Boiling pots were an important part of pre-industrial farm life. These large, iron containers were used for washing clothes, making soap, and cooking. One must simply light a fire under the pot and then soap can be made by heating the fats and oils produced from the plants and animals on the farm. Once the farmer has soap, they could add in clothing and use the soap to wash their clothes, then string them out on a drying line to do their laundry. Wash out the pot, light another fire, and it’s ready to be used for cooking.
Turning plows, also known as walking plows, were a common sight in pre-industrial farm life. They were used to break sod and turn over the soil in an action called primary tillage. This action increased the potency of the soil by mixing in the nutrients of plant material from the previous harvest, aerated the soil, and removed any weeds that may have grown. Plows with moldboards that lift and turn over the soil likely date back to the third century BCE. After completing primary tillage, other implements were used for secondary tillage to finish preparing the soil for planting.
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Sulky plows perform the same basic operation as the walking plow. They have a single bottom, similar to the walking plow. Pulled by a team of animals and built with wheels and levels for adjustments, they are much easier to operate and can plow far more land in a day than can be plowed with a walking plow. Similar plows with more than one bottom, known as gang plows, were often used on larger farms.
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Bedding plows, also known as middle breakers, were used for primary tillage, in much the same way as moldboard plows. They were typically pulled by a single horse or mule along with two additional plow blades of various sizes. Middle breakers were generally used in fields where a crop — such as cotton — was grown in a raised bed or ridge, as it could be used to burst open old ridges from a previous crop, or form a new row for planting.
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Spike-tooth harrows, also known as peg-tooth harrows, are secondary tillage implements. Various secondary tillage implements will turn, chop, or pulverize the soil and organic material into smaller pieces. A peg-tooth harrow will uproot small weeds and smooth the soil to help eliminate a rough surface left by more aggressive tillage implements. Typically, two or more sections of a harrow, like the single one on display here, are used side-by-side to cover large areas more quickly.
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Sometimes called a weeder-mulcher, spring-tooth weeders are used to remove small weeds and break up the crust that can form on top of the soil. This tool is used after the crop has started to grow but while the plants are still fairly small. Most weeds, which at this stage are even smaller than the crop plants, will be removed.
Cultivators are secondary tillage implements used to remove weeds from between the rows of growing crops. The teeth or rotary disks on the cultivator are pulled through the soil, killing weeds and aerating the land. A single horse or mule would pull a cultivator while the farmer walked behind and guided it between two rows.
Pulled by a tractor, revolving scrapers were used to dig soil and move it from one place to another. They might have been used to level a field, dig a farm pond, or to improve drainage ditches. They were an important tool for landscaping before the advent of mechanized tractor plows.
The Fresno scraper is an improvement on an even older machine called the slip scraper, but an earlier implement than the revolving scraper. It was used to move soil, and performed the same jobs that can be done with a revolving scraper. The name “Fresno” is derived from the Fresno Agricultural Works, a company that produced many of these scrapers.
A lister is a planter for two crops such as cotton or corn. It is adapted for regions with little rainfall. The plow-like bottom makes a deep furrow and the seed is placed in the middle of the furrow. Cultivation gradually adds more soil to the row, placing the roots deeper in the ground where moisture is more plentiful.
A walking planter, also called a single-horse planter, was used to plant row-crops such as cotton or corn. It could be used to plant the crop “on the flat.” It could also be used to plant in a furrow that was previously made using a middle breaker plow.
Seed drills were built to be pulled by a tractor. They were used to plant small grain and grass crops. These types of crops are usually broadcast seeded (no rows) or planted in rows that are very close together. This drill can add fertilizer to the field at the same time it plants the seeds. As displayed, one side of this drill has the disk openers in the ground in the operating position. The other side has the openers in the raised transport position.
A mowing machine was used to cut grass crops so they can be gathered for animal feed. This machine requires two horses.
A rake performed the first step to gather grass crops after they were cut. This machine gathered the grass as it was pulled across the field by one or two horses. When the tines in the back were full, the farmer raised them, dumping the grass in one place. If the farmer was careful, he could dump the piles in rows that made it easier to finish gathering the crop.
This piece of equipment used to be a common sight on many farms. It was used to cut corn stalks off near the ground and gather them into bundles that were dropped on the ground for later gathering. In some parts of the country, they were used to harvest sugar cane. They were initially pulled by a team of horses, though in later years tractors were used. The first corn binders were made around 1890. By the 1930’s, these machines started to be replaced by field harvesters that would cut the crop, chop it, and deliver it directly into a wagon in a single operation. The last corn binders were build in the 1950’s.
A hay fork such as this could be attached to a horse rig or tractor and used to relocate hay bales.