My Little Engine


| August/September 1998



My Little Engine

6637 Pendleton Ave., N. W. Roanoke, Virginia 24019

We lived on an eighty-plus acre farm in Upshur County,. West Virginia, on what everyone called Pleasant Ridge. Our post office address was French Creek, which was a small village about five miles away. We lived with my father's uncle-by-marriage, John C. Long. For me, from the time I can remember, he was Uncle John and wherever Uncle John was, one could usually find me. Hot in the summertime or cold in the winter, it didn't make any difference I wanted to go with Uncle John. I would ride one of the horses and hold to the hames while Uncle John plowed, or I'd be on top of a wagon load of hay by his side on the way to the barn from a haystack in the field.

When I was about five or six years old we went to an auction at Holly Grove, which was two or three miles from home. Holly Grove was a small logging and sawmill village located on the very headwaters of the Little Kanawha River. It boasted of a boarding house, a store, a Baptist church, school, post office, telephone switchboard (crank type) and a covered bridge. Holly Grove was a normal thriving community indicative of the early nineteen hundreds. They had their church revivals in the wintertime, and for recreation, square dances in the homes in the summertime. I don't remember an item that was sold that day at the auction, except a small gasoline engine and a fodder cutter which was powered by the engine. These two items were located in a little outbuilding behind the house and store. Uncle John bought both the engine and the cutter. When the auctioneer announced, 'and sold to J. C. Long,' I think my heart skipped at least one beat and maybe two.

Now I'm almost 83 years old and I can still remember that moment as if it were yesterday. I never left that engine the rest of the auction. When anyone came by, I would proudly announce, 'Uncle John bought it.' The next day we took the team and wagon and brought the engine and the fodder cutter home.

It was common practice at that time, in the hills of West Virginia, for almost everyone on farms to grow a field of corn. The corn was cut in September before frost and shocked in the field. After the ears had properly dried it was shucked by hand. The corn was stored in the granary to fatten the hogs for butchering in the fall and fed to the chickens and other livestock during the winter. The fodder was hauled to the barn and cut by a hand cutter and fed to the cows. The cutter consisted of a trough about five feet long and twelve to fourteen inches wide with a sharp knife with a handle which was attached to one end of the trough. This was all mounted on three legs about waist high. The operator would lay three or four stalks of corn fodder in the trough, raise the knife with the handle, slide the stalks up to whatever length he wanted to cut, and then bring the knife down with a sharp thrust.

To say the least, it was quite a chore to cut the fodder every night and morning to feed the cows. Uncle John had now solved this tiresome and time-consuming job with the new 'outfit.' This fodder cutter, as I said earlier, was powered by the little engine. The cutter blades were mounted on a heavy wheel just like an ensilage cutter, but was designed to run at a much slower speed, and instead of a revolving belt with cleats in the bottom of the feed table to pull the stalks into the cutter blades, this cutter had two powered drums about four inches in diameter and eight inches long, turning in opposite directions, that pulled the stalks between them into the cutter knives. The top drum was tension loaded by two hardwood strips running down each side of the feed trough. The strips were firmly bolted on one end, while the other end was attached to each side of the top drum. The effect was spring loaded while the drum could move up and down. The feed mechanism was adjustable, whereby the stalks could be cut from approximately one inch up to about three or four inches in length.