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Nothing Plows Like a Deere

John Deere is a blacksmith living in Grand Detour, Illinois. A few years ago he found a broken saw blade made of Scottish steel and turned it into a self-scouring plow blade. Prairie land requires a different kind of plowshare or cutting blade. The prairie grasses form a tight-knit barrier against the wood and iron plowshares of the 1840s. The soil is sticky and farmers must stop frequently to clean the primitive wooden blades. Iron plowshares are heavy and brittle and often break. Four to six oxen are used to pull the heavy plows through the prairie soil just to break it up followed by smaller plows to do the fine work. Steel is stronger and more flexible. It can cut straight furrows without having to plow it twice and John Deere plows are small enough to be pulled by one horse. Importing steel from overseas makes the plows more expensive, so John is making use of local steel when available. (It really is available in the Midwest in the 1840s.) Sales are good but now he wants to open a factory. The town of Moline is positioned close to the larger cities for more sales opportunities and the Mississippi river will lower shipping costs. He moves his family to Moline and starts a full-blown factory operation. Nothing plows like a Deere. [1] [2]

My Take by Alex Shrugged
I am poking fun at the slogan, "Nothing Runs Like a Deere" but don't take my ribbing too seriously. John Deere did not invent the steel plow, but the soils of the Midwest are difficult to plow, so people were moving to Oregon and California on the promise of easier farming. John Deere filled the market need for a more efficient plow. He was also a heck of a self-promoter. The accounts of his beginnings are legendary... like when John came to Grand Detour with $73 dollars and a dream. Or when he beat that broken saw blade into a plowshare, and propped it up by the door of his shop as if it didn't matter. Then a farmer asked to test the new plow. Two weeks later he returned to buy two more. It might have happened, but the stories are too neat, too homespun... too much like a hundred sales pitches I've heard.... mostly trying to sell me a timeshare in San Juan Capistrano. Granted, John Deere was filling a real need and he turned a 5-man operation into an international industry. You don't do that by sitting on the porch, chewing on a corn pipe and watching the day go by. [3]

Two Horses' Backsides Produce a Standard Gage Rail

Trains need a standard gauge. A wider gauge means more stability but requires wider curves to safely turn and more work on the underlying base below the tracks. A narrow gauge allows for quicker turns in tight situations. That is why you see mining cars that look like toy trains at the park. Also when a train follows a curve, a corner of the train cab always swings out beyond the rail. Too tight a curve means that the corner swings out a lot. If a light pole is set too close to the tracks, it is toast. Standardization also makes expansion through acquisition easier. If I own a successful railway route and I want to expand, I can lay more track or I can buy out my competitor on that same route and use their existing track for my own trains... if they are using the same gauge. Different gauges means work converting the rails or time transferring cargo and passengers from one train to another. So what is the solution? Early trollies were pulled by horse teams, usually two horses pulling side by side. Thus the rails gauge was measured as the width across the backside of two horses which is 4 feet, 8.5 inches. This becomes the standard gauge for train tracks. [4] [5]

My Take by Alex Shrugged
Hey. Don't laugh. That is what the Romans did for chariots. Today there are different gauges in use where there are special needs, but generally speaking, standard gauge is the standard. FYI, Tom Clancy used rail gauge as a plot element in his thriller "Debt of Honor". I don't want to give anything away, but Japan uses a narrow gauge of 3 ft 6 inches for their trains because of the tight corners their trains must make. [6]

In Other News

  • Kerosene is discovered while distilling coal. Until this time, whale oil had been used for clean-burning illumination or coal gas in the cities. Unfortunately, kerosene lighting is delayed due to various patent lawsuits. [7] [8]
  • Animal magnetism or mesmerism is offered as a medical treatment. It's hypnosis, people! This method will remain popular until more methodical systems are developed such as psychotherapy. [9] [10]
  • The saxophone is patented in Belgium. Music has just become slow, sweet and silky. A population explosion is near at hand. All hail Adolphe Sax! [11]

This Year in Wikipedia

Year 1846, Wikipedia.

See Also


  1. Moline, Illinois - Wikipedia (2016). Retrieved on 9 August 2016. “The same year, John Deere, the inventor of the self-scouring steel plow, relocated his steel plow company from Grand Detour, Illinois, to Moline. At the time, Moline had a population of only a few hundred, mostly involved in work at the mill. Despite Moline's small size, Deere saw several promising elements there: Moline's dam and coal deposits would provide a good source of power; Moline was near the other well-established towns of Stephenson (later renamed Rock Island) in Illinois and Davenport in Iowa; and Moline's access to the river would make shipping goods cost-efficient. As Deere expanded his factories, Moline grew in area and population.”
  2. John Deere (inventor) - Wikipedia (2016). Retrieved on 10 August 2016. “John Deere (February 7, 1804 – May 17, 1886) was an American blacksmith and manufacturer who founded Deere & Company, one of the largest and leading agricultural and construction equipment manufacturers in the world. Born in Rutland, Vermont, Deere moved to Illinois and invented the first commercially successful steel plow in 1837.”
  3. Broehl, Wayne G.. John Deere's Company: A History of Deere & Company and Its Times. Doubleday. ISBN 0385196644. 
  4. Standard gauge - Wikipedia, 2014 [last update]
  5. Alex Shrugged notes: On the Adam Carolla Show (Release date 9-21-2014 with guests Nick Santora and Walter O'Brien), Walter is an expert who relates a story of why standard gage rail is the size that it is. It turns out that it follows the width of Roman chariots and chariots are the size they are because they are the average width of two horses asses.
  6. Clancy, Tom. Debt of honor, Debt of Honor, G. P. Putnam's Sons. ISBN 9780399139543. 
  7. Grun, Bernard. The Timetables of History: A Horizontal Linkage of People and Events. Simon and Schuster, 412-413. 
  8. Kerosene - Wikipedia (2016). Retrieved on 9 August 2016. “In 1846, Canadian geologist Abraham Gesner gave a public demonstration in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island of a new process he had discovered. He heated coal in a retort, and distilled from it a clear, thin fluid that he showed made an excellent lamp fuel. He coined the name 'Kerosene' for his fuel, a contraction of keroselaion, meaning wax-oil.[16] The cost of extracting kerosene from coal was high.”
  9. Leger, Theodore. Animal Magnetism or Psycodunamy. D. Appleton. 
  10. Animal magnetism - Wikipedia (2016). Retrieved on 4 August 2016. “The theory attracted numerous followers in Europe and the United States and was popular into the 19th century. Practitioners were often known as magnetizers. For about 75 years from its beginnings in 1779 it was an important speciality in medicine, and continued to have some influence for about another 50 years. Hundreds of books were written on the subject between 1766 and 1925. Today it is almost entirely forgotten.”
  11. Adolphe Sax - Wikipedia (2016). Retrieved on 9 August 2016. “Also according to the biography, his mother once said that 'He's a child condemned to misfortune; he won't live'. His neighbors called him 'little Sax, the ghost'.”

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