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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

Spotlight On: Farming Systems & Approaches

Cultivating Questions Winterkilled Cover Crops for a Mild Climate

Cultivating Questions: Winterkilled Cover Crops For A Mild Climate Part 1

Our mild climate makes it too easy to overwinter cover crops. Then the typically wet springs (and, on our farm, wet soils) let the cover put on loads of topgrowth before getting on the soil. Buckwheat is the only crop that I can be certain will winterkill. Field peas, oats, annual rye and crimson clover have all overwintered here. Any suggestions?

Fjord Horses at Work in the Green Mountains of Vermont

Fjord Horses at Work in the Green Mountains of Vermont

We own a 40 jersey cow herd and sell most of their milk to Cobb Hill Cheese, who makes farmstead cheeses. We have a four-acre market garden, which we cultivate with our team of Fjord horses and which supplies produce to a CSA program, farm stand and whole sale markets. Other members of the community add to the diversity of our farm by raising hay, sheep, chickens, pigs, bees, and berries, and tending the forest and the maple sugar-bush.

Cultivating Questions: Alternative Tillage & Inter-Seeding Techniques

Our intention is not to advocate the oddball living mulches we use with this single row inter-seeding system, but just to show how it is possible to utilize the between-row areas to improve insect habitat, reduce erosion, conserve moisture, fix some nitrogen, and grow a good bit of extra organic matter. If nothing else, experimenting with these alternative practices continues to keep farming exciting as we begin our twentieth season of bio-extensive market gardening.

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.

LittleField Notes Seed Irony

LittleField Notes: Seed Irony

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They say to preserve them properly, seeds should be kept in a cool, dark place in a sealed, dry container. Yet the circumstances under which seeds in a natural environment store themselves (so to speak) seem so far from ideal, that it’s a wonder plants manage to reproduce at all. But any gardener knows that plants not only manage to reproduce, they excel at it. Who hasn’t thrown a giant squash into the compost heap in the fall only to see some mystery squash growing there the next summer?

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.

The Shallow Insistence

…a life of melody, poetry and farming?

Organic To Be or Not To Be

Organic: To Be or Not To Be

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How do our customers know that we’re accurately representing our products? That’s the key, the reason that a third party verification system was created, right? I think this is the beauty of a smaller-scale, community-based direct market food system. During parts of the year, my customers drive past my sheep on their way to the farmers’ market. At all times of the year, we welcome visitors to our farm. In other words, our production practices are entirely open for our customers to see.

Mayfield Farm

Mayfield Farm, New South Wales, Australia

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Mayfield Farm is a small family owned and operated mixed farm situated at 1150 m above sea level on the eastern edge of the Great Dividing Range in northern New South Wales, Australia. Siblings, Sandra and Ian Bannerman, purchased the 350 acre property in October, 2013, and have converted it from a conventionally operated farm to one that is run on organic principles. Additional workers on the farm include Janette, Ian’s wife, and Jessica, Ian’s daughter.

Planting Calendar and Other Diagrams

From Dusty Shelves: A 1943 calendar for seeding your vegetable garden.

Cuban Agriculture

Cuban Agriculture

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In December of 1979, Mary Jo and I spent two weeks traveling in Cuba on a “Farmer’s Tour of Cuba”. The tour was a first of its kind. It was organized in the U.S. by farmers, was made up of U.S. farmers and agriculturally oriented folks, and was sponsored in Cuba by A.N.A.P., the National Association of Independent Farmers. As we learned about farming we also learned how the individuals, farms, and communities we visited fit into the greater social and economic structure of Cuba.

Food Energy The Fragile Link Between Resources and Population

Food-Energy: the Fragile Link Between Resources & Population

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Now, after a one lifetime span of almost free energy and resultant copious food, the entire world faces the imminent decline (and eventual demise) of finite, fossil-fuel capital. Without fossil fuels, food can no longer be produced in one area and shipped thousands of miles to market. To suggest that the world will be able to feed the UN projected population of nine billion by 2050 is totally incomprehensible in the face of declining oil.

Henpecked Compost and U-Mix Potting Soil

We have hesitated to go public with our potting mix, not because the formula is top secret, but because our greenhouse experience is limited in years and scale. Nevertheless, we would like to offer what we have learned in hopes of showing that something as seemingly insignificant as putting together a potting mix can be integrated into a systems approach to farming.

Barnyard Manure

Barnyard Manure

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The amount of manure produced must be considered in planning a cropping system for a farm. If one wishes to manure one-fifth of the land every year with 10 tons per acre, there would have to be provided two tons per year for each acre of the farm. This would require about one cow or horse, or equivalent, for each six acres of land.

Biodynamic Meeting at Ruby and Amber’s Organic Farm

Biodynamic Meeting at Ruby and Amber’s Organic Farm

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One weekend I attended a Biodynamic meeting at Ruby and Amber’s Organic Farm in Dorena, Oregon, in the Row River Valley, just east of Cottage Grove. I always enjoy seeing other food growing operations, as this is such an infinitely broad subject, there is always much to learn from others’ experiences. At this farm, draft horses are used for much of the work.

Low Tillage Radish Onions

Low Tillage Radish Onions

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The radishes came up quick, filling the garden canopy completely that fall, and the following spring we found the plot was clean of weeds and rows of open holes were left where the radish roots had been growing. Well, we had a few extra onion plants that spring and decided to plant them in these holes, since we already had very clear lines laid out for us and a clean seedbed. What we got were the best looking onions that have ever come out of our gardens.

To Market, To Market, To Buy A Fat Pig

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

Farmrun - Sylvester Manor

Sylvester Manor

Sylvester Manor is an educational farm on Shelter Island, whose mission is to cultivate, preserve, and share these lands, buildings, and stories — inviting new thought about the importance of food, culture and place in our daily lives.

Journal Guide