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.
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.
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…