Tim Osborne bought a horse-drawn potato digger for $20 a year ago and then spent six months restoring it.
‘It was made by the Hoover Company in Ohio somewhere between 1895 and 1910,’ he says. ‘It took me the better part of the winter to get it running. There’s not much literature for it. Nothing much was published so there’s very little info on horse-drawn stuff.’
Tim, a consultant on radioactive waste disposal, lives at Keymar in rural northern Maryland. He has no farming background but got into collecting horse-drawn equipment through an involvement with draft horses and mules.
‘It’s interesting,’ he says. ‘It’s a hobby. If I didn’t do this I’d buy a boat or some other nonsense. You get stuff from auctions or someone offers it or there are dealers. You have to go for a while in order to get something. What you don’t see is how much work it is to take a pile of rusty parts and get it to look good. I’ve got about two dozen pieces.’ Tim’s potato digger is his pride and joy with its yellow body parts, green undercarriage and orange wheels. Two big mules are needed to pull it during potato harvest time. A flat blade plows up under the potato plants sending the potatoes onto a belt, which propels them to a shaker tray. The tray removes the dirt and the potatoes fall off the back of the machine to be picked up by hand.
Another of Tim’s treasures is a hay tedder from the early 1920s.
‘It’s made by David Bradley,’ he says. ‘According to the ad it ‘does the work of 10 women in half the time.’ You could get it from the Sears Roebuck catalog.’
A pre-1900 dump rake made by Dodds for use during the hay season is also a part of Tim’s collection.
‘It was used to make windrows,’ he says. ‘It was made by Dodds and was drawn by one work horse. It’s all original, with all the parts either wood or cast iron. The wheels, which are over four feet in diameter, are made of wood. They made the windrows then brought in a flatbed wagon and threw the hay on the wagon. There was one person on each side.’
Tim has an ‘Improved Double Force Feed Drill’ used to plant wheat and oats. Patented in March 1902 and made around 1910 by the Ontario Drill Company of Despatch, N.Y., it took two or three mules or work horses to power it. The tongue can be adjusted to accommodate the number of animals needed.
Ira ‘Sonny’ Burdette Jr. lives just down the road from Tim and shares his hobby of collecting horse-drawn equipment. While some of his pieces are at his farm, others are on loan to the Agricultural History Farm Park in Derwood, Md. One of these is a wooden roller of unknown origin that is estimated to be at least 100 years old.
‘It has a cast iron seat and an all-wood frame,’ Sonny says. ‘It was used to levelthe ground and also used in winter to compact the snow to make it easier for the sleighs. It has one pipe with bush bearings made of brass and wood. It has wooden dowels. All I did was add a tongue, a double tree and a yoke. I put linseed oil on the wood because I didn’t want to paint it. I bought it for $3 at a junk sale.’
Sonny, who is a service technician for commercial kitchen equipment, was born and raised on a farm and has always been involved with horses and mules.
‘It’s second nature to do what your granddaddy did,’ he says. ‘My granddaddy had mules and I’ve had mules for 20 years. I used to foxhunt and we had horses to drive. I also go on wagon trains. There’s not nearly as many collectors of horse-drawn equipment as there are of old tractors. There’s nothing left any more. It’s junked, scrapped. Most stuff just sits in hedgerows.’
Another of Sonny’s pieces on loan to the Farm Park is a McCormick-Deering 12-disc drill, for which he paid $150 10 years ago.
‘It was probably made between 1915 and 1920,’ he says. ‘You could buy it through Sears Roebuck. It has a (sectioned) tin box designed for fertilizing as well as planting. The front box is for grass seed, the middle box is for bigger seed like barley, oats and wheat, and the back box is for the fertilizer.’
The drill has all its original paint and 52-inch diameter wooden wheels with rims that are two inches wide. It comes with its own oil can and has a board on the back for the driver. It was designed for two or three animals.
‘Many people were short back then, ‘Sonny says. ‘They needed the board to stand on but it was $3 extra. The tongue and the double trees are not original.’
Back at the farm, Sonny has a horse-drawn sickle bar hay mower made in Chicago in 1905. It is inscribed with the names of no less than three companies.
‘Three companies merged,’ Sonny says. ‘They were Deering, International and New Ideal. This was patented in October, November and December, with one patent for each company. It’s made from parts from all three. Eventually McCormick bought them all. There were very few mowers made like this. I’ve been told less than 100.’
Sonny says he was at a farm sale about eight years ago, saw the mower covered with grease and bought it for $25.
‘I took it down, cleaned it and repainted it,’ he says. ‘It’s back in working order. I had to buy a wood tongue for it. When tractors came in in the late 1930s and 1940s, fanners cut the tongues from the horse-drawn stuff and used the tractor to pull it. They couldn’t afford the new equipment.’
For more information write Tim Osborne, 11805 Keymar Road, Keymar, MD 21752; (410) 775-0378. Ira Burdette Jr., 11634 Keymar Road, Keymar, MD 21754; (410) 775-0001. Agricultural History Farm Park, 18400 Muncaster Road, Derwood, MD 2085; (301) 670-4661.
Jill Teunis is a frequent contributor to Farm Collector magazine. She lives and works in Damascus, Md.