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Address delivered before the Jefferson County agricultural society online

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At the Annual Meeting, Albany, February 10, 1859,

A. D r> R E s s





By WILLIAM T. McCOUN, President,










Gentlemen of the Society — Aware that there
is due to this occasion something beyond the mere
form of leave taking, with expressions of personal
respect and regard for the members of the Society,
with whom it has been my happiness to associate,
in the management of its affairs, during the year
past ; yet I fear that what I have to offer, may
somewhat tax your courtesy.

We are now at the close of another year's
transactions of this Society, and I congratulate
you that nothing has occurred to lessen our inter-
est in its prosperity, or to impair the public
confidence it has hitherto inspired. Steadily the
Society has continued its onward march towards
the great objects of its institution, " the improve-
ment of the condition of Agriculture, Horticul-
ture, and the Household Arts."

It has constantly stood by the requirements of
its charter, and has ministered to the wants of

these paramount interests, by collecting and dif-
fusing knowledge, and by encouragement given
to all classes in these various useful pursuits.
Excellence in the productions of all departments
of the farm, the garden, and the household, has
been liberally rewarded.

Improvement in the farm itself, the soil, the
best method of cultivation, including the best
time and manner of applying manures, and the
growing of the largest crops, has met with simi-
lar encouragement. So has the inventive genius
of the country, when devising new agricultural
implements and machinery, or when improving
upon the old, to facilitate the labors of the farm.
In all these directions, the influence of the Society
has been exerted, and with good effect, as our last
annual fair, like those which preceded it, abun-
bantly proved. I need only to refer to the Report
of the Executive Committee, jDrepared by the
Secretary, with his wonted ability and accuracy,
for all the information that can be desired on the

The constantly growing necessity for increasing
the productiveness of the soil, in order to meet
the demands of human wants, must naturally lead
to improvements in the art of Husbandry, through-

out its various departments. Improvement, how-
ever, in this as in every thing else, that relates
to man's social and moral condition, depends
primarily upon the educational means provided
for the masses, and the consequent spread of
useful knowledge. The sources of knowledge are
now open to all alike ; to the poor as well as to
the affluent. With the acquisition comes power,
for " knowledge is power," and it is that quality
in man, derived from his physical education, as
well as from his mental and moral training, that
fits him for his laborious duties as a tiller of the
soil, in the great work set before him, " of earn-
ing his bread by the sweat of his brow."

This subject of agricultural education, in all
its bearings upon civilization and social enjoy-
ments, has lately been presented to our considera-
tion, in the admirable address of Mr. Williams,
of Michigan, which is now before us in print.
The subject is there discussed with eminent
ability. I regard it as a production worthy of
all commendation, and one which we cannot too
highly appreciate, as a valuable contribution to
our stock of agricultural papers.

Next to a thorough knowledge of farming, one
great means of success in its operations is, the


use of improved implements and labor saving
machines. The last half century has been pro-
ductive in these respects. Implements adapted
to every kind of work have been greatly multi-
plied. Those formerly in common use have been
remodeled and much improved, lessening by their
use the severity of toil, and rendering the work
of the farmer more effective and economical.
Among these enumerate the mowing machine,
the horse rake, the reaper, the thrasher and
separator, all worked by horse power, and by
successive improvements in construction, brought
to a great degree of perfection, and we have the
heavy work of the farm and the barn, hay making
and harvesting, thrashing and winnowing, per-
formed in a much shorter space of time than
formerly, and at a greater saving of expense and
manual labor.

But while these improvements are in progress,
there is another j>ower greater than has ever yet
been employed upon the farm, ready, as it would
now seem, to take the field, there to do man's bid-
ding in the cultivation of the soil, whenever his
inventive faculties shall devise the method of
rendering it there as elsewhere, subservient to
his will.

The time for subduing this power, and bringing
it into use for certain purposes, was ushered in
with the present century ; not, however, to meet
the demands of agriculture, for these were not
then thought of, but for objects, perhaps, then
deemed of more practical utility than any other.

