Horsepower Units
Horsepower Units
Five 2-horse treadmill units hooked together to power a silage cutter and blower at the Brubaker farm in Hillsboro, Ohio.

On the Road to Visit

Horsepower Units

And the Friendly People Who Have Them

story and photos by Khoke and Ida Livingston

This is part one of a multi-part series. We traveled with friends Jordan Hale and Ammon Weeks to 4 horse powered communities in Kentucky, Tennessee, and Ohio to research Treadmill and Rotary horsepower units. We learned much more than what would fit in one article so this first one is simply an introduction and overview. Anticipated upcoming articles are: Treadmill Horsepower, Rotary Horsepower, Harvesters and Ground Driven PTO’s, Wind and Water Power. These articles will expand what we only touch on in this issue.

Every farm has both seasonal and long-term goals. Among the long-term goals for our farm has been to find a way to operate without motors or electronics of any kind. Most of this goal has been accomplished. We find alternatives and we find what we can do without. Horse and hand power with the knowledge and skill to use them are built slowly but surely.

A handful of tools remain with a motor because we have not found a way to replace them yet. But we keep looking. There is the band sawmill with which we cut lumber, the power unit running the thresher, the High Lift dozer, and the generator used to run the welder. We are patient with the process it takes to replace them without letting time lose track of that goal.

When I wrote about Khoke’s grandfather rebuilding a 7-sweep rotary horsepower unit, I wrote briefly about some technical issues we ran into. To this, we got a response from John Brubaker, the community mechanic for the Winchester Mennonite community near Hillsboro, Ohio. Khoke’s grandfather, William, thought our thresher required too much power for the 7-sweep to handle. But John thought the 7-sweep should be able to handle it easily. John suggested we switch from our McCormick-Deering to a Case thresher. Case threshers have been known to be the easiest to power, John’s family had one they had powered for years with only a 5-sweep. In recent years they have switched from sweep horsepower to treadmills.

With his interest piqued, Khoke asked John if we might come and see what he has set up. John suggested we come to see the five 2-horse treadmills connected to power the silage chopper in the fall. He also suggested that it might be worth our time to check out the Scottsville Horse and Buggy Mennonite community in southern Kentucky. This community is only 50 miles west of the Vernon community near Hestand, Kentucky, where our longtime friends, the Bye family, lives. Before our travel plans were finalized, they also included a stop at the Delano Mennonite community in Tennessee as well.

Originally planning to see John first in Ohio, we moved him to the end of the trip when he wrote to say that he would be chopping silage a week later than he anticipated due to the crop delays caused by the cold wet spring they had. Sounded like the same cold wet spring we had 650 miles west of them.

So, October 5th found us driving all day with our vehicle aimed at taking us to Vernon. We rolled in before dark to Mark and Naomi Troyer’s house. Naomi’s parents Dan and Jean Bye were waiting for us there too. These gracious people have hosted me many times over the years and opened their home to do so yet again. This time, Khoke and I brought Jordan and Ammon, a couple friends interested in alternative power as well.

Horsepower Units
The Hoover Mill, owned and operated by Roy Schrock of Scottsville Kentucky. The mill in operation is powered by a 5-sweep rotary horsepower unit.

The Hoover Mill

The next morning, we drove over to Scottsville from Vernon. We stopped on the way over to pick up some Dramamine for Jordan. The road that stretched between these communities didn’t stretch at all. It folded and contorted in ways that a road should not.

Horsepower Units
Khoke watching as 10 horses activate the 5-sweep powering the Hoover Feed mill.

We arrived at the Hoover Feed Mill sometime after 10 am and watched customers come and go with their bags of grain until Roy Schrock, the owner of the mill, was free to show us around. I had written ahead a few days earlier and he was expecting us. He showed us around the mill explaining how it worked and the history of how it came to be. The mill was originally set up in 1980 by Dan Hoover. In 1991, Roy bought it and has been running it ever since.

