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Small Farmer's Journal
PO Box 1627
Sisters, Oregon 97759
800-876-2893
541-549-2064
agrarian@smallfarmersjournal.com
Mon - Thu, 8am - 4pm PDT

Parker Soil Pulverizer
Parker Soil Pulverizer

Jim Butcher and Percherons drawing the Parker Pulverizer at Carriage Hill Farm.

Bring Back To Life the John P. Parker Pulverizer

by Ben Schulte of Columbus, IN
photographs by Jim Scherer

In May of this year Jim Butcher of Carriage Hill Farm, Huber Heights, Ohio put to use a “Parker-Built McColm Soil Pulverizer” as part of a horse drawn tillage demonstration. This particular pulverizer is an implement that was brought back into existence as part of my college capstone project at the University of Cincinnati College of Applied Science (formerly known as the Ohio Mechanics Institute). As a Mechanical Engineering Technology major there, I took on this unique project that entailed the recreation of a farm implement known as the “Parker Soil Pulverizer” for donation to the John P. Parker Society and Museum of Ripley, Ohio for display and for use in occasional demonstrations. However, I must back up a bit further here to provide you, the dedicated reader, a little of what is much deserved background.

Parker Soil Pulverizer

A Bit of History

John P. Parker was a slave who had worked in the foundry trade in Mobile, Alabama in the 1840’s. There he conceived of an idea for a new type of soil pulverizer or “clod smasher” having uniquely shaped feet and spike features on the wheels, but his shop foreman stole the idea and claimed it as his own. Later, after he had purchased his own freedom and ventured to Ripley, Ohio, he came into his own foundry and machine shop business making a variety of products. Staying busy with running a business during the day, he also worked tirelessly to help many slaves to cross the Ohio River from the banks along the Kentucky/Ohio border by cover of night, and continue on their journey along the Underground Railroad towards freedom. His story is an amazing journey, intriguing, and filled with excitement. A recount of his life can be found in the book His Promised Land and offers unique insight into the story of a stout individual’s amazing journey and participation in the Underground Railroad.

Parker’s venture manufactured a variety of products, including those agricultural in nature. The 1880’s saw the addition of a McColm’s patent pulverizer to his build and sale lists. This particular pulverizer exhibited cast wheels usually pictured in groups of eight on an axle and wooden frame pulled by two horses. These wheels looked to be approximately thirty inches in diameter or so and give the appearance of a “crowsfoot” type land roller with its offset blunt feet. Though not his patent, Parker laid his distinctive mark on this implement in casting features and craftsmanship. Whether this work rekindled his original ideas for the pulverizer he had brought to life in his scale model back in the 1840’s as a slave is unknown. However, a patent dated December 9th, 1892 was taken out for “new and useful improvements in soil pulverizers” as the Parker Soil Pulverizer. Advertisements now featured Parker Pulverizers with his patented design wheels, no longer those of Stephen McColm. Mr. Parker’s pulverizers, as well as other of his patented products like the Parker Tobacco Press (of the screw type) were manufactured well after his death in early 1900 and seemed to be quite popular in the surrounding area and elsewhere in the country.

Parker Soil Pulverizer

Cast Iron Lust or The Historical Preservationist’s Lament

Enter Charles Nuckolls of the John P. Parker Historical Society. He approached Dr. Maria Kreppel and others at the College of Applied Science inquiring about having students make models of Parker’s patented devices. Dave Conrad, a teacher at the college in turn approached myself and Dave Ramsey about taking on the project for elective credit including research guidance under Dr. Jason Krupar. I have had a love for old equipment, especially farm equipment, since I was little, probably having much to do with my Mother reading me a book entitled Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel. Further intensifying my passion and interest was the time I spent on my Grandpa’s farm in Okeana, Ohio. My Grandpa, Joeseph Schulte, was still binding corn with a McCormick-Deering binder and Farmall H; and I was lucky enough to have bounced around on the stamped metal seat as he worked it through the corn field. So I gladly said yes, besides, we’d just be making models of equipment that already existed…

