Engineering in Agriculture as it Affects Competition Between Canada and the United States

July 1 1911

Engineering in Agriculture as it Affects Competition Between Canada and the United States

July 1 1911

Engineering in Agriculture as it Affects Competition Between Canada and the United States


WE reproduce the following article exactly as it appears in Cassier’s Magazine. This publication deals largely with engineering matters and in a technical way. But the following article by A. W. Day is not only timely, but well written. As the editor of Cassier’s points out in an editorial head-note, this article is very pertinent, in view of the closer trade relations which may soon be consummated between the two countries. Of course, Mr. Day writes from an American standpoint and Canadians may discount some of his statements.

There is probably no department of industry in which the use of power-operated machinery for the saving of time and labor and for the increase of capacity and output has been less evident than in agriculture. Compare the production of the raw material of foodstuffs with the manufacture of lumber, steel, textiles, and even building materials, and the difference in the utilization of power instantly appears. In the improvement of harbors and waterways, as well as in the operations of land drainage, the heavily-powered dredges and excavators are everywhere in evidence, supplemented by locomotives, cars and track.

"We now have two great agricultural countries, neighbors and competitors, rapidly becoming alive to the tremendous possibilities of a wider use of power machinery in their fundamental development, in the production of the food by

which not only their own people, but a large part of the rest of the world, are to be sustained.

In the United States the farming area occupied at the present time comprises nearly 315,000 square miles, or about two hundred million acres, and, in view of these figures, it seems almost incredible that the importance of power-operated machinery as an economical factor in agriculture has not been more fully realized. It is true that the records of the Department of Agriculture show that modern improved mechanism is in operation on about eight million acres of cultivated soil, but this means only about 4 per cent, of the farming territory actually devoted to crop production. The figures show that the remainder of this immense area is still cultivated by the use of mechanical appliances such as the plow, harrow, rake and harvester, but operated, not by mechanical power, but by the horse, the mule, and sometimes even by manual effort.

When the results which have been accomplished by the introduction of machinery operated by steam, gasoline or electric power are considered, it will be fully demonstrated that, even allowing for greater first cost for supplies and for repairs, the increase in capacity is so great as to warrant the statement that one of the greatest of national wastes is that due to the tillage of the fields by the oldfashioned methods.

Abundant data are available to prove this assertion, for tests have been made, especially on the larger farms of the western States, and also on the famous tule lands of California, which show the great economy and capacity of steam power when applied to farm engine or tractor. Since the tractor was placed in active service on the farm in 1900 its numbers have increased until at the present time nearly 10,000 are in service, varying in horsepower according to the work required. The reason for its popularity is that the tractor is adapted for such a variety of purposes. In the plowing and cultivation of heavy lands, such as clay soil, and the black muck so abundant in the west, and the stiff, sod-covered prairie, the portable engine can turn up the earth, drawing a series of plows where four horses could not pull even one implement. The daily result in acres is, of course, determined by the power employed. The theoretical plowing capacity of the steam plow is thirty-eight acres a day for the moldboard plow and forty-five acres for the disc, the day being twelve hours long. The daily actual average, as gained from reports made by plow owners, is twenty-three acres for moldboard plows in the Northwest and twenty-six acres for the disc plows in the Southwest. The moldboard plow is used almost exclusively in the Northwest and the disc in the Southwest.

As to the service performed, steam engines used for plowing are usually rated at from 20 to 50 horse-power, from 25 to 35 being the figures usually. The steam plowing engines weigh from 7 to 20 tons, and cost from $1,500 to $3,000. On the Pacific coast the usual engine is larger, averaging about 60 horse-power, and costing from $5,000 to $6,000. The average cost of the miscellaneous equipment for the steam plowing outfit adds another $500 to the investment. In California some of the owners of large outfits plowing nearly 3,500 acres annuallv each estimate the average durability of the outfit at fifteen years, or more than 50.000 acres per plow, in addition to threshing and other work done outside of plowing seasons. A crew of from three to six men is needed to operate a large steam plow. One is the engineer, whose pay ranges from $3 to $4.75 per day; one guides the

engine, one fires, one looks after the plows, one drives the team that keeps the engine supplied with water and fuel, and, in many cases, a cook also is carried. The prices charged by traction .plowing outfits range from 75 cents to $5 per acre. The lowest figures usually are for stubble plowing and the highest for breaking sod. The acre-cost of steam plowing, as found by a comprehensive investigation, is from 75 cents to $1.85—less than one-fifth of the cost where the horse and mule are employed.

