Category Archives: Potato planters

Potato Farming in North Dakota with a 1937 Famall F-20 (Part 2)

Statistics recorded with Counterize - Version 3.1.4

Potato Farming in No. Dakota with A 1937 F-20 (Part II)

by Brian Wayne Wells

(As published in the November/December 2008 issue of

Belt Pulley Magazine)

Grafton Potato Growers Inc.: A major potato buyer of potaotes in Grafton, the county seat of Walsh County, North Dakota.

As noted previously, Walsh County, North Dakota borders the Red River of the North in eastern North Dakota.  (See the first article in the series called “Potato Farming in North Dakota [Part I]” contained in the July/August 2008 issue of Belt Pulley magazine.)  Because of its location and its light rich soils, Walsh County traditionally leads all 53 counties of North Dakota in the production of potatoes.  Indeed, some years, Walsh County produces 40% of the North Dakota’s total annual potato crop.  Walsh County is divided into 37 townships.  The townships on the extreme eastern edge of Walsh County that border the Red River are not the leading townships in the county in potato production.  Rather it is the “second range” of townships back from the Red River that are regarded as the best locations for the growing of potatoes.  Among this second tier of townships in Walsh County is Martin Township.

A map of North Dakota showing the location of Walsh County. The eastern boundary of North Dakota is formed by the Red river of the North.

 

As noted previously, Martin Township was, in 1936, the home of a particular farmer and his wife and two children.  Together they lived on a diversified 160-acre farm on which they raised potatoes as a primary cash crop.  However, they also raised spring wheat, corn, oats and hay.  They also milked a small herd of Holstein dairy cattle.  They had a chicken house full of laying hens and a few hogs in an attempt to diversify the sources of farm income as much as possible.  Consequently, a large portion of the arable land of their farm was taken up by pastureland and crops used as feed for the animals on the farm.  Martin Township was located so far north in the Midwest that the typical growing season was only 110 days long, extending only from an average last frost in the spring on about May  11 until the first killing frost in the fall on about September 11.  Corn which requires a 120-day season, does not, therefore, have enough time to mature in Martin Township.  This far north, corn is not a cash crop and is used as an animal feed on the farm.  Consequently, all the corn, raised by our Martin Township farmer was chopped green and put in the silo to be fed to his dairy herd.  Only wheat and potatoes were sold as cash crops.

A township map of Walsh county showing the location of Martin Township north of the county seat of Grafton, North Dakota on the northern border of Walsh County.

 

As the growing season approached in the Spring of 1937, our Martin Township farmer was reducing the amount of the acreage to be devoted to oats and hay on his farm for the coming year.  The reason for this was that over the winter of 1936-1937 he had purchased a new row crop tractor which would, eventually, replace the horses on his farm.  As noted previously, this new tractor was a Farmall F-20 tractor bearing the Serial Number 71355.  (Ibid.)  He had purchased No. 71355 from the Honsvald Oil Company in Grafton, North Dakota, the county seat of Walsh County.  (Ibid.)

An advertisement of the Grafton Implement Company, which formerly had been known as the Honsvald Oil Company.

 

No. 71355 was a tricycle-style tractor with a narrow front end, and factory-installed 5.50 x 16 inch rubber tires mounted on French and Hecht (F. & H.) round-spoke wheels in the front and 11.25 x 24 inch tires also mounted on F. & H. round-spoke tires in the rear.  Because the tractor had been fitted with rubber tires at the International Harvester Farmall Works factory in Rock Island, Illinois, No. 71355 was also fitted with the optional foot brakes and was fitted with the optional 28-tooth high speed road gear.  With the more common 36-inch rubber wheels in the rear, this optional road gear would have delivered a speed of 7.07 miles per hour (m.p.h.) to the tractor.

A Farmall model F-20 tractor configured with 24 inch rubber tires in the rear and French & Hecht round-spoke rims front and rear, just as No. 71355 was configured when it arrived at Honsvald Oil Company in Grafton, North Dakota.  The narrow front end of the tricycle-style of No. 71355 would provide our Martin Township farmer with the ability to perform all the field activities on his farm including the cultivation of row crops.