The compressible and expansive properties of
steam had become known. It was perceived that
its elastic power might be turned to account.
The minds of ingenious men were gradually drawn
to the subject. The engine was constructed rudely
at first ; experiment after experiment was made ;
improvement followed upon improvement until at
length the steam engine stood forth the giant of
the earth, perfect in its proportions and adapta-
tions, and whether as a stationary or a motive
power ; whether for propelling ships or long lines
of land carriages, is now justly regarded as the
greatest achievement of human skill — of mind
over matter, that the world has ever beheld.

It is true, that some twenty-five years before
the commencement of the present century, the
steam engine was brought into use as a stationary
power, in the working of mines and the driving
of ponderous machinery.


James Watt, of Glasgow, though not the origi-
nator, was the first to devise improvements that
produced useful and satisfactory results. By the
united genius of Watt, and of Boulton, of Bir-
mingham, their engine was applied successfully
to an apparatus, also of their construction, for
striking off the sterling coin of England. Such
was the perfection of this combined machinery,
that four boys only ten or twelve years old, were
capable of working it, and striking off thirty
thousand guineas in an hour ; the machine itself
keeping an unerring account of the number. As
yet, no attempt was made to apply steam to the
purposes of loco motion: but Doctor Darwin (a
poet and philosopher of considerable celebrity
in his day ), after describing the operations of
Watt and Boulton's engines, thus prophecies with
regard to the future of steam power :

" Soon shall thy arm, unconquered steam, afar
Drag the slow barge and drive the rapid car,
Or on wide waving wings, expanded, bear
The flying chariot through the fields of air.
Fair crews triumphant, leaning from above,
Shall wave their fluttering 'kerchiefs as they move,
Or warrior bands alarm the gaping crowd,
And armies shrink beneath the shadowy cloud."

This was published as early as in 1782.

The steamboat and the railroad have more than
verified the prediction of the "barge" and the
" car," and although we have not seen " the fly-
ing chariot," with its "fair crews" or "warrior
bands," there are those of soaring minds at this
day, sufficiently credulous to believe, that this
phenomenon may likewise happen. That immu-
table law, however, by which " the apple from
the tree falleth to the ground," is directly opposed
to the fulfillment of such an expectation. We
must be content with the more humble and less
venturesome employment of steam. With the
portable, and the fixed or stationary engine, steam
has of late years become familiarized to the
indoor work of the farm, to some extent, I
believe, in this country, but to a far greater
extent in Great Britain. The economy of it in
large establishments appears to be admitted.

Under these circumstances the question is often
asked, why may not steam be employed in the
outdoor work as well ? Such, for instance, as in
the draining of land and the breaking up of the
soil, preparatory to planting and sowing. This
is the great problem with respect to steam machi-
nery — its adaptation to the culture of the soil,
which remains to be solved, and which is now


in the course of actual experiment. Under the
encouragement held out by Agricultural Societies,
in the offer of premiums (and in some instances
to large amount), engines differing in form and in
the manner of working, have been constructed
and exhibited for trial within the past year ; one
such is mentioned in the report of our executive
committee. Another was produced by a citizen
of Pennsylvania, and taken to Illinois, for trial
upon the prairie land of that state, and has, in a
measure, proved successful. It is represented as
an engine adapted to locomotion, drawing a
gang of plows or plow shares, cutting regular
furrows, and turning with ease and precision.
(Whether the premium of the Agricultural Society
of Illinois has been awarded to this engine or
not, I have, not ascertained.) These two, I
believe, are the only instances of experiments
yet made in this country with steam power,
adapted to the work of cultivating the soil.
The newspapers, however, inform us that a num-
ber of steam plows, as they are called, are now
in the process of construction in the state of
Illinois, for the purpose of further experiments
in plowing, and in draining, and in forming the
ditch and hedge, to enclose their lands. Another


season will probably show the results of experi-
ments in that direction with steam.