The plains of western Canada have recently developed into wheat fields by this aid. In 1900, about the time the tractor plow became unquestionably practical, there were fewer than 2,500,000 acres sown to wheat between Winnipeg and the mountains. In 1909 Saskatchewan alone had 4,085,000 acres sown to wheat, which yielded 90,255,000 bushels, or more than Manitoba and Alberta combined. Manitoba had 2,643,111 acres, which yielded

45.774.707 bushels, and Alberta 333,000 acres, which yielded 8,250,000 bushels. These three provinces combined thus had 7.058,111 acres, which yielded a total of

114.279.707 bushels, or more wheat in one year than the entire German Empire.

These great tracts of Canada have demonstrated not merely the importance, but the necessity, of power mechanism. Grain is grown on what was formerlv prairie land, which is very tenacious and of hard composition. Here and there are fields covering several hundred acres, while hundred-acre fields are numerous. It would be impossible to plow, cultivate and harvest these, even by horse-power, except at a great loss in time and expense to the farming communitv. Here is an illustration in point. In Saskatchewan, a section of rich, wild sod land, 640 acres, was broken in twenty-two hours, three steam outfits working continuously in order to get the land plowed immediately. A six-horse team, with a gang plow, would have required a month, Sundays included, to perform the same amount of work. The result was that the owner was able to plant his entire 640 acres at the right time, instead of only a small portion of it, as would have been the case had he depended upon animal power.

Several types of tractors are in use for agriculture. One design, employed in California, is noted for its dimensions and performance. The largest size has driving wheels 8 feet in diameter, with 60 inches face of tire. The lead wheel is five feet in diameter, with 48 inches of face, which gives a tremendous bearingsurface, enabling the engine to go over very soft ground. This engine develops 110 horse-power on the crankshaft, and can pull six gangs of plows, cutting a furrow each time of about 36 feet in width, and traveling at the rate of 3 noles per hour. It will also haul a steam combined harvester, clearing a swath 35 feet in width. It cuts, threshes, recleans and sacks the grain from 100 to 125 acres each day at a cost not exceeding 30 cents per acre. A smaller size, used for hauling supplies and wagons, has a capacity of 50 tons, depending upon the conditions to overcome. The speed of the engines is 3 miles per hour, with or without a load, which is as fast as deemed practicable to run machinery of this class over ordinary country roads.

This engine, by the Best Manufacturing Company, is a western design, and intended for the soft, loose tule lands, its broad wheel tires preventing it from sinking into the earth and lessening its traction.

Another western tractor, also employed, is the Holt, which is manufactured on the Pacific coast. It is intended not only for agriculture, but for hauling farm and freight wagons on the rough and heavygrade mountain roads. Loads too heavy to be hauled easily by the ordinary six and eight-horse freight teams can be removed by the traction-engine freighting outfit expeditiously and economically. They will do heavy hauling for less than half what it costs to do the same work with horses, or, up to 100 tons per day, will do the work for less than it could be done by means of railroads, as tests have shown.

This tractor has an engine of 60 horsepower and main wheels 7 feet 6 inches in diameter, driven independently by chains and friction gear, dispensing with any equalizing gear, The use of main and secondary chain gear permits a broken link to be readily replaced in case of breakage—an important matter in the field or on the road. An auxiliary wagon,

with an engine which can take steam from the main boiler and be connected to the traction by chain and clutch gear, is used to increase the tractive power for steep grades and extra heavy loads. These engines are arranged to use oil fuel, as especially adapted for the locality and conditions for which they are most used, or, by a modification of the grate, they may be used for either coal or wood fuel.

These engines will haul a load of from 40 to 60 tons, depending on the character of the road, at a speed of from 2 to 3 miles per hour, loaded, and to 4 miles, empty, ascending with a full load, on good roads, grades up to 10 per cent., smaller loads on proportionately steeper grades.

For the small farm, ranging from 50 to 200 acres, the tractor, if driven by a gasoline engine, is an economical and really necessary source of power, since it is self-propelled and can be utilized in so many different agricultural processes. This type of tractor, designed by the experts of the International Harvester Company, makes a new era in power application to agriculture, and is already in service both in America and in Europe. Its advantages over steam power include higher efficiency, economy and convenience.

One manufacturer builds three types of vapor-driven tractors, ranging from 12 to 20 horse-power. A brief description of the smallest gives an idea of what gasoline power means to the farmer in efficiency and economy. The engine is a regular 12-horse-power engine mounted on two channel-steel sills of great strength and durability. To this main frame is bolted the sub-frame, reinforced by two angles to make the frame rigid and prevent twisting, and also to keep all gears and boxes in accurate alignment. At the front end of the main frame is the bolster, which connects with the front axle by means of a ball and socket. The axle is arched, and is provided with very substantial truss rods, making it capable of withstanding any twisting or jarring to which it may be subjected. The driving wheels are 56 inches in diameter and have a 16-inch face. To this 16-inch face are riveted cleats, which provide ample traction when going through mud or over soft ground. Extra mud legs are also provided, to be used when working under extremely bad conditions.