 

However, because No. 71355 was fitted with the optional 24-inch wheels in the rear, the speed of the tractor in every gear was reduced by almost 1/3.  Accordingly, the speeds available to No. 71355 through its four speed transmission were 1.575 mph in first gear, 1.925 mph in second gear, 2.275 mph in third gear and 4.666 mph in the optional fourth gear.

A Heisler step-up transmission mounted on a Farmall model F-20.

 

Because this range of speeds was painfully slow for cultivation and other light duty field work, our Martin Township farmer had agreed to the installation of a supplemental high-speed transmission to No. 71355, as a part of the original purchase contract.  The particular high-speed supplemental transmission installed by the Honsvald Oil Company to No. 71355 was the Model HT-2033 supplemental transmission manufactured by the Heisler Company of Hudson, Iowa.  (Ibid.)  The Model HT-2033 supplemental transmission added some very important working speeds back to the tractor that had been taken away by the 24 inch wheels.  These were 3.654 mph in high range of first gear, 4.46 mph in high range of second gear, 5.25 mph in high range of third gear.  Additionally, the new Heisler transmission added a road gear of 11.28168 mph to the F-20 for fast transport down the road when needed.  To be able to use No. 71355 for the most important of summer field work tasks, i.e. cultivation of the row crops, our Martin Township farmer had included the purchase of a Model 229 two-row mounted cultivator as part of the same sales contract with Honsvald.  Additionally, as noted previously, the purchase contract with Honsvald Oil Company also included the purchase of a new Model 12 two-row potato digger.

This advertising photo for the new Model 12 two-row potato digger shows that when the F-20 tractor is fitted with 24 inch wheels in the rear the tractor can pull the two-row potato digger. This convinced our Martin Township farmer to include a Model 12 two-row potato digger as a part of the purchase package with No. 71355.

 

Throughout most of January and early February, 1937, there had been accumulations of ten to twelve inches of snow on the ground.  However, unseasonably warm temperatures in early March melted the snow entirely by the middle of the month.  Now our Martin Township farmer had to wait for the soil to dry out and warm up.

Our Martin Township farmer knew of the old “rule” which stated that potatoes should be planted each year on Good Friday of the Easter holidays.  However, like most such rules, our Martin Township farmer knew that this rule did not apply to the “far north” of the Midwest where Grafton, North Dakota was located.  Most years in Walsh County, the last heavy frost in the spring occurred in early May.  Furthermore, he suspected that the old rule referred to potatoes planted in gardens in “sheltered” areas around the homestead.  He knew that the soil out in the open fields took a little longer to warm up in the spring than did the soil in the protected areas around the house.

In the spring of 1937, our Martin Township farmer was able to use the same Little Genius No. 8 two-bottom plow with 14 inch bottoms with No. 71355, which he had used the previous autumn with his old Model 10-20 tractor, to finish the plowing of his fields.

 

April, 1937 was slightly warmer than normal and so was early May.  The last cold night that even approached a killing frost occurred in mid-April.  Furthermore, the gentle rains that occurred throughout April and May helped warm the soil.  These springtime rains dried quickly in the light soil of his farm and did not unduly delay the field work because of wet conditions.  Accordingly, our Martin Township farmer got into the fields in early May of 1937.   He put the bright, red No. 71355 to work preparing seed bed.  Both the spring wheat and oats could germinate in soil as cool as 37°F while seed potatoes required a temperature of 42°F.  Therefore, our Martin Township farmer and his neighbors usually sowed the spring wheat and the oats before planting the potatoes.  By contrast, corn required a soil temperature of 50°F for planting.  Accordingly, corn was planted only after the potatoes.

Cutting the seed potatoes into pieces, by hand, so thatevery piece included at least two “eyes,” was a wintertime activity when potato plots were small. The pieces would then be placed in sacks to await springtime planting. Meanwhile the cut edge of the potato piece would “cure” to prevent rot. The sacks of potato pieces would have to be stored in the cellar of the house; warm enough to keep them from freezing and yet cool enough to retard early sprouting of the eyes of the potato pieces.

