Early Farming Implements And Their Uses


Peggy Symington


Most of the early settlers in the Red River Valley wereeither farmers or trappers. The earliest farmers had to make their implementsor carry them with them. Many of these tools were made almost entirelyof wood.

The axe was a multi-purpose tool. Its first and most importantuse was to cut down trees and dig out roots to clear farmland. The axewas one of the most important tools a farmer owned. Often, farmers broughtjust the axe-heads with them, and could trade a good axe for all kinds ofother useful items.

There were two main types of plows. The jump-and-coulterplow had a wooden slab for a moldboard and an iron coulter right in frontof the moldboard. The coulter was sharp and pointed, and was used mostlyfor deep plowing. A shovel plow was all wood, and was used for shallowplowing. It just stirred up the loose topsoil a little bit so the seedcould take root. Both types of plows had a Y-shaped frame with two handlesand a long shaft to attach to the horse's harness or the oxen's yoke.

A harrow could be made quite easily. Three planks fastenedtogether in the shape of a triangle formed a frame. Long wooden pegs werewedged tightly into holes in the planks. A shaft of wood was attached toone corner for a polebar and a hitch. This harrow was very light and neededweight to push the teeth into the ground. Usually, the driver stood onthe framework of the harrow and guided the horse or oxen, but it was hardto guide the horses in a straight line. This harrow covered a strip ofearth two to four feet wide.

Pioneer farmers had three methods of planting a crop. They could dig rows or holes, drop in the seed and cover it again by hand. Heavy iron wooden hoes made this a long tedious task. A man with a steadyhand could scatter small seeds quite evenly with a smooth sweep of the arm,and then harrow the seed into the ground. This method was improved by attachinga seed-thrower to the bottom of a burlap bag. A small crank turned devicewhirled the seed in all directions. Another type of planter was a simplewooden box with a slide-opening. The opening could be adjusted for thedifferent sizes of seed. The planter dragged this behind himself or a horse,and the seed came up in a row.

A heavy iron hoe was first used to kill weeds. It wasa huge hunk of iron on the end of a long, wooden pole. It was heavy andcumbersome to use, but it did do a good job. Several of these iron "hoes"were mounted on a horse or oxen-pulled frame. This made a crude cultivatorsimilar to the plow in shape. This could only be used when straight rowsof seed were planted.

When water was needed for irrigation, most farmers setup windmills to pump water from a reliable water source. However, windpower could not always be relied on and crops sometimes failed from lackof water in the dry seasons when there was no wind.

Wild hay and alfalfa were very much in demand. Hayingtime was filled with hot, backbreaking labor, but hay was essential forthe livestock in wintertime.

The alfalfa or wild grasses were cut with scythes. Scythesare cutting tools with a long curved blade and two handles. They were swingin a wide arc, leaving a neat swath of green. After the hay cured, it wasloaded on to horse-pulled wagons and either stacked or bailed. If it wasstacked, a clumsy wooden pitchfork was used. This looked something likea modern leaf rake with most of the teeth missing. If the hay was to behauled, it was pout into a cage-like box and compressed. This was doneby a crank-turned pulley that brought the lid down tight. The lid was released,and the bale removed.

Corn was harvested by hand. A group of pickers strippeda cornfield of all ripe ears. Huskers husked the corn with the aid of ahusking hook. This was an iron plate that slipped over the hand. It hadraised bumps of metal that caught under the husk and ripped it from thecob. If the corn was dry, the kernels came off quite easily by rubbingthe cob against the rough husking hooks.

Potatoes were dug out of their hills or rows with ironpitchfork-like blades.

Wheat and other grain was cut with scythes, shocked, andflailed to separate the wheat from the chaff. A flail is two sticks attachedto either ends of a short length of rope. One stick was the handle, theother was threshed against the wheat to pound the kernels loose from thestraw.

These are just a few of the earliest tools and implementsused by early farmers. There were many special, unique tools made for specialjobs. Through the years, blacksmiths and inventors put all of these ideastogether to make our modern machinery. Most of the ideas were based onthe crude tools of the early pioneer farmer.


Western Implement Co. (Calendar), Hallock, Minnesota

"Frontier Living" by Edwin Tunisock, Minnesota

"Frontier Living" by Edwin Tunis