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Charles Sherwood Noble (1873 - 1957)

Perhaps one of Alberta's greater known innovators, Charles Noble's interest, commitment and impact on the agricultural industry is nearly unparalleled.

During the 1930s, agriculture in Alberta was substantially different than it is today. Instead of relying on a variety of mechanized farm implements, most work was done manually. In the wake of the First World War, crop prices had been devastated and in addition, the Prairies were caught in the middle of a lengthy and severe drought, substantially hindering growth. Charles S. Noble

Perhaps it was all of these factors that led Charles Sherwood Noble, a farmer who had immigrated to Alberta from North Dakota in 1903, to create the Noble Blade, an invention which would revolutionize the world of farming.

A rather independent and innovative sort, Noble was born in State Center, Iowa in 1873, the eldest of six boys. Entrepreneurial from a young age, he used to take vegetables from the family garden and sell them around the neighbourhood to supplement the family grocery fund.

Noble was a mere eight years old when his mother passed away. Shortly thereafter, he was sent to live with a neighbouring family. They offered room and board in exchange for work on their farm. At 15, Noble decided to leave school to assist his father in supporting the family. A couple of years later, he bought a team of horses and used them to deliver wood, hay and straw. A year after that, Noble and his brother Newell bought a thresher. At 23 years of age, fulfilling a long-held dream, Noble obtained a 160-acre homestead in Knox, North Dakota. This was only the beginning of what promised to become a lifelong pursuit.

It was 1902 when Noble moved to Alberta (then part of the Northwest Territories), relocating to the Claresholm area. The next year, he and Margaret Naomi Fraser, sister of Reverend Simon Fraser, were married. In the following years, Noble purchased 4,000 acres of land and in 1909, he, Margaret, their two sons Gerald and Shirley and their pet canary moved to the newly established Nobleford.

Noble and familyBy 1913, the Noble Foundation Ltd. was formed and included the earlier established Grand View and Mountain View Farms. When asked why he had given his business a name such as the Noble Foundation, Noble remarked that he hoped the endeavour would transcend the making of money and become an organization dedicated to the "best utilization of Southern Alberta farmlands and the prosperity of its people."

Yes, Noble was a farmer, but he was also a soil conservationist. Far ahead of his time, he realized that measures had to be taken to ensure the land was used to produce the most food without harming the soil. He pursued crop farming success but was careful not to ignore its toll on the land.

It was right around this time the crops yielded from his land began to break world records. In 1912, Noble was recognized as World Flax King and in 1915, he was given the title of World Oats King . His record breaking crops were the result of a careful seed selection process he developed.

Noble in stooked wheat fieldThough Noble's land was yielding very substantial crops, in the post-war period, the market was in serious decline. He was not generating the amount of money needed to sustain farming operations and make the required payments on his land. Debt, falling prices and the sheer size of his farming operation left him vulnerable.

With land holdings up around 30,000 acres by 1922, Noble was a rather wealthy man, worth approximately $2.5 million. No one anticipated the problems that would shortly arise.

In the autumn of 1922, the Spokane Trust Company, to whom Noble owed approximately $600,000, foreclosed on the Noble estate. The family was left with almost nothing.

Never one to be discouraged, Noble accepted the bank’s offer of a salary of $4,000 to preside over the sale of the farming equipment they had appropriated from him. In a couple of years, he had saved up enough money to buy back his Grand View Farm and later, Cameron Ranch. By 1930, Noble was farming 8,000 acres and was incorporated under Noble Farms Ltd. In 1936 Noble came upon his idea for the Noble blade cultivator.

Touted as one of the most important agricultural inventions of the 20th century, it was, essentially, a heavy steel sub-soil blade that cut weeds off at the roots without disturbing the surface of the ground. Noble came to the idea while vacationing in California one winter. He witnessed the harvesting of beets and carrots using a machine that undercut the vegetables without damaging the surface soil. Believing the same principle could be implemented on a larger scale, Noble set to work on the invention. When he returned home for the season, he was pulling a trailer with the twelve foot blade.

Harvesting grain cropsThe Noble Blade enjoyed a fair amount of success, going into production for just over a year. This was in no small way, directly attributable to Noble's own efforts. A year or so after the invention went into production, other cultivators were becoming commonplace and superceded Noble's Blade.

In the early 1950s, Charles and his wife Margaret, who was afflicted with diabetes, moved to Lethbridge to ensure she would have better access to the medical care she required. She died in December 1955.

Charles, who had been ill from leukemia for approximately four years prior to his death, passed away in July 1957. He was 84.

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