 

Cutting the seed potatoes into pieces ready for the potato planter was a job that employed the whole family and it was an ambitious job to be conducted each spring as planting time arrived.  The average potato might weigh 8 to 12 ounces.  After cutting the potatoes into pieces ready for planting, each piece would weigh about 2.5 oz to 3.75 oz.  In the past, potato growers and their families would cut all the potatoes by hand with a knife.  Our Martin Township farmer remembered that even as a small child, he helped his parents with this daunting task of cutting the potatoes for planting.  His mother would admonish him to be careful to leave two or three “eyes” on each piece of potato he cut.  “Don’t make dummies,” she said, referring to potato pieces which had no eyes.  The eyes of the potato were the locations on the potato where the spouts of the new plant would begin to form once the potato was underground.  Leaving two or more eyes on a seed potato piece would be extra insurance that the seed potato piece would still sprout and grow even if one eye failed to sprout.  Our Martin Township farmer’s mother used to joke with him as a child and say that the potato piece needed two eyes to see which way to grow.

Pre-sprouting of the seed potatoes reveals the locations of the “eyes” of the potatoes.

 

Once cut, the seed potato pieces would be placed in a sack and sacks full of potato segments would be placed in the root cellar where the potato pieces would be kept warm enough to not freeze in the winter weather and would be kept cool enough not start sprouting.  Additionally, the cut sides of the potato pieces would “cure” or “heal over” and the potato piece would be protected from rotting.

Seed potatoes laid out on a tray with holes in the tray. Air will circulate around all sides and edges of the potato pieces and heal over the cut surfaces of the potato pieces to prevent them from rotting,

 

He remembered that cutting seed potatoes by hand was a long and arduous task in the spring because the family would have to cut enough potatoes to plant 11,600 pieces for every acre of land they intended to plant to potatoes.  This meant the family would have to cut enough pieces to fill as many as 14 sacks of potato sections for each acre of potatoes they wished to plant.  Currently for the 30 acre field that our Martin Township farmer wished to plant to potatoes, he needed 420 sacks full of seed potato pieces.  Cutting this many seed potatoes would have been impossible for the family alone without hiring on extra help.  However, a relatively recent and ingenious invention made in the 1920s by a local boy, greatly reduced the hand labor of cutting the potatoes into sections in the spring.

g George W. French’s mechanical seed potato cutter dating from the rime of its invention in the 1920’s.  The mechanical cutting of seed potatoes into pieces ready for planting, greatly speeded the process of preparing for spring time planting, 

 

During the 1920s, George W. French, from rural Grafton, North Dakota, invented a mechanical potato cutter which would cut small potatoes into two pieces and large potatoes into six pieces.  (Lynda Kenney, The Past is Never Far Away: A History of the Red River Valley Potato Industry [Potato Growers Association Press: East Grand Forks, Minn., 1995] p. 123.)  The French potato “sizer and cutter” was a new invention that greatly reduced the amount of time that was taken up cutting potatoes for planting.  French’s potato cutter also “sized” the potatoes for planting with a mechanical potato planter.  Mechanical potato planters worked much more smoothly when the seed potato pieces were cut into relatively uniform chunks.  The French potato sizer and cutter did a good job at creating uniform chunks for planting in the field.

If seed potato pieces are stored in too warm of an environment, they will begin to sprout and grow before they be planted in the Spring.

 

Although the French mechanical potato cutter could not assure that every seed potato piece that was produced by the machine would have an eye, the process of cutting a great number of seed potato pieces for planting was simplified.  Thus, some “dummies” or “duds” would escape the careful attention of the potato farmer and his family in  the automatic cutting process and make it into the sacks of potato pieces that would be stored in the root cellar and may be planted in the field.  other seed potato pieces and would be planted even though they would not grow.  When the potatoes would sprout up through the ground there would  be a “gap” or  a blank in the row where the dummy had been planted.  Our Martin Township farmer began to expect and to tolerate these occasional gaps in the rows of growing potatoes.  He surely did not want to go back to hand-cutting the potatoes with a knife, just to eliminate all dummies.

