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The Noble Blade

The farm land in the Lethbridge area in southern Alberta sits in what is known as a "dry-belt". As you can imagine, numerous challenges presented themselves to early farmers within dry-belt farming, and one of these was soil drifting. Dry weather, and patent record for this inventioncultivated fields led to massive soil erosion, creating what were called "black blizzards", massive clouds of airborne soil that could travel hundreds of miles.

The Problem
Example of strip farmingUp until the mid-1930s, the preferred method of combating the problem was to engage in strip farming, planting crops in alternating strips. It was an imperfect solution, however, as the strips could become useless depending on which way the wind was blowing.

Charles Noble recognized the limitations of strip farming. He recognized that a better solution lay in stubble mulch or trash cover, that is, the residue from the previous crop. Leaving this residue on the land kept the soil in place. Unfortunately, cultivating implements at the time, in making sure that weeds were destroyed, also buried the stubble from the previous crop.

The Idea
Solution created by the Noble bladeIn 1935, Noble's friends and family convinced him to take a trip to California, to get away from the troubles of the great depression. There, he happened upon a sugar beet farmer using a straight blade tool to cut into the subsoil in order to loosen his beets. He noticed that the blade was disturbing the weeds without changing the appearance of the field. Noble realized that he had seen the solution to the problem.

A capable blacksmith, Noble acquired an old grader blade and borrowed a forge and an anvil. He reshaped the tempered steel of the blade, fixed it with two stout arms to a frame, gave it two wheels and a means of depth control. Once he finished, he tested it out in a California orange grove. It wasn’t perfect, but with some improvements, it would work.

The Solution
Summer-fallowingNoble wanted to get to work immediately, so he left California early to get back to his shop in Nobleford, Alberta. With local help, he pounded out new blades and frames, each somewhat better than the last. The following summer, Noble had four blades ready for summer-fallowing.

Noble did all the summer-fallowing for that season with the four blades, and was happy with the results. Friends and neighbours were also impressed with the blade, observing that, indeed, the weeds were knocked out without disturbing the stubble. People started placing orders and over the course of 1937, Noble built 50 cultivators.

Noble CultivatorsNoble sold another 50 the next year, to customers including the United States Soil Conservation Service and several Canadian experimental stations. Certain changes eventually came to the blade (the straight bar was replaced with a V-shaped blade) but the effect was the same, cutting out weeds while leaving surface fallow. Different models for different types of soil were built, with minor adjustments to the shape and angle of the blade.

Sales continued to rise and a factory was built in 1941. In 1951 it was replaced by an even larger plant that, in its first three years, sold approximately $1 million worth of Noble cultivators.

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