My Experience with a Gravely Walk Behind
James O. White

In the late 1800's, Louden and Lucy Jarrell owned four farms and gave one to each of their daughters, one being my
Great-Grandmother Martha Jarrell who married Lemual J. White. Their son, James Noah, my paternal Grandfather,
married Carrie Alice Coon and their family had 13 children with 3 boys, including my father, Dewell and his older
brother, Lowell. Lowell married Agnes [Evans]White from Lafalette, TN and settled on the old home place where I
now live. (Agnes [Aggie] White is still alive and well at 93.) Homestead farming has been the game in West Virginia
since the early 1900's when heavy industry arrived with steam engines and railroad track to extract the coal and
timber. We still put a lot of coal on those rails today. I live on the Pond Fork River of Boone County, West Virginia in
the little town of Bim. Thus, I am known to some as Jim from Bim. Because Bim is located in Boone County, I am
known to others outside the county, specifically Brian Wayne Wells of Putnam County, as "Boone County Jim."

Currently, I live in the old home place of my father, Dewell and his brother Lowell, both deceased. The old house on
this farm predates the railroad. The old farm was worked with mules and horses for the 60 years before old Benjamin
Gravely developed his "walk behind" tractor. While we, in West Virginia, do not farm on as large a scale as many
others do in the mid-western United States, the economics of power farming remain the same. The development of the
Gravely tractor did much to retire the hay-burning horses and mules from our farms, just as larger tractors took over
the power demands of farms in the mid-west.

While growing up, I lived with Uncle Lowell and Aunt Aggie in this old house where I now live. Together we farmed
this same land. Even when I was just a lad, I would help with the farming. The ground we worked was sandy loam
river bottom. Very seldom will you even see a rock. My uncle suffered with black lung disease from years of work in
the mines before a miner's health was paid attention to. He worked at the "face" of the coal mine loading coal into
railroad cars after the coal had been mined and "trammed" to the surface. Just like Uncle Lowell, I worked for twenty
(20) years at the "tipple" loading coal into railroad cars. In this work I operate a large crawler tractor. Obviously,
operating this tractor is quite different from operating my Gravely at home, but that is a story for another time.

Along with working for the coal mines, Uncle Lowell loved to farm. We raised a lot of sweet corn, the Early Sunglow,
Seneca Chief and Silver Queen varieties. Our season began in the early spring when Uncle Lowell would plow the
ground with the rotary turning plow mounted on the front of his two-wheeled Gravely Model L-I (Serial # M73157).
There was a system for starting the old Gravely. First, you check the oil. The transmission and power plant shared the
same oil supply. You would check the oil level by taking out the check plug with a 3/4 wrench. If oil started to flow out,
put it back. If not, add more fresh oil until oil starts to flow from the check plug hole. Then we would attach the proper
implement and walk to the back of the tractor on the carburetor side. Always stay away from the muffler. It's hot and
stinky. On the crankshaft there is an arrow that shows what direction to roll the pull strap. After rolling up the pull
strap, you pull gently on the strap until you feel resistance caused by compression in the cylinder. Then you set the
throttle at half open and set the choke control on full choke and pull the strap vigorously. This endeavor is very tricky
and each old Gravely has her own combination, if you know what I mean. Watch for kickback. It hurts! Now if it
starts easy, you tram to the field with the tractor and implement.

The rotary turning plow attachment is a power take-off (PTO) driven device that the Gravely Company made
specifically for the Model L tractor. Thus when you reach the field with the tractor and rotary plow, you push down on
the handle and stretch your leg until your toe can engage the PTO lever and you're ready to work. The rotary plow
pulverizes the ground as the tractor moves forward. The front wheels of the rotary plow attachment are depth and
width adjustable. When you get it right, you never touch it again.

One spring day when I was no more than twelve (12) years of age if even that old, Uncle Lowell started plowing with
his Model L-I and the rotary turning plow attachment. He had me in tow. Because of his breathing problem he was
stopping frequently. Finally, he turned to me and said, "Go ahead. You'll have to take it." I wanted to run away, but he
assured me that it would be ok. I grabbed those handlebars and continued down one of those 300' rows. On those old
Gravely's, the right handlebar held two clutch levers. The one on the inside was high and low range and the one on the
outside was forward and reverse. On the left handlebar was the throttle lever linked to the familiar Zenith updraft
carb. I went down the row preparing to turn and mimicking Lowell's actions. Shortly, I reached the end of the row. By
that time, I was hooked on tractors and Gravely tractors in particular. At the end of the row, I turned the tractor
around to head down the next row. To turn around, you push the handlebars down, freeing the plow from the ground,
throttle back with your left thumb and unlock the forward lever, continuing enough pressure to turn the tractor and
lower the speed. These moves are simultaneous. When you line up on the next row, you drop the plow by letting up the
down pressure on the handlebars, increase power and lock the forward clutch and take off. You had to get ready,
because in 300' you had to repeat the process. I was too busy to look back at Lowell, but I know he was proud. I was
now respected by a group of very tough old dudes and you know what I'm talking about. I'm very grateful for what I
was taught.

