Leo initiated the circle letter discussion on plowing in their very first letter. Already familiar with turning ground with the sulky, he asked for tips on taking the first steps behind the walking plow. The following advice may not be complete, but it is unique in that it combines the fresh impressions and lessons of teamsters who first put their hand to the plow this past year with the seasoned experience of those who have been walking the furrow half of their lives.
There are four general plans, or methods of plowing fields. These are: (1) to plow from one side of a field to the other; (2) to plow around the field; (3) to plow a field in lands; and (4) to start the plowing in the center of the field.
If we agree that quality of plowing is subject to different criteria at different times and in different fields, then perhaps the most important thing to consider is control. How effectively can I plow to attain my desired field condition based on my choice of plow? The old time plow manufacturers understood this. At one time there were specific moldboards available for every imaginable soil type and condition.
They advertise “rain or shine” for the Rock Creek Plowing Exhibition and this year they were put to the test. I’m happy to tell you that the horses and teamsters and spectators passed the test with flying, if soaked, colors. But I had forgotten that folks west of the Cascade Mountain range are accustomed to this sort of weather. I think it was my friend Ron VanGrunsven who, when I asked him why he was there, remarked “It’s too wet to do anything else.”
All other aspects being equal, the primary difference in plowing, comfortably, with a single horse is that the animal walks on unplowed ground immediately adjacent to the previous furrow, rather than in the furrow. This will cause the point of draft at the shoulder to be somewhat higher and will dictate hitching longer and/or higher than with the animal walking down 5 to 8 inches lower in the furrow.
As an anniversary gift my wife took me to Horse Progress Days in Pennsylvania for 2017. I watched the haying display and a few other things before meandering out behind the big field to the vegetable tillage area. As I walked down the lines of equipment I spotted a plow. The world sort of faded away as a rush of awe swept over me. My chest was tight as I neared the plow and I stood breathlessly looking at everything I had hoped for in a small plow bottom.
It’s hard to say why I chose a walking plow. My neighbor tells me they make them with wheels. They make chairs with wheels, too, but I’m not anxious to own one. Land size figured in, and price, and working order, and things said by farmers old and young. I didn’t flip a coin, but I might as well. I decided to start with a walking plow, and at the Small Farmers’ Gathering in Missouri in 1987, I found just the one; a John Deere 16-inch plow with good wood handles.