Horsepower Units
The storage bin, elevators, cracker and mixer inside the Hoover mill.

A 5-sweep horsepower unit, operated by 10 horses, powers all the equipment at the mill. This includes the 2-grain elevator, a roller cracker, and a large mixer. The grain from the storage bin is released onto a chute that empties onto a short elevator carrying the grain to the roller mill. Three sets of rollers crack the grain, the first roller set to a coarse crack, then medium and the final rollers set for the finish. From here it is carried up to a hopper by a vertical scoop elevator. The hopper releases the corn into the mixer where other ingredients are added. At the bottom of the mixer is a chute where the mixed feed is released to fill bags as they sit on a scale.

Roy invited us in for lunch where we enjoyed pleasant conversation and a good meal served by his wife Ina. After lunch we strolled out to tour his sorghum press and cooker. It was not in operation on that Thursday, so we would return the following day to see it in operation.

Horsepower Units
A very large horizontal sorghum press at the Hoover mill in Scottsville, Kentucky.

This sorghum press was the largest I have seen. It was a horizontal press that could be fed by two bundles of sorghum at a time. The sorghum was cut and tied by a corn binder for ease of handling. I will talk more about the press and the horse power that operated it in a coming article.

Horsepower Units
Ammon trying out the forks used to feed the Scottsville sorghum cooker furnace.

Our second visit to this mill on the following day found us watching Ina oversee and cook the finishing trays in the sorghum house. Like most sorghum cooking trays that I have seen, these trays are heated with wood fired steam. Feeding the inferno in the firebox is no light undertaking. For this they set up what looks like skid loader forks that catch and carry the pallets and wood that they burn, into the furnace.

The raw sap flows gravity fed to the cookhouse from where it is pressed (uphill from the cookhouse). The pressed cane flows through a screen to filter out debris and is piped down to a couple holding/settling tanks. From here it is piped to the cooker. At the cooker, the sap flows in at about the same rate that it cooks off.

Horsepower Units
The rolling boil of cooking sorghum. The towels on the edge are catching the impurities as they cook out.

The only section of tray that cooked over open flame was the initial pan where the raw sap flowed into. This sap cooks at a rolling boil and the dark green scum (impurities) that rise to the surface is skimmed off at intervals. The cooking sap moves on into the steam trays where the rolling boil continues. The sap moves through the corridors created by fins in the tray. Creating this maze slows the movement of the sap so that when it reaches the end of the line it has cooked down and finished.

At this last tray where the sap has thickened into syrup and the color has caramelized, Ina stands over this tray with hands that are never idle. She has long wooden handled pushers that pull or push the syrup to move it along faster or slower to correct the cook down rate as she watches the gauges that tell her the syrup temperatures.

Horsepower Units
Sorghum molasses hot and fresh from the cooking tray.

The syrup leaves the pan in a foamy stream, cooling slightly as it falls on a wide chute. The syrup is piped hot to a holding tank in another room where it is bottled. A small table just behind Ina graciously offers homemade biscuits and butter beside a stack of dixie cups that one can use to catch some hot sorghum streaming fresh from the tray for a taste test.

The Treadmill Shop

From the mill we went out to see Mervin Hoover and his treadmill shop. His shop was not in operation yet as he only builds treadmill horsepower units from November through May. The growing season finds him in his gardens and fields raising produce. Mervin said he builds about 25 horsepower units in those 7 months, and they are usually sold out before he even starts.

Looking around the shop he had an unusually large frame sitting off to one side. This was a 6-horse treadmill unit he had begun to build. Enos Swartz from the Vernon Community wanted to buy it to power a sawmill.

Mervin’s shop is powered by two 2-horse treadmills, but he said it usually only takes one of them to run it. We will revisit this shop in an upcoming article.

Horsepower Units
Looking across the pond that powers the water powered sawmill in Scottsville, Kentucky.