Parker Soil Pulverizer

Well, all is not always easy in the field of equipment preservation and recreation, and it was in this case that much information was indeed missing. All that existed of the Parker Pulverizer was the patent document from 1890, and this patent document was in no shape to be scaled accurately as the features were hand sketched freely with what seemed to be rather exaggerated features. There were also sixteen cast wheels present at the Parker House Museum in Ripley. These were found and purchased at an auction by Donna Covert, a previous employee of Mr. Chatham who had purchased the foundry long after Parker was gone. But these wheels were twenty-nine inches in diameter and seemed to closely resemble the newspaper ads from the 1880’s for the Parker-built McColm patent pulverizer. Countless hours of research ensued trying to assemble Parker’s industrial history and it was our good fortune that Alison Gibson of the Public Library in Ripley located an ad in an 1891 edition of The Ripley Bee while scrolling through countless rolls of microfilm. And so finally, there it was before us, a detailed image of what the true Parker pulverizer looked like. After months of dreaming what it would look like, I was speechless when I gazed upon the detailed woodcut image. It was beautiful.

Parker Soil Pulverizer

All in the Details of the Cut

As seen in the 1891 woodcut of what has determined to be Parker’s true pulverizer, the implement consists of eight cast wheels positioned on an axle mounted to a wooden frame and pulled by two draft animals. The operator is supported on a structure consisting of two curved straps and one curved foot guard sheet with what looks to be a cast iron seat mounted on top. It was noted that square head bolts were used to assemble the majority of the implement together. A tongue of unknown length is seen to be present with teamster’s double tree. To get a general idea of the size of the major components of the Parker pulverizer, such as the wheel diameter and frame members, the McColm and Parker pulverizer advertisements were employed. Similar features in size were identified including some of the frame components.

Since the rough diameter of the Parker built McColm wheels could be found from the wheels that existed at the Parker house in Ripley, the size of other components within the McColm pulverizer ad could be identified. Next, those features like in size between the two documents were used to find the diameter of the Parker wheel casting and other sizes of related items. Established dimensions were cross checked by using a different feature to begin the scaling process. The Parker wheel casting, for example, was found to be approximately forty-four inches in diameter from spike tip to spike tip.

Parker Soil Pulverizer

To fill in the details about the unknown features and un-scalable sizes, various sources were utilized. For example, Lynn Miller of Small Farmer’s Journal was sent a copy of the pulverizer newspaper image and contacted via phone. Over the course of an hour and half he shed an amazing amount of light on missing details. Mr. Miller introduced himself as one who has farmed with horses for the past thirty years or so of his life, written and published extensively, and has made it his life’s work. He informed, for example, that the cast iron seat depicted in the image is a “square” or “long” period cast iron seat typical of early implements, complete with “crotch killer.” It was different than the standard round cast iron and pressed sheet steel seats that I was used to seeing. He also explained general size and operation of various features of the horse drawn implement including details on the “double tree,” hammer strap, tongue, bearings etc. Mr. Miller also recommended his book entitled Workhorse Handbook Second Edition which was a treasure trove of wonderful information. A day long visit to Jim Butcher of Carriage Hill Farm (whom Mr. Miller had put me in contact with) was also paid during the research phase of the project. Carriage Hill is a 100 acre 1880’s period working farm set within a thousand or so acre park. The entire day was spent with him and his crew learning, watching, and experiencing what it means to work with horses. Much additional and useful information about antique horse drawn farm machinery and their use was gained from this trip, not to mention long lasting friendships.

Parker Soil Pulverizer

Meanwhile, my senior year was approaching fast, and all of us students began to contemplate what our final project would be with a bit of urgency. Being MET students our capstone project tasks us with identifying a need for a product or solution, bringing that product through the design phase, then building that product and displaying at the Technical Exposition open to the public (Tech Expo), put on each year in Cincinnati by our college at the end of Spring quarter. So I had the harebrained idea to embark on recreating not only a scale model of Parker’s Pulverizer, but to also recreate the real thing in full-scale, complete with fresh new wheel castings. The museum had a need for true relics of Parker’s industrial past to better tell a more complete story about his life to the visiting public, and I was going to try to deliver the product. Why not? My first co-op job had been in a pattern shop and besides I had the most important ingredient to make any crazy idea work, passion and enthusiasm, for such relics of our industrial and agricultural past.

