Ag History Project steps up for county fair

John Kegebein, CEO of the Agricultural History Project at the Santa Cruz County Fairgrounds, shows a pre-1900s manure spreader that the crew at the AHP restored for the upcoming fair. (Tarmo Hannula/The Pajaronian)

WATSONVILLE — As the Santa Cruz County Fair nears (Sept. 11-15) the folks at the Agricultural History Project have wheeled their featured showpiece into place: a pre-1900, fully restored mechanical manure spreader.

Bright red, with all its original metal hardware, the behemoth contraption, which was typically pulled into action with a pair of horses, was torn down and restored as close to the original as possible by the team of volunteers at the AHP. 

“A lot of work went into it,” CEO of the AHP, John Kegebein, said. “We’re happy with the way it turned out. All the metalwork in it is original; there’s nothing like that around anymore.” 

Kegebein said that the wagon features steel wheels, which places it before 1900.

 “It was called the ‘farmer’s best friend,’” Kegebein said. “Before these came along, farmers had to haul composted manure out to the fields and spread it by hand; so this was a big step forward.”

Manure spreaders were invented in 1875, with its first patent issued to Joseph Kemp in 1877. The tool quickly took off in popularity across the U.S. From 1885 until 1910 there were more than 116 different manufacturers of the machines, eventually resulting in some going out of business due to a saturated market.

The recently restored model is from a farm in Scotts Valley, possibly a dairy farm, Kegebein said. The exact year of the model is unknown.

Additionally, plans are taking shape for the next big phase at the AHP: a garden for kids, an orchard and a new carriage house.

“We’re lined up to get work moving on this as soon as the fair is behind us,” Kegebein said. “Work should start in October. This has been in the planning stage for a while, so we’re excited to see it get closer.”

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