Gravely and his motor plow

Posted by Dave Tabler | September 8, 2016

Dear Sir:

During the past year, I have had occasion to discuss the business situation with practically every business man in the City of Charleston and suburbs. Our very limited number of productive enterprises and our crippled coal industries are not sufficient. The trade balance is against us. What is the remedy? There is but one remedy-Production.

We must produce something that will bring in more money than we pay out, or we are bound to go broke. People and jobs are two things necessary to keep the wheels of business going. How are we going to get them? Make the jobs and the people will come.

Put some of (your) money into productive enterprises and the problem is solved.


Start factories, produce something that people will buy. Production is the very foundation of our existence. Without it, we are lost. Vacant lots, empty houses and idle factories do not pay dividends.

The Gravely® Motor Plow has been developed from an Idea to a commercial reality and a factory with a small production. We are getting orders by the carload. Today’s mail brought orders for 31 Motor Plows. The number that we can sell is limited only by the number we can make. There are approximately twenty million people in the United States alone that need the machine. One salesman sold all we made last year in 90 days time.

The question is, does Charleston want a factory, something like the National Cash Register Company of Dayton, Ohio, Eastman Kodak Company of Rochester, and others that employ workmen by the thousands and make real business for the community or does it not? Our product SELLS, STAYS SOLD, AND REPEATS.

The Motor Plow is one of a number of things that will help to bring prosperity back, by bringing the money back and making jobs for men. Think it over.

Benjamin Gravely

Benjamin Franklin Gravely (1876-1953) had a dream: to build a tractor which would revolutionize gardening and lawn maintenance for the homeowner. He had a lot in common with his namesake. He was a tinkerer, someone who wanted to find a way to make things work better. Over the course of his lifetime, he filed 65 patents. Most of these were related to photography, which was his primary business, but he is best remembered for his farm and garden equipment.

Around 1920, Gravely first decided to build and market gas powered tractors commercially. Partly as a result of the above letter, he and several backers raised enough capital to purchase an old factory in the Dunbar, WV area that had previously been used for the manufacture of tires. The Gravely Motor Plow and Cultivator Company opened its doors two years later.

Gravely Motor Plow patentU.S. Patent 1,207,539 Motor Plow Application filed September 8, 1915 by Benjamin F. Gravely, Jr. of Charleston, West Virginia. Patent awarded December 5, 1916. This is the patent on which the Gravely Model D was based.

Even while working as a Charleston portrait studio photographer to support his family, Gravely had long tinkered with the idea of a power-driven push plow. As early as 1911, he was working on a rough design for his garden cultivator. It was a crude affair, powered by a 2.5 horsepower engine, and one belt driven wheel. It was a simple farm implement, made from his hand push cultivator and an old Indian motorcycle that had been given to him.

Gravely may have stumbled on to the cultivator idea by accident. Historians believe he was trying to invent a posthole digger, when it got away from him. It dug a furrow from one end of the garden to the other, before he got it under control.

Ben Gravely finally patented his one-wheeled cultivator for the small family farmer in 1916, and there was nothing similar to it. The first Model D tractor, rolled out in 1922, had 40 or 50 attachments.

Gravely tractors have been in production ever since the Dunbar factory opened. Today, the attachments will still fit tractors made years ago. Since the attachments are expensive — sometimes thousands of dollars – owners are reassured that they can accumulate them over time. That goes far in explaining the almost cultish loyalty surrounding the tractor.

Special thanks to Ed French for his input on this article.


Summer 1997 Goldenseal magazine, cover article

Benjamin+Franklin+Gravely Dunbar+WV +Gravely+tractors appalachia appalachian+history appalachian+mountains+history

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Those men would eat like hungry men do eat, you know

Posted by Dave Tabler | September 7, 2016

“Well, we used to go to the neighbors and play cards, various different kind of games, and we popped corn. No pizzas, but we popped corn and made popcorn balls. And we made those with sorghum molasses. We didn’t waste any sugar. And we made our own sorghum molasses. I never cared all that much for it as molasses but some of the rest of the family used to like that sticky, runny stuff on their bread. Not me, it was too sticky. But I loved it on popcorn balls or something like that.

“Then we used to make apple butter and we’d have apple peelings when a whole neighborhood group would go together and peel those bushels and bushels of apples and cut them up. Then the day you made it? That was an all-day job. You stirred and you stirred and you stirred. You kept building the fire. The same way with the molasses. I dare say, you have no idea how we did that.

Christina Grueser, Pomeroy OH “As I said, we visited and we did things together neighbors did, even to the men, and then when they threshed that wheat? Somebody came in with a threshing machine. He made a business of traveling around to all the farms. And they threshed the wheat. And if you were the lucky family that got those men when it was mealtime, why then you prepared a meal for a whole group of men.