Parker Soil Pulverizer

Unfortunately a problem with the patterns resulted in not having enough time for correction to produce eight Parker wheel castings and still meet the project deadlines for graduation. Instead, one casting was made with defect present, and the eight Parker-built McColm castings from Ripley were employed during exposition on the wooden implement frame we had built for the larger Parker wheels. The exposition was a success, earning a exposition award and a Bachelor’s diploma for myself. Present in the booth was the one-off forty-four inch diameter Parker wheel casting we produced; beautiful even with it’s pattern defect. Also on exhibit in our booth was the rolling wooden frame complete with teamster support structure with the long cast iron seat (after scouting out a few cast iron seat auctions that didn’t bear results, I luckily ran across one on Ebay! It very strangely appeared to be almost an exact match with that pictured in the woodcut), the patterns, and items loaned to me by the museum and others such as Parker’s large tobacco press, and a rather large mechanical ladle from the old foundry.

Parker Soil Pulverizer

After graduation, the problems with the patterns were corrected through many long hours of hand finishing work and patience; and they currently await an opening in the foundry’s pouring schedule. For the time being, the smaller Parker-Built McColm wheels remain on the implement’s axle, and are those seen in the pictures accompanying this article. Jim Butcher of Carriage Hill kindly tried it out recently (as mentioned above) on the ground he and others worked as part of their tillage demonstration, and the small cast wheels didn’t do too bad at breaking up the clods. It will be wonderful though to finally see how well the true Parker pulverizer wheels perform, once they have been cast, and to finally have the pulverizer exhibited at the Parker House in Ripley, Ohio. It may then very well be the first time in seventy-five years or more that a true Parker Pulverizer once again works ground by the steady hands of a teamster. After that, the pulverizer can finally be brought back home to be placed on exhibit at the John P. Parker House in Ripley, Ohio.

Parker Soil Pulverizer

A Special Thank You

My last year of college was filled with countless hours of work, worry, and stress. I was lucky though to have much help in the form of funding, donated resources, and in persons willing to lend a hand or offer encouragement. Northbend Pattern Works donated the services of their first class pattern shop, Cast Fab Technologies donated the casting services necessary to produce the Parker wheels, Nick Kirst of the same company designed the gating for the mold and was a constant source of support and advice; Glenn Grismere turned the Hickory wood bearings, James McCafferty offered 3D design consultation, Vince Moore donated time and the use of his forming roll to shape the curved metal strap framework, Wilhelm Lumber Co. of Brookville, IN donated the lumber for the frame, Byron Haban offered countless hours of finishing help on the patterns, Doug Rife helped to make the college’s machine shop available, Professor Allen Arthur provided guidance as my project advisor, and countless others helped me along the way. I could not have pushed this dream as far as I did without their help.

Parker Soil Pulverizer

Ben Schulte and the Parker Pulverizer.

Spotlight On: Farming Systems & Approaches

Starting Your Farm

Starting Your Farm: Chapter 5

You might think that your new farm is fenced all wrong, or that a certain tree is in the wrong place, or that a wet area would be better drained, or that this gully would make a good pond site, or that a depression in the road should be filled, or that the old sheds should all come down right away. Well maybe you’re right on all counts. But maybe, you’re wrong.

Starting Your Farm

Starting Your Farm: Chapter 3

What goes with the sale? What does not? Do not assume the irrigation pipe and portable hen houses are selling. Find out if they go with the deal, and in writing.

Starting Your Farm

Starting Your Farm: Chapter 4

Assuming that you’ve found a farm you want to buy, next you’ll need to determine if you can buy it. If you have sold your property, and/or saved your money, and have the means to buy the farm you are sitting pretty. If you do not have the full price of a considered farm, in cash or any other form, you will likely have to look for financing.

Cultivating Questions Cultivator Setups and Deer Fencing

Cultivating Questions: Cultivator Set-ups and Deer Fencing

We know all too well the frustration of putting your heart and soul into a crop only to have the wildlife consume it before you can get it harvested let alone to market. Our farm sits next to several thousand acres of state game lands and is the only produce operation in the area. As you can imagine, deer pressure can be intense. Neighbors have counted herds of 20 or more in our pastures.

On-Farm Meat Processing

The demand for fresh, local meat products – with no taint of industrial process – is absolutely staggering.