 

The modern industrial sized and computerized seed potato cutter grew out of Henry  French’s simple mechanical seed potato cutter invented in the 1920s. and can produce seed potato segments of what-ever size is desired and will produce many less “dummies” than non- The computerized capability of this cutter will assure that there are many less “dummies.”

Continue reading Potato Farming in North Dakota with a 1937 Famall F-20 (Part 2)

Potato Farming in North Dakota with a 1937 F-20 (Part I)

Statistics recorded with Counterize - Version 3.1.4

Potato Farming in No. Dakota: The 1937 F-20    

by

Brian Wayne Wells

(As published in the July/August 2008 issue of

Belt Pulley Magazine)

Grafton Potato Growers Inc.: A major potato buyer of potaotes in Grafton, the county seat of Walsh County, North Dakota.

     It began like so many other purchases of antique farm machinery.  The late Wayne A. Wells purchased a Farmall Model F-20 at the 1992 LeSueur County Pioneer Power Swap Meet.  Wayne paid for the tractor by means of a check.  Wayne had the habit of making virtually all purchase transactions by means of a check—a habit that has been inherited and is carried on to further extremes by his son, the current author.  Future events would prove how extremely fortunate it was that the purchase was made by means of a check.

No. 71355 powering the Wallace Bauleke/Paul Meyer 22 inch McCormick-Deering thresher at the 1993 LeSueur Pioneer Power Show.. This web-site contains an independent article on the history of the Wallace Bauleke/Paul Meyer thresher.

This particular F-20 was missing its serial number tag.  However, the serial number imprinted on the frame of the tractor was 71355.  The tractor was fitted with two 6.00 X 16 inch car tires mounted on IHC cast iron drop-center, or demountable, rims in the front.  One of the first improvements to the tractor was to replace these old car tires with two new 5.50 X 16 inch tri-rib tires.  No. 71355 was also fitted with 13 X 36” rubber tires mounted on IHC cast-iron demountable rims in the rear.  The rear tires were in extremely bad shape and in April of 1993 they too were replaced with brand new tires.

No. 71355, having already been painted but still with the old rear tires,,undergoes an overhaul during Christmas of 1992.

 

No. 71355 was only the second tractor to be restored by Wayne Wells, (the first tractor to be restored was the 1945 Farmall B bearing the serial number 130161, which is mentioned in the article called “Farmall B: Second Tractor on the Farm, but First in the Heart” contained in the November/December 1993 issue of Belt Pulley), both Wayne and his two sons, Mark and the current author, were anxious to parade the tractor at the LeSueur County Pioneer Power Show to be held on the last weekend in August 1992.  Accordingly, No. 71355 was painted prior to any overhaul of the engine being performed.  (Indeed, a very “smoky” but painted, No. 71355 can be seen being driven by Mark Wells in the parade at the 1992 LeSueur Show in the second hour portion of Disc/Tape No. 1 of the International Harvester Promotional Movie collection.

No. 71355 was painted in August of 1993 an was overhauled during Christmas of 1993.

 

The current author can be seen in the same movie driving the same 1945 Farmall B mentioned above, just ahead of No. 71355 in the parade.)  The badly needed engine overhaul of No. 71355 was conducted in large part over Christmas of 1992.  (Some of this work performed on No. 71355 over that Christmas was filmed and can be seen on the second hour portion of Disc/Tape No. 2 of the International Harvester Promotional Movies.)  In April of 1993, No. 71355 was pulled and started for the first time following the engine overhaul.  (This procedure of pulling No. 71355 with the 1945 Farmall B in April of 1993 can be seen on the second hour portion of Disc/Tape #5 of the International Harvester Promotional movie collection.)

While No. 71355 was the second tractor restored by Wayne A. Wells, the 1945 Farmall Model B bearing the serial number 130161 was his first restoration project.

 

As the restoration of No. 71355 proceeded, history of the tractor was examined.  Nothing of the actual history of No. 71355 was known.  Consequently, the history of the tractor was a topic of speculation.  Ordinarily a telephone call to the seller of the tractor would have been the starting point for the research into the history of the tractor.  However, time had passed since the purchase of No. 71355 in April of 1992 and the canceled check bearing the name of the seller of No. 71355 was placed away in storage with the financial papers of the Wells family.  With the check used for payment on the tractor not readily at hand, the seller’s name was not available and not even a beginning could be made as to researching the actual history of the tractor.  Only the features of the tractor itself could be used as clues as to the tractor’s past.  Luckily, the particular and unique features of No. 71355, reveal a good deal about the tractor.

