5380 Jones Mill Road Crozet, Virginia 22932
Nestled in the beautiful Shenandoah Valley, north of Harrisonburg, Virginia, is the community of Singers Glen. Although not often on tourist maps and guides, Singers Glen has distinguished itself as the birthplace of sacred music singing in America, and as a local manufacturing center of gardening equipment. Generally, the latter claim is known only by local folks unless you have been fortunate to see a 'Hollar' or 'Myers' garden cultivator at a steam and gas show or local auction.
In the early 1940s, Forrest H. Hollar designed and manufactured a powered steel, single-wheel cultivator for home gardens. In June 1998 I visited the steam and gas show at Singers Glen and had the opportunity to talk with his son, Leonard Hollar. This was a most enjoyable visit, since Leonard worked with his father daily and can recount many stories and memories of the Hollar cultivator business. This story is one of an entrepreneur who created a business out of family necessity and provided his customers a powered gardening cultivator of lasting engineering excellence. Forrest Hollar passed away in 1965 at age 69.
World War II provided America and its people the opportunity to flex its industrial capabilities and move toward industrialization at a rapid pace. In the South this growth was somewhat slow, due to its historically agricultural base and significant population movement from rural farms to industrialized centers. Only in later years would the South's agriculture economy impact the rise and growth of the modern farm equipment industry. For about 15 years, from 1940 to 1955, two neighbors, Forrest Hollar and Jacob Myers, manufactured powered steel single-wheel garden cultivators in Singers Glen for their neighbors, friends, and local farmers.
The Hollar cultivator exemplifies the truism, 'Necessity is the Mother of Invention,' in that it was 'invented' out of the need for a powered cultivator to support a large family garden. Demographics which are available today indicate that throughout the nineteen-forties and early fifties, manufacturing and marketing of small powered garden equipment was regionally based, especially in the Midwest and Northeast, and this equipment was often not readily available nor affordable to gardeners and farmers in the South.
F. H. Hollar lived his entire life in the Singers Glen community. He could repair and make almost anything, and his shop still stands near his family homeplace. Years ago he would have been called a blacksmith or a backyard mechanic, but today he would be a designer, engineer, production worker, shop manager, and salesman all in one. Over the years, this family-operated shop produced almost 1,000 units with an average price of $145-$165.
In the early years, the cultivators were powered with Maytag engines and had wooden handles similar to a garden push plow. In 1938, electricity came to rural America and Hollar, being a fix-it expert, purchased electric motors and converted neighbors' gasoline engine powered Maytag washing machines to electric Maytags. This resulted in a 'shop full' of Maytag engines which were installed on his early cultivators. In later years, Briggs and Stratton, Clinton, Economy, Lauson, and Tecumseh engines were used (depending on availability); however, over time, Briggs engines were the most preferred.
Although demand for these cultivators was high, production during the early years was limited due to steel and engine shortages. He was always trying to find and purchase enough steel to make a production run of several cultivators. After the war, materials became more readily available, resulting in increased production. Over the years, only minor changes were made to the original design. Dust shields were added at various locations to protect bearings, and front counterweights added to improve maneuverability and balance. All cultivators have the year of manufacture and its production identification number stamped on the frame. The cultivators had two belts and uniquely, the proper belt lengths for each cultivator are also stamped on the frame. Some cultivators may also be identified by a brass metal tag riveted to the crossbar between the handles reading 'F. H. Hollar, Singers Glen.' During operation of the business, several family members worked in the shop. Leonard began working in the shop at an early age and remembers all aspects of the original manufacturing processes. Most parts, including handles, frames, cultivator drive wheel, cleats, bearing supports, and pulleys were handmade and assembled in the shop. Leonard has inventoried the shop and now retains the original jigs and fixtures used to bend, weld, align, and assemble the cultivators. Even today, Leonard recalls how through experience he learned that when pouring bearings it was necessary to heat the bearing mold before pouring the bearing material to ensure the bearing surface would form properly.
In the early 1950s, several new single-wheel cultivators with balloon tires, such as Choremaster, and Bolens, were introduced, and Leonard recalls this as the beginning of the demise of the business. At this time, cultivators were taking on a new look in that they were being engineered and manufactured utilizing compact designs, lightweight materials, balloon tires, and modern, larger engines. Additionally, manufacturers moved into national marketing programs with authorized dealers while cultivators were being mass produced at low costs. Recognizing this trend, Hollar responded By manufacturing several small cultivators with a rubber cap attached to the flat steel cultivator wheel. In practice this type wheel worked especially well for covering planted seeds, and especially potatoes, because it would ride on the top of the soil instead of sliding into the furrow.
However, local manufacturers fell on hard times and often faced going out of business. This was the fate of the Hollar cultivator, and the last unit was produced in 1955.
The old shop was dormant for many years, however, in 1975, a family friend in Winchester, Virginia, asked Leonard Hollar to build an original cultivator for a gift to his son. His friend wanted to demonstrate to his son the creative spirit, desire for self-sufficiency, and pride of 'a job well done' typically exemplified by craftsmen of an era past. Leonard went down to the old shop and found and made enough parts to build perhaps a last one.
Although the Hollar cultivator is no longer in production, the story does not end. Leonard, who is now 71 years old, still keeps busy repairing and rebuilding a couple each year. During my visit, I could sense his love for these old cultivators and he was pleased to know that after all these years, they are often still being used and appreciated by their owners. He told a story about a time when he went to a local auction and was bidding on an original Hollar cultivator. When bidders realized who he was, the bidding stopped at ten dollars and of course he 'bought it.' Afterward, Leonard approached the auctioneer and apologized for such a low bid on the cultivator which would have possibly sold for considerably more. Today, Leonard still works his garden with his father's favorite small cultivator.
For the many just plain folks who are interested in antique farm and garden equipment, we admire the vision of men like F. H. Hollar who inspires us to be hobbyists, restorers, and collectors of Americana. The fact that 'old iron' is around in so many forms is a testament to man and machines.
Meeting and talking with Leonard about the Hollar cultivator and sharing his memories will be long remembered. Between my neighbor Fred Brown and I, we own six Hollar cultivators and plan to take them to Singers Glen shortly for a visit. The thought that Leonard could have welded or bolted these together more than 50 years ago adds to their own story. More importantly, I thank him for sharing his story and this important piece of history with us. Thanks, Leonard.
About The Author: Al Minutolo got the 'bug' from his friend and neighbor Fred Brown of Crozet, Virginia. Both collect and have interest in all types of powered single and two-wheel garden cultivators and tractors, especially those factory produced or locally manufactured in the Mid-Atlantic region.