This past week's artifact from the Nelson Pioneer Farm is a potato planter.
Dorothy Vos took a guess at the identity of the artifact. She wrote via email: “The artifact in the June 11 shopper is either a horse drawn 2 side Hay delivery rake from about the mid – late 1800’s or a horse drawn potato planter.”
Nelson Pioneer Farm Curator Kelly Halbert did some research on the artifact. She wrote: “New Aspinwall Potato Planter
This horse drawn planter holds two bags of seed potatoes, cutting a furrow, planting and covering the seed in one smooth action and with only one man. Many similar designs of the period required more than one worker, one to drive and one to cut and plant, often with another to cover the seed. Even under ideal conditions, potato farming was a labor intensive job.
L. Augustus Aspinwall began work on a line of equipment for the potato farmer about 1861. His potato planter, developed over the next 20 years, was demonstrated in 1878 in New Jersey. Aspinwall’s planter was the first to open the furrow, drop the seed pieces a set distance apart, and then close the furrow using trailing double discs to close the soil over the small pieces. Using a star wheel and series of pickers, this mechanical jawed planter often missed a hill ̶ an unacceptable situation for many large potato growers. He continued to work on his design, converting to a lazy-susan type plate that dropped the seed potato into the planting tube. By 1844, his design was successful and he opened a factory at Three Rivers, Michigan.
The business was very successful and grew rapidly. In 1891 the company moved to Jackson, MI. The 1900 Aspinwall sold a complete line of “potato machinery” including planters, sprayers, cutters, sorters, and diggers. They also manufactured and sold churns, weeders, and lawn swings. One advertisement claimed that the Aspinwall planter could plant corn, beans and potatoes as well as make silage and scatter fertilizer; this was probably wishful thinking on the part of the advertiser. Continuing to increase their line of farm machinery, in 1919 Aspinwall introduced a two-row potato digger that was powered by a New Way gasoline engine. They also developed a digger for transplanting strawberries.