Livestock and machinery filled 1840s fairgrounds


How about that Dodge Ram ad at the Super Bowl? It’s not often that the advantages and benefits of farming are placed before such a huge national audience, most of who probably think their food is manufactured by bib overall-clad dwarves in the back room of the supermarket. Did my heart good! The game was pretty good too.

Improved plow

On Sept. 10th, 1839, just two years after John Deere “Gave to the world the steel plow,” a man named Ambrose Barnaby from Ithaca, N.Y., was awarded U.S. Patent # 1,320 for “a new and useful improvement in the construction of double-mold board plows.”

The business end of Barnaby’s plow had a V-shaped frog and to this was bolted a V-shaped (“fork-shaped” as Barnaby described it) share. On each side of the frog was a more or less standard moldboard.
The thing looked remarkably like a middle-breaker or potato plow that is designed to throw a furrow in each direction simultaneously.

However, Barnaby made the beam of his walk-behind plow so its rear end could be easily swung from side to side between the handles and latched into either position, while the plow bottom stayed in the same relative position.

When swung to the right, the right hand moldboard was in line with the beam and acted as a landside while the left moldboard turned a furrow to the left. At the furrow end the team was turned around, the beam unlatched and swung left, and the plowman returned to the same furrow while now turning the furrow to the right.
Ambrose Barnaby had invented probably the first hillside or two-way plow.

Successful plow

The plow was an immediate success; an account in the November, 1840 issue of The Cultivator tells of a plowing match that took place at the Otsego County fair the previous Sept. 24 in a place with the unlikely name of Butternuts, New York.

The correspondent writes: “The plowing-match was a scene of great interest, for the Scotchmen were out — and where will you find better plowmen? — with their long scow plows and well trained teams; and the work was excellent.

“The greatest object of attention, however, was a new ‘side-hill’ plow, with a beam revolving on the standard and secured behind between the handles by a catch; this the plowman touches with his foot as the horses turn, which throws the beam round so as to let the other shear of a double mold board come into its work; thus the double mold board acts alternately as mold board and land side. It is in appearance a very strong, durable instrument and well suited to the Otsego hill side.
“However, it was now to play the part of a common plow on a very hard level piece of ground that had not been broken up for 19 years, and was rendered still harder by a severe drouth.

Plowing match

Fortunately [Mr. Barnaby] was able to induce a very first rate plowman, Mr. J. Miller, to hold it; who thus entered the list with a stronger team and yet stronger implement to compete with the Scotch plow.
“It was a ‘plowing match,’ not a trial of plows; and the award was given according to time and excellence of work. There was a committee to keep the time, maintain order, and enforce the rules.
“The admiration of the bystanders at the work of the ‘side-hill plow’ was fully sanctioned by the returns of the committee, who awarded it the third premium (here, the editor added a note that the same plow had been awarded first premium at a plow trial in October).
“This new instrument was then put upon the roughest, most difficult side hill that could be found and performed its work to the perfect and entire satisfaction of every one present. Never was triumph more complete, and orders were given on all sides to Mr. Henry Mooer of Ithaca for ‘Barnaby’s patent side hill plow,’ which he engaged to furnish at the very moderate price of nine or ten dollars.”

Prize boar

The weight of the prize Berkshire boar, named “Lord Bacon,” at the fair “did not then exceed 522 lbs,” even though he had been driven (afoot, of course) 12 miles to get there. The owner of several prize Short Horn heifers was offered $100 a piece to sell them, but turned down the offer as he wanted them for breeding stock.

Devon cattle

Among the cattle, the “beautiful little Devons,” some of them imported from the Duke of Norfolk’s herd in England, attracted much attention and “as oxen their uniformity of color makes it easy to match them.”

The working oxen were tested with a loaded wagon weighing 3,600 lbs. “on a well selected piece of ground, where there was a short steep hill that severely tested their honesty, patience, strength, and excellent training.” A Mr. Parker and his 3-year old steers “walked off with the load and the first premium, greatly to their credit.”

The writer didn’t think much of the horses exhibited, except for the two that won first and second. There were lots of sheep, mostly of the Down, Saxon and Merino breeds, as well as various crosses between those breeds.

Preventing heating

One other invention was demonstrated at the event — a device for preventing newly threshed grain or corn from heating in the bin.

“It was nothing more than a tin tube of two or three inches diameter, and of length enough to rise above the grain, punched full of holes like a nutmeg grater, and pointed at the end. This being thrust into the heated bin, and occasionally moved from one part to another, we were assured would entirely do away with having to remove or shovel over the grain.”

So, that was a county fair in 1840 — no thrill rides, elephant ears or candied apples, or games of skill and, thankfully, no vinegar soaked and catsup-coated French fries.


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Sam Moore grew up on a family farm in Western Pennsylvania during the late 1930s and the 1940s. Although he left the farm in 1953, it never left him. He now lives near Salem, where he tinkers with a few old tractors, collects old farm literature, and writes about old machinery, farming practices and personal experiences for Farm and Dairy, as well as Farm Collector and Rural Heritage magazines. He has published one book about farm machinery, titled Implements for Farming with Horses and Mules.


  1. We recently purchased Ambrose’s grandsons property here in Monroe, MI. Build in the mid 1860s, there is a ton of history and it was a pleasure coming across this article in our research. Thank you for sharing!


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