The tricycle design of farm tractors was introduced by the International Harvester Company in 1924 with the “Farmall” tractor. Soon nearly all farm tractor manufcturers around the world were copying the tricycle design for their “row crop” tractors.

 

First and foremost was the “tricycle type” design of No. 71355.  The tricycle design positioned the front wheels of the tractor close together.  This configuration allowed the tractor to work in crops which were planted in rows as narrow 30 inches apart.  As a tricycle “row crop” tractor, both front wheels of the tractor were attached to a single bolster.  Thus, both front wheels shared a single pivot point.  This type of steering is called “fifth wheel” type of steering and is different than the “automotive type” steering found in “standard” or “four-wheel” designed tractors in which each wheel has its own pivot point located at the “journal” for that particular wheel.  The fifth wheel type of steering allowed the tricycle designed tractor to turn much more sharply than the automotive type steering.  Thus, the tricycle design and the ability to turn very sharp corners made No. 71355 ideally suited for row crop farm work.

The single pivot point on the front of the Farmall tractor was the steering bolster on the tractor located in front of the radiator. The particular “open” (non-enclosed) gear and sector plate style steering on the early Farmalls (now called the Farmall Regular) made the Regular somewhat dangerous to drive over rough or rocky ground. After 1932, the Regular was modified and improved and became the Farmall Model F-20 tractor. One of the main improvements made to the Farmall Regular in 1932 was the replacement of the open gear and sector plate type steering with a “worm gear” type of steering in the new F-20. As a result the Farmall Model F-20 tractor was much easier to steer than the Regular.

 

A second feature of No. 71355 that provided a clue as to its history was the optional high-speed road gear that had been installed in the standard transmission of No. 71355.  Standard equipment on the Farmall Model F-20 was a four-speed transmission with speeds of 2⅜ miles per hour (mph) in first gear, 2¾ mph in second gear, 3¼ mph in the standard third gear and 3¾ in fourth gear.  (See the tractor specifications of the F-20 in the IHC Data Book #1: 1900 to 1940 by Alan C. King at page 24.)  However, in the transmission of No. 71355, the standard equipment 3¼ mph third gear had been replaced by the optional 28-tooth gear which resulted in a speed of 7.07 mph.  (See the 28-tooth “high speed” sliding gear listed as part No. 20700D on page 124 of the F-20 Parts Catalog—TC-13-A.)

The 28-tooth sliding gear that would replace 3rd gear in the Farmall Model F-20 transmission to allow the tractor to have a 7.07 mph road speed.

 

Consequently, this optional “3rd gear” became the “new road gear” and really was the new “4th gear.”  This was a factory installed option on No. 71355, as evidenced by the fact that the numbers embossed on the base at the shifter lever of the tractor, which reflected the shifting pattern for the gear shift lever, actually had the “3” and the “4” reversed to accurately portray the new gear shift pattern given the installation of this new optional road gear.  (Oscar H. Will and Todd Markle, Collector’s Originality Guide: Farmall Regular and F-Series [Voyaguer Press: St. Paul, Minnesota, 2007] p. 68.)

Mark Wells discs the newly plowed fields on the grounds of the LeSueur Pioneer Power Show with No. 71355 in August 1994. Loss of the traditional 3rd gear meant a loss of the 3-3/4 mph speed .on No. 71355 meant the loss of a light field work speed.

