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The Le Roy Plow Company

Author Photo
By Staff

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Le Roy swing table sawing machine.
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Le Roy combination frame spring-tooth harrow no. 16.
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Potato planter with fertilizer attachment from a Le Roy catalog. Weight was 700 pounds.
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Le Roy two lever tractor disc harrow with foretruck.
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Le Roy garden cultivator (weight, 22 pounds).

Reprinted from the Le Roy Historical Society Newsletter, Vol. 4,
Number 1, with permission. Le Roy Historical Society is located at
23 East Main Street, Le Roy, New York 14482.

The Le Roy Plow Company was organized and incorporated in 1899.
Several Le Roy businessmen, including Calvin Keeney, Patrick
Gleason, Butler Ward, Orator Woodward (later of Jell-O fame), and
Thomas Larkin purchased the Miller Manufacturing Company which made
farm implements, including the Miller Bean Harvestor.

The first officers of the company were Butler Ward, President;
Calvin Keeney, Vice President; Orator Woodward, Chairman of the
Executive Committee; Thomas Larkin, Secretary and Treasurer.

The factory was located on the west side of Lake Street, behind
the train station, and was serviced by five railroads: the Buffalo,
Rochester & Pittsburgh, the Erie, the New York Central, the
Lehigh Valley, and the Delaware, Lackawanna &. Western. The
railroads provided necessary delivery for raw materials and easy
delivery service for the manufactured equipment. In 1903, the old
factory burned down and was immediately rebuilt. By 1906, according
to an article in The Old Magazine published  by A. L.
Jinks of Le Roy, the Le Roy Plow Company was third in the state in
the production of plows.

The Le Roy plow was designed by Edwin Hall, who owned the
Caledonia Plow Company. It was written that Edwin Hall was one of
the greatest plow experts alive at that time. Another story about
Edwin Hall states that Thomas Larkin convinced Fred Huff, a pattern
maker for the Caledonia Plow Company, to bring the Caledonia plow
patterns to Le Roy. Hall fought the infringement on his business
and was unable to get monetary satisfaction.

In 1916, Thomas Larkin acquired the outstanding interests in the
company and became the president and major stock owner. Larkin at
this time was also a director and secretary of the Genesee Pure
Food Company (which produced Jell-O). Larkin’s first wife was
Orator Woodward’s sister, Clara, who died in 1888. Larkin moved
to Le Roy at the age of 16 from Cohocton, New York. He was employed
at a clothing and shoe store owned by Samuel Kelsey. In 1884, he
purchased the ‘Star Shoe Store’ on Main Street, which he
owned for about 15 years.

During the bicycle craze of the 1890s he also sold bicycles. In
1913, Thomas Larkin purchased the large brick Victorian house on
Trigon Park, which later became the Steuber Funeral Home – now The
Church of Living Waters.

The Le Roy Plow Works employed 35 to 50 men at any one time.
Because the work in the foundry was seasonal, men from the area
often did farm work in the summer and worked for the plow works in
the winter. Custom work was done in the spring, when the plow
business was slack.

In 1929, Wilfred Martin, having just graduated from Le Roy High
School, was offered a job by Thomas Larkin as an ‘Iron
Moulder.’ Since jobs were scarce, Martin reported for work. He
was paid no hourly rate, but rather, was paid the piece work
rate.

The first day he made $1.65. ‘When I started my
apprenticeship-the old timers told me. . . I was lucky. When they
started learning the foundry craft, they, for the first year
received only 25% of the going piece work rate; the second year 50%
of the rate; the third year 75% and the fourth year 100%. Of course
this reduced the labor cost a great deal.’

Gradually, by the following spring, he was earning $4.00 per
day-from 6:00 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. with ? hour for lunch.
‘Later, as the depression deepened, Mr. Larkin changed the
piece work rate so that with great effort one could make $3.00 per
day for three days a week, making it quite difficult for a family
man to survive. Of course there were no health benefits at that
time or any other benefits that are common today. In fact there
were none existent in any American industry.’

‘There was a railroad spur on the north side of the company
owned by the Buffalo, Rochester and Pittsburgh Railroad. This is
where they switched the box cars that the company used for shipping
their products. On the south side was another spur where the coke,
pig iron, scrap etc. was unloaded for use in the cupola where it
was melted for the casting of the end product. That area was also
used for the foundry sand used by the moulder. There was a special
yellow-like sand that came from the Albany area and was considered
the finest in America. After using it for some time and after it
was burnt by the molten metal it became a dark brown.’

Wilfred remembers unloading a railroad car of 30 tons of pig
iron. He was to be paid 10 cents a ton. When he went into
Larkin’s office to collect his pay, he was given only $2.00.
Larkin, who was not known for his generosity, told him that he made
a mistake and over-estimated the weight of the load.