“That was quite a day. And the neighbor women would go together and they’d cook up a awful mess of stuff. Those men would eat like hungry men do eat, you know. And we kids always had to wait until the threshers were through eating and sometimes the stuff they fixed for the threshers – there wouldn’t be any left that we were looking forward to. But we liked to watch them do it.

“And let’s see: they used to take the wheat, now this you’ll find hard to believe too – I find it hard myself now that I look back – take the wheat to a flour mill and have that wheat ground into flour. And that is the flour we used. And in our kitchen, we had a flour barrel, can you imagine, I remember just exactly where it sat. It had a wood lid over the top of it.

“And we kept the flour in that barrel and when my mother baked bread she got the flour out of that barrel and she had a big board she kneaded the dough on, on the kitchen table. And I remember, my mother set a sponge which nobody does now if they bake, but she did. Did you ever see bread sponge? I don’t imagine you have.

Pomeroy Bend on the Ohio RiverPomeroy Bend on the Ohio River, Pomeroy, Meigs County, Ohio, ca. 1940-1949

“She had a jar she had it in. It had yeast in it. It was a foamy looking mess of stuff. But you had to keep it warm because cold will kill yeast no matter whether you make a sponge or just bake as people do now. Well, whether anybody else was warm or not, that sponge had to be. Because if it wasn’t you didn’t have any bread. She would wrap an old blanket all around that at bedtime and that sat right by the only warmth in the house. All wrapped up in a blanket. I will say the bread was really better in the summer than it was in the winter because our house was cold. If I had to live in a house like that, I don’t think I’d lived as long as I have. It was cold.

“I remember the kitchen, of course, was colder than the living room. The kitchen was long. And the stove was in one end and you had to have those old coal ranges hot in order to cook on them or use the oven. But it didn’t penetrate to the table on the other end of the kitchen. Used to wear our coats when we ate breakfast and sit there and shiver, I remember. On cold days, that is. I remember on more times than one, grabbing something that I wanted to eat and taking it in to the living room where it was a little warmer.”

Christina Grueser
Pomeroy, OH
1997 interview with Sarah Grueser

Oral History from the Countdown To Millennium Project, a partnership between Ohio University, Rural Action, the School Districts of Trimble, Federal Hocking, Meigs Local, and Vinton County and the communities, of Glouster, Amesville, Kilvert, McArthur, Trimble and Pomeroy.
online at

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"I’d always been a tomboy and I’d always carried a knife"

Posted by Dave Tabler | September 6, 2016

In [nurse] training we were all just a bunch of poor girls, most of us lived out in the country. Five of ‘em had come [to work at Blue Ridge Sanatorium] because they had TB and couldn’t get in anywhere else, and they found out that they could get in at Blue Ridge. So we were just settling in and three of the girls couldn’t get their suitcases unlocked. I’d always been a tomboy and I’d always carried a knife, well sometimes. But, I had a scout knife, and I jimmied all those suitcases. So, that’s where I got the nickname “Tom.” I’ve been Tom ever since.

That day Dr. Apperson examined me, he examined all of us that afternoon. Dr. Apperson found out my name. He said ‘Well, my wife was a Cosby and maybe you all have some kin.’ I thought, my Lord, I been made fun of, the Cosby name all my life, now somebody’s tried to be kin with me. Then I met Miss Zwicker down the hall, and she put her arm around me and said ‘I see that you’ve been a patient at Catawba.’ I told her ‘Yes, I was there but they never found any TB.’

And she said, ‘Well, I’m glad you came here instead of going to Catawba.’ I thought I must have died and gone to heaven; somebody’s trying to make kin with me, and somebody else is glad I got here. So I, in forty-two years I never had any reason to change my mind about Blue Ridge. I was always treated good.”

Edna “Tom” Cosby worked for over forty years as a nurse at the Blue Ridge (VA) Sanatorium starting September 6th, 1940.

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Labor Day! Picnics, parades, dove shoots

Posted by Dave Tabler | September 5, 2016

In the hunting world, it’s a fast growing sport. Dove season opened September 1 in North Carolina, West Virginia, Tennessee, Virginia, Kentucky, and Georgia. Federal authorities regulate the sport, because mourning doves are considered to be migratory birds just like ducks and geese. Therefore, the season dates, bag limits and specific regulations are set each year by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

mourning dove

The mourning dove is one of the most populous birds in the United States: fall populations nationwide have ranged from 350 to 600 million doves.

Three historical trends in Appalachia have enabled the dove to expand its numbers to regional abundance. At the beginning of the 20th century timber companies inadvertently enhanced the dove population by clearing large areas of deciduous forests. These birds need some hardwoods to roost and nest in, but gravitate to overgrown prairie lands dotted by small clusters of trees.

Secondly, expanding grainfields and farmsteads have created an excellent combination of food (waste grains) and nesting cover for mourning doves. Finally, intensive grazing throughout the region has encouraged exotic plant species that often produce more seeds than native grasses. The food requirements for doves are generally quite varied, but include virtually any type of grain or seed, whether of the cultivated variety or from a wild source.

