By SAM MOORE
During most of the 20th century Salem, Ohio, was a hotbed of industrial activity with several large manufacturing plants, such as those of E.W. Bliss, Mullins, Eljer and Deming.
There were, however, many smaller firms, with some located in backyard garages or barns. One of the latter was the Acme Cultivator Company which produced a small, walk-behind motorized garden tractor in the days when only a few companies were offering such machines.
The Acme power cultivator seems to have been the brainchild of Albert G. Byerley. On Feb. 17, 1921, Byerley filed for a patent for a ‘power tractor’ that, according to the patent, comprised “a wheeled frame adapted to support suitable agricultural implements, an engine mounted on the frame, a drive shaft connected to said engine, a driven shaft with a worm that meshes with a worm gear that connects to the axle by a clutch.”
Byerley also included an optional tank and engine driven pump on the tractor as “it is frequently necessary to spray growing plants with various compositions to keep them free from insects.”
The origins of the company and of the men who were involved in it are obscure. For instance, Ernest E. Dyball was listed as the president of the Acme Cultivator Company. Ernest E. Dyball was born in Cuyahoga County, Ohio, in 1861 and was orphaned at age six.
Later he moved to Canfield to live with an older brother who was a dentist and eventually became a dentist himself. At some point the two brothers opened a ‘dental parlor’ at 25 1/2 E. Main St., in Salem, and Ernest made his home at 70 E. High St., Salem.
One source says the brothers owned a Salem jewelry store as well. How a dentist and jewelry store owner became president of a tractor factory is hard to figure, although Dyball’s obituary stated that “He was a wonderfully energetic man and interested in many business activities, at the same time taking a lively interest in sports and civic affairs.”
Perhaps Dyball bankrolled the new company and for his investment was named president. Joseph Calladine was secretary of the Acme firm and he apparently had some manufacturing experience, as prior to becoming involved with Acme he was a foreman at W.J. Clark Company in Salem, who were listed as “plate metal workers.”
After the Acme Company left Salem, Calladine worked at the National Sanitary Company.
The background of Albert Byerley, who is listed a general manager of the company and is the patentee for the tractor, is even more unknown, although he must have had some training as a machinist since the drive train for his machine was rather innovative with a spring loaded thrust collar to take up the shock of engaging the dog-type clutch.
Both Byerley and Dyball lived on East High Street, while Calladine lived on nearby Cleveland Street, so they found a small building located at the rear of 313 E. High St., which, in 1928, became 1134 East Third St., to serve as their factory and where they made the Acme-Jr. Power Cultivator and Garden Tractor, as the machine was called.
The Acme-Jr. had a 1HP Briggs & Stratton engine, weighed 235 pounds, and had a speed of a little over 2 MPH. A 1922 advertisement pitches the Acme to “The Gardner, Florist and Suburban Estate Owner,” and listed the available implements to be a “4-inch single plow; 4-inch double moldboard plow; rakes, hoes, cultivators of all types, discs and covering plows, and row crop harvesters.”
I’d sure like to know what they meant by “row crop harvesters.” The ad also stated, “This machine is one of the oldest on the market and has given excellent satisfaction.”
Besides the implements listed in the ad, an Acme-Jr. owner’s manual at the Salem Historical Society also mentions a one-, two-, or three-row seeder, marker, vine or leaf guards, and a lawn mower as attachments.
The manual tells the new owner: “The extreme simplicity of the Acme-Jr. together with its high class material and workmanship, and the ease and flexibility with which it operates, renders an extensive mechanical knowledge unnecessary.”
Many years ago, I talked by phone with Frank Byerley, son of Acme’s general manager, Albert G. Byerley, who had no information on the Acme Jr. other than his boyhood recollections. Mr. Byerley said the machine was painted green with red wheels and had a 7 to 1 worm gear drive that was patented by his father.
He remembered helping crate up one of the tractors that was to be shipped to Japan. He told me that Acme Cultivator Co. didn’t make their own implements, but bought them from the S. L. Allen & Co. of Philadelphia, makers of the Planet Jr. garden tractor. Mr. Byerley remembers that sometime after 1925, the company moved to Leetonia. The rest of Acme’s history is as murky as its beginning.
The owner’s manual shows the company’s location as Leetonia, Ohio, which tallies with Frank Byerley’s recollection, but I’ve found no clue as to who the owner’s may have been. Dr. Dyball died Dec. 15, 1924, and this may have triggered the sale of the firm.
Then, 1929 and 1930 Farm Implement News Buyer’s Guides list the Acme Cultivator Company as being on South Main Street in Columbiana, Ohio, while as late as 1939 repairs for the machine were still available from Acme Cultivator Co. at the same location.
It’s only speculation but possibly the firm was purchased by the Enterprise Company that made machinery on South Main, in Columbiana. I don’t recall seeing an Acme-Jr. in person but a short video of a running example can be seen on YouTube at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XqrqM-dK3dQ