Having the privilege to grow up on a farm at the time that I did, I got to not only enjoy and be fascinated with the equipment but I also got to see the horse equipment being abandoned or converted to be used with tractors. Tractors brought a new era to farming and not only how, but what was used in handling the farming. A case in point was the harvesting of corn. Before tractors the corn was cut, stalk and all, and tied into shocks, then loaded onto wagons and hauled to a corn shucker/corn shredder and all the fodder went in it with fodder going into a pile one way and the ears going into a trailer that when full was moved next to the crib and shoveled in. The entire process took several men and a long time.
When the tractor appeared, along with it came many new items for a farmers to use. One was a corn picker. With the picker, one man on his tractor could remove the ears from the fodder in the field and bring only the ears to the crib where all that was left to do was to shovel it into the cribs. Putting the corn into the crib sounds easy but the sides of the average crib were at least ten feet up. Try shoveling ear corn up and over that height all day. It was still a very hard job at its best and it was back-breaking to say the least. It wasn’t long before the elevator came into existence.
The elevator was a long trough with a drive chain with paddles that carried the corn to the top and dropped it into the crib. It was powered by either a gasoline engine or electric motor. This was one of those pieces of equipment that gets little recognition for how much labor that it saved. Dad and Ed and Chris Maus bought a Wood Brothers one row corn picker together and then converted their horse drawn box bed wagons to fit on the wagons of the new era.
They still didn’t have the elevator and since this was about the time I was born, my guess was that they couldn’t justify spending more at that time after buying so much newfangled modern equipment, so they did what all smart farmers did and still do. They went together and pooled all their parts, got a neighbor who was a machinist, Web Winston, and they built their own elevator. Pretty creative you are probably thinking, but wait. To build an elevator would take a lot of metal and farmers seldom keep that commodity around so they used what they did have, cheap lumber.
Dad went to the saw mill and got a load of Ash lumber and all three men pooled their money and for much less cost had what was needed for the frame of their elevator. Somewhere they found a pair of cleated steel wheels, cable, and a crank to raise and lower the elevator. It was wired to run off electric and to gear it to a speed that the chain could move as they installed the transmission of a Model-T pickup truck. Yes, I said a truck transmission. Three speed with a reverse! The elevator I remember was approximately 20 feet long so it could reach about all of their cribs. My guess is that during construction, Dad, Ed, and Chris assisted Web as he was the grand designer of the project and when it was completed it worked and was welcomed by all when the corn harvest began.
To this day I have never seen another wooden elevator and not many wooden anything being used but this one of a kind, unique piece of equipment was never looked upon as out of the ordinary. I loved it as a boy when my Dad or brother Ben wouldd give me a slow, first gear ride up to the top of the crib and stop before I was thrown in ( as much as I loved it I doubt my Mom would have). When Dad wasn’t around and Ben was in his teens he would practice his power shifting on the three speed as it didn’t have a clutch. I must admit he could shift it with no clutch and never grind the gears. As he would do that he would just grin more and more.
That elevator lasted into the 60’s when Dad bought an aluminum replacement. It was pulled into the barn yard and left to rest as it had done way more than was ever expected of it. It was sad in a way to see something left to deteriorate but that happens. Finally in the mid 70’s, Walt and I were burning tobacco beds and the elevator was rotting into a lump of this and that so we took the elevator parts and all the lumber and burned it on the tobacco bed. We sent it off in a flame of glory, kind of like when the Vikings would send a leader out to sea in a burning boat to Val-hala in glory. I never saw a wooden elevator before and am positive there was never another.
As interesting as it was and after all the conversions of horse to tractor equipment there is one conclusion I take from this and that is they say “necessity is the mother of invention.” If this wasn’t that saying in progress I will never understand, but above that is that a good farmer will always find the way to make it better. A big reason today’s farmers are where they are now.
Rick Houser grew up on a farm near Moscow in Clermont County and likes to share stories about his youth and other topics. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.