A Hart County couple, Larry and Jan Hedgepeth, has amassed “what is considered by many to be the largest collection in the world” of subsoilers.
The Hedgepeths, who live in Canmer, started collecting tractors in 1991 because of their love of farming and desire to preserve the past for future generations to enjoy. After five years, they decided they needed to specialize, so they began collecting tillage equipment.
The subsoilers, or rippers as they are also called, are tractor mounted and were used many years ago to break up old road beds, to dig trenches for laying pipe, or to break up hard pans in fields. Rototillers or other modern plows can only turn the topsoil to a depth of 6-8 inches, while a subsoiler can break up and loosen soil to twice those depths.
“After being used from the 1920s to the early 1960s, subsoilers fell out of favor, but are now making a huge comeback due to farmers seeing the drastic increases in production when used,” explains Larry.
The collection includes more than 20 different models and brands of subsoilers, plus many rare plows. The collection now has several models that may be the only ones known to exist.
“They go from the earliest drag-type models with no wheels to a three-point hitch model. Their sizes range from one capable of cutting a ditch 12 inches deep to a huge subsoiler that can cut a ditch 36 inches deep,” says Larry.
Larry explains that “People would hook two tractors together to have enough power and traction to use them properly, while other people resorted to using crawler-type tractors.
“We have located the items at auctions, in fence rows, by word of mouth, but primarily by use of the Internet.” In 2007, they located an extremely rare unit in San Francisco, California, and had it hauled more than 2,500 miles. One was even torn apart and shipped by UPS to the couple one piece at a time.
People have donated units to make sure the collection grew as fast as possible. “One of our favorite pieces is a John Deere drag-type subsoiler with a fancy coulter disc and original owner’s manual, which was donated to the collection by a family member, Donald Davis, who has now passed away.”
With Larry collecting equipment, Jan, who works at Salt River Electric Cooperative in Bardstown, says she “decided an ideal complement to the set would be finding literature and sales brochures to match each piece.”
She has put together a huge collection of antique tractor and equipment literature, including an extremely rare complete set of John Deere Operations and Care Manuals, a 29-book set including a hard-to-find 1943 World War II edition. These books, spanning 1930-1958, were given to FFA and Young Farmers organizations in high school to help students learn how to use and maintain farm equipment properly.
Jan says, “One of the hardest books to find was the 13th edition, because so many people thought it represented bad luck and therefore it was discarded.”
The Hedgepeths’ collection of antique subsoilers has been viewed by people from seven states and is free for viewing by the public if you call ahead. Larry and Jan are also always willing to try and help others to find literature or make copies of theirs.
The Hedgepeths have decided, rather than taking a chance on the collection ever being separated, they will donate the entire collection in the future to the National Farmers Hall of Fame Museum in Bonner Springs, Kansas, unless Kentucky in the meantime sets up an agriculture museum of its own, then they would donate it here.
“We hope by doing this, other people will want to preserve other unique items concerning America’s rich agriculture history,” says Larry.
To view the subsoiler collection, contact Larry and Jan Hedgepeth at (270) 528-2133.