Monday, June 25, 2012

Isham Phillips Farm, Johnston County, 1948

By F.H. Jeter, Extension Editor, N.C. State College, Raleigh, as published in the Wilmington Star, June 10, 1948

Between Micro and Kenly in Johnston County and about two miles off of Highway 301 is the Glendale neighborhood. It is a section of small but fertile farms; and tobacco is the principal cash crop.

In the heart of this Glendale community is the little 43-acre farm belonging to Mr. and Mrs. Isham Phillips. They have some 14 acres of open, cleared land on the place and they, too, grow tobacco with corn and some other small crops. At the edge of their back yard is a large poultry laying house in which they formerly kept 300 nice laying hens but instead of hens, this building now houses one of the most unique farm shops that you ever saw. It is equipped with homemade mechanical contrivances of all kinds and from that reconverted poultry house will flow this year about 700 implements to apply side applications of nitrate of soda and fertilizer to the crops of that community.

It all began about three years ago when Mr. Phillips and a cousin, Raymond Radford, began work on an implement to put out side applications of fertilizer at the same time that they used their two-row riding cultivators around their tobacco crops.

They devised a machine, but it wouldn’t work just as they thought it should. The cousin abandoned the idea, or at least he would not push it further, so Mr. Phillips paid him cash for his part of the idea and then went to work to improve the machine. He had not equipment or tools except as he says, “such as I need around here to build what I want.”

But he used the tools he had and he built a machine that works. It was completed about this time of the year in 1944. He used it all of that year to make side applications. There was no hand labor to do this kind of work, and so the neighbors began to watch his operations. Last spring, they demanded that he make machines for their use. He told them that he would be glad to do so if he could get the steel. At any rate, he finally employed a man to help him, converted the poultry house into a work shop, and made 175 of the implements for his neighbors.

This spring he has made 500 up until this time, and he has orders on hand that will run the number to over 700 before the season is over. Mr. Phillips has had this idea patented and says the only trouble he is having now is getting enough steel for his operations.

I went to see his machine one afternoon last week. He showed me all through his little shop, and with his brother-in-law, with whom he farms, hitched up a mule and demonstrated how the machine is used with the one-horse plow. I should add that Mr. Phillips builds two types. One is fitted for the two-horse cultivator and the other is for a one-horse plow. Both kinds are sturdy, hand-built affairs that will last until the final bit of steel wears away. The machine consists of a hopper of sheet metal with an ingenious arrangement at the bottom through which the fertilizer flows as it is knocked by a steel arm hitting the spokes of the cultivator wheel. This is adjustable so that the amount of fertilizer desired may be distributed. A flexible metal hose 24 inches long puts the fertilizer just where it is needed at the side of the plant roots and this fertilizer is then mixed with the soil and covered with the cultivator plows.

The design used with the one-mule plow is the same as that for the cultivator except that the distributor flow is governed by a pronged wheel which moves along in contact with the ground as the plow moves forward. Mr. Phillips had about 10 complete machines in his plant at the time of my visit last week. He has electrical current out there and this power, together with a gasoline engine, furnishes the power he uses in his little shop. The steel is cut, holes are punched, welding done, and the sheet steel molded all by hand-made implements.

It is all good, honest hard work and the 10 machines in the shop were eight less than he had orders for at the time of my visit. Mr. Phillips said the only trouble with building the machines was that people waited until they were ready to apply their fertilizer before asking him to build one. If they would only let him know in advance so he could build them during the summer or winter ahead of time, he would not have to work night and day at this season of the year.

“I am afraid to build too many ahead of time, however, because I don’t have the money to finance them over a long period, and I couldn’t afford to build a number of the distributors and not move them out right away,” he said.

This farmer is 35 years old; was reared about eight miles from where he now lives; and has worked hard all of his life. The machine was designed and built out of his own need and it is also serving his neighbors. As I left his farm to come back to Raleigh, I saw a neighbor down near the river, preparing to spray some Irish potatoes. So I stopped and as we carried on our conversation, I asked him about his neighbor Phillips and his machine.

“Well,” said this man, a Mr. Weaver, “I paid him $22.50 for one of them and I wouldn’t take $100 in cash for it right now. In fact, I wouldn’t sell it if I couldn’t get another one.”

That seems to be the general verdict of the neighbors. The machine is a labor saving implement for the farmers of that section. And, once again, a better mouse trap has been built and the people are making a beaten pathway to the door of an enterprising neighbor.

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