The 1915 Le Roy Plow Catalogue states that the factory had a
capacity of 25,000 plows a year. They manufactured walking plows
with steel or wooden beams, sulky plows that could be ridden,
tractor plows, hillers and shovel plows. They also manufactured
land rollers, manure spreaders, buzz saws, harrows, discs, garden
cultivators, row markers, pulverizers and packers.

John Parmalee of Fort Hill, Le Roy wrote to the plow company and
his letter was published in the catalogue:

‘My boy did most of the plowing and came in at night just as
fresh as he went out in the morning.

‘It is also easy on the horses for I never have to rest
them. I figure it saved 455 miles of walking.’ Then the next
year he wrote: ‘Gentlemen, I am 63 years of age and haven’t
followed a plow for twenty years. This year I plowed both flatland
and hillside on the Le Roy Two-Way without any trouble at all and
enjoyed it.’ The Le Roy Two-Way  was a plow that allowed
the farmer to swivel the plow from one side to the other at the end
of the row and eliminated what was called a ‘dead furrow.’
Sulky plows weighed between 550 and 575 pounds-without two or three
horses. Le Roy Plow manufactured a lighter weight walking
steel-beam reversible hillside or swivel plow.

In 1885, Noah Keeler of Wallace, New York, invented the
‘Boss’ potato digger. It was manufactured by Rawson and
Thacher in Corning for several years. Eventually, the Le Roy Plow
Company bought the patent and manufactured the Boss. It was well
suited for the smaller potato farmer and could easily be drawn by
two horses. The boss lifted the potatoes with a blade and then
dropped them on a horizontal-revolving fingered wheel. The potatoes
were flung aside like the spinner on a highway sanding truck.

It was a walk-behind machine, which was one of its problems,
because it could fling potatoes and stones ten or twelve feet in
any direction. This would damage the potatoes, but also the
operator. The first thing the farmer did when the new digger
arrived, was to build a wooden shield which hung down from the
handles and protected his legs from a barrage of potatoes and
stones. If a stone became lodged between the blade and the reel
‘things happened fast.’ Potatoes were not the only thing
that were bruised. If the soil was dry, the digger created its own
dust storm which enveloped the operator.

Wilfred Martin remembers casting the large universal gear of the
Boss potato digger. It had two separate drive gears and a pinion
which allowed it to be shifted from one drive to the other. This
reversed the direction of the wheel with each back and forth trip
across the field. The only known Le Roy-made Boss potato digger is
owned by the Curtiss Museum in Hammondsport. (Negotiations with the
museum indicate that they are interested in moving it to the LeRoy
Historical Society.)

During the fifty years of operation, the Plow Company employed
many men. Wilfred Martin, who worked in the foundry for five years
in the early 1930s, remembers the men he worked with: ‘I would
like to pay tribute to some of the old employees of that era. I
being young at the time, I am the sole survivor living. In my
mind’s eye I see Willis Scott and Ambrose McBurney, the
warehouse men. Irving Miller in charge of the paint department;
Clarence Davis and Charlie Blood in the wood room. Art Rogers, the
engineer in the power room. He was a tall skinny man, who we called
Cornstalk. Only had one eye, but was a real talented man with a
steam engine. Henry Wright and Frank Caswell, the pattern makers;
Ralph Alexander, who mounted the plows. Continuing on was Al
Shepard who polished the plow units for the new plows, mouldboards,
points, landslides, etc. Ed Case was the drill press operator and
Brownnie was the blacksmith and Sam Turner plus  Skinny
Luttrel who cleaned the castings.

‘In the foundry was Paul Reinhart, the coremaker; Howard
Webber the foundry foreman; Ed Reinhart, Joe Kurtz, Jack Brown,
Cooper and James Burrell and myself-all moulders. Plus Jimmy
Wallace and Chris Weiland, cupola operators, and lest I forget,
Matthew Kelly, the night watchman. The superintendent of all this
was Harvey Scott, son-in-law of Mr. Larkin. Scott was a fine man
and was loved by all.’

The Plow Company closed shortly after World War II. The
buildings were used by various companies, including the most recent
occupant, Recticel. Finally in the summer of 1991, the last of the
buildings were razed.

Note: The Historical Society is seeking photographs and
memorabilia from Le Roy Plow Company. It is also interested in
compiling a list of employees and collecting stories of working at
the Plow Works.

In 1991 and 1992, Wilfred Martin of Palmyra, donated to the
Historical Society , pictures and foundry tools of the Le Roy Plow
Company. Also included was a cast iron bulldog which he made while
working in the foundry. His letters and a tape of his days at the
plow works are a valid link to a former Le Roy industry.

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