The power is transmitted from the engine crankshaft to the drive wheels by only two sets of pinions and gears. The two speeds are obtained by two gears on the clutch sleeve located on the engine crankshaft. When using the slow speed, the smaller gear is selected and moved into the mesh with the larger gear on the countershaft. To obtain the fast speed, the small gear is moved out of mesh and the large gear is moved into mesh with the smaller gear on the countershaft. The gears are controlled by hand levers, and are provided with notches to hold each gear in its respective place. It is impossible to have two speeds in mesh at one time. These gears are also so arranged that, when the engine is doing belt work, all of the gears may be thrown out of mesh. They then revolve as idle gears with the engine. The reverse is accomplished by means of a friction gear, which is mounted on a hollow eccentric.

This tractor is adapted for all light work, such as found on the average small farm. It will draw two or three plows. It proves satisfactory for operating small threshing machines, shredders, huskers, shellers, and many other machines. The second speed with which it is provided permits the tractor to move these machines at the same speed as would a team of horses. It is especially adapted for hauling purposes, and drawing binders. The friction clutch is smaller in diameter than the regular friction pulley on the opposite side of the negine, so that when this friction clutch is used as a belt pulley the tractor is actually provided with two pulleys of different diameter, both of which may be used at one time.

The capacity of the 20 horse-power tractor is best shown by the discovery that, when in service, it develops enough power to haul four 16-inch plows or a load of 6V2 tons; but, like the others, it can be employed for many other operations on a farm, even to operating the cream separators in the dairy, churning the butter, and cutting the hay and corn for ensilage, when attached to the necessary implements. The gasoline tractor is another revolution in power application that is of great importance in the agriculture of the future.

The greatest invention to further agricultural progress and prosperity has been

the evolution of the harvester, now to be seen in the grain fields throughout the world. From the days of the McCormick, the genius who first conceived it, the changes in the mechanism have indeed been remarkable. Ten years elapsed before the farmers who studied McCormick’s idea were convinced that it was practical, such was the prejudice inspired by ignorance of the soil tillers. To-day more than 400,000 machines, representing several types of horse harvesters, are in use, in addition to composite machines hauled and operated by the tractor, which furnishes power not merely for cutting the wheat crop, but for storing it in the receiving wagons, operating the thresher, and also the machinery which bags the grain for storage, a crew of only three men being needed besides the engineer. The harvester alone does the work of twenty men.

The separate threshing machine driven by belting from the portable steam engine is still a familiar sight in the wheat fields of the smaller farms in the middle and central western States; but with the opening of the huge wheat ranches of the west there has been developed and brought to a very practical standard a combined harvester and threshing machine. These machines cut, thresh and sack the grain at one operation. As they travel through the field, one sees the cutting bar, 15 to 25 feet in length, slicing its way through the standing grain, and, on the other side, he witnesses the steady delivery of the grain in sacks ready to be hauled to the railway elevator. The cutting bar is 25 feet long, the separator or thresher measures 54 inches, and has a capacity for cutting and threshing 65 to 100 acres of wheat per day, the amount depending upon the condition of the grain to be harvested.

As a matter of comparison between the power-propelled and the horse-drawn machines, it may be noted that the cutting bar of the horse-hauled harvester is 16 feet long and the thresher measures 36 inches, and it can cut from 35 to 40 acres per day.

The harvesting expenses, when using the steam harvester, are from 35 cents to 50 cents per acre, while the horse-drawn machine operates at an expense of from 50 to 70 cents per acre.

Relative to the early importance of grass-cutting and grain-reaping machinery, in 1840 there were three reapers made, and less than that number of people were employed upon them. In 1845 fifty people were employed in the manufacture of 500 machines. In 1850 the production had increased to 3,000, and in 1860 20,000 machines were produced, in the manufacture of which 2,000 people were employed. About the year 1880, shortly after the automatic cord binder was perfected, there was an immediate and marked increase in the output. In 1885 more than 100,000 self-binding harvesters were sold, in addition to no less than 150,000 reapers and mowers, 20,000 hands being engaged in their production.

