The Jourdant Plow
by Ken Gies of Fort Plain, NY
In my early twenties, a couple of years after I had my first chance to use draft horses, I had a dream. I don’t remember many dreams after a day, let alone three decades, but this one has persisted. It is very short. I am plowing with a walking plow and a team of horses. I stop to rest the team and feel the breeze tickle my face and I smell the trees. I look across a field of well laid furrows. That is it. It has never left. Over the years I have used horses for logging firewood and making hay, but never successfully plowed.
Since I gravitate to smaller animals like Haflingers, and since the ground I work is heavy, I had difficulty finding a suitable plow. A procession of one horse plows and too big team plows walked across my fields. None worked well enough to turn a furrow and leave it inverted. One year I was given a worn out Kverneland bottom by an Amish friend. I mounted it on a bare plow beam and tried to plow. It turned a sod, but was too big for my horses. I had already cut several junk plows down so I knew how to cut the angles on the moldboard and share to optimize the bottom to a narrower width. I did so on the KV bottom and had a nice 8 inch bottom. However, as I said, it was worn out, and it was of a discontinued line. It lasted half an acre before literally falling apart. But fixed in my mind was the vision of a baby Kverneland plow just right for a small team.
As an anniversary gift my wife took me to Horse Progress Days in Pennsylvania for 2017. We were only going to spend one day, so we were really giving things a fast look. 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. Even from a distance it looked like a KV. 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 was late in the day, and I could not find the owner of the plow but someone said that it would be demonstrated again the following morning. My wife could see that I had just developed a bad case of the galloping gimmee’s and reluctantly agreed to stay for the next day so I could see the plow in action.
The next morning we returned to the show and I hurried to the display area oblivious to the incredible spectacle that is half trade show and half circus. As I approached the plow I saw a tight knot of people carefully examining it. Among the people was a profile I had seen once before. It was the unforgettable outline of Sam Rich. I joined in the conversation listening intently as he pointed out how the score lines on the plow showed the flow of soil across the moldboard. I mentioned that I would like to buy it if it plowed well, afraid that someone else would want it too. Several did, but grumbled about money, and there was no price tag on it.
The plow was made from modern materials, well thought out and needed nothing added nor taken away. The handles could be raised and lowered with a locking bolt that fit into well spaced detents that eliminated sliding and the need to over tighten the adjuster. A regular bolt allowed the handles to swing left or right. The stem that held the bottom was also adjustable for height with a built in handle on the mounting bolts. The depth wheel was the same. The pear-ring fits into the hitch plate to accommodate different width animals and small teams. The coulter was attached to the bottom like a shark fin. Each feature was designed for quick on the go tweaking without the use of extra tools. I could see that significant testing had produced a work ready, easy to use tool.
A short parade of implements were demonstrated before the little plow had a chance to show its stuff. I followed Sam across the field to where a fine team of mules drew the plow through the sunbaked, totally dry stubble. Dust rose from the team’s feet in the dryness. Not ideal soil conditions I noted. The plow cut neatly through the hardened earth behind the steady, slow moving mules. The furrow slice rolled obediently against the furrow from the previous plow. I was astounded. The little bottom worked perfectly. Sam turned to me and in his deep gravelly voice gave the plow a compliment that only a New Englander could give. “Buy it,” he said.
I did. It took several hours to track down Stéphane Parraian, the owner and builder, agree on a price, collect cash from several ATMs and hurry back to pay for it before I finally got it loaded into our minivan. I stored the plow hoping to use it in the fall after haying was done and the garlic planted. However, three years before this I had an explosion in my brain similar to an aneurysm that still afflicted me with debilitating headaches and fatigue. [I have since used a vitamin regimen (and a lot of prayers) that have helped me recover almost completely]. I over exerted myself one day and lost my opportunity to plow before snow.
This spring I felt much better and decided to plow a narrow strip between my raspberries and apple trees. The plow did everything I asked even though the team did not. They had never plowed and in their opinion, believed that a fast walk on the smooth sod was better than a slow walk in the furrow. However, we did beat the sod strip up enough to disc and plant it. My second attempt went a little better. Again the plow performed flawlessly in spite of some misunderstandings from my Haflingers. But the team still believed I was leading them astray. I stopped the team to catch my breath. My dream floated back into my consciousness.
One day, hopefully soon, I will stop my team for a rest and feel the breeze and smell the trees. I will look across the well laid furrows and put the dream to bed for good, for it shall be reality.