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article number 114
article date 03-22-2012
copyright 2012 by Author else SaltOfAmerica
$2000 of Farm Equipment You Need, Whether You Use Horses or Tractors.
by H. R. Herndon

From the book, Farming for Profit, published in Springfield Illinois in 1947. Original chapter title, Necessary Equipment. The author dedicates this book to: Those who would profit at farming, and to Reuben R. Boynton, who helped me do so.

Tractors or Horses?

TRACTORS have increased in use and popularity in recent years. Certainly it is true that it is easier for a city man, who is used to driving an automobile, to learn to drive a tractor than it is to learn to care for horses. But even among the farmers, born and bred, tractor power is supplanting horse power.

There are many arguments for the tractor. They don’t eat their heads off in winter, they can run twenty-four hours a day without getting tired, and their speed and power is infinitely greater than the horse. They can do almost everything that a horse can do. A tractor cannot operate easily in a muddy lot. Horses are more serviceable in hauling your feed wagons around, rain or shine. If you hand-shuck your corn, a horse is a necessity, but it is a question whether that justifies owning horses. Certainly, a 160- acre farm cannot support both horses and a tractor. Those that do, increase their income with side lines such as small dairy businesses, or in other specialized endeavors, or they do custom labor for their neighbors.

The decision must be made before any implements are bought: will you use horse power or tractor power? Perhaps you like horses and know how to care for them. Perhaps you haven’t the necessary capital to buy a tractor. Certainly the first cost of horses is low by comparison; you can grow their fuel or feed, and usually you can buy horse-drawn implements secondhand easier than you can get second-hand tractor tools. If this is the case, you should decide to use horse power.


But if you know more about machinery, and have the necessary capital, then you should use tractor power.

There are two types of tractors—those on wheels and those with a caterpillar tread. Both are used in the corn belt. The crawler or caterpillar type is heavier and has more power.

The caterpillar goes more slowly than the wheeled tractor but it can pull a greater load and can be used in all weather. However you cannot cultivate corn with a caterpillar. Some hybrid corn producers in Illinois use caterpillars to pull their corn pickers because seed corn must be taken from the field before a heavy freeze. The time of harvest is limited and the fall weather is not always Indian Summer. One very wet fall, one of the large seed companies using caterpillars put planks across the treads and went through the field, mud or no mud.

The caterpillar is not practical for a small farm. At present, one costs about $2,300. A Diesel engine caterpillar that can be sold for $1,500 is planned to be built in the near future.

The wheeled tractors are of different sizes. All small ones with four wheels are built like an automobile. This is the size that I would recommend for 160 acres.

Ferguson System, Three-point hitch. (Wiki-media contributor Andy Dingley)

The Ferguson System, made by Ford, plans to put out a set of implements that will be adequate for a 160-acre farm, to aid in the rehabilitation of the returning soldier. Their four wheeled tractor at $936 heads the list. The other implements included, and their approximate costs, are as follows:

4 wheel tractor - $936
2—14’ moldboard plows - $136
7’ tandem disk - $145
3 section spike toothed harrow - $45
2-row corn planter - $125
Cultivator - $145
Finger type weeder or rotary hoe - $75
Mower about - $135
Manure spreader - $140
Rubber tired wagon - $150

The larger wheeled tractors have more power and can cultivate two rows. Although some of them have four wheels, most of them have no front axle, but one or two wheels directly under the motor. The large rear wheels can be either rubber tired or have metal wheels with lugs. A few years ago there was some objection to the rubber tires because they packed the ground you were trying to cultivate. They made clods that were very hard to break up. The metal wheels prevented this, for they had lugs. Another objection to the rubber tires was the added vibration. Possibly this was due to the increased speed at which the tractor was driven. The chief objection to the lug wheels is that tractors so equipped cannot be used on the highway. They break and crack the hard surfaced roads and it is against the law to drive tractors with lug wheels upon them.

The new tractors have apparently corrected the fault of the smooth tires and added the advantage of the lugs. That is, by using rubber which can be driven on all roads and by making their treads very rough and deep, they have incorporated the advantages of both machines. This new rubber- tired tractor with the deep rubber treads costs $1,000 - $1,500.

New rubber-tired tractor with the deep rubber treads.


