Boyhood Memories

By Staff

P.O. Box 6 Wilmington, Vermont 05363

The pictures and articles in the April issue of GEM of the
Buckeye digger or tiling machine, bring back memories from my

In 1929, when I was four years old, my family moved to the U.S.
Morgan Horse Farm at Weybridge, Vermont, where my father worked as
a horse trainer. The farm had been donated to the government by the
late Colonel Battel, with the stipulation that Morgan horses be
propagated there.

Colonel Battel was a man of considerable wealth, and a large
property owner in Addison County, Vermont, in the late 1800s. Most
of his property was given to Middlebury College at Mid-dlebury,

The farm was known locally as ‘The Government Farm,’ and
officially as a U.S. Department of Agriculture Experiment Station.
In addition to the Morgan horses, the farm raised a herd of milking
shorthorn cattle, and a mixed breed flock of sheep.

Farm work was done with two or three teams of draft horses and a
10-20 McCormick Deering tractor. This was probably the first
tractor that I had ever seen.

Stored in the implement shed, where the farm equipment was kept,
was a huge (at least it looked huge to me at the time) machine
called the ditch digger. As I remember it, it was very similar to
the Buckeye diggers pictured.

It had wooden pads on the lags, and large steel front wheels.
The engine was a large four cylinder T head type, with two spark
plugs in each cylinder. The radiator was in the middle of the
machine, behind the engine. There was a large open flywheel on the
front of the engine. An iron bar was inserted in this flywheel to
start the engine.

The farm had a central water supply. Water was piped to the
seven houses on the property, to the various barns, and watering
troughs in several pastures.

This digger had probably been used to dig trenches for the water
lines. While we resided at the farm, this wonderful machine was
brought to life.

Following the election of Franklin D. Roosevelt as president in
1932, the ‘New Deal’ program was initiated. This included
the National Recovery Act, known as the NRA. My staunch Republican
grandfather said it stood for ‘Nuts Running America.’

Along with the NRA came other programs such as the CCC and the
WPA. The farm received money for improvements under the WPA
program. The buildings were all repainted and repaired, a new dairy
barn was constructed, and a saw mill with a 15-30 McCormick Deering
tractor to run it was purchased.

The digger was used to dig the trench for the water line to the
new dairy barn. I remember its being prepared for use. Several of
the wooden pads on the lags were replaced.

The digger was also taken to the Middlebury area, where it was
used to dig a trench for a water line being laid to a new mink

When we moved away from the farm in 1935, the digger was again
stored in the shed. I have no idea of what may have become of it,
but would guess that it was sold for scrap iron during World War

Another item of interest to a young boy, also stored in that
shed, was a large one cylinder engine, mounted on trucks. It was
screen cooled, had a clutch pulley, and at least 10 or possibly 20
horse power in size. It was probably an International. This engine
may have been used for belt power on the farm prior to the purchase
of the tractor.

The saw mill had been set up on a hill, in the woods, out of
sight of any building or road. We would stop by on our way home
from school to watch when the mill was operating. Apparently the
15-30 tractor did not provide adequate power for the mill, as an
addition was built onto that building, to house this engine. The
engine was belted to the mandrel via a shaft extension, and run
with the tractor.

Some years ago, the Federal Government got out of the horse
raising business. By an act of Congress, the farm was given to the
University of Vermont. Morgan horses are still being raised

After becoming interested in restoring and collecting old gas
engines, I thought about this one. I wondered if, and hope that, it
might still be in that building, forgotten. In 1988, after
retiring, I returned to the old farm. The old machinery storage
shed was gone.

I hiked to the site of the sawmill. The road that led to it was
overgrown and barely visible. I did find the site. Only the cement
piers that had supported the mill, some decaying boards from the
building, and a pile of decayed spruce logs on the railway,
possibly the same ones that had been there when we moved away in
1935, remained.

This fine old engine was probably added to the war effort as
scrap iron.

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