Pa had a new plow, a breaking plow. It was wonderful for breaking the prairie sod. It had a sharp-edged wheel, called a rolling coulter, that ran rolling and cutting through the sod ahead of the plowshare. The sharp steel plowshare followed it, slicing underneath the matted grass roots, and the moldboard lifted the long, straight-edged strip of sod and turned it upside down. The strip of sod was exactly twelve inches wide, and as straight as if it had been cut by hand.
They were all so happy about that new plow. Now, after a whole day’s work, Sam and David gaily lay down and rolled, and pricked their ears and looked about the prairie before they fell to cropping grass. They were not being worn down, sad and gaunt, by breaking sod that spring. And at supper, Pa was not too tired to joke.
“By jingo, that plow can handle the work by itself,” he said. “With all these new inventions nowadays, there’s no use for a man’s muscle. One of these nights that plow’ll take a notion to keep on going, and we’ll look out in the morning and see that it’s turned over an acre or two after the team and I quit for the night.”
The strips of sod lay bottom-side-up over the furrows, with all the cut-off grass roots showing speckled in the earth. The fresh furrow was delightfully cool and soft to bare feet, and often Carrie and Grace followed behind the plow, playing. Laura would have liked to, but she was going on fifteen years old now, too old to play in the fresh, clean-smelling dirt. Besides, in the afternoons Mary must go for a walk to get some sunshine.
Chapter 2: Springtime on the Claim, Little Town on the Prairie
A plow is a tool used for breaking up and turning over soil in preparation for planting crops. Pioneer farmers on the prairie used plows extensively to prepare the land for farming. This saved a lot of work from doing it by hand, particularly on the open prairie that had never been used to grow crops previously. Any land used for planting crops would need to be plowed before any crops could be planted, otherwise the seeds would not be deep enough into soil to grow properly, especially with tough prairie grasses already growing.
A typical plow consists of a long, narrow blade that is attached to a frame and a handle or handles. The blade is designed to cut into the soil and turn it over, exposing fresh soil for planting. The plow is typically pulled by a draft animal, such as a horse or ox. There were a few different types, but the ones that pioneers tended to use were more basic.
The plows used by pioneers on the prairie were often made of wood and iron, and were designed to be sturdy and durable enough to withstand the harsh conditions of the frontier. Some plows were equipped with additional features, such as adjustable blades or depth gauges, to help farmers achieve the desired depth and consistency of their plowing.
Using a plow was hard and physically demanding work, requiring farmers to spend long hours in the fields and to navigate difficult terrain and weather conditions. However, it was also an essential part of the pioneer lifestyle, as it enabled farmers to cultivate the land and grow crops that were necessary for survival.
Sometimes, pioneers would go together to purchase a plow, which could then be used by all the families who went in together to purchase a plow. Or someone would loan out their plow for a small fee. Because plows were so expensive – and sometimes hard to find one to purchase – this could make a plow more easily available to pioneers, especially those without a lot of funds.