The tools necessary to operate a farm are many and varied, possibly more so than in any other trade or profession. That is because farming is made up of a combination of skills.

The implements that are used to do the actual farming can be divided into two classes:
- those used in the cultivation of the soil, and
- those that are necessary to the planting and harvesting of the crop.

In order to cultivate the soil, whether for a large plot or a small one, use three instruments: a plow, a rake, and a hoe. These will vary in size and in motor power, according to whether you are working a fifty foot garden or a forty acre field. The seed bed you wish to achieve is one in which the top inch of the surface soil is loose and free from large clods and the soil is firm below.


THE PLOW. You use the plow to break and turn the soil. It is the hardest and slowest implement to operate. It requires the most power. Contrary to the opinion of a recent book about the “folly” of plowing, farmers who have tried to eliminate that heavy task will unanimously agree that plowing is the only way to handle sod. I think a plow is essential to every farm, large or small.

The smallest of the plow type of instruments is the spade. Obviously, it is limited to a small garden. I might say, a very small garden, for spading a garden is hard work and if possible, you had better use a walking plow that can be drawn by one horse.

In a large field, two-or-more-bottom gang plows are used. These can be pulled by horses or by tractors. The moldboards on the plow vary in size, 12”, 14”, or 16”, turning a corresponding swath, and should be buried 6”—7” into the sod. The Ohio Agricultural Experiment Station has shown that plowing at a depth greater than seven and one-half inches is not justified by greater yields (see Fig. 10).

Fig. 10. This modern, tractor-driven, 3-bottom plow is the most efficient implement for breaking sod. (Courtesy of International Harvester Co.)

THE DISK. When you have spaded or plowed your garden, you find that it is too rough for a seed bed. The clods must be broken up and leveled off. A garden rake serves this purpose.

In the field following the plow we use a glorified rake which is called a disk. The disks are usually eighteen inches in diameter with sharp cutting edges. They come in gangs of eight to a row. A five-foot tandem disk is most common, although seven- and nine-foot disks are used widely. The greater the horse power, the larger the size and the number of implements that can be pulled at one time.

Fig. 11. With this 10-foot tandem disk, the farmer prepares his seed bed for corn. One crossing with a tandem is almost equal to two crossings with a plain disk. (Courtesy of Caterpillar Tractor Co.)

Sometimes it will not be necessary to plow a field to obtain a good seed bed. An instrument to destroy the weeds and make the soil more level is what is needed. The disk is the proper implement to use, possibly going over the field one time and then crossing it at right angles. In stony or rocky ground, a spring tooth harrow is more practical than disks. These do not break or wear off when they hit a stone or other obstruction. They literally spring out of the way.

The spike toothed harrow is used for making the clods still finer, leveling the ground, and sometimes can be used for covering the seed. It is often pulled behind the disk if you have enough power. Thus in one crossing, a bean stubble field can be made ready to seed again.

There are drags, rollers, and other fancy implements on the market that are used to follow the harrow, make the soil more compact and destroy any air spaces. Sometimes an ordinary log or plank on a chain dragged behind the harrow will achieve the desired result.

THE CULTIVATOR. In your garden the hoe is your cultivator. Its object is to eradicate the weeds and to loosen the soil so as to catch all possible moisture. Care must be taken not to harm the plant, either by bruising it above ground or by chopping too deep and cutting its roots.


Do not cultivate too soon after a rain, for the soil clods instead of pulverizing. This is called puddling. But as soon as the ground is dry enough to work well, it should be cultivated. The newly germinating weeds are then most easily killed and the soil is left in the best condition.

These same principles apply in the field where we use a gang of shovels for a cultivator or a sweep of teeth. Here again they can be drawn by horses or tractors depending upon the amount of power you desire and the speed with which you wish to get the job done (see Fig. 12).

FIG. 12. A four-row corn cultivator, directly connected with this McCormick-Deeririg Farmall tractor, is especially recommended for large operators. (Courtesy of International Harvester Co.)

Rotary hoes are used by some to cultivate young corn. They do not cut as deep, which means that they must be used more often. Certainly they are fine for young corn and for young beans, to loosen the soil after a beating rain or to eradicate small weeds. They do not straddle the row so they cannot be used when the plant is very high.