In England, during the last twenty or twenty-
five years, attempts have been often made to
cultivate the soil, by steam power, in different
ways, all passing under the general designation
of "steam plowing;" but it never has been
reduced to a perfectly successful operation, even
in that country of systematic labor, where public
spirited efforts, directed by their most enlightened
men (and where, too, the increasing scarcity of
laboring hands creates a demand for agricultural
machinery ) are constantly being made to intro-
duce improvements into their husbandry. A
trial of a considerable number of engines, con-
structed upon different principles, and intended
to operate in different ways, took place at the
Chester meeting of the Royal Agricultural Society
in the last summer.

The Society's prize of j£500 was awarded to a
portable engine, though fixed or stationary while
at work, having six plows, and working three
at a time alternately, by means of anchors and
pulleys, a man walking by the side of the plows
to keep them steady. This engine was found to
do the best work of any on trial, but it is said


the work was not as good as that of ordinary
plows in common use, nor such as good farmers
required from their plowmen.

The next best was a traction engine, moving
forward on a revolving endless railway of its
own, carrying six plows and turning as many
furrows at a time. An eye witness of the per-
formance of this engine, says of it, that it appeared
to be capable of performing its duty. It walked
across the field ( which was level, and free from
obstructions of any kind ) with as much regularity
as a team ; carried out its plows, and turned
with so much precision, as to leave but few balks,
and showed that it was not so much the fault of
the engine as it was the fault of the plows, that
the work was not more perfectly done.

Even with the imperfect success which attended
the trials of these engines, and the qualified
praise they received, they were nevertheless
regarded as having demonstrated the practica-
bility of using steam advantageously in the cul-
tivation of the soil, and with economy likewise,
when compared with animal power.

Indeed, the year 1858 is claimed as the com-
mencement of a new era in British farming, since,
by means of such engines and machinery as

1 9

Fowler's (the one to which the prize was awarded),
they can hereafter, almost regardless of the
weather, accomplish the autumn plowing of their
heavy soils, heretofore often very much delayed by
rains, and sometimes either impossible, or very
difficult of accomplishment with horse labor, and
the ordinary implements of the farm.

I have stated these facts in relation to the
introduction of steam culture, mainly for the
purpose of drawing your attention to one point
in connection with it, which seems to me deserv-
ing of general consideration, and especially of
the consideration of those among us, whose genius
or mechanical skill may incline them to look into
the subject. Hitherto, as you may have observed,
the principal effort has been, both here and in
England, to get up steam machinery for the cul-
ture of the soil, through the medium of the
plow. The idea most prevalent is, that the
plow in some form of combination, is still to be
retained and used with the engine, and that there
is no need of any other contrivance to which the
power is to be applied or attached. Just so it
was with Ramsey's experiment on the Potomac,
and with Fitch's on the Delaware, when they
undertook to apply steam to the propelling of


boats. They thought only of the oar as the im-
plement to which the new power could be so
easily and successfully applied. So, likewise,
when machinery was first brought into use in the
thrashing of grain, the flail was retained as the
implement, fixed to the arms of a revolving shaft
or a reel, and made to strike in rapid succession
on the thrashing floor.

A short time, however, sufficed to show that
the oar and the flail, efficient as they were in the
hand accustomed to use them, were but ill suited
to inanimate machinery, and were soon displaced
to make room for the paddle wheel and the toothed
cylinder. In like manner the plow, as general
as is its employment in all civilized countries, as
much as it has been extolled for its usefulness in
all ages of the world ; reverenced for its antiquity,
and "crowned with wreaths," as the symbol of
the art that " calls forth the harvests," is never-
theless destined to be laid aside, with other primi-
tive inventions, as a thing out of place, when
attached to the farm engine. There will still be
ample employment for the plow in its proper
place, that is, in its connection with animal power,
and the horizontal draft of the ox and the horse.
In that connection we can never entirely dispense


