Horses? Tractors? The final conversion

By Rick Houser – 

I seriously doubt there has been much thought given to the process of moving from horse-drawn equipment to made-for- tractor equipment. However, in the spring of the year when it comes time to plant corn, a short video runs through my mind.
In the field on the ridge just behind our home on Fruit Ridge Road I can see just as plain as it was today- my Dad. He is sitting behind the wheel of his 1949 8N Ford tractor. Fastened to his tractor is our corn planter. A very old and faded green John Deere corn planter at that. But it isn’t just an old corn planter that plants two rows at a time, but it is a corn planter that was designed to be pulled by a horse.
You read that correctly. A horse-drawn corn planter, but it is being pulled by a tractor. My Dad had converted it so that it would hitch up to a tractor and operate as well as any other planter that could have been connected. I think that I play this short video in my mind because it had to be the very first time I had ever noticed that horse-drawn equipment had been converted and in large quantitie. From this observation, I then ask, “Why did the farmers do this?”
My thought is that the transition from horse to tractor couldn’t have come at a small cost and we all know that a good farmer works with his budget mixed right in with the fertilizer and everything else it takes to farm a full season. Also, remember the bulk of the farmers at that time were those who farmed through the Great Depression and any cost of the transition would have weighed heavily on their budget sheets. This would have thrown the farmer into a risk that would have kept him very nervous for a long time. So the first thing to do was to run the tractor or tractors until they had paid for themselves. So in order to make this conversion they would convert all but the very minimum that couldn’t be converted by themselves.
I have seen tobacco transplanters changed to where they could be hitched to a tractor draw bar. I also have seen many mowing machines with a draw bar hitch, a disc that could be converted but only with the help of Gib Sipple, the local handyman and welder. He would build a farmer a new hitch just to prove it could be done and boy did that put smiles on a lot of farmer’s faces. In the day of the horse, almost all equipment was designed to be ground-driven and this allowed the conversion to be much simpler. Even the dreaded manure spreader could be converted and the farmers could continue to clean out the smelly stables.
Since I came along in the 50’s, my Dad, along with almost all the other farmers, were getting their tractor investments paid off and they were visiting the tractor and equipment shops looking to take the long awaited steps by upgrading their equipment with tractor- driven equipment. (One piece at a time in most cases.)
That horse drawn corn planter ended up on the lot at Harlow’s and we got a new Ford two -ow corn planter that would lift by hydraulic to make turning and transportation as easy as could be. It was the early 50’s when Dad bought a Wood Brothers Corn Picker and the days of picking corn by hand ended.
It just seemed to me that every time a new season rolled around so did a new piece of farm equipment and it was the most state of the art for the time. I know that in 1959 Dad traded in his drag tobacco setter for a new transplanter. It would lift by hydraulic the riders and plants. The plants went into fingers, and not our fingers, into the soil and on a wheel that went into the soil the fingers that carried the plants did the rest. (What next will they do? Put a man on the moon?) I am not just talking about our farm, but everyone’s farm. With each year agriculture would advance and that was a positive thing for everyone involved.
As we got into the 60’s the equipment kept advancing. On our farm and the ones I worked on, I would still see old horse-drawn equipment that had been converted but wasn’t in great shape, but things kept improving and kept becoming more state of art. I know Walter Reichle, who had done so very much custom work for my Dad and myself, had bought an International Farmall 450. At the time it was the biggest thing I had ever gotten to drive. From the seat. you looked down on the world and it had power steering, a cigarette lighter, and even a horn.
Another large farmer neighbor was Alfred Weber. Alfred decided to change from Farmall to Massey Ferguson and bought a tractor that pulled at least four mold board plows. On Fruit Ridge that was for sure the winner. That summer I had bought a Ford 4000 and a three-bottom plow which had put me at the top for one month before Alfred dethroned me. The thing is that by today’s standards none of us would have been in the running for the biggest of anything.
I am glad I grew up and saw the conversion in how the farm was cared for. Again it took the generation that had survived the hardest of times to continue to step forward when any challenge came their way. I also have to feel that generation taught my generation how to stand and deliver when the need was there. We might not be as strong as them but we sure aren’t far behind them.

Rick Houser grew up on a farm near Moscow in Clermont County and loves to share stories about his youth and other topics. If you would care for more of his stories he has two books and they are “There are Places to Remember” and Memories are From the Heart”. He may be reached at houser734@yahoo.com.