A finger type weeder when pulled by a tractor, is another implement that has proved very satisfactory in eradicating weeds. The horse’s speed is not sufficient to do a good job. It can be used on corn without harming the plant until the plant is tall enough to shade the ground. Its steel fingers turn to one side when they hit an obstruction. These fingers are 14” long, staggered about 10” apart. A fourteen foot or 4-row machine can cover about fifty acres in one day.

The cultivator is still the most essential implement for cultivating corn. If you can afford but one implement to use in cultivating your corn, the cultivator is the type to buy. However, if you can afford to own two implements for eradicating weeds and loosening the soil, either the rotary hoe or the weeder could be added to your list of implements. Some men prefer the one, some the other. It is a matter of personal opinion.


THE CORN PLANTER. Since corn is the main crop in the Corn Belt, the proper tool with which to plant it is vital to every farm. There are three ways to plant corn—checkrow, drilled and listed. These different methods will be discussed in Chapter 6 in detail. But most of the corn is planted in hills in check-rows. This allows cross cultivation and the eradication of weeds by machinery. A corn planter is used. You can buy a one-row, a two-row, or a four-row planter.

Four Row Corn Planter with fertilizer attachment. The seed is place in the large white holders, fertilizer in the small dark ones. (Courtesy of International Harvester Co.)

Corn that is used for silage is drilled. Of late years on good corn land they have been drilling corn for grain. The reason for this change is the increase in yield of the drilled corn over the rowed corn. The main disadvantage to drilled corn is that it can be cultivated in only one direction. This naturally permits more weeds to grow. In a field where weeds grow abundantly, drilled corn is not recommended. The use of a rotary hoe on a field of young drilled corn will help check the growth of weeds. A corn planter is used for this drilling. The checking wire is not used, but plates that will regulate the fall of the grain, either 9”, 10”, or 12” apart.

THE GRAIN DRILL. For planting small grain, the drill is the most satisfactory implement. There are a number of kinds. The drill rows are usually six to eight inches apart. If you wish wider rows, you can stop up some of the holes. Beans are often drilled with every other hole stopped up. Some drills have wheels, some simply chains that follow the hoes and cover the seeds. Seeds can be sown at different depths according to the degree of moisture present at the time of sowing.

Many grain drills are fitted with a fertilizer attachment which drops commercial fertilizer in each row of grain planted. For quick returns from your fertilizer, this is splendid.

More valuable still is the attachment for seeding grass. If you do not have this you must use an end-gate seeder or a hand seeder. The end-gate seeder is like the drill in that it sows the seed in rows. The hand seeder broadcasts the seed.

A small farm does not warrant the cost of a grain drill, chiefly because corn and beans (both planted with a corn planter) are the main crops.

Fig. 13. A grain drill is used for planting all small grain. By stopping up some of the holes it can be used for beans. (Courtesy of International Harvester Co.)

Usually you have a rotating pasture and only as much wheat or oats is planted as is necessary to get in the clover. It used to be possible to buy a grain drill reasonably at second hand. If you cannot buy it cheaply and you cannot borrow one, see if you can buy one in partnership with your neighbor.

Horse drawn two row planter.


THE MOWER. The mowing machine has a stationary metal bar with evenly spaced guards. A sickle overlaps this bar. Each sickle has a number of cutting sections, triangular in shape, sharpened on the two sides that are not fastened to the sickle. As the wheel of the machine turns, the sickle moves back and forth, achieving a splendid job of cutting anything in its path. The bar can be raised when not in use, and can be lowered to cut at any height and at any angle.

Fig.14.Tractor-mounted mower gives speed and adaptability to present-day cutting of hay. (Courtesy of Allis-Chalmers Manufacturing Co.)

The mower is used to cut hay, to cut all small grain that is not going to be combined, to mow the weeds along the roadside or in the pasture. It is a valuable and essential implement to every farm. It is very durable and, with the proper care, should last a lifetime. In districts where the hay does not grow rank, I would recommend buying a mower with a cutter bar that guides the hay and leaves it in a windrow. When it is cured, the hay is then ready for the pick-up baler. This eliminates the time consumed in raking the hay and much loss in shattering leaves in the double handling of the hay. However, it does take longer to cure and it is not practical for heavy hay. In this latter case, the windrows are too large and, instead of curing, the hay is apt to heat.