Cultivating Questions A Diversity of Cropping Systems

Cultivating Questions: A Diversity of Cropping Systems

As a matter of convenience, we plant all of our field vegetables in widely spaced single rows so we can cultivate the crops with one setup on the riding cultivator. Row cropping makes sense for us because we are more limited by labor than land and we don’t use irrigation for the field vegetables. As for the economics of planting produce in work horse friendly single rows, revenue is comparable to many multiple row tractor systems.

An Introduction To Farm Woodlands

The farm woodland is that portion of the farm which either never was cleared for tillage or pasture, or was later given back to woods growth. Thus it occupies land that never was considered suitable, or later proved unsuitable, for farm enterprises.

Birth of a Farm

Birth of a Farm

by:
from issue:

“Isn’t it nice?” I offer to my supper companions, “to see our beautiful horses right while we’re eating? I feel like I’m on a Kentucky horse farm, with rolling bluegrass vistas.” I sweep my arm dramatically towards the view, the rigged up electric fence, the lawn straggling down to the pond, the three horses, one of whom is relieving herself at the moment. “Oh, huh,” he answers. “I was thinking it was more like a cheesy bed and breakfast.”

Wheel Hoe

The Wheel Hoe: A Tool For Shallow Tillage

When we bought this little farm I soon realized I needed a wheel hoe. The size of the horse and tractor dictated space wasting wide rows in crop production and, to some degree, so does my two wheeled tractor.

Beating the Beetles – War & Peace in a Houston Garden

Blooming that is, unless the cucumber beetles arrive first.
And arrive they have … “At first I thought they looked like big, yellow lady bugs.” Paul said, “Then I looked…

A Tour of Various Draft Farms

A Tour of Various Draft Farms

Amidst all of the possibility that is out there, all of the options and uncertainties, it helps to remember that there is also a strong community in the draft-farming world. There are a great many like-minded yet still diverse people working with draft horses and ready to share their experiences. What will serve us well within this great variety of farms and farmers is to keep in touch, to learn from one another’s good ideas and mistakes and to keep on farming with draft power.

To Market, To Market, To Buy A Fat Pig

Within so-called alternative agriculture circles there are turf wars abrew

Prosperous Homesteading

Prosperous Homesteading

Prosperous Homesteading at FreeSong Farm by Greg Jeffers prosperoushomesteading.blogspot.com

Congo Farm Project

Congo Farm Project

by:
from issue:

I was at day one, standing outside an old burnt-out Belgian plantation house, donated to us by the progressive young chief of the village of Luvungi. My Congolese friend and I had told him that we would need to hire some workers to help clear the land around the compound, and to put a new roof on the building. I thought we should be able to attract at least 20 workers. Then, I looked out to see a crowd of about 800 eager villagers, each one with their own hoe.

The Way To The Farm

Lise Hubbe stops mid-furrow at plowing demonstration for Evergreen State College students. She explains that the plow was going too deep…

The First Year

The First Year

by:
from issue:

Prior to last year, I had felt I knew the nuances of the land quite well and fancied myself as knowledgeable about the course of the natural world. Outdoors was where I felt the most comfortable. The fresh air and endless views of fields, hills and valleys renewed my spirit and refreshed my mind. I didn’t think there was much that could fluster me when it came to the land. Until I became an organic farmer.

Fjordworks A History of Wrecks Part 2

Fjordworks: A History of Wrecks Part 2

It is always fascinating and at times a little disconcerting to watch how seamlessly the macro-economics of trying to make a living as a farmer in such an out-of-balance society can morph us into shapes we never would have dreamed of when we were getting started. This year we will be putting in a refrigerated walk-in cooler which will allow us to put up more storage-share vegetables.

The Brabants Farm

The Brabants’ Farm

by:
from issue:

The Brabants’ Farm is a multi purpose farming operation whose main goal is to promote “horsefarming.” Our philosophy is to support the transformation of regional conventional agriculture and forestry into a sustainable, socially responsible, and less petroleum dependent based agriculture, by utilizing animal drawn technology (“horsefarming”), and by meeting key challenges in 21st century small scale agriculture and forestry in Colombia and throughout South America.

Small Farmer's Journal

Small Farmer's Journal
PO Box 1627
Sisters, Oregon 97759
800-876-2893
541-549-2064
agrarian@smallfarmersjournal.com
Mon - Thu, 8am - 4pm PDT