The Grain Drill

We sowed the oats seeds into the prepared soil with a grain drill. The grain drill was a magnificent piece of machinery that every farmer owned. Couldn’t farm without one! My family owned a seven-foot Van Brunt drill with grass attachment. The grain drill precisely positioned seeds in the soil and then covered them, allowing for a profitable ratio of crop yield.

In 1860, George Van Brunt used a turnip to carve the first model of the force-feed device. The nozzle dragged on the ground and discharged the seed oats into a small gully made by a rotating disc. Chain drags behind the nozzle covered the seed. The seed was placed about one inch under the soil and out of the reach of those scavenging birds.

The Van Brunt machine had dropper tubes so the “person tending it could see whether any of the droppers (or tubes) failed to deliver the grain regularly, all are in plain sight and under the eye of the driver. From its peculiar construction, therefore, a failure to deliver the seed constantly could not occur.” George and Daniel Van Brunt set up their factory in Mayville, Wisconsin. They later moved to Horicon. The business stayed in the Van Brunt family until it was sold to John Deere and the two companies merged in 1911.

The Scheckel seven-foot grain drill needed three horses to pull it. Two horses could do the job, but not easily, especially if they worked all day and had to navigate hills.

Two hinged doors were on top of the grain drill and sprung up so seed oats could be loaded. The seed chutes were made of flexible metal conduit. A seed attachment was mounted on the back wall of the grain drill. Most farmers mixed purchased seed oats with used seed oats from the previous year’s crop. Seed for hay had to be purchased. I recall that the seed mixture of alfalfa, clover and timothy, was made up of very fine tiny seeds and was quite expensive.

Dad would ride on a platform in the back. The seed-dispensing gears were driven by big wooden spoked wheels on each end bounded with steel straps. Meshed gears drove the auger that fed the seed to the tubes. Dad used to open the hinged doors and move the grain from side to side with his hands, to make sure no area of the drill was without seed.

One day while riding on the back with Dad, my brother Bob stuck his hand in either the seed attachment or the main oats seeder just the way Dad did. His fingers got caught and, ouch, bloody stubs. Dad had to make a hasty trip to the hospital in Prairie du Chien. Bob had stubby fingers for years, and Mom blamed Dad. “You got to watch the kids better,” she said a number of times. Dad wouldn’t say a thing. In all my years growing up on the farm, I never ever heard my folks argue.


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