Walking Plows: Types of Plows and Choosing Equipment

Explore the history of the plow, types of walking plows and the process of preparing land for crops.

| May/June 1974

  • 027-076-01-common-walking-plow
    The common walking plow is made to pulled by a horse, mule or ox.
    B. TOUCHSTONE HARDAWAY
  • 027-076-01-horse-drawn
    A horse-drawn planter is a great accompaniment to a walking plow, smoothing the planting process for larger fields.
    B. TOUCHSTONE HARDAWAY
  • 027-076-01-specialized-plow-bottoms
    Different plow bottoms have been designed to break different types of land. Before purchasing plowing equipment, determine which type of blade will work best for your purpose.
    B. TOUCHSTONE HARDAWAY
  • 027-076-01-walking-middlebreaker
    This type of walking plow, called a middlebreaker, is shaped to distribute freshly plowed soil evenly on both sides of a furrow.
    ILLUSTRATION: B. TOUCHSTONE HARDAWAY
  • 027-076-01-plow-bottom
    The bottom of a plow is constructed to support the plowshare, guide the blade and turn and aerate the soil. 
    B. TOUCHSTONE HARDAWAY
  • 027-076-01-correct_incorrect1
    The heavy-line horse is hitched correctly. Dotted line shows same horse with hitch raised at "A" to accommodate a short hitch. If the dotted line horse were hitched same as heavy line horse, an up-pull on beam would result. Too long tugs have an opposite effect. Raising or lowering the clevis at point "A" corrects line of draft from hame to point "B".
    B. TOUCHSTONE HARDAWAY
  • 027-076-01-fender_sweeps_bull-tongue
    Our boys display the fender, sweeps and "bull tongue" for a walking plow.
    B. TOUCHSTONE HARDAWAY
  • 027-076-01-correct_incorrect2
    The heavy-lined horse is hitched correctly. The size of your plow team has direct relation to point of hitch. The smaller horse in dotted outline, requires a lower hitch at point "A" than the larger horse. The clevis must be lowered to maintain straight line from point "B" through "A" to the hame.
    B. TOUCHSTONE HARDAWAY
  • 027-076--01-middlebreaker-front-side-view
    A middlebreaker plow, front and side view.
    B. TOUCHSTONE HARDAWAY

  • 027-076-01-common-walking-plow
  • 027-076-01-horse-drawn
  • 027-076-01-specialized-plow-bottoms
  • 027-076-01-walking-middlebreaker
  • 027-076-01-plow-bottom
  • 027-076-01-correct_incorrect1
  • 027-076-01-fender_sweeps_bull-tongue
  • 027-076-01-correct_incorrect2
  • 027-076--01-middlebreaker-front-side-view

Special Note: This is the second part of a two-part article. Read Walking Plows: Plowing with Horses, Mules and Oxen in the March/April 1974 issue of MOTHER EARTH NEWS for more information. 

History of the Plow

The plow — the basic tool of the farmer and large-scale gardener — breaks and pulverizes the ground and adds humus and fertility by covering the vegetation and manure. Plowing helps the soil to hold its precious moisture and circulates the air. (Did you know the earth has to "breathe" to be productive? Although I didn't realize it until recently, the land is very much alive and teeming with organisms that can't be seen with the naked eye.)

Walking plows were produced B.T. (before tractors) in many styles to meet a wide variety of soil conditions. There are still a few handmade wooden plows around. One of our neighbors has a full set which he said his father built and made many a crop with. I'd like to have met the old gentleman, since I'm dead certain it takes an even-tempered soul with a zeal for finishing what he starts — and a mighty sharp drawknife, too — to make wooden plows from the shares to the handles.

Nevertheless, American farmers back in 1797 frowned on the first cast-iron plows. They believed that the metal would poison the land, reduce fertility and promote the growth of weeds . . . and that the point of the share would soon wear off. How about that? The first plow with a really good interchangeable cast-iron moldboard, landside and standard or frog (see the Glossary for Plowing with Horses) was patented by John Jethro Wood in 1819.



We have three types of plows and a planter on our place, and they're sufficient to raise all the food we need for us and our animals. Most of this plowing equipment belonged to Theo's family and have been around for many years. They've had to have new handles but — old as they are — they're still good enough to make a crop.

Types of Plows

The turning plow: If we could have but one plow, it would be a turning plow. This tool breaks open and mixes the sod and turns the earth up to greet the warm sun.






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