 

Installation of this optional road gear was made available only on those F-20s which were fitted with rubber tires.  (Ibid. p. 72.)  Accordingly, it was determined that No. 71355, rolled off the assembly line at the Farmall Works in Rock Island, Illinois, fitted with factory-installed rubber tires.  However, when No. 71355 was manufactured in the second week of December, 1936, the tractor could not have been fitted with the same 36 inch cast-iron wheels with demountable rims that are now mounted on the rear of tractor.  Only in March of 1937, (beginning with the particular F-20 with the serial number 79522) did F-20 tractors begin to be fitted with these International Harvester-made cast-iron demountable rear wheels and rims for rubber tires.  (See the F-20 Parts Book page 207.)  Prior to March of 1937, IHC relied on an outsource contract, they had signed with the French and Hecht Company of Davenport, Iowa, to supply all the rear wheels for all their rubber-tired tractors.

The French & Hecht Company factory located in Davenport, Iowa, where the round spoke wheel rims were manufactured.

 

Likewise, the IHC cast-iron demountable drop-center rims, currently, mounted on the front wheels of No. 71355, could not have been mounted on the tractor when the tractor was first built and sold.  IHC began using their own demountable drop center rims for rubber tires on the front wheels only in January of 1938 beginning with the particular F-20 tractors bearing the serial number 109127.  (See page 175 of the F-20 parts book.)

Factory Installation of the high speed road gear in the transmission of No. 71355 indicates that rubbers tires were also installed on the rear of the tractor. Still the IHC-made drop-center rear wheels that are now mounted on rear of No. 71355 could not have been factory installed on the tractor.

 

 

Prior to that time, IHC again relied on its contract with the French and Hecht Company to supply round-spoke rims for all F-20 tractors fitted with 5.50 X 16” rubber tires in the front.  (A French and Hecht round-spoke rim is pictured on page 174 of the F-20 parts book.)  Accordingly, when No. 71355 rolled out of the Farmall Works in Rock Island, Illinois, the tractor did so with rubber tires mounted on French and Hecht round-spoke wheel rims on the front as well as the rear.

A Farmall Model F-20 is delivered to a dealership with smaller 28 inch French & Hecht “round spoke” wheels in the rear, but disc-type wheels in the front.

 

Some time after No. 71355 was initially purchased, the tractor was fitted with an auxiliary transmission manufactured by the Heisler Manufacturing Company of Hudson, Iowa.  This auxiliary transmission was located on the power train of the tractor in the open space between the clutch housing on the engine and the standard transmission.  The Heisler auxiliary transmission provided a high range to all the standard speeds of the transmission—in fact doubling the number of speeds available to the tractor.

A Heisler model H-9 series “step-up” transhission installed on a Farmall F-20 tractor. The tag on the Heisler unit appears to indicate that the gearing of the Heisler unit will increase the speed of the tractor by 2.3 times normal speed in each gear.

 

The Heisler Manufacturing Company made three different models of auxiliary transmissions for the Farmall F-20.  Model number HT-2033 auxiliary transmission would increase the speed of the F-20 tractor by a factor of 2.32 to 1 because of the gear ratio of the auxiliary transmission.  Heisler model number HT-2034 featured a gear ratio of 2.1 to 1 and Heisler model number HT-2035 featured a gear ratio of 1.99 to 1.  The reason for the Heisler Company offering the three different auxiliary transmissions was that the rubber-tired F-20 was offered to the public with different sizes of rubber tires for the rear.  The Heisler Company knew that the size of the rear tires would greatly alter the speeds of any tractor.  The particular model of Heisler auxiliary transmission added to No. 71355 was model HT-2033 with the 2.32 to 1 gear ratio.  The addition of the Heisler Model HT-2033 supplemental transmission to No. 71355, with its optional high speed road gear and with 36” rubber tires in the rear, would have added high range speeds of 5.22 mph in first gear, 6.38 mph in second gear, 7.59 in third gear and 16.4024 mph in fourth gear.  These were hardly necessary or even desirable speeds for field work.  Indeed, they all seemed to be road speeds.  Indeed, the Heisler Company specifically warns against installation of an auxiliary transmission on any F-20 tractor which already has already been fitted with the optional high-speed road gear in the standard transmission.   Continue reading Potato Farming in North Dakota with a 1937 F-20 (Part I)