THE HAY RAKE. There are two general types of hay rakes: the dump rake and the side-delivery rake. The dump rake has a series of long wire teeth, bent in a semi-circle. As you drive across a mowed field, the teeth pick up the hay and hold it in its cradle. When the semi-circle is full, you step on the dump, the teeth turn backward and leave the row of hay. Repeating this process across a field, you leave a series of windrows.

The side-delivery rake is more complicated. It follows the machine at an angle and leaves the hay in a windrow (see Fig. 15).

Fig. 15. Windrows made with this properly designed side-delivery rake are tall, loose, fluffy and quick drying. It may be either tractor drawn or horse drawn. (Courtesy of New Idea, Inc.)

THE PICK-UP BALER. After the hay has been cut, raked, and cured, there are three ways of handling it. It can be stacked in the field, it can be piled loosely in the loft, or it can be baled and stored in the barn. Baled hay will require the least storage space, it suffers least damage from mice and rats, and it is the only way to handle hay that you wish to sell.

The baling is almost always done by custom labor. When clover hay was worth $4.50 a ton, baling cost was $2.50 a ton. There was little profit in selling hay. So the wise farmer let his clover stand and gave his soil that extra enrichment at little cost. But hay often sells for $15 to $20 a ton. The baling cost goes up, too, but not proportionately, possibly $3.50 to $5.00. Under these conditions there is a good profit in selling hay. In fact, the profit looks so good that many a farmer feels he cannot afford to let his clover stand.

The pick-up baler is the most modern labor-saving method of handling the hay. This machine goes down the windrow, picks up the hay, and drops the bales in the field. It takes but two men to operate it. It is well if you can persuade the baler to pull a wooden sled on which to rest the bale, and, in this way, the bales can be dumped evenly across the field. It will save much time and effort in picking them up.

THE CORN PICKER. A gradual improvement in the efficiency of the corn picker was making it more popular with the farmer when the shortage of labor began. This made the corn picker almost a necessity.

A corn picker cannot do a good job in a field of corn that has “gone down.” The general adoption of hybrid seed corn has resulted in up-standing corn, which is easier for both the shuckers and the corn pickers. Here again the small farmer must hire this job done by custom labor unless he himself expects to do custom work with his machine. Many small operators do just that.

The advantages of the corn picker are twofold: it gets the corn out before bad weather sets in, and it knocks down the stalks so that they will rot in the first of winter.

Its disadvantages are that even on a moist day the grains at the end of the ear are knocked off, and, in dry weather, this loss is appreciable. In a hand- shucked field, a farmer can run his stock most of the winter. There is roughage as well as the corn that is missed. This roughage is lost by using a picker. And, too, all grain left in the field is on the ground. Only hogs will eat it and, unless it is eaten right away, it spoils and is lost.

In spite of the fact that many stock farmers are not overly fond of the corn pickers, there seems to be some doubt in their minds whether they will ever go back to hand shucking, even if we have a return of ample labor. By that time they predict that the picker will be perfected to such a degree that the difference between the two methods will be negligible.

THE COMBINE. The combine is another labor-saving machine. It cuts and threshes the grain in one operation. There are all sizes of combines, from the four-foot which can be handled by one man to the machine which cuts a twenty-foot swath. These large machines can do as much as 100 acres in a day, if the weather permits and there is not too much green stuff in the standing grain.

A small farm does not warrant the expense of owning a combine, but must rely on custom labor.

The four-foot combine has many advantages. It can be operated by one man. It does not have to be trucked. In a country where there are fences, this saves a great deal of time. It has a better resale value because there is a larger buying public for the cheaper machine. It is cheaper to operate for there is one motor instead of two.

One wonders why anyone ever buys the larger combine. But many do. It does the job quicker. And this is an age for SPEED. All who can afford it, buy the larger machine.

Of all the farm machinery, the combine, in my estimation, is the flimsiest and deteriorates the fastest. This may be due to the fact that often it is not properly cared for. It is so large that many farms do not have a building suitable to house it. The farmer may be careless about greasing its parts when it has to sit out in the weather. It is made up largely of light weight metal (that is necessary, otherwise it would be too heavy to pull) and it rusts easily. Another reason is that it is often forced to do work that is impossible. The farmer, in his anxiety to harvest his crop, will open the field before the weather permits.

