Photos shed light on local history

Photos donated to the Museum of Northwest Colorado by Chuck Stoddard recently brought to light the story of a local inventor and businessman.

Research by director Dan Davidson has uncovered the events that shaped the French Plow, Town and Manufacturing Company, and the man behind the dream of a sagebrush plow.

Local inventor

At 47 years old, Morgan C. French was the toast of Moffat County for his foresight in developing a plow that would sweep sagebrush from the land as it plowed furrows for planting.

A Moffat County Courier article in August 1916 tells of French spending several weeks in Denver perfecting his invention and seeking a company to manufacture and sell the devices.

Calling French "a blacksmith of unusual ability and unquestioned authority on farm and other machinery," the article brags about the machine that would cut a 24-inch width at 1 to 8 inches in depth with each pass of the 1,750 pound plow.

Four to six horses or a tractor were recommended to pull the device.

Three adjusting levers with spring lifts made the machine easy to handle, and soil passed over discs that tore the dirt from the roots and deposited it back into the furrow.

The brush was easily removed with a rake or fork for bunching and burning.

The secret to the sagebrush plow was a spring-released "Winged Coulter," a blade that preceded the plow blades and split the brush so it would not accumulate and clog the plow.

Moffat County farmers and businessmen turned out to a field north of the C.A. VanDorn ranch west of Craig in September 1916 for a demonstration of the new plow, which was pulled by a team of four draft horses.

French notified the crowd he would be taking his plow to the Hayden Fair for demonstrations.

Building a business

August 1917 saw work crews digging foundations for the new French Plow Company on Yampa Avenue south of the Moffat railroad tracks. The article told of the virtues of the plow and its potential benefit to Craig and Moffat County.

By October, the 17-acre plot of land had a foundation as fine as the one at the new courthouse.

Already, two 100-horsepower steam boilers were at the location, along with a 900-pound steam hammer and several lathes. The acetylene welders were located in a welding shop next to the 50-foot by 100-foot machine shop.

Two 60-foott smokestacks were planned for the building that would produce the plow that had been seven years in development by French.

Blockades of the Moffat railroad by snow in February 1918 caused a delay in getting materials, but 10 men worked on the plant preparing to anchor the equipment to the concrete floor when it was poured.

French said, then the factory would be producing the plows in two months.

Formal opening

The factory whistle blew for the first time Monday, May 1, 1918. One shift of workers operated the equipment because of a lack of skilled labor on the machinery.

In 30 days, the crews planned to build and deliver two plows that already were paid for by the buyer.

The plant was called the "largest, most capable plant between Denver and Salt Lake City," and the oxweld acetylene generators, "the best apparatus found in Colorado."

The local newspaper said the French Plow, Town and Manufacturing Company was "more prepared to repair locomotives than was the Moffat Railroad Company."

An ad on July 10, 1919, offered blacksmithing and horseshoeing by the company, as well as repair of local plows, tools and wagons.

The end

The Craig Empire on April 28, 1920, announced French was selling the company and moving his family to another location out of town.

Davidson suspects the company didn't sell enough plows, due in part to the influx of homesteaders declining in the 1920s, and few homesteaders with available capital for purchasing a plow of the French.

C.H. Boyles bought the building and equipment in November 1924, according to the Moffat County Courier. The company produced oil well supplies and could cut pipes up to 16 inches with threads.

The Craig Empire lists a building at the same location burning to a "total loss" on February 23, 1927, when an employee of Luttrell's boiler repair shop started a fire in the stove and left for breakfast.

Ed Luttrell was in Denver at the time attending an auto-show. He would remain in Craig as a welder, but the large plow factory was never rebuilt.

Davidson said any surviving French plows likely were claimed by World War II scrap drives and, as far as he knows, one has not been seen in decades by the residents of Moffat County.

Dan Olsen can be reached at 824-7031, ext.207, or dolsen@craigdailypress.com

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