A Water Powered Sawmill

Although our trip was focused on expanding our knowledge of horse power, when we heard there was a water powered sawmill in the area, we could not resist stopping in. The sawmill was not in operation as it was too dry yet to start draining the pond. We toured it anyway.

Horsepower Units
Ammon Weeks checking out the buzz saw in the water powered bandsaw mill facility as Jordan Hale looks on. Scottsville, Kentucky.
Horsepower Units
A look at the shaft and pulleys that engage the machinery in Sam Stoner’s Blacksmith and Knife shop.

Sam Stoner’s Knife Shop

When we heard about Sam Stoner’s knife shop, Ammon felt there would be a hole in the trip if we were to miss seeing it. Ammon has been interested in setting up a treadmill horsepower unit to his blacksmith shop. For Ammon, this visit was a chance to see a horse powered trip hammer. For me, it was a chance to see a trip hammer.

Not only does Sam use his trip hammers, he also makes them. He makes knives for a living and he makes his own equipment for fun. Two of his trip hammers and at least a couple of his belt sanders were ones he fabricated himself. Ammon was a kid in a candy store, this was definitely a highlight of his trip. The whole shop ran off a 2-horse treadmill.

Vernon Community Saws

As we traveled, one of Ammon’s goals was to check out horse powered woodcutting. Expecting to find more buzz saws, instead, we found a number of bandsaws used for this purpose. The bandsaws tend to be slower than a buzz saw but they are safer.

A buzz saw is a large circular saw blade like what you would see at a sawmill, but set up to cut firewood. My dad had a buzz saw that we used to cut up the slab wood from his sawmill. He jacked up the back of his truck and used a back wheel to run the belt connected to the buzz saw. You want that blade very securely anchored. Under no circumstances do you want it coming loose. I heard of an incident where that happened once and it was messy. And you want only highly attentive people operating this saw. My job was always feeding the blade. Maybe because I was just afraid enough of it to be safer than the other help on hand.

At the Vernon community Khoke, Jordan and Ammon looked at two buzz saws and two bandsaws. Both buzz saws had a pivot platform, meaning you lay the wood on a platform and push or raise the platform into the saw to cut the wood. This is a safety feature but it can contribute to a pinched blade.

Buzz saws have a wider kerf (the width of the cut made by the saw), than the kerf made by a bandsaw. This wider kerf requires more power to operate.

Horsepower Units
The bandsaw with the I-beam and cultivator hook on rollers to help support wood as a person cuts lengths off of it.

The bandsaw that Mark Troyer used to cut firewood with ran off a 2-sweep horsepower. This did not take two teams, likely just one horse on each tongue, if that much. This bandsaw had an overhead I-beam that came out to meet it. On the I-beam was a set of rollers that had a cultivator hook hanging from it. This hook held the end of the length of wood to stabilize it while you were cutting it and the rollers allowed you to pull it in as you cut sections off. This reduced the amount of help necessary to cut wood. Khoke also noticed that the blade was turned at a 45º angle by the guides holding it, allowing the wood to be cut at longer lengths before reaching the neck of the saw.

Another bandsaw they looked at was at a band sawmill. There was a horizontal band sawmill run off of a 4-sweep horsepower unit. A shaft and pulley ran out to a bandsaw used to cut firewood from the slab wood produced by the mill.

Horsepower Units
The bandsaw set up to cut firewood at a bandsaw mill. Notice the tire used to apply tension on the blade.

With this little bandsaw, the tension on the blade was kept by a rubber tire. Unfortunately, the tire had a slow leak, each time the saw was to be used, the tire had to be pumped to tighten the blade. This method was convenient in that when the blade needed to be replaced, the air was let out of the tire to take out all the tension, once the blade was replaced, the air was pumped back into the tire.

Another helpful detail was to observe how many teeth are on the blade. Having more teeth per inch on the blade allows a smoother cut, When the blade has fewer teeth per inch it is designed to be used as a rip saw and cut with the grain of the wood. However, firewood is cut across the grain and works better with more teeth per inch.