Fig. 16. With the new one-man, one-engine, 12-foot, self-propelled combine, the operator can start cutting in any part of the field. In opening a field, the crop at the edges of the field is not knocked down or shattered but is harvested just as efficiently as in any other part.

A rainy summer will delay wheat harvesting and it lodges badly. Perhaps sweet clover has been planted in the field and has grown up rank through the wheat. A combine can easily be broken running through this field unless it is done very slowly and carefully.

But more combines are wrecked on bean fields than on wheat. Bean ground is soft and loose. Often we have wet f all weather. It is a great temptation to get in and harvest those beans before the winter sets in. It is a temptation that few farmers can resist.

Combining costs from $2.50 to $4.00 an acre. There is still much grain cut with a binder and threshed. That is largely in hilly country where the fields are small and irregular. But on the large wheat fields in Kansas and Nebraska, and on the bean fields of Iowa and Illinois, the combine has supplanted the threshing machine.


THE MANURE SPREADER. A manure spreader is an implement essential to every farm. It should be used as regularly as you clean your stalls. I would suggest backing it up to the barn, filling it, and spreading it directly. In that way you suffer no loss of minerals or bacteria. When manure is piled upon the ground by your barn and allowed to stand, the sunshine kills the bacteria and the rains wash away much of the minerals present.

A cattle feeder will tell you that manure spread upon his land pays such rich returns that he can afford to hire a man at the present high wages to do nothing but clean his lots and haul manure to his fields.

Fig. 17. A manure spreader, used regularly, will soon pay for itself in increased yields. (Courtesy of The Oliver Corporation)

You can buy rubber-tired or iron-wheeled spreaders from a forty-five bushel capacity on up. The amount of stock you have will determine the size that you need.

The large cattle feeder would be justified in owning a manure loader which is operated by a tractor.

THE LIME SPREADER. A few years ago if you wished to spread lime, you had to own your own lime spreader. Spreading lime was a long and arduous task. You ordered a carload, not less than forty tons, from the closest quarry. The local station notified you when it arrived and gave you forty-eight hours to unload it. You hired a truckman to deliver it to the field. Lime is heavy. It took two men to load the truck at the railroad and to unload it at the field. You tried to have ready your wagon with the lime spreader attached to the rear, so that the truck men could shovel part of their load into the wagon. The rest was dumped on the ground to be scattered later. The truck returned to the car for another load and you drove your wagon around the field. A man in the wagon shoveled lime into the spreader as you drove along. It would depend upon the length of the haul whether or not the wagon could keep up with the truck. The first field that I limed, I almost winded the horses in my endeavor to do so.

The number, of times that the heavy stuff had to be handled added to the cost of the lime. In 1934, I ordered a carload—forty tons—and paid $.60 a ton for it; the freight was $1.00 a ton and the hauling was $.50 a ton (plus my time and that of two men at the field).

When a new type of spreader came on the market in 1937, I, with two others, bought it for $30.00. It fastened onto the end of the truck and eliminated one step in the handling. It was a great improvement but it still had to be fed by hand. This shoveling was hard work. A man called “Popeye” did this for me, but, in spite of his name, he wore out before the job was finished. The costs of freight, lime and hauling were the same, but I had no extra labor costs at the field.

This year I am spreading lime with a new and still more improved type of spreader. It is built into the truck. The lime is never touched by hand. The truck is loaded from an over-head dump at the quarry, the lime is automatically fed out of the truck, and the truck has a gauge to regulate the number of tons per acre desired. It is very modern and efficient. It costs me $3.75 per ton on the ground. The man that owns this truck spends all of his time spreading lime. His work is so in demand that he must be engaged weeks in advance.

All of these methods of spreading lime are still used. The end-gate spreader is still practical for a small field, and many spread their own lime. But I have found it more simple and not much more expensive to employ this man who has specialized in the business.


On a mechanized farm, you will need a rubber-tired wagon. They are expensive and they hive an unpleasant habit of having a flat tire when you are in a hurry. But they pull much easier behind a tractor. A two-wheeled trailer, that can be made from the chassis of an old car, and that can be pulled behind your automobile, is a great convenience.

One or more iron-wheeled wagons will answer your needs if you have horses.

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