with it. There is much land deserving of high
cultivation, where the steam engine cannot be
made available, and which can only be broken up
by manual labor and by the plow and the team.
The spade in the hands of the laboring man
accustomed to its use, is a more efficient instru-
ment in respect to the quality of the work, than
the plow and its congeners are capable of doing,
but where considerable areas of land are to be
improved, spade husbandry is out of the question.
It is too slow and expensive an operation for the
farm. Necessity compelled the resort to animal
power, for the purpose of general tillage, and the
plow was devised as the implement best suited
to the capacity of that species of power. With
the animal fur draft, the plow came into general
use ; but we all know that the work which the
plow performs is always imperfect and incom-
plete ; that its operation is only the beginning —
the incipient step in the process of good cultiva-
tion, and that it requires to be followed by various
other implements to complete the work it has
begun. The plow, moreover, is objectionable
in another respect — an objection which lies deeper
and is very liable to be overlooked, indeed, too
much so by the generality of farmers. I allude


to the unavoidable pressure which it exerts upon
the subsoil. The wedge like form and action of
the share in being driven through the soil, though
splitting oft" and raising a portion of it to be
turned over, produces a corresponding downward
pressure, and leaves a smooth and glazed surface
beneath the sole, and to this add the trampling
in the furrow, and we have a compact and solid
substratum underlaying the whole plowed sur-
face, almost impenetrable to the roots of plants,
and unfavorable to their full development. This
can only be remedied by the subsoil plow,
loosening the earth below, but involving a double
expenditure of both time and labor in the very
first operation towards good tillage. For these
reasons, it appears to me that the plow share in
common use, or other implements acting upon the
same principle, should not any longer be thought
of in connection with steam power. Let that
idea be abandoned, and when steam shall be hum-
bled to the outdoor work of the farm, let its
object be a higher and a nobler performance than
the mere drawing of the plow.

The mechanism of the engine should be such
as to possess the means of itself, and within itself,
to accomplish such a work, and when it shall be


seen, "a' field walking like a thing of life," let
not the indignity be put upon it, of harnessing it
to the plow. There is something about the
motions of the engine, which seems to me to
despise the labor of tugging at the plow beam,
or the pole or shafts of any mere land carriage,
but like another Hercules, it prefers to put its
shoulder to the wheel, and there to exert its
strength. It is frequently remarked of steam,
that it is a great " revolutionist." This is true
in more than a mechanical sense, but I am now
speaking of it only as a mechanical power, capa-
ble of being applied to the work of thoroughly
breaking up and comminuting the soil. For this
purpose a transverse cylindrical shaft has been
suggested, affixed to the hind part of the engine,
armed with strong steel pointed claws, to operate
upon the soil as the shaft revolves with the for-
ward motion of the engine. The skillful mechanic
may take the idea from this suggestion.

In many things nature furnishes the type or
model for man to work from, in the exercise of
his inventive faculties. She sets before him nume-
rous examples of perfect models, wrought with
great skill and beauty, from which he may take


instruction. "Learn of the mole to plow," is
one of the lessons she gives.

This seemingly insignificant animal ; this little
earthling, is indeed an instructor and a friend of
man, though sometimes hunted and destroyed as
an enemy.

Hogg, the Ettrick Shepherd, speaking from the
experience and observation of thirty years, pro-
nounces the destruction of moles as having dete-
riorated sheep pastures, and to have been followed
by the pining and the foot root among sheep
stock ; and the story is told of a worthy old gen-
tleman, a sagacious observer, who to his dying
hour would not suffer a mole upon his grounds to
be harmed. He had reclaimed from a waste his
whole paternal estate, and laid it in grass fields,
and he maintained that the moles were his laborers,
yearly top dressing his lands, and adding to the
depth of the soil and fertility of the sward; and
the writer acids, that every field seemed to bear
evidence of the good effects of this species of
natural fertilizing.

