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The Cockshutt five-bottom auto lift engine gang plow

This innovative design let one operator run the tractor and multiple plows at once

The Cockshutt five-bottom auto lift engine gang plow

The Manitoba Agricultural Museum collection contains a Cockshutt five-bottom auto lift engine gang plow donated by Charles Hefford of Miami, Manitoba.

Charles Hefford Jr. was the son of Charles Hefford, who was an early resident of the Miami area. Charles’ father was a boat captain on the Great Lakes who drowned in Lake Superior during a storm. Charles’ mother remarried and with her new husband and family moved to Nelsonville, Manitoba.

In 1877, Charles homesteaded 19-4-6W1. In 1883, Charles married Jane Montgomery and began a family. Charles and Jane later sold this homestead and moved into Miami, however, in 1892 they purchased part of 2-5-7W1 which they farmed until 1921 when they retired to Miami.

Charles Jr. homesteaded near Oak Point, Manitoba where two of his brothers, Arthur and Bart, also homesteaded. Charles looked after his brothers’ farms while Arthur and Bart served in the First World War. After the war ended, Charles sold his farm and returned to the Miami area where he worked for a while as a weed inspector in the area attempting to control leafy spurge. Arthur and Bart also returned to the Miami area where they farmed for a number of years. Charles Jr. passed away in 1968.

The advent of plowing with steam engines posed significant problems as the first plows used behind an engine were adopted from animal traction plows. As these plows featured three bottoms at most and usually less than that, most engines had the power to draw multiple plows. How to hook all these plows together and keep them properly trailing behind the engine was a problem. As well, the engines often caused the plow frames to fail. The Cockshutt Plow Company recognized the problems and set out to design plows specifically for steam engines. In 1903, Cockshutt introduced heavy-duty three- and four-bottom plows suitable for mechanical traction. If a farmer needed a plow larger than three or four bottoms, the farmer could hook two or three of the Cockshutt units together by using what Cockshutt called a “jockey rod.” However, an operator was needed on each unit to work the levers to raise and lower the bottoms.

Cockshutt then introduced another new plow designed for mechanical traction, the engine gang plow. This design was soon successful and was copied by other manufacturers despite the Cockshutt patent on the design. The Cockshutt design featured a single frame and required only one operator. Cockshutt built a number of models of this design, with each model having a different number of bottoms. All models used identical mouldboard assemblies attached side by side across the angled rear of the frame. Each mouldboard assembly was a plow in itself and was hinged to the frame. Each assembly had its own depth gauge wheel, allowing individual mouldboards to float and follow the contour of the ground. As these assemblies were identical, if one was damaged the plow man could easily remove two hinge pins to remove the damaged assembly, take a complete assembly off the outward end of the plow to replace the damaged assembly and continue plowing.

The Avery Company, which built a popular line of steam engines, realized its engines were frequently paired with Cockshutt engine gang plows and convinced Cockshutt to sell Avery the sole distribution rights for the Cockshutt engine gang plow in the U.S., Mexico and Cuba. Avery sold the engine gang plows under the label of Cockshutt-Avery. When the Cockshutt patents on the engine gang plow design ran out, Avery began building the plow directly.

Avery made a significant improvement to the Cockshutt engine gang plow design with the development of a power lift system. This system was made available to Cockshutt and was fitted to both Avery and Cockshutt plows. This system allowed the tractor operator to raise and lower the plow from the tractor and did away with the operator on the plow.

It appears that with a number of gas plowing outfits, the tractor operator was also required to work the levers lifting and lowering the plow. This required the tractor operator to cross back and forth between the tractor and plow while the outfit was in motion. Turning the outfit at the end of the field would have been quite a gymnastic feat between crossing back and forth to steer the tractor while lifting and lowering the bottoms. The auto lift allowed the operator to remain steering while simply pulling, when necessary, on the rope controlling the auto lift mechanism.

The five-bottom Cockshutt plow in the collection has the auto lift fitted to it. The plow when donated came with a set of breaking bottoms for the plow in addition to the wheat land bottoms that are fitted to the plow. Breaking bottoms have quite a different shape to them in comparison to wheat land bottoms as they are longer and narrower.

This plow also demonstrates the evolution of Cockshutt design as this plow is fitted with a breakaway feature to prevent damage in case a bottom hit an obstruction. This simply consisted of a three-quarter-inch-diameter wood dowel that broke at a certain pressure. So if a bottom hit a large stone or some other obstruction, the dowel would break before some part of the plow did and let the bottom swing upwards to clear the obstruction.

The plow bottom was fastened to the main plow beams by a C-shaped short beam section which is held to the main beams by a bolt with the wooden dowel ahead of the bolt. When the dowel broke, the bolt acted as a pivot point allowing the bottom to swing upwards. The bottom could then be dropped back in position by the farmer, a replacement dowel inserted into the mechanism and plowing resumed. Previous Cockshutt plow designs did not have this feature, which led to damage being suffered at times by these designs.

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