Gravely Motor Plow and Cultivator Company

    The Gravely Motor Plow and

Cultivator Company

of

Dunbar, West Virginia

by

Brian Wayne Wells

           with the assistance of

James O. (“Boone County Jim”) White of Bim, West Virginia

As published in the July/August issue of

Belt Pulley Magazine

            Some individuals are so bathed in inventiveness that they can apply their creativity to whatever field they which they happen to inhabit. Move such an individual from one field of endeavor to another and they will still shine with success and ingeniousness in that field. One such person was Benjamin Franklin Gravely. Born on November 29, 1876, the son of an owners of a chewing tobacco business in Dyer’ Store in Henry County near Martinsville, Virginia; Benjamin attended a school for boys at Mount Airy, North Carolina. After his schooling, Benjamin was employed as a salesman for the Eastman Kodak Company of Rochester, New York.

After a short while of employment at Kodak, Benjamin obtained another job which brought him to Huntington, West Virginia in 1900. There, Benjamin met a young photographer named Charles R. Thomas. They decided to become partners in a photographic business. Thus, was established the Gravely-Thomas Studio located at 948 Third Avenue in Huntington, West Virginia. Benjamin put his inventive mind to work on a problem that arose in the photographic business and soon had invented a photographic enlarger. This machine was called the “Gravely auto-focus Camera Projector.” Over the course of his life, Benjamin would possess 65 patents. However, most of these patents were for products not connected with photography. Most of the patents owned by Benjamin would be related to product which was to become much more closely associated with his name than anything in his photography business.

During this time in Huntington, the tall and handsome, Benjamin Gravely became acquainted with Elizabeth Susan Downie from Pomeroy, Ohio. They fell in love and were married in the fall of 1902 in Pomeroy. Together they would eventually have five children including a son Charles and daughters, Virginia and Louise. Seeking to improve the prospects of his photography business, Benjamin and Elizabeth moved to a house located on east Washington Street in Charleston–the state capitol of West Virginia. Benjamin’s photography business was first located in the Burlew building in Charleston, which housed the Burlew Opera House. Later, Benjamin formed a partnership with his cousin-in-law Marguerite Moore. The new partnership moved to the Sterrett Building located at 124 Capital Street in Charleston. This new location would remain the place of business for Gravely and Moore Photographers for more than 60 years under the guidance of Marguerite, then Benjamin’s son Charles and then his daughter, Louise. The business closed its doors only in 1963.

In May of 1911, Benjamin and Elizabeth moved to a new home in South Charleston. At this new home, Benjamin undertook gardening as a hobby. This gardening was quite a substantial operation as Benjamin not only undertook to raise vegetables to feed his growing family, but undertook to raise fruit trees in addition. The necessity of having to operate the photography business meant that there was very little time left for working in his garden. Thus, Benjamin took advantage of every labor-saving device that he could find for work in his garden. His creative mind led him to design and build his own small “walk behind” tractor for use in his garden. From parts of an old Indian motorcycle, donated to him by a Mr. Doney of South

Charleston, Benjamin began to experiment with many configurations for the tractor that he was now calling his “motor plow.” Benjamin spent five years designing and redesigning the motor plow. Finally, in 1915 he found a successful design that worked in his garden satisfactorily. The tractor was a single-wheeled tractor powered by a small 2 ½ horsepower single-cylinder internal combustion engine which Benjamin built himself. The crankshaft of the engine passed directly through the hub of the wheel. Thus, the weight of the engine served as ballast to provide traction for the tractor. To maintain some semblance of balance on the one-wheeled tractor the engine and flywheel were located on one side of the wheel and the gearing of the transmission was located on the other side of the wheel. The wheel however, was powered by a belt on pulleys on the transmission side of the wheel. Once the neighbors saw the garden tractor working in the yard around his house, they began expressing a real interest in the tractor, which he was now calling a “motor plow.” Based on this interest, Benjamin began to think that he could make a living manufacturing and marketing the motor plow. On December 15, 1916, Benjamin obtained a patent for his little motor-plow. Despite, the fact that the market for the tractor was still viewed as being limited to Benjamin’s friends and neighbors, and despite the fact that production of the tractor was still largely in the hands of Benjamin Gravely himself, Ben filed papers of incorporation for a Gravely Company to be formed. Continue reading Gravely Motor Plow and Cultivator Company