This advance in the farm-machine industry seems remarkable; but the increased output has been far from keeping pace with settlement of vacant farm land, especially in the States west of the Mississippi river. While the steam and gasoline tractor are associated with modern agriculture, the inventor has also greatly improved other devices needed for farm work. The modern threshing machine is equipped with an automatic band cutter, self-feeder, automatic weighing and sacking device and pneumatic swinging straw stacker, the necessary power to operate all of these being either a gasoline or steam traction engine. By the old method of handling wheat the time required to produce a bushel was three hours. The modern harvesting machines reduces this time to ten minutes, the original cost being 17% cents per bushel, as compared with 3% cents per bushel now. The old threshing machine had a capacity of 175 to 225 bushels per day ; the modern machines can handle 2,000 bushels and more in the same time.

A similar advance has been made in machines for handling the hay crop, by use of the self-dumping sulky, steel hayrake. This machine can be operated by a ten-year-old boy, who can do more and better work than could a man using the old method. The hay tedder enables the farmer to cure his hay quickly, and to improve greatly the quality of the hay. By means of the hay loader, timothy, clover or alfalfa can be taken direct from the swath and loaded on the wagon. With the modern sweep rake the hay can be

taken direct from the swath or cock and put into the stack with the hay stacker. Extensive use is also being made of the derrick hay fork, especially when the hay is to put away in the mow.

In the modern methods connected with the corn harvest the old custom of pulling the ears from the stalks and leaving them to wither or rot in the field has been abandoned by the successful farmer, who makes valuable use of every part of the plant. The seed is planted by mechanism, which distributes it evenly throughout the field. The horse or motor-drawn cultivator replaces the hand hoe, doing the work far more thoroughly and more rapidly. When the crop is matured the modem corn binder cuts and binds the corn into bundles ready to be put in the shock. One man with a corn knife can cut about one acre of corn a day; the modern corn binder cuts and binds six to ten acres a day. The binding, husking, shredding of the stalk and putting it in the silo are done by machines that are driven by belting connections with the steam or gasoline engine. The silo, which may be large enough to hold 100 tons of stock feed, has a sheet-iron pipe extending from the top, ending in a movable joint. The upper part of the pipe opens to an exhaust fan. This fan, revolved from the same source of power, draws the ensilage through the pipe without the use of even a pitchfork.

Fertilizing a field by the older method is attended with much labor and needless expense, even where the farmer uses barn manure, which costs him nothing. If he follows the old way, the manure is slowly loaded into the wagon with the familiar pitchfork, slowly hauled to the field, while one man unloads the wagon and another spreads the fertilizer over the ground. A day may be required to cover an acre. If the back of the wagon was equipped with the device known as a manure-spreader, merely the pull of a lever would set it in position, and, as the wagon moves along, the spreader would automatically cover the ground with an even depth of the manure, leaving no bare spots for the plants to spring up and die, as is so often the case where the pitchfork is used.

Late statistics of the manufacture of agricultural machinery show that the annual output in the United States has increased from a value of $112,000,000 in

1905 to over $130,000,000 at the present time. This indicates that the farmer who works with his head as well as his hands is rapidly increasing in numbers, and realizes the results he can attain by modern mechanical methods. There is no question that within ten years the farms all over the country will be far better equipped for the growing of larger crops to the acre at a far less expense than the cost of cultivating a smaller acreage largely by manual labor. Intensive farming is the cause of the farmers’ success, and modern mechanism is an aid of vital importance in attaining success.

Ingenuity has been displayed in few invention more notable than those which concern the soil and its products. The inventor has so reduced actual human labor in field and garden that a man can perform nearly every operation required by merely the turn of a wheel here and the pull of a lever there with one hand while he guides his horses with the other. He can actually plow, cultivate and seed 100 acres without walking a step, and, with his two or four horses and machine, will accomplish as much as a dozen or a score of men with hand tools. This accounts for the increase in the use of agricultural machinery, as proved by the statistics quoted.

When one stops to consider what these figures mean, he can get some conception

of how machinery is aiding in the industrial revolution of agriculture. Invention has been stimulated by the demand for labor and time-saving appliances; but this demand has originated from the desire of the agriculturist to apply methodical ideas, as in other channels of human activity. As he has studied his vocation, he has realized the great opportunities of which he can take advantage if he has adequate facilities.

If a man believes he can make a thousand or five thousand dollars more by adding to his acreage, he is strongly tempted to make the addition, especially when modern methods will give him the desired result without overwork. This is the secret of the expansion of many of the western farms to their present size, some aggregating 50,000 acres under cultivation. Not all their owners have succeeded, but many have done so, and the stories of the rural capitalists who direct operations from their automobiles and drive over their places behind teams of thoroughbreds, have more than a grain of truth in them, as the camera proves. But they are of the class who use their heads more than their hands, bearing the same relation to their property that the president of a cotton mill or of a foundry does to his industry.