In another way the mole renders an important
service to the farmer. It is known that he is a
very voracious feeder ; he subsists on worms and
the larvae of insects which he finds under ground,


where no other enemy can reach them, and at
night he sallies forth and pursues his prey on the
surface. It is probable, then, that he destroys a
vast number of grubs and other creatures whose
ravages would all be felt in their season ; but it
is not to his instincts, so much as to his physical
organization, that I would direct your attention.
Who has seen this little fur clad animal working;
his way along beneath the surface of the earth,
as if he were in the act of tunnelling for an
"under ground railroad," and has not wondered
at the power he displays in his subterranean
occupation. You see the small ridge he has raised
in his progress, occasionally terminating in a little
hillock. Examine it, and you will find the parti-
cles of soil thoroughly disintegrated, and ready
for use, in the formation of a most perfect seed
bed. How has this effect been produced. The
implement used in the operation is not a spade nor
a plow; nature has provided him with a better
contrivance, perfectly adapted to his case, and
which man may use for a pattern. It is something
in shape between a foot and a hand, armed with
strong and robust claws. If perchance the creature
is thrown on the surface, observe the eifort he
instantly makes to bury himself again beneath it,


and how tenacious appears to be the hold which
he takes of the earth by means of these claws,
and with what speed his purpose is accomplished.
In this simple operation, guided by the unerring
instinct of the little creature, provided with the
proper implements, we have foreshadowed a
method of disintegrating the soil by steam power,
now placed at man's disposal. Let then the
moles claw serve as the type of the implements
with which the engine shall be armed, and we
shall presently see the work of large farms greatly
accelerated, and cultivation much more efficient
and productive than by any other means.

In thus advocating the cause of steam culture
in the way suggested, I must not be understood
as supposing that it will ever be a matter of
universal adoption. It may be brought into
common use in many parts of our country, but
cannot be brought into general use. It is only
farming on a large scale that will justify the
outlay, or a number of small farmers favorably
located with respect to each other, ma}^ perhaps
combine, to own an engine between them, yet
the old methods of cultivation must still be pur-
sued on a very large proportion of farms. Never-
theless, on the broad prairie and bottom lands of


the west, on all smooth and level surfaces free
from obstructions, it will be a gratifying spectacle
which is already in our minds eye, anticipating
the event of this great improvement of our age
(the farmers steam engine), taking the place of
the dull plodding plow, and performing its daily
rounds of toil, honoring the practice of husbandry,
man's first and best and noblest calling.

It is claimed in behalf of the inventive talent
of Great Britain, and why may it not be in
behalf of that of our own country ? that when
the steam engine shall be brought to that degree
of completeness for field work, which is now
expected of it, so that it shall prepare the soil in
the best possible manner for the reception of the
seed, it will, at the same time, be able to carry
along with it the seed drill and the roller, and
thus, unlike the hand of the sower in the parable,
the seed shall not fall by the way side, nor in
stony places, but fall in good ground, to bring-
forth its fruit accordingly.

I cannot forego the pleasure which this oppor-
tunity affords me of saying a word or two here
in commendation of an author who has presented
a very conclusive argument in favor of steam
culture, unconnected with the plow. It is con-


tained in a small volume, called " Talpa, or the
chronicles of a Clay Farm," written in a pleasing
style, abounding in practical good sense, and with
a rich vein of humor underlaying the whole
work. We have an American edition of the book
from the Buffalo press, with a handsome intro-
duction, and useful and judicious notes, by a
member of this Society. In a new " Cyclopedia
of Agriculture," recently published in Great Bri-
tain, composed entirely of original articles on the
theory, the art, and the business of farming, as
practiced there at the present day, and in the
contributions to which, the talents of more than
fifty of the most eminently practical and scienti-
fic men of that kingdom have been employed ;
this same author ( Mr. Hoskyns ) has contributed
an article on "steam culture," in which much of
the argument before used is reiterated and en-
forced. He remarks that the impediments steam
power, in the work of cultivation, has had to
encounter, haye been those of delay, rather than
of denial, and the delay itself has been due rather


Online LibraryV Le Ray de ChaumontAddress delivered before the Jefferson County agricultural society → online text (page 1 of 2)