Posts Tagged ‘farming’

Horsepower, 1884

Sunday, April 7th, 2013

As I was doing my usual reading of old newspapers I ran across this advertisement. Ads for agricultural implements aren’t unusual, but this one in a May 1884 issue of the Bismarck Tribune caught my eye because of the odd device at the top. Mounted to a wagon are a large array of gears and pulleys, with no immediate explanation of what it does. It doesn’t have the parts to be a harvester, or a binder, or a thresher, and way too many gears to be a plow or a rake. What could this mysterious machine have done for a Dakota Territory farmer of the 1880s?

The main clue is the big wheel in the middle. Spaced evenly around its bullwheel are 10 square loops, alternating a large one and a small one. I’ve seen these before, on a horse-powered hay-baler. You run long bars through the rings that attach to the horse’s harness, so as the horse walks around the machine, the wheel turns and mechanical energy is generated.

The machine in the advertisement is, literally, a five horsepower engine. It gets difficult to search for similar machines, because “horse-power” pulls up pictures of late-model Fords and Toro lawnmowers. This excellent document has eye-witness description of one of these at work, along with some good pictures and description of what it does. The underside of the machine shows a combination pulley and drive-shaft, which is the output of the power. Another name for these is a horsepower ’sweep’, due to the carousel-like sweeping motion the horses make as they produce their power.

At the time, a five-horsepower steam traction engine was an unhappy combination of expensive, difficult to use, and dangerous when things go wrong. The ongoing industrial revolution was producing innumerable labor-saving devices for the farmer, and this was the way to get the power without replacing your horses or investing in a big expensive machine that’d probably kill you, or at least take a bunch of your fingers. Not that the open gearing of the horse-power above was all that much more safe, but it’s easier to stop well-trained horses than to disengage a steam engine. Technology moves quickly, though: the size and reliability of steam and gasoline engines caught up with and exceeded horse-power sweeps by the beginning of the 20th century, so the window for these links between the unmechanized history of farming and today’s technological marvels of machinery wasn’t very long.

Trip Around The North Sea, 1927.

Tuesday, May 19th, 2009

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In the 1920s, the American Farm Bureau Federation toured northern Europe; this was the map of their travels. From The Bureau Farmer, September, 1927.

John Deere 820, 1960s

Monday, November 17th, 2008


The John Deere 820 was, by some accounts, manufactured in the late 1950s, although some for sale say they were made in the 1970s. Known for its large-displacement 2-cylinder motor with excellent gear ratio, the 820 has been popular in tractor-pull events due to its inability to stall. This photo was the tail-end of a roll of slide film, and the film wasn’t large enough to fit into a standard slide frame. The owner made due by tracing a slide frame onto cardboard, cutting it out, and taping the film into it.

Horses Pulling Cart, 1930s

Wednesday, November 5th, 2008

Pair of horses pulling a steel-wheeled cart in winter; appears 1930s.

Farm Insurance, 1895.

Thursday, October 30th, 2008

A hundred and thirteen years ago, R.U. Titus stood in his farmyard and looked upwards, wondering what sort of terror might plunge out of it — lightning, tornadoes — and decided he should buy some insurance on him home, horses, and farm equipment. Today, whoever still lives at the farmstead on the NorthEast quarter of Township 140, Range 55, Section 35 looks up and wonders just how much resolution those terrain sattelites can get:


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Farmall F-20 Threshing, 1942.

Thursday, August 28th, 2008

Caption reads, “Threshing at our old home place. November 1942. That’s Lawrence on the load.” The thresher is stopped and not visible, behind the wagons. More detail tomorrow morning in another photo. The tractor pictured is a mid-1930s-era Farmall F-20 tractor.

A-C WD and Swather, 1961

Sunday, August 3rd, 2008

An Allis-Chalmers WD pulling a swather; dated by lab “Aug 1961″.

Berry Picking Time

Thursday, July 24th, 2008


A group who has just completed picking berries; appears 1950s.

Bob, Flipo, and Elmer

Tuesday, March 25th, 2008

This photo was titled, “Bob, Flipo, and Elmer.” However, we’ve got four entities in the photo: Two horses, a man, and a dog. So, who’s who? Elsewhere in the album, we’ve met an “Elm“, which is probably short for Elmer, and a Brownie, that looks a bit like this dog. So, that means the horses are named “Bob” and “Flipo.” What are Bob and Flipo doing? It looks like they’re hitched to a drag of some sort, scraping the surface of the ground to turn the turf under and either prepare it for planting, or just turn the weeds under so they don’t become too unmanageable.

Laziness and the P.W.A.

Sunday, January 20th, 2008


In 1933, the US government starting putting a large amount of money into public works, helping the economy, building communities, and keeping people working. The PWA, or Public Works Administration, did a lot of high-profile work, but the PWA helped communities and projects of all sizes. This picture was captioned “P.W.A. Workers” — however, they look hardly like a PWA project. The owner of the photo album had a sense of humor; the PWA (and its relative, the WPA) had a somewhat undeserved reputation for laziness. Ms. Photographer, it seems, saw a woman in the field — and the guys not working — as representative of the PWA, whether or not their paychecks came from the New Deal or not.

see also: the pwa *pwa thoughts * *pwa and nat’l parks * the wpa * wpa murals * wpa in georgia * wpa posters