Horsepower Units
The Vernon community sorghum cooking facility, post-season.

Vernon Community Sorghum and Flour Mill

The Vernon community sorghum is known to set the standard for quality sorghum molasses. They have a particularly good facility and set the bar high for their product. They, like many other southern communities were hit very hard by the invasive sugarcane aphid. Amid the struggle to find a reasonable solution, many found it simpler to just turn to other crops. Those who stuck it out renew some hope with their successes.

Horsepower Units
A row of jars of sorghum molasses in the Vernon community sorghum cookhouse, near Hestand, Kentucky. A jar is kept from each batch cooked and lined up with the others from previous batches to see how it compares. There are many factors that contribute to the quality of a batch, including growing conditions and seed variety.

Enos Swartz, among his many activities, set up and operates the Vernon community flour and grain mills. Unfortunately, he was out of town when we passed through, so we were not able to pick his brain as we would have liked to do. He grinds grain for the community with a 5-sweep rotary horsepower unit that requires only three teams to operate it.

Horsepower Units
Enos Swartz’s gristmill at the Vernon community.

A newer addition to Enos’ milling is a $12,000 grist mill that he bought from Germany. This is a PTO powered mill that is operated by a 3-horse treadmill. Khoke was impressed, it grinds really nice flour.

Riding through the Vernon community with Mark, they passed another buggy that turned Khoke’s head. The other horse had its tail tied down. Khoke asked Mark why that was. Evidently, the horse was young and in training with a tendency to kick. A rope was braided into the tail and then tied snugly to the buggy axle. This worked better than a kick strap to prevent the horse from lifting its backend to kick.

Horsepower Units
A pedal powered leather sewing machine in Delano Tennessee.


Early Saturday morning we bade our goodbyes at the Troyer home who had so graciously kept us warm, fed, and in good company for the 3 nights we spent in the Vernon community. Our horseless carriage pointed southeast again to seek out the Delano community. We drove 4 hours to find ourselves with not quite enough directions to get us where we wanted to go.

Being naturally directionally challenged as I am, I got over any qualms about asking for directions many years ago. So, I pulled into a Dollar General parking lot in the middle of what seemed like nowhere. In the checkout line were two customers and the cashier, all of whom were very happy to help me. But when facing three different sets of directions, the young lady in front of me said, “Just follow my car, I’ll take you there.” And she did! Thank-you to the lady in the little white car!

Once in the Delano community, we were directed to the residence of James Martin. Here we had a chance to look at the water turbine that powered his print shop and irrigation system for his neighbors. Amazing.

Horsepower Units
A manual type setter powered by a bike at the Needle Eye Print shop in Delano, Tennessee.

Before he set up the water turbine, James’ print shop was run off of a one-horse treadmill and some of the equipment was powered by treadle or bike power. The equipment in the print shop was not just a collectors showcase. James uses them regularly to print various flyers, periodicals, and food labels for his own and other communities. He also prints the Stewards Journal, a publication that connects and promotes conservative organic farming and farmers.


Here too, sorghum has been a big part of the community agriculture in time past. This took a huge hit when a few years ago, sorghum crops across the (particularly southern) USA were hit by an invasive aphid that nearly put an end to sorghum production.

Many communities turned to systemic sprays such as Sivanto to control the aphid. But Delano and those in the Vernon community object to the use of neonicotinoid sprays and were facing the harsh realities of crop failures.

This new aphid blew north on the wind from Sugar Cane producers much farther south. Sorghum cane stalks that are normally heavy became light like straw with the sap sucked dry from these tiny 6-legged vampires. Even if only a couple leaves remained at the top of the cane, this was enough for the aphids to lower the brix from the 19 to 7 or 8.

When sorghum cane is pressed you can put the sap in a refractometer to measure the brix (sugar content in the sap solution). A poor rating is 11 and an excellent sorghum sap rating is 18-19. But when the aphids took over, the brix dipped below 10, at times all the way down to 7. This was extremely discouraging and many small farmers quit growing sorghum.

