 1884. It plowed
300 acres on Roberts Island. That year the levee broke and flooded
the machine four feet under water. That broke me. I sold the
machine and patent to Hank Wright, David Young, and Cy Moreing. The
last named was the father of Cy Moreing, the famous baseball
promoter. Dave Young was the father of the combine builder.

To harvest the grain crop required a great and varied number of
implements. Among these were the mower and reaper, cutting and
binding a 6-foot swath but that was too slow. Then the
headerBaxter’s and Hill’s and the Benicia built at that
town by Baker and Hamilton. These headers cut a swath of 10 to 20
feet wide and delivered heads and straw into header wagons. A
derrick or stacker with a horse fork raised the loose grain to the
stack. Then the threshing machine run with horse-power-8 to 10
horses. This power plant resembled a large wheel lying flat on the
ground with four, five or six spokes, a pair of horses hitched to
each spoke, or sweep. Later this power was mounted on wheels.

Then ‘Joe’ Enright, of San Jose invented a straw burning
steam boiler, mounted an engine thereon and made a portable steam
power on wheels. This threshing outfit was capable of threshing and
cleaning 2,000 sacks of wheat a day. But to avoid the heading,
hauling and stacking, a combined header, thresher and cleaner
(horse-drawn) was invented. George Haines, Dave Young and Dan
Houser, all of Stockton, were among the first builders of these
machines. I built, in 1884, a light-running tight-geared (all
pinion and chain transmission) combined header, thresher and
cleaner. One large drive wheel carried two-thirds of the weight of
the machine and having only three wheels on the ground in
contra-distinction to to five ground wheels on prior built
machines. I called it the ‘Harvest Queen’. I sold the
patent, dated May 8, 1865, to Matteson & Williamson of
Stockton. We exhibited this harvester at Sacramento State Fair of
1885 under ray management. I sold 22 machines, three sizes, at an
average price of $1800 a piece.

The pavilion at that time was situated in the State House
grounds. Arc lights were exhibited for the first time. Dave Stark
was the State House engineer and electrician. He advised me to put
my harvester in a space near the lights and he would belt up his
Corliss engine and have the harvester running during the fair. L.
U. Shippee was president of the State Board of Agriculture and had
the Shippee harvester on exhibition as had three other Stockton
harvester builders. Larue, a Colusa farmer, was manager of this
department and he consented to have my machine run where it was.
But Mr. Shipee objected until I mollified him with a good natured
talk about giving the public a show for their money.

I had also a rotary plow at that fair; patented March 9, 1886.
Harry Hudson, a son of the late Dr. Hudson of Stockton, was
engineer and there was a premium of $250 for ‘the best steam
plow, California manufacture.’ Harry owned the engine. I owned
the rotary plow attachment. It was meant to plow stubble. But the
late Daniel Bes of San Leandro had a powerful traction engine as
had also Baker & Hamilton of Benicia and Jacob Price, also of
San Leandro, had a traction engine. All these, we knew, could beat
us on hard ground. We selected a Chinaman’s garden on the lower
Stockton road; also a block on Q Street filled with Sacramento
river sand for a trial. The engines were all parked in the
enclosure near the pavilion. Two hydrants stood in the yard with
hose attached. The temptation to turn them loose all night &
swamp and mire us down was too great. That is what happened. Next
morning Larue ordered us all out to test the plowing. We were all
sunk to the axles. Our contraption had somewhat the appearance of a
stern wheel boat. Harry screwed down the pop safety valve so that
no steam could escape and started the engine. I forced the rotary
disc plows into the ground. These revolved in the same direction as
the traction wheels. We went out through the gate as a wave and
splash of mud and away to the sand lot on Q Street. We went up the
alley between P and Q Streets.

Then came the tug-of-war. Some 200 farmers followed us to the
grounds to see a new-fangled rotary plow work. Mullen stalks grew
three feet high up through the sand. It was evident we could not
turn the machine in the sand so we concluded we would break through
the fence at the farther side of the lot. It was a nice picket
fence, but the crowd was with us and it was fair time; and, anyway,
it was an accident! We got the blue ribbon but the crowd increased
and we had to make another round. Now that the fence was down, it
was easy. We returned to the pavilion. The traction engine had sunk
deeper. In short, they did not get out for some days after the fair
was over. But we were not out-of-the-woods yet. It was discovered
that our traction engine was built in Watertown, N. Y. Mr. Shippee
objected to paying the prize money because the engine was not
California-built. Jesse D. Carr and a Mr. Hancock of Modoc Co.,
were on the Board. Bob Hamilton of Baker & Hamilton, was at the
Golden Eagle Hotel. I saw these gentlemen there and told them our
plight. I had a copy of the list of premiums. It read, ‘Best
Steam Plow, California Manufacture!’ Prize $250.’ It said
nothing about a traction engine. I said, ‘Well, gentlemen, the
plow was California manufacture, and so was the steam’. They
saw the joke and Mr. Carr said, ‘Come up to Board rooms at 7 p.
m., and make that same speech, and I will see that you get your
money.’ We got it.

Daniel Best of San Leandro, early in the ’80’s built a
grain cleaner; later a steam tractor; later yet a stationary
gasoline engine; still later a horse-drawn harvester; finally he
gasoline track-laying tractor. John Driver of San Leandro, also
built a harvester; Samuel Gaines of Brent-wood also built a
harvester. Moult & Son built a push harvester at Stockton. Holt
Brothers absorbed most of the harvester builders’ interests in
Stockton in the ’90’s.

I think I built the first gasoline engine-driven harvester in
Stockton in 1887; exhibited it at the San Joaquin County Fair. The
County Pavilion and Fair Grounds adjoined the race track, I
remember. The Board of Managers objected to my running the machine
because the noise scared the race horses on the track.

Ben Holt improved and built a side-hill harvester about 1890;
did very good work. The present power-driven harvester was built
and brought into general use within the last fifteen years by
Stockton manufacturers. Within the last three years eastern
manufacturers have shipped in to this coast power-driven harvesters
all steel.

Going back to 1878, Fresno County was in a state of transition.
The county seat had been moved from Millerton on the upper San
Joaquin River to its present site. W. S. Chapman had brought a
basketful of Sioux script and South Carolina school script and
bought some thousands of acres of land around the county seat.
Indeed, it is said, he donated a square mile to the S.P.R.R. Co.
for a R.R. depot, also to include the site of the County Court
House. Mr. Chapman laid out the Central Colony, which included six
sections of land. The nearest of this colony was a mile from the
Fresno town site.

This writer had a good deal to do in the construction of the
levee ditches and head gates and together with others planted out
on the plains in 1878 the first Muscat and Malaga grape vines for
which Fresno has become famous. In a few years raisin making became
the principal industry. Machinery was needed to stem, clean and
seed the raisins. James Porteous (he of the scraper) invented a
stemmer and cleaner, and George Pettit invented a seeding machine.
That invention boosted the raisin business, especially the Muscat

Fulton G. Berry, Wm. McKenzie, et al. saw the need of a
motor-driven street car for Fresno. This writer had applied for a
patent on a compressed air propelled street car and was willing to
let the above parties exploit the invention, which could be mounted
upon the mule-drawn car without much alteration. The motive power
consisted of a gasoline engine and air compressor combined. The
propeller consisted of a small coupled engine geared to the axle of
the car a la the Dobble steamer, only compressed air was used
instead of steam The steam boiler is not practical because it
requires a large amount of water and too much attention. The
trolley came into use at that time, so the compressed air motor was
dropped and is still in abeyance. -(Signed) Wm. Paterson, 1340 E.
28th St., Oakland.

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