The Foot Burner

Eureka, Montana Part I

ALTHOUGH NEW Methods and modern machinery are rapidly taking old
farm equipment out of the picture, there is never a spring that one
can not still see the old breaker plows, or ‘foot burners’
still being used, for garden plowing, or new land infested with
roots, and rocks, where other methods of plowing would be
impossible.

There are little or no changes in the design, from the first one
that was turned out by the inventor John Deere. Now a breaker plow,
when adjusted right, and under favorable conditions can be operated
with some degree of comfort, and a limited amount of profanity, but
where it is used on newly cleaned stump land, or rocky land as it
mostly is, it can be an instrument of torture to both man and
beast. It has no doubt been the medium by which most young men have
decided to catch a handful a boxcars and leave the old farm for
another form of livelihood.

The average homesteader started in with a foot burner, often
times with a yoke of oxen, and as he rested his team or span of
oxen, and also his aching muscles, he had visions of the day when
he would be financially able to buy, or make a down payment on a
big 30-60 tractor, or a steam engine that would be able to plow
from 8 to 12 plows at a time. If he was lucky enough to beat the
law of averages, on such crop risks as hail, drought, grasshoppers,
he might, after 4 or 5 years of wrestling a foot burner, live to
see his dream realized.

In the part of the ‘Treasure State’ that I lived in when
I was a kid, the farming game contained about the same percentage
of risks, that would be involved in setting cold storage under a
bucking broncho. Those that sold good improved places, or some
other business back in the middle west or the east, mostly started
in with gas tractors, or steam breaking rigs as they were called.
The revenue from custom breaking, for their neighbors would in some
way help pay for the rig and plows. Those were the years that new
tractors were coming on the market, ‘with millions of acres of
new land being homesteaded in the western states, Canada, and
Argentina, there was a big demand for large size rigs, something
that could really do the job. Most of the tractors were from 15-FOS
to 40-HP. size. ‘Twin City Co.’ came out in 1909 with a
60-120, the largest tractor built up to that time. The gas truck
was giving the steam engine some heavy competition. Any youth of
that time who was fortunate enough to take in a State Fair, or
demonstration where these new power plows with power’, or steam
lifts, power steering, etc., was likely to take a dim view of the
old foot burner when he returned to the farm. It looked like darn
small potatoes, and mighty few in a hill in his estimation.

If an old timer shows up at a State Fair, or some such gathering
where old style machinery is on exhibition he will soon show up at
some machine that he has owned or operated in the past,
particularly if it should be a favorite make with him.

There was an old 1915 model 30-60 oil pull on exhibit at the
Spokane State Fair last summer that had either been rebuilt or
never seen much wear. Having operated one just like it in the past,
I was impressed to see it looked just like it had come off of the
assembly line at the factory where they were made at La Port,
Indiana. It was not just a repaint job either, the working parts
showed little or no wear, and had the compression of a new one.
When one takes into consideration that the average life of a family
car is five years, it was remarkable to see this tractor looking
and operating like new, after 43 years.

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