First thing you need to hunt doves is a shotgun and bird shot. A 12-gauge is better than a 20-gauge, because the larger gun reaches out further and presents a wider and denser pattern. Wildly corkscrewing doves can make complete fools of the wingshooter who prides himself on shot placement! A field where doves are coming in for water or feed provides the hunting opportunity. They gather around small open bodies of water to drink and browse for bits of the gravel that they must ingest in order to digest grains and seeds. The only other requirement is enough shooters to keep the birds moving.

During the early season in September, the usual concern for hunters is the heat. However, thunderstorms can wreak havoc on dove shoots, as can torrential rains and lightning. Windy days do not seem to deter doves. This early in the season, most of the birds taken in the region are homegrown adults and juveniles. Doves are great breeders, getting an early start in April. Many will nest again during the summer.

It’s quite common in the South to use standard farming practices for the express purpose of planting fields for dove shoots. This can be the expensive part of the sport, as a field of sunflowers can be costly to plant. Cornfields work well, too, if the corn harvest happens to commence just before the dove season opens. Residual grain left over from the harvesting process is a great dove attractor – and perfectly legal. Mowing weedfields is also a quick way to create a dove field.

Some landowners plant several fields at different dates to stagger their maturity, thus providing a food source to last over a longer span of time. After the initial season is over, some forage – like sunflower fields – may be virtually barren as the doves pick them clean. Shooters have to switch to other crops harvested later in the year, like soybeans or corn.

Dove hunters looking for public lands also find that many wildlife management areas have planted fields for dove hunts.


dove season
mourning dove
history of appalachia
appalachian culture
appalachian history

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Dr. Richard Banks vaccinated his Cherokee neighbors against smallpox

Posted by Dave Tabler | September 2, 2016

Dr. Richard Banks, one of the most shining ornaments of the medical profession in this State since its organization, was a native Georgian, born in Elbert County in 1784. After obtaining the rudiments of education, he entered the State University, taking a classical course, graduating in the same class with the famous Chief Justice Joseph Henry Lumpkin.

Dr. Richard Banks. Courtesy Digital Library of Georgia.

Dr. Richard Banks. Courtesy Digital Library of Georgia.

Later he decided to study medicine and entered the University of Pennsylvania, where, after a two years’ course he was graduated with the degree of M.D., in 1820. He then spent one year in the hospital work, and returning to Georgia established himself in practice in the village of Ruckersville in his native county. It would be considered remarkable in the present time that a man of Dr. Banks’s abilities should have chosen such a location, but in those days when railroads were not, it was not so material a matter.

A man of profound modesty, detesting notoriety, and a hater of the methods of the charlatan, he would not even allow his friends to make publication of his wonderful cures. In spite of this, his fame spread rapidly and widely, and people within one hundred miles would have no other doctor if they could get Dr. Banks. All over upper Georgia and South Carolina his reputation extended.

Considering the time in which he lived, his skill as a surgeon was remarkable, and some of the cures which he effected and operations which he performed with the limited facilities then at hand, the use of anesthetics being then unknown, would do credit to the best practitioners of the present time.

On one occasion when he had performed a very remarkable operation and his friend, Dr. Spalding, wrote a report of the case for a medical journal and submitted it to Dr. Banks, he refused to consent to its publication. In cases brought to him, where the implements then in use or accessible were not adequate to the emergency, such was his skill that he devised and had made others that suited the case.

One of his earlier triumphs was the successful removal of the carotid gland at a time when the best anatomists and surgeons were hotly discussing the question of its possibility. He performed an enormous number of operations for cataract and for stone in the bladder, for many years being the only surgeon in a vast expanse of country who would attempt these, and his percentage of recoveries was very great. Some years before his death he stated to a friend that in sixty-four trichotomy operations there had been but two unsuccessful cases, and there were probably other operations after the statement was made.

Space does not permit explanation of his methods, but they were very original and very successful. He did not seem to attach any great importance to his methods or even to comprehend the importance of what he was doing. It was all in the day’s work of the faithful physician.

In 1832 he moved to Gainesville, in Hall County, where he resided until his death in 1850. This town was within a few miles of the Cherokee Indians at the time of his removal there, and the Federal government employed Dr. Banks to visit the Indians and see if he could alleviate the ravages of smallpox. He performed this duty, vaccinated many of them, and treated many, and greatly amazed the Indians by restoring to sight a number of them who had been blind for years. It is pleasant to know that his practice brought him in such an income that he acquired a competency and was enabled to rear his family in easy circumstances.

In honor of his memory, the General Assembly of Georgia in 1858 organized the county of Banks.


source: “Men of Mark in Georgia: a complete and elaborate history…”, Volume 2 By William J. Northen, Atlanta : A. B. Caldwell, 1910, pp. 81-2

My thanks to Andrew Ayers Martin, Lake Village, AR, for his research assistance on this post.

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