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  Texas : Features : Columns : "It's All Trew"

Deere was a man
farmers could really dig

by Delbert Trew
Delbert Trew

In 1838, a village blacksmith named John Deere created a plow from a worn saw blade. Amazingly, the new design blade sheared the soil cleanly and the moldboard laid the new soil aside in long, neat ribbons.

It was a great improvement over previous plows where soil clung to the blades. By 1848, thousands of Deere's plows were being sold each year.

This simple, horse-drawn device consisted of a hooked beam, a plow/moldboard blade and two wooden handles. Called a walking plow or stubble plow, the name was derived from the fact the operator walked behind to steady and guide the work. Though the furrow left behind was small and narrow it had a great impact on the history of the West.

The economy of the young nation was based on horsepower, the four-legged kind. Tilling the soil for food production was absolutely necessary for survival. Farm equipment of the time was crude and slow. Deere's new plow made breaking the virgin soils of the land easier thus helping to provide the food and crops needed.

When settlers reached the Great Plains to find few building materials available, they turned to the plow to cut ribbons of grass sod to lay the walls of soddies and dugouts. The freshly stripped areas became gardens and fields.

Old-timers recall plowing large parallel circles around their homes then carefully burning the grass between the furrows to protect against the many prairie fires coming their way during the long dry spells and in winter time.

In Kansas, during the late 1870s and 1880s, settlers plowed parallel furrows, burned the middles, then forced trail herds carrying Texas tick fever to stay between the furrows when passing through their area so they wouldn't affect local herds. Riders patrolled the furrows with rifles to enforce the rules.

Ranchers forging northward to Montana in search of new grazing lands found millions of acres with no fences nor materials to build fences. Laws were passed by the state whereby a landowner could plow a furrow along his boundaries, place signs designating ownership thus becoming the legal boundary between properties.

A chapter in early Panhandle of Texas history I have heard many times but have not been able to verify, states a man founded a new town southwest of Amarillo, thought to be close to Farwell.

The location was hard to find so the man plowed a furrow from Amarillo to the new town. One merely followed the furrow to find the place. I hope to verify this story someday.

Seems I spent most of my young life sitting on a tractor following an endless furrow left by the discs of a Krause one-way plow.

At wheat harvest time we kept a tractor pulling a three-row lister sitting near the combines in case a fire broke out. A swift pass in front of a wheat field fire leaving three wide black-land furrows usually stopped the blaze in its tracks.

Let's give a salute to the simple plow furrow and it's many uses down through the years.

Delbert Trew

"It's All Trew"
- June 7, 2006 Column
E-mail: trewblue@centramedia.net.


Forum:
Subject: Deere's plow

This brings to mind a statement James B. 'Jim' Gillette made in his autobiography for juveniles, titled THE TEXAS RANGERS. It's an abridgement of his autobiography for adults, SIX YEARS WITH THE TEXAS RANGERS, and in the 1930s it was a school textbook in Texas. It contains far more about Gillette's boyhood than the adult version. In it Gillette talks about early settlement. According to him, the sod was so thick around Austin his father had to use a steel plow hooked to ten yoke of oxen to break it. Apparently the elder Gillette made the beginnings of his fortune by hiring out to break the sod on farms so families could begin planting crops. - C. F. Eckhardt, June 07, 2006
 
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