Once the plowing was done, probably a week later, it would be time to lay off the land for planting. When the time
comes to lay off the land, it is a snap with the front mounted tiller on the Gravely tractor. The Gravely power tiller has
nothing in common with other front tine tillers for sale today. With the Gravely tractor, you merely pick a spot at the
end of the field and engage the clutch. You move along at a pretty good clip. On the next row back across the field, you
merely follow the tire track of your last row. Planting in every other tire track will then leave you with perfectly spaced
rows 48" apart. Just the proper width for cultivating with the Gravely front tine tiller or, even better, cultivating with a
standard Troy Bilt rear tine cultivator.

Lowell, Aggie and I would sell the sweet corn we raised to local stores in the area. We would also sell sweet corn to
neighbors and to customers that drove up into the yard to buy the corn. Aggie and I gathered the ears in the field while
Lowell made change for the customers under the Chestnut tree in the yard. I think he had the best job. After each of
patch corn was harvested, we put the 30" brush mower attachment on the Model L and cut down the stalks. Then we
would return to the patch with the rotary plow and we'd pulverize the downed stalks. For the rest of the fall season we
would keep the patch mowed until winter set in.

I loved Uncle Lowell, and I have literally followed his footfalls. In addition to working at the coal mine tipple where he
worked, my wife, Andrea (Hayes) White, and I now work the same farm with a Gravely tractor just as Uncle Lowell
did for so many years. I still own Uncle Lowell's original Gravely Model L-I. However, that tractor is not currently
running. Today, although Andrea and I currently have a 25 HP gas Satoh riding tractor with a 48" tiller that saves a
lot of work, we still do a good deal of farming with the newer Gravely Model L tractor (Serial # 00524404) which I
purchased in 1992. This newer Model L Gravely tractor has a Koehler horizontal shaft 8 HP engine. With the new
Koehler engine, a plate has been installed that now separates the transmission and engine oil. The new Model Ls have
a changed lever arrangement. The changes were hard to get used to, at first. The high/low lever is on the left side. The
new forward/reverse lever still "locks" in the forward position, so the operator can have both hands on the handlebars
while the tractor is going forward. However, the lever no longer locks in the reverse position. This change solved a
major safety issue with the Model L. With the forward/reverse lever locked in the reverse position there was a always
a possibility of the tractor accidentally backing over the operator or pinning the operator against a wall or a tree.
These tractors are extremely strong and they can hurt you if something goes wrong. Other than the change of engine
and a few other minor changes, however, my modern Model L tractor is pretty much identical to the Uncle Lowell's
original Model L-I. However, I find that the balance is not quite as good and throttle response is nowhere near as fine
on the new model. Once you get past that, however, the newer Koehler engines are overall a definite improvement.

We use our Gravely to plant potatoes. The tractor and rotary plow making one pass. Then dropping the potatoes in
the ground, ringing the potatoes with 5-10-10 fertilizer and covering the potatoes on the next pass. We still use the
Gravely to lay off the land for planting sweet corn with the front tine tiller as previously discussed. Most of the
cultivation is done with a standard Troy Bilt. I leave the 30" brush mower on the Gravely through fall season and
mount a sulky on the back to make the Model L a riding tractor rather than a true walk behind. However, on uneven
ground with this arrangement, it seems, the handlebars on the Gravely conspire with the sulky to geld the operator, so
a man has be careful.

One of the recent high points in my life was meeting your feature writer, Brian Wayne Wells, and subsequently getting
a subscription to Belt Pulley magazine. I have read the experiences of many other tractor enthusiasts and found that
they tend to feel the same abour their tractors as I do about the Gravely tractor. To some, these machines are just old
tractors, but to those of us who collect and restore old tractors, they are spiritual in nature. Specifically, I have a
spiritual attachment to the Model L Gravely tractor. Uncle Lowell's old Gravely and his own guidance gave me the self
confidence to meet life and be a man. I would appreciate hearing from anyone else who has had experiences with a
Gravely tractor or any experiences with any of the competitors of the Gravely Model L tractor. However, I must make
my brags about the Gravely tractor. To me, the Gravely Model L tractor was and still remains the most useful and
most versatile tractor in the 7.6 or 8 HP range, hands down. Despite the fact that we now have other makes of tractors
on our farm to perform certain tasks, if I had to go back to using only one single tractor for all farming tasks that
single tractor would be a Model L Gravely tractor.