James believed in keeping the connection to sorghum alive but was unwilling to spray insecticides for it. He thought surely something can be done. Watching his young sorghum patch show the first signs of infestation on the lower leaves a couple of years ago and knowing how fast their population can explode, in desperation, he walked through his patch knocking off all the lower leaves that showed clusters of these aphids. These leaves left in the aisles were washed from a heavy rain that night. To his surprise, the aphids were noticeably set back.

Since then, he has found that a routine (once a week) walk through the sorghum field to spot and treat aphid outbreaks by knocking off the leaves that host a new aphid cluster, seems to keep the problem under control. To his delight, the brix came back up within normal range. This solution may not work for everyone, but has worked well for him so far.

James’ son Norman helped figure out how to rig a sprayer that sprays bottom up, coating the underside of the leaves where the aphid infestations are found. They have had some success spraying an insecticidal soap and oil.

The Delano sorghum cookers are meticulously clean and well organized. Outside the cookhouse is a boiler that pipes the steam to the cooker.

From the sorghum cooker we walked over to a barn housing a 4-horse grain harvester and a ground driven PTO that will get a lot more attention in an upcoming article.

Horsepower Units
A couple horses operating the two horse treadmill at Norman Martins metal shop.

Norman and Mandy

From James Martin’s place we drove on back to see his son, Norman Martin. We ate lunch with Norman and his wife Mandy and their little Kathleen, a genuine and thoughtful young couple. Norman is a highly creative and inventive mechanical genius who is much too humble to admit such a thing himself, but we saw enough of his work on waterwheels, turbines, and re-engineered machinery to greatly respect his God-given gifts.

Not overly long settled in their home, Norman has a small metal shop running off of a 2-horse treadmill. Catching the interest of my more domestic eye was the washroom set up in the corner of the main floor of the house. This room had a wringer washer with gravity fed water coming from a tank filled by their wind mill. The motorless, non-electric washer was powered by the 2-horse treadmill at the metal shop 40 yards away. Mandy could engage the treadmill from inside the house, and a pulley from the corner of the house to the corner of the shop with only a nylon cord for a belt was able to power the machine.

After lunch and a home tour, Norman added an extra bench seat to his buggy and took us for a tour to visit some of the other horsepower units around the community. We saw a treadmill powered woodshop and metal shop, and a 5-sweep horsepower built from the gearbox of a cement truck. There was a water powered bandsaw, woodshop, gristmill, and rice huller.

Horsepower Units
The homemade hay mover and lift made by Ray Zimmerman of Delano, Tennessee.

A One-Of-A-Kind Bale Mover

On the way back to Norman’s place we stopped briefly as we passed Ray Zimmerman’s unique 3 wheeled bale mover. This homemade bale mover took the hydraulic forks off of a tractor and put them on the front of this frame. A winch was rigged to raise and lower the forks. If that wasn’t interesting enough, the horses are hitched behind the forks but in front of where the driver is seated. The driver, seated behind the horses, turns the steering wheel, and operates the winch. The horses pull the frame to push the bale, one does not need to steer them, that is done with the steering wheel for the front wheels, the horses just need to know when to pull, stop and back. A well-trained team can do this with voice command. With this bale mover, Ray can not only move bales but he can also stack them.

Headed for Ohio

Sunday morning, we left Delano after a much-too-short visit there, but Sunday evening was to find us due in Ohio, so we spent the day on the road. Although we had tightly scheduled this road trip, I had insisted we carve out a little time to drop in on my grandmother, Jan Edwards, and Sunday evening was that time. Living 700 miles east of us, the miles lay long between our visits. So being only an hour away from our last stop, Grandma was definitely getting some visitors.

We rolled in the Brubaker’s roadside driveway mid Monday morning. John and his brother Henry were working in the lane and greeted us. We spent the next 2 days with the Joseph and Katherine Brubaker family. John is their oldest and in his early 20’s. John is the community mechanic. He has a horse powered metal shop where he maintenances, repairs, and reinvents machinery of all kinds.

Horsepower Units
The portable treadmill being pulled into place by a team of horses.

The treadmill horse power they use not only powers his metal shop but the family’s woodworking shop where they build furniture to sell and a hammermill used to grind flour. The occasion that drew our interest for a visit (even before we knew how pleasant they were), was to see them string five 2-horse treadmills together to power the silage cutter and blower.

Horsepower Units
This treadmill unit has a flatbelt pulley on it to make it more versatile.

Our first day at the Brubaker’s found Khoke, Ammon and Jordan helping set up the treadmills in preparation for chopping silage the next day. It would be probably more accurate to say we did much more observing than actual help. They knew what they were doing. The neighbors who would be participating for the silage chopping the next day, also brought their treadmills over on this first day for setup to make sure there was the necessary five.

Horsepower Units
The backend of an Allis-Chalmers tractor converted to operate a ground driven PTO and pulled by horses.

As time afforded, Khoke and John made their way around to look over some of John’s projects and achievements. The horse drawn tractor backend converted to ground drive and used to power a small brush hog. A #4 John Deere mower converted to run a PTO. A pull behind combine reworked to be ground driven instead of PTO. These were just a few of what was available to see.

John showed Khoke how he attaches a chain to the furrow wheel axle of a sulky plow and loops the other end of the chain back to attach to the plow beam. This catches and lays a tall cover crop down neatly as the plow folds the soil over it. I found an illustration demonstrating this in Lynn Miller’s Horsedrawn Plows and plowing book. You can find it on page 50. It shows this on a walking plow, but it applies just as well to a riding plow, only instead of hooking one end of the chain to the evener, you attach it to the axle.

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Harnessless horses busily engaged in operating four of the five treadmill units strung together here. Hillsboro, Ohio.

Our second day at the Brubaker’s was centered around the silage chopping activities. Several neighboring men showed up with their teams to help with the work. Midmorning, the crew stopped for a snack break and to rest the horses. When they came in for lunch, the horses went to the barn for some lunch too. Midafternoon offered another snack break and rest for the horses. The horses were rested after about 4 wagon loads throughout the day. Well before supper the work was done.

Horsepower Units
A birds-eye view of the five treadmill units. This picture was taken from the top of the silo ladder. Hillsboro, Ohio.

Paul Martin, Katherine’s brother who lives nearby, took Khoke for a buggy ride over to see another silage cutter being set up. Only this one would be run off of a 5-sweep rotary horsepower. It was set up to operate the next day so we did not see it run but Khoke got to look it over anyway.

Ammon and Jordan missed most of this day’s activities. Jordan was scheduled to tour a clay roofing tile factory in New Lexington, and Ammon went to the Newark area near Flint Ridge to acquire some of the flint the region is known for. Ammon is a flint knapper and makes his own bow hunting points. That evening when we were all done with the day’s activities, Ammon sat down with a stone biface blank and knapped (chipped) out a perfect arrowhead in about 45 minutes. I’m not sure if the Brubaker boys believed he could do such a thing at the beginning, but they believed afterwards!

Wednesday found us saying our goodbyes again to names who now have faces remembered fondly. People are people wherever you go. In any group of people, you will find those whom are graciousness embodied and others whom are absorbed in their own interests. When I commented on the graciousness of those who hosted us as we traveled, this is not a formality, it was more than true. These people were very generous with their time, information, and hospitality.

I appreciate the opportunity to photograph the equipment we encountered among a people who asked only that we do not photograph their person. I am particularly grateful to Mark and Naomi Troyer, the Bye family and all their extensions, as well as Roy and Ina Schrock, Sam Stoner, James Martin, Norman and Mandy Martin, Joseph and Katherine Brubaker, Paul Martin, John Brubaker, Ruth Brubaker and her good food, and to all the Brubaker boys who